By Robert A. Vella
Once in grammar school, I participated in an after-hours theatrical play coordinated by the teaching staff. It was apparent from the start that we student-actors were having trouble remembering our lines. “Study the entire script and stick to it,” they instructed us. “Know everyone’s lines, and do not improvise.” The play didn’t go very well. Aside from a couple of gifted kids, the rest of us stumbled quite badly. Performance anxiety certainly had an impact, and it was surely made worse by the strict instruction. Also, a few kids never wanted to participate in the first place – they had been pressured by their teachers and parents.
Some of the lessons I learned from the experience was that real life cannot be scripted, people cannot be completely controlled, and that fiction – no matter how artfully presented – has no relation to fact.
With just six months left in his presidency, Barack Obama is giving a speech today in Dallas concerning the escalating violence between law enforcement and minority communities across the nation. He has asked his predecessor George W. Bush to join him. Typically, Obama’s speeches following such deadly tragedies adhere to a rhetorical script – an expression of grief for the dead, condemnation of the perpetrators, and an urging for peace between opposing forces. However, his pleas are falling on deaf ears at best, and are contributing to this national crisis at worst. Like James Buchanan, the president who held office immediately before the American Civil War, Obama is ignoring the country’s grave structural problems which have led us to this critical point. From Wikipedia (emphasis by me):
Buchanan was nominated by the Democratic Party in the 1856 presidential election. Throughout most of Pierce’s term, he had been stationed in London as minister to the Court of St. James’s and so was not caught up in the crossfire of sectional politics that dominated the country. His subsequent election victory took place in a three-man race with John C. Frémont and Millard Fillmore. As President, he was often called a “doughface“, a Northerner with Southern sympathies, who battled with Stephen A. Douglas for control of the Democratic Party. Buchanan’s efforts to maintain peace between the North and the South alienated both sides, and the Southern states declared their secession in the prologue to the American Civil War. Buchanan’s view was that secession was illegal, but that going to war to stop it was also illegal. Buchanan, an attorney, was noted for his mantra, “I acknowledge no master but the law.”
By the time he left office, popular opinion was against him and the Democratic Party had split. Buchanan had once aspired to be a president who would rank in history with George Washington. However, his inability to identify a ground for peace or address the sharply divided pro-slavery and anti-slavery partisans with a unifying principle on the brink of the Civil War has led to his consistent ranking by historians as one of the worst presidents in American history. Historians in both 2006 and 2009 voted his failure to deal with secession the worst presidential mistake ever made.
Despite this dangerous irresponsibility on Obama’s part, the fault is not his alone. He is simply a cog in America’s centrist and technocratic political establishment which is embattled on so many foreign and domestic fronts that it has lost touch with reality and is secluding itself within the narrow confines of its neoliberal policy agenda. Such delusion at such a high societal level is precisely what brought down the Roman Empire nearly two millennia ago.
Here’s what Andrew O’Hehir of Salon wrote over the weekend in an editorial titled Death in Dallas and America’s existential crisis: Our new “civil war” over the nature of reality (emphasis by me):
After a week of shocking and polarizing violence in America, which featured two black citizens shot dead by police in ambiguous circumstances and ended with Thursday night’s sniper killings of five police officers in Dallas (apparently by a lone African-American gunman), we are badly in need of some perspective. Unfortunately, perspective is exactly what we lack in our broken-down republic, although you could just as well say that we’ve got too much of it. Different Americans, and different groups of Americans, perceive different realities, and can barely be said to inhabit the same country.
That fact lies at the heart of our deepening national crisis, which goes beyond political disagreement or racial conflict into existential or epistemological realms. There was nothing exceptional about this week’s body count, sadly, although the Dallas attacks unquestionably got the entire nation’s attention. But certain aspects of our current situation are new and striking. There was a certain grim hilarity to Donald Trump’s post-Dallas Facebook lament that “Our nation has become too divided,” which is roughly like Count Dracula complaining that all the pretty girls in Transylvania have become vampires. But you can’t argue with the sentiment. We are an intensely divided country — in terms of race, culture and ideology, of course, but also in terms of basic facts and how to understand them. This profound disconnection is not without precedent, because American history is full of echoes. History also teaches us that such division holds great danger.
There’s no neutral high ground that can offer you or me or anyone else some clear vision of this week’s tragic events, or the painful decades and centuries that led up to them. When you’re in the middle of a crisis about the fundamental nature of your country and where it’s going, nobody gets to stand outside it.
He pessimistically concluded:
I guess it all depends on whether I think the second Civil War can still be won, and whether anyone’s version of reality can save our perishing republic.
America’s second Civil War? Is the situation really that bad?
From the Southern Poverty Law Center – Calls for ‘Race War’ in the Aftermath of Dallas Police Shootings:
While antigovernment extremist organizations like the Oath Keepers targeted the Black Lives Matter Movement and announced solidarity with law enforcement officers, especially those who make up its ranks, the most extreme response came from the racist right –– from neo-Confederates to National