Who says there is nothing new under the sun? I often find myself speechless these days and for those who know me, that is a strange phenomenon.
During the Reagan administration there was no loss of words when his Attorney General proclaimed ketchup sufficed as a vegetable in the school lunch program, or when his Secretary of the Interior testified before congress that The Rapture made environmental protection a moot point. Reagan’s insane nuclear build-up and bloodthirsty support of fascists in Central America were easy to denounce, as was Bush One’s Gulf War and Bush Two’s invasion of Iraq. At first Bill Clinton’s war on Welfare and sidling up to Wall Street were more difficult to find words for, but only because he was so slick about it. The entire conversation about abuse of power and the violation of boundaries that should have happened during Clinton’s impeachment for lying about sex with an intern, was drown out by the news media’s titillation-for-profit.
Truly, the blatant intentionality of Donald Trump’s invitation to white supremacists and his campaign’s evocation of our darker natures, coupled with incident after incident of police shootings of unarmed African-American men, leave me stuttering incoherently.
Most of this is not new, as Black Lives Matter activists point out. The sanctioned killing of unarmed and usually poor African-American men has been taking place for generations, well before the time of lynchings. Race baiting in politics is nothing new either, Nixon began the “dog whistle” rhetoric aimed at Southern whites but Reagan brought it to a new height as his cultural wedge issue supreme. What is different now is there is no effort even to hide it, and bald-faced lying about everything is the clear strategy of the Trump campaign.
In the days after the “basket of deplorables” dust up, Rachel Maddow asked: “Which side has the problem when you are arguing how many of your supporters are White Supremacists?” The basket was there and the rotten fruit was in it, yet the conversation was not about Trump’s courting white supremacists or his racist, misogynistic, and jingoistic rhetoric (Clinton’s original charge), it was about whether or not Clinton would suffer in the polls from naming it. It left me speechless.
One problem is that the prosecution of racism in American culture via police shootings is not a winner in the effort to make our society less bigoted.
Criminal trials and the criminal justice system do not operate with the same rules or logic that govern ordinary commerce and activity. People get prosecuted or not, found guilty or not, sentenced to appropriate punishment or not for a multiplicity of reasons that have little to do with the public conversation about race, bigotry, and prejudice. There are of course public policy issues in all of that, which are laced with racism and need to be addressed, but doing it via media coverage of shootings won’t get us very far.
Instead we should focus our efforts on a progressive public conversation about ideas like mandatory special prosecutors to investigate any and every police shooting. We should focus on what kind of training reduces bad decisions in policing, what that training costs, and why we are not insisting on every police officer receiving it. Amidst all of this, white people need to be having an open, public conversation with one another that everyone can hear, about what their level of tolerance would be if young unarmed white males were being shot with the same frequency as African-Americans. Additionally, all of us need to be talking about the intersection of racism and classism, and the marginalization that poor whites experience and share with poor people of color.
None of those conversations are happening on the Meta level. Our news media outlets are owned and operated by corporations whose interest is profit for their largely wealthy, white stockholders. They have no incentive to be good stewards of a public conversation that would move us forward. They sell their product period. The product that sells well is hype, propagandistic rhetoric, and prejudice-reinforcing images of violence and crime.
The division of marginalized people into disorganized and polarized ethnic and racial groups only benefits those doing the marginalizing. The pall of cynicism that things will never, or can never change, is also a weapon of those at the top of the socio-economic hierarchy.
So I recognize my speechlessness as a symptom that Trump, his political cohort, and the corporate owners of news media are succeeding. This realization has inspired me to double-down and try again. I hope my effort will help you to find your words as well.