Who would have guessed that you can track government spy planes above Washington protests via certain websites, or that a bankrupt Hertz can consider issuing stock, or that the ubiquity of smartphones would transform the legacy of slavery forever?
We’re learning so much as 2020’s second half begins. That there are no bailouts planned for seriously wounded pension funds, that there will be a distanced Christmas shopping season, that the presidential campaign will be one of the most vicious ever – which is saying something considering some past campaigns somehow left out of the textbooks.
Liberals are death mongers, says the president, ignoring the advice of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page Friday saying Trump is the one beating Trump – and there are still five months to go.
“These Liberal Dems don’t have a clue,” he tweets from his Bedminster, NJ golf club early in the day. “The terrorists burn and pillage our cities, and they think it is just wonderful, even the death. Must end this Seattle takeover now!”
Joe Biden levels a charge that his “biggest concern” is that Trump will “steal the election” and maybe will have to be escorted out of the White House by the military. Really? Again, these are just the preliminaries.
That social historian from Mars might diagnose the situation as a severe case of divisional paranoia, as in Americans have learned to love to hate each other. By fear? Uncertainty? What are we scared of?
The deep wellspring of mutual aid, generosity of spirit, civic consciousness all are being suppressed. Instead, let’s rub raw the edges of all those wedge issues.
Maybe a common enemy will appear to suppress the animosity. Leader Kim has declared himself no longer a friend of the president, has cut off communication with South Korea and has been busy accumulating his fissionable material.
Covid-19 could mutate into something far more deadly than it is already. Israel is still intent on annexing parts of the West Bank in July with the blessing of the US, testing whether the Middle East can still live up to its history as a detonation trigger. Iran; Venezuela; An irreversible climate-change tipping point? Or several tipping points?
Isn’t the main threat to the US – if not now, soon – to be China? It’s spending so much on the military to say nothing of the massive amounts it’s devoting to catching up on semiconductors and supercomputers?
Yet, why is it that reporters who have actually worked in China, at least before they were kicked out, are always telling their US colleagues about China’s many vulnerabilities? Could all the demonisation of China have obscured the reality of a giant trying desperately to knit together social and economic tectonic fracture lines?
The alternative to fantasising about what might push the US into a spasm of common purpose might be something truly unthinkable, a reawakening of the discipline of civic responsibility, the abandonment of the lazy toleration of chronic discord and the arrival of a general impulse to save the country.
In Europe, the threat is called “fragmentation”. In the US, it’s called “politics”. We’re so good at self-indulgent rhetorical sport we can even politicise face masks.
External threats are the least of America’s existential threats, we’re always told by the wiser of past US leaders. Internal division can erode the will to act and react, reinforce and repair – and orient the body politic to the future.
Somehow the tangled weeds and debris seen this week up at the virus-struck ghost town that was once a bustling Capitol Hill, the abandoned gardens outside the congressional Hart office building, seemed to carry the message. Amid the rituals of division, there is a lot of neglect.
China didn’t deprive the US of its own 5G technology. China, which along with India has accumulated huge sovereign reserves, didn’t turn the US into a debtor nation and now, with its emergency spending and borrowing, a super-debtor nation. China didn’t create racial and political chasms dividing Americans. It didn’t paralyse Congress outside of its knee-jerk panic legislation.
“Lazy toleration” extends to the language of America, making it harder to accomplish collective thinking. “Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become…” blah blah blah. Some things are always true, and for ancient mystic Lao Tzu’s full quote, hit the keys.
So hour after hour we heard the protest in this city was “peaceful” and in that city was “violent”. What could be more clear? Violence is the opposite of peaceful. Case closed.
Except that no demonstrator anywhere intends the march, the signs, the shouts, the chants to be peaceful. The intent is always to rock the boat, focus attention, raise an alarm.
Martin Luther King Jr’s intent certainly was not to spread serenity and satisfaction with the status quo.
No, the opposite of “violent” is instead “orderly”. It is “orderly” that allows room to think and figure out the next best move. It is “orderly” that separates the bomb thrower from the concerned citizen, the understanding human. It is orderly, sometimes loud, sometimes obnoxious protest that is protected by the Constitution.
Since when is “peaceful” baseline behaviour to be wished for and applauded? Since when do squeamish surgeons get rewarded?
As to activism, to be active is to not be overlooked. Always societies anywhere plead, please don’t make me pay attention. I’ve got enough on my plate. Until…
Any reporter who has had to jump into the fray to cover demonstrations large and small takes for granted that of the many elements drawn to the flame of protest, some want to see actual flames and broken windows and could care less about the fundamental issues.
Yet police forces everywhere were surprised. Washington, DC, which has become so practiced in anticipating and controlling anti G-7, IMF and World Bank protests in years past – where there were actual anarchists, not just opportunistic looters – were caught totally unprepared this time.
The consequence is that instead of routine sideshows of violence, the disrupters rivaled the orderly protestors as the main event. The national consciousness becomes preoccupied with sterile arguments that drive out a lot of the healing concentration on solutions – just like last time.
Now, supplanting a lot of the needed debate and discussion, just tired political brand management and tactical confusion. Cartoon realities of storm troopers versus arsonists.
Glimmers of intelligence, restraint and mutual regard nevertheless keep popping up everywhere. How does it happen? How can we keep it happening? That, not the virus or the protests, may be the real challenge of the next six months.