July 4, 2020

American Miasma

by Hal Gershowitz

Comments Below

Or, simply stated, we’re in a terrible and dangerous funk.

Perhaps, it was inevitable. The teaching and the study of history in America are and have been in catastrophic decline. Concurrently, according to Pew research, cable news, social media, and other internet sources have been spectacularly ascendant as the primary sources of news and perspective. TV ranks first as the preferred source for news, with 44% preferring to watch the tube for the news. About a third (34%) prefer to go online for news consumption, and 14% prefer radio and only 7% prefer to read the news in newspapers or journals. With respect to news and current and foreign events, we have become a largely unread nation. Not a good trend.

Much of what is trafficked as news on social media is junk, unedited for accuracy, and often unfiltered for judgment or taste. We form opinions based on what we read and hear and see, and once opinions are formed, we (all of us) are hard-wired to mentally defend our point of view rather than to consider other points of view receptively. That’s just part of the human psyche, so we live with these realities at a time when the nation is traumatized by events of immense historical, economic, and social significance.

The George Floyd Demonstrations

For eight minutes and forty-six seconds, much of the world watched a now-famous video of a manacled black man in the process of being killed during an arrest by a white Minneapolis policeman. Protests began, pretty much spontaneously, within hours of the incident, and some are continuing to this day. The protests swiftly spread to over 2,000 cities in the United States and 60 other countries on every continent except Antarctica. Estimates are that between 15 and 26 million people marched (demonstrated) in the United States.

While the number of protests and protesters was historical, the numbers only begin to tell the full story. In the past, protests following allegations of police mistreatment of blacks have consisted of marches of black protesters with a relative handful of white sympathizers marching alongside them, usually as photo-props in the front of the demonstration. This time the protests were remarkably different and genuinely historic.

Two researchers, one from the University of Michigan and one from the University of Maryland, following a well-established method for studying street protests, sent teams into three major metropolitan areas to explore the demonstrations; New York, Washington, and Los Angeles. They, essentially, converted the crowds into tables of random numbers by interviewing every fifth demonstrator they encountered, thereby assuring that every demonstrator had an equal chance of being interviewed. While not precise, it was an impressive way to construct a representative profile of the marchers. They conducted what a statistician might call an area probability survey, the gold standard in sampling.

Unlike previous demonstrations in which nearly all the demonstrators were black, this time, the demonstrations consisted of a substantial majority of white protesters. In New York, over 60% of the people marching were white, in Washington 65% and Los Angeles 53%. There were many demonstrations in communities here and abroad that had relatively few black citizens, and those demonstrations, accordingly, consisted of mostly all-white marchers. So, we’ve had worldwide massive civil rights demonstrations for nearly six weeks in which black demonstrators were a substantial minority.

The Rioters

As has been true in the past, peaceful demonstrations are often predictably marred by concurrent violence. The violence during the George Floyd demonstrations has been horrific. Arson, looting, and vandalism erupted in many cities throughout the country. Over two dozen people have died during the violence, mostly by gunshot wounds. Over 14,000 people were arrested. Property damage will run into many billions of dollars. Some of the violence was presumably rage, and some no doubt simply violent people doing what violent people do. While there have been numerous reports of outside troublemakers such as ANTIFA doing the rioting, arrest records simply do not support those reports. The looting was, what it always is—criminals taking advantage of an opportunity to help themselves to someone else’s property. All of it, the fatalities, the injuries, the arson, and the theft were a disgrace to the spontaneous outpouring of millions of people demanding equal justice under the law for black Americans.

It will take time to sort out which communities handled the rioting appropriately and which communities did not. Tactical restraint in an effort to reduce injury or loss of life is tricky business, and often impossible to modulate successfully. Those who look the other way, or who rationalize that arson or looting can ever be justified are simply wrong. The riots, however, sadly defined for many people what the demonstrations were all about. The riots were a sideshow. Horrible to be sure, but a sideshow nonetheless. Tens of millions of people, worldwide, peacefully demonstrating for equal justice under the law was the real news.

