This weekend I celebrated my 41st birthday and yeah, I’m getting old. The signs are everywhere, beyond the date on my birth certificate & the fact that I’m getting more and more white and grey hairs in my beard. It might be a sign of these difficult days, but I guess I’m feeling it just that much more than I have in the past. And if the last week has shown us anything, these days are particularly difficult and troubling.
I spent a lot of my weekend watching the news coming from the United States. It has been hard to watch, but at the same time it has been just as hard to turn away from the sights we’re all witnessing. We have seen unrest in the US before, we have seen protests and we have seen riots. I’m old enough to remember what came from the Rodney King beating. I remember the protests in Ferguson, Missouri. I remember the protests that came from the murder of Eric Garner, and Philando Castile and Trayvon Martin. It was just a couple of weeks ago that we witnessed the murder in broad daylight of Ahmaud Aubery, shot in the middle of the road by two people taking whatever they thought the law was into their own hands. And then we all saw the murder of George Floyd in the streets of Minneapolis by a police officer who knelt on his neck, struggling for life as three others stood on watching.
We have all seen these things happen and the cycle that has come with them. The one thing we have not seen has been change, real improvement or consequences for those who committed these acts of violence. But as I said I’m getting old, and despite all that I have seen in past events like those and others, this feels different. This feels very different for many reasons and we’re seeing things that are beyond disturbing. Here is just a sample of some things that leapt out at me over the past days:
Seeing journalists attacked and arrested by police with no regard, in a country where freedom of speech is so cherished that it’s the very first amendment to their constitution. To see that journalist in Louisville, Kentucky being aimed at directly and shot at by police, without any second thought, is disturbing. To see that semi-truck barreling towards protestors on a highway, one that was supposedly closed by police an hour before, was ghoulish. And to see just 24 hours ago, another police officer kneeling on the neck of a protestor as he arrested him, well that image said more than a thousand words.
It’s all so shocking and disturbing, which isn’t new to the American experience when it comes to these matters. What feels different this time is the increased tension and that it feels like a lid on those tensions has been ripped off the pot. And I say ripped off because in a time when normally you would see political leaders try to calm the waters and sooth the pain that people are feeling, we are seeing an American President in Donald Trump do the polar opposite:
Now I don’t want to give anyone the impression that I’m shocked that Trump of all people would act like this in such a dangerous moment because I’m not. This is exactly what he’s shown everyone that he is and while I would have prayed that he would rise above his usual crap in these times, that just wasn’t going to happen. But even by his standards, this is a few steps further. While journalists are being arrested and shot at in the streets, he’s calling them “bad people” that are “doing everything within their power to foment hatred and anarchy.” While he attacks those who actually defend free speech as a part of their jobs, he also attacks Twitter for daring to call him out on lies & violent words he uses their service to spread.
He’s attacking mayors like Minneapolis’ Jacob Frey with invectives and partisan insults instead of supporting them. He’s attacking the governors of the states calling them “weak”. He’s tried to blame the far left for this while giving a pass to white supremacists and far-right militia groups, both of which authorities on the ground have also pointed to. And of course he’s attacking his likely opponent in the Fall Presidential election, claiming that his “people” are “radical left” and trying to help out anarchists. Everything he’s done so far has been the opposite of helpful yet very true to the person that Donald Trump has shown us he is.
All of that is to say that watching everything that’s happening next door to us, I cannot help but feel just how different this moment is from those others that I have witnessed in my life so far. This feels more like the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union than anything else. Things have jumped to a level the likes of which we haven’t seen before. Some are comparing this to 1968 but even that does not seem strong enough. This is more like 1968 if George Wallace was President, but even that might not be strong enough. Where in the past you could see ways where some good or progress could come from such a moment (even if it never did arrive), I just cannot see that this time.
This feels very different and dangerous, a danger that’s only increased by the current occupant of the White House. It’s in times like these that we expect leaders to put their best interests aside and do what’s best for the nation. Yet even with those normal expectations, no one is seriously expecting Donald Trump to do that. He’s shown no ability or will to do that in the past and nothing he’s shown us in the past week would give the impression he is now. That makes this situation that much more dangerous & leaves me with the impression that the United States might not be governable like this. This didn’t happen over night and the past four years have surely accelerated that, but it feels like we are watching a dangerous time in the United States unless the better angels of their leaders can rise to the moment like they never have before. That’s something we all hope for, the question remains how likely it will be.