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.
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.
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.