Black Lives Matter vs. All Lives Matter

To state the obvious, everyone (well, almost everyone) understands that all lives matter. Here’s the rub, though—everyone doesn’t accept the notion that black lives matter just as much as all (other) lives. It’s that simple. The puerile objection to the statement black lives matter because all lives matter boggles the reasonable mind. The organization, Black Lives Matter, and the simple statement that Black Lives Matter are two entirely different things. One is an organization with a formal, far-reaching, and somewhat misguided agenda, and one is a simple statement of decency, words on a banner under which all decent people can comfortably march.

Enter the Trolls

Social media trolls are simply malevolent people who post or say things that rile up people. Trolling, by design, creates discord on the internet. That is its purpose. That is its only purpose, and it works quite effectively. I see this demonstrated daily because I spend a good bit of time on the internet researching material about which I may want to write. I have received email and text messages and Facebook postings that quote, verbatim, the messages peddled by trolls. For example, Black Lives Matter (the organization) believes that the traditional nuclear family is no longer relevant. Trolls and some commentators pronounce, indignantly, that Black Lives Matter (the organization) is for the destruction of the nuclear family. Well, let’s unpack exactly what that really means.

The so-called nuclear family traditionally was a male and a female married to one another with one or more children living with them. The husband went out and earned a living, and the wife stayed home and cared for the children. Same-sex couples who are married and raising children wouldn’t count, nor would families in which husband and wife both work, or families in which children divide time between two previously married parents. In fact, according to the US Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, barely 20% of families in the United States today would qualify as nuclear families.

The so-called nuclear family is a construct that has long ago faded into the past and into relative irrelevancy.  Nonetheless, I have received texts and emails from people who are horrified that Black Lives Matter (the organization) is for “the destruction” of the American nuclear family. Horrors! Life in America and most of the world has, long since, moved beyond the provincial construct of the so-called nuclear family. Trolling really is effective at riling up people.

Defund the Police?

Assuming this “movement” is not a desperate clandestine strategy by the Trump campaign to apply breaks to the current anti-trump sentiment in the country (in which case the strategy would be brilliant), it rates as idiocy on the rampage. I recognize that various talking heads and spokespersons for this or that group are falling over themselves to assure the public that defund the police doesn’t mean what it sounds like. At the same time, however, others are insisting, that’s precisely what it means. The public reaction, come November, should such rhetoric continue, will be devastating for the Democrats.

I have been privileged to work with community-based public interest organizations for most of my adult life, and in that capacity, I have worked with law enforcement for many years. As I have written before, I have been amazed at the dedication and the commitment of the men and women in law enforcement with whom, over the years, I have had the opportunity to work. Those who cast aspersions on the men and women who work in law enforcement over the actions of a comparatively few miscreants are themselves a danger to the community.

The Pandemic

Is there any wonder that a malaise has settled upon the land? If there were a competency scale for effective, timely response to the Coronavirus pandemic, we would rate at the bottom. I don’t write this to be argumentative. It’s just a fact. It is a horrifyingly, deadly fact.  Over 80 million Americans know someone who has been infected by the virus. And the current news is that the actual number of people affected is ten to twenty times the number detected, so far. So, we’re in it for the long haul. Only two states are now registering a decline in Coronavirus cases. Many sections of the country are now closing down for the second time. We must begin to deal with the pandemic as an emergency that threatens us all and which will prevail for a long time unless we, as a nation, pull together in a national, cohesive effort to bring the Coronavirus to heel as so many other countries have successfully done.

This essay is being written on the 244th anniversary of the founding of our country. America has been the greatest experiment in governance in the history of the world. Let’s remember that and pull together, and drink a toast to freedom.

All comments regarding these essays, whether they express agreement, disagreement, or an alternate view, are appreciated and welcome. Comments that do not pertain to the subject of the essay or which are ad hominem references to other commenters are not acceptable and will be deleted.

