I feel compelled to write today but I’m not sure what to say. I’m still trying to get my head around all that is happening in our nation as we struggle not only with a pandemic but with the tragedy of George Foley’s murder.
The legitimate anger and the protests have to be uncoupled from the acts of those whose agenda is criminal — we all get that. And no one wants criminal acts, or attacks on police, any more than we want attacks on peaceful demonstrators exercising their first amendment rights.
De-escalation and defusing are essential. Listening is essential. Empathy. Courageous acts, as we see when protestors protect a policeman separated from his cohort, or when we see them protect a store at threat from looters. And it’s the same empathy and courage we see from police officers who take a knee, who march with the protestors, and who engage in dialogue that allows folks to feel heard. It doesn’t solve all the problems by a long shot — but it’s a start.
Threats of massive retaliation aren’t the answer. Flooding the streets with soldiers will not answer long-standing grievances, or ease pain, or help in healing. Tweeting gleefully about “dominance” on the streets of DC after attacking peaceful protestors with tear gas and flash bang grenades says that the president values his photo ops and image more than listening to citizens who truly wanted to be heard.
We’ve all been stressed by the pandemic in so many ways. But last night was the first time I’ve been gripped by fear. As the military police, called upon by a bully and authoritarian leader who rejects the basic principles of our constitution, stepped ever closer to citizens with their hands raised in peace and supplication, I feared the outcome. I feared that chaos would be unleashed. A spark would ignite a conflagration and innocent people would die. I truly did.
On the streets of our nation’s capital. Outside the “people’s house” the President and the Attorney General assembled their forces to be used on our citizens. For show. For a photo op. They unleashed violence on men and women exercising their rights and then crowed about it. Created videos showing the President marching to the nearby church as if he were a conquering hero.
Make no mistake… when he threatens to send in the military if states don’t act the way he wants, he is cutting down yet another guard rail that protects our democracy. The fact that he lacks the authority isn’t the point. That he entertains the idea as appropriate is. And the fact the chairman of the Joint Chiefs didn’t bat an eye… that he was seen as supporting and implicitly endorsing… is deeply troubling.
Months ago I began to write daily about a dangerous virus as one way of expressing my concerns and organizing my own thoughts. I still am. Only this virus is not just a threat to our physical health… it is a threat to our nation’s future, to the health and well-being of our body politic. And if we do not stand now to protect all that we stand for, all we will leave our children is the withered husk of democracy, and another failed state.
Yes. I believe it is serious. Biden said today that America’s story isn’t a fairy tale. We must fight for our values and our democracy and our freedoms. It is never an easy struggle, and the outcome is not guaranteed. I used to make the same point in countries where folks struggled against authoritarian leaders and where the descent into demagoguery and dictatorship was just one more abuse away.
I don’t believe in fairy tale endings either… but I believe that hope and decency and honesty can prevail. But only if we refuse to be cowed. Only if we have courage. And only if we act.