The thread of racism runs through the fabric of America. Anyone who pretends otherwise, who believes our justice system is free from it, who fails to understand it’s at the heart of these demonstrations, is deluded.
Contrary to claims, the election of President Barack Obama didn’t mark its end. Like jogging or birdwatching, presidenting while black provoked racist fury, eventually helping to “elect” Trump, whose racism was obvious long before he back-doored politics by way of Kenya. Before he urged participants to “knock the crap” out of protestors at his rallies, before he told police to be rough when arresting people.
White Americans can grieve, but we can never feel what it’s like to be African-American when yet another is killed by cops in circumstances unlikely to have extinguished a white person. None of us has had to teach our sons how to avoid being murdered, nor feared for their lives whenever they went out. Who can say they wouldn’t be protesting, rioting even, if skins were exchanged?
Policing mass protests is tough. This isn’t about cops. It’s about bad ones and unequal justice. And bad people and their bad president, who didn’t start it but has made it worse, before, during, and, no doubt, after the current turmoil. He thinks it plays well for him.
It’s an unending cycle: brutal police action results in the death of an African-American; angry protests arise, initially peaceful. Then someone throws a brick, a firebomb, looting starts, police respond, people are arrested, violence becomes the story, peaceful protestors are ignored, the underlying issues are suffocated. Again.
The words of no president could entirely quell violence. Before Trump, though, they’ve tried. Only he, seeing personal advantage, has intentionally poured accelerants into the flames. Incapable of rising to the occasion, he could no more appeal to our best than he could put down a cheeseburger. To him, this violence is an opportunity to distract from his incapable coronavirus leadership, to get his base even angrier, to assure their turnout in November.
No doubt some of the violence is an expression of anger and frustration, even as it buries the message. But the overwhelming majority of protestors have been non-violent; those who aren’t make it easy to dismiss them all as, in Trump’s inspirational words, “lowlifes and losers.” Which is the point: many instigators – white supremacists, neo-fascists -- are there to do just that; and, unlike anti-fascists, the only group Trump would designate as terrorists, their presence has been documented.
Violence is to be condemned, but a real president would acknowledge the country’s cross-cultural pain and seek ways to heal it. Instead, eager to look tough, Trump chooses to make it worse, threatens to unleash “vicious dogs and ominous weapons,” calls governors “weak” while sequestered in a bunker in a darkened White House. (He was only “inspecting it,” he told Fox “news.”) Lacking the moral authority of presidents past, he calls for cruelty, not calm.
In his most disgusting act, ever, which is like picking the hottest tree in a forest fire, Trump, aping third-world dictators, facilitated by his (no longer our) Attorney General, had peaceful citizens dispersed with gas, rubber bullets and low-flying helicopters, before imperiously strutting across the street, followed dutifully by the Secretary of Defense and, decked out in combat fatigues, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. To posture with a Bible, with whose content he’s unfamiliar.
Never have Trump’s phony religiosity and authoritarian phantasies been so evident, nor his certainty that his supporters are fools. Which they were quick to confirm. That Book should have melted his face like the Lost Ark.
It’s heartening to see police and elected officials kneeling with protesters, and black demonstrators stopping white agitators from further carnage, pleading for calm, protecting a white cop. But Trump and his enablers will never address racial inequality. It’s up to all of us, liberal and conservative, finally to do so; and, because it’s now or never, to recognize the mounting danger we thought impossible: a democracy-destroying “president,” exploiting justified demonstrations to drag us ever closer to the military-backed dictatorship he craves; whose latest actions have been so disturbing, so sinister, they leave one bereft of words.
[Image source]So hear Joe Biden’s instead. Consider what we might regain, if there’s time; if military leaders find the integrity to refuse Trump’s despotic demands; if Republicans reclaim the American values for which they once stood; and if white people finally listen. Really listen.