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13 responses to “American Miasma”

  1. Steve marcus says:

    Hal, this essay is the most comprehensive and incisive analysis of what has (and is) going on in our society today. The fact that some politicians have determined it’s to their advantage to distort and project the actions of a relative handful of social misfits onto supporters of their political opposition In order to continue their position in power Is a travesty and dangerous. It’s almost as bad as those who are using unsubstantiated social media in a way to manipulate public opinion for political (or geopolitical) gain. The essay is a “must read” for anyone interested in honest discourse surrounding the nation’s socio-political situation today.

  2. Jerry says:

    So-I have unwillingly joined what I believe is a large group of people who are now “afraid” to express any counter thought or opinion to the BLM movement. I fear, as some seemed to have experienced, the out rage by some who identify to the BLM against any who challenge any aspect of its legitamacy and as a consequence are the recipient of threats, damages to their business or their quality of life.
    Yet the virtually 100% ignoring of the 15 or so murder rates weekly in Chicago, black on black is almost totally ignored, along with upwards of 100 people who are wounded.
    Last week I saw a young black woman who apparently has a weekly tv forum when she discussed the murders in Chicago, particularly as to one of a very young black girl. She of course spoke to what a tragedy this was-and clearly it is a tragedy. BUT-then she went on to say-that this tragedy which virtually no one had heard about or was not nationaly talked about-the tragedy as commented on by the black lady commentator was that this girl was killed by a black man….and therefore-if only she had been killed by a white man-than everyone would know her name. Then she would be buried in a gold casket and luminaries of all kinds (her words, not mine) would be at her funeral and a Go Fund Me program would begin that would produce much for benefit of her family.

    I find it stunning because personally all my life I have supported the movement toward more and total equal rights long before BLM gave it a formal name. That somehow I am now possibly defined as its opponent and “privileged” shocks me.

    Oh yes, I’m also a huge sports fan. Yes I have thoughts there too.

    Last August my wife and I stood, with a great emotion at the U.S cemetery at Normandy. We walked, left stones and talked to those many young buried men who died for our freedom and cried.
    Many years ago when I was a kid, drafted by the Army-sent to far off Okinawa we pledged allegiance to the country, stood and saluted the flag.

    On this fourth of July, I still do.

  3. Michael Gong says:

    Hal, you know our family history, perhaps better than I do, so you know where I stand. You know that if it were not for my parents’ unimaginable vision and courage, I might well have been one of those surrounding our bus in Xian selling umbrellas for a dollar apiece. I am so grateful to be an American and I don’t begrudge the 22 months I had to spend in uniform because it was my duty as it was my brothers’ before me. It was a small price to pay for not having to survive the Japanese invasion and the Cultural Revolution after that. But you will also understand why I instinctively self-identify with the BLM movement, and why I cringe at every utterance of the virus pandemic as the “China Virus” or the “Kung Flu.” Any hint of the scapegoating of any ethnic or racial minority for a general social, political or economic problem makes me cringe. My parents were shopkeepers and I think of “The Night of Broken Glass.” ICE reminds me of the SS and those poor, helpless, innocent people hauled away in cattle cars. It more than makes me cringe, it makes my blood boil. We both know what evil is and what can happen. We both know our history. Let’s hope others do too, and not from just watching TV.

  4. Robert borns says:

    Your post and the two comments said it all.

  5. James Fisher says:

    Hal, I read your essay carefully and I appreciate the breadth of your coverage of recent events as related to the protests, riots and looting. While I may have slight differences of opinion on those particular matters, I absolutely applaud your insights into “defunding the police” which, in my view are 100% right on.

    I fail to understand, however, how you can state so unequivocally that our response to the pandemic would “…. rate at the bottom.”

    Will you, or any of your readers, seriously explain how that rather smug statement is true? Aren’t you just pulling a Hillary Clinton when she claims that she would have done it better? And aren’t you, like she, relying upon – always infallible – 20/20 hindsight?

