Hope Amidst The Ashes
These are dark days for our country and our democracy. We are in the midst of an historic pandemic that has killed over 100,000 and perhaps permanently damaged many more; we have Depression-level unemployment; the economy is cratering at a rate never seen before; the streets are filled with protestors, revolted by yet another police murder of an unarmed black man; the police respond with even more brutality; looters and, apparently, right wing paramilitaries interested in fomenting a race war take advantage of the lack of police presence or simply police acquiescence; and Trump and the GOP have gone full fascist, describing America’s streets as a “battle space” and using federal police and military power to attack peaceful and legal protests. Amidst this chaos, however, there are real signs of hope.
By and large, most of the protests around the country have been peaceful. As Obama noted, the protestors are also incredibly diverse. More strikingly, the protests have not been limited to our major urban centers but also occurred in smaller cities and larger towns all across the country, in some case bringing out the largest number of demonstrators those places had seen in decades or ever. Illustrating just how much the rest of the world still looks to America (and how much damage Trump has done to our standing in it), the protests have spread across the world, in Canada, most of Europe, Mexico, Brazil, Australia and New Zealand, Israel, the West Bank, and even Syria, of all places, often linking to their own country’s history of discrimination and police violence.
Also encouraging were the pictures of police that joined with the protestors rather than treat them as some kind of invading force that needed to be repelled by almost any means necessary. In Flint, the sheriff made his men put away their batons and take off their riot helmets and then marched with the peaceful protestors. In other cities, police chiefs took a knee with protestors. Elsewhere, police marched with protestors. In Atlanta, the chief directly engaged with the protestors, listening to their concerns, sharing their outrage. In Camden, New Jersey, a police force totally rebuilt on the concept that force should only be used as a last resort not only marched with the protestors but had the chief of police help lead it. Yes, there was looting and violence in some of the cities where police leaders had engaged or joined with peaceful protestors, but their actions were important signals that the protestors were not the enemy of the police while serving to deescalate the situation on the whole. More importantly, they showed a path forward for New York, Minneapolis, and other cities where the largely unaccountable police acted like an occupying army.
While the delay in arresting and charging Derek Chauvin is illustrative of just how corrupt the whole process of police accountability has become, the fact that he was even charged at all is actually progress. As is the charging of Chauvin’s three police accomplices in the murder. The fact that the most of this progress came when the state Attorney General took over the case shows the importance of an independent investigation of police violence and also offers another example of reform that may have efficacy.
It also appears that the peaceful protests are actually growing larger and stronger in response to the continued police brutality in dealing with the protests and the openly fascist strategies of Trump and the GOP. Trump’s and Barr’s decision to violently clear out peaceful and legal protestors in order to stage a photo-op has only energized and expanded the protests in DC and around the country.
I sense that the protests may be morphing into something beyond just opposing the racism and violence prevalent in many police departments around the country. Rather it may be a recognition that what happened in Minneapolis is a too-long tolerated part of the fascism that Trump is trying make explicit for the whole country. As one DOJ official noted off the record, the administration is trying to turn peaceful and legal opposition to Trump into terrorism, using unidentified federal law enforcement as the enforcers.
The recognition that we are facing a full-on autocracy, abetted by both quislings and fellow fascists in the GOP like Tom Cotton, is now clear. There is no hiding the fact that democracy itself is on the ballot in November. That, in itself, is a form of progress. Former military and intelligence leaders are now openly worrying about Trump’s use of the military for his own fascist fantasies. Normally reticent Catholic and Episcopalian religious leaders are also sounding the alarm. Faced with this appalling and dangerous situation, it appears the American people are responding.
Joe Biden’s speech was hardly one for the ages, but its mix of policy and rhetoric about uniting the country was remarkably refreshing, reminding us of the responsibility our leaders have to all Americans, a responsibility Trump explicitly rejects. It was a reminder of what we could be, providing hope for a better future. Yesterday, just six years after the riots, Ferguson Missouri elected a black mayor. It is a remarkable example of what can be accomplished with an engaged citizenry. It seems quite possible that Trumpism will do the same for our entire country.