    • Response to James Fisher: I would be eager to review any data that identifies other advanced countries that have had a worse or less timely response to the pandemic than we have had. And no, hindsight really plays no meaningful role in assessing how various countries responded to the pandemic. While data analysis is invariably a look back, data, nonetheless, reveals the effectiveness of the decisions that determined what the data would tell us. Many countries acted early and acted decisively and stopped the virus in its tracks. We acted late and indecisively and the virus continues to rage on. We still have no uniform nationally led serious effort to stop or even curtail the contagion, and we are paying a horrific price for our lack of national leadership regarding the pandemic.

  6. qua says:

    Very well written and quite objective also.
    I viewed the President’s speeches both at Mt Rushmore and
    the next day on the National Monument where Trump said kind
    words to all of our citizens. When I watched on Fox and taped
    the event on CNN and MSNBC where his address was stifled
    and with commentators talking over him at every level never
    EVER giving him any credit for his strength resolve or his
    inclusive speech, Yes, he called out the rioters and deservedly
    so. In the meantime not a peep out of VP Biden hunkered in
    his basement bunker.

    I believe firmly that these “Protests'” will result in increased
    racism sadly. One must ask themselves if we are such a
    racist country why did we not only elect a Black President but
    re-elect him? As far as a cultural revolution I call it a revolting
    change. With dire future consequences.

  7. Stephen E. Prover says:

    Well, another very impactful balanced and thoughtful essay. I must thank Stephen Marcus for using the word incisive and spelling it correctly in his very incisive and thoughtful comment.
    Your hardwire metaphor was beautifully demonstrated by the usual responses from the more conservative gang who joins your weekly scholarly examinations of the state of the union.
    I know you are a good extraordinarily busy man. How you manage to research, think out and elaborate this blog each and every week is astonishing.

  8. Paul Lubar says:

    72 % of blacks are born in fatherless homes.
    71% of high school dropouts are from fatherless homes.
    75% of crime is committed by fatherless perpetrators.
    Perhaps BLM should redirect from dissing traditional families to encouraging them.

  9. Robert J. Fraiman says:

    Re QUA’s comment…WOW!!!

  10. Stuart Goldfine says:

    Now, will BLM help the blacks in the inner cities who are getting murdered in Chicago, Baltimore, etc. The Democratic mayors and city councils don’t care, so I suggest that BLM become the policemen of these areas and see if they can cut down on the murder rates. BLM has to help police the black communities and stop the fiery rhetoric. They must become the black Peace Corps. Or will they just fade off and do nothing like the Black Panther movement of the 1960 and 1970’s?

    The cities must set up more trade schools for the inner cities to provide well-paying jobs for all minorities, teaching them to become computer technicians, auto mechanics, electricians, etc. and this would provide necessary and financially rewarding jobs.

  11. Marc J. Belgrad says:

    Thanks, Hal, as always for bringing so much clarity to so much that is swirling around us and with which we are engaged.

    On the contrary, though, my sense is not of funk or miasma but of positive movement forward on some key social issues, especially on racism. Perhaps, too, with regard to health and wealth issues which were easy enough to see before but, now, during the pandemic, have been moved front and center for everyone to see. I think that many citizens, as well as leaders, see this time as an opportunity to improve the common-wealth.

    Whether it will continue and be enough to make a significant difference, I won’t hazard to guess. I’m doing my small part in my small corner of the world. I am very cautiously optimistic about the potential for positive change, a feeling that was echoed recently by a friend, a 40+ year veteran of civil rights work.

  12. Randy Florence says:

    I would point Paul Lubar to reference material explaining the term systemic racism.

    Your post only provided some of the evidence used to prove the effects of systemic racism over hundreds of years in this country.

    While I hope I’m wrong, I fear your intent was to make a point that necessitated coming at it from a different direction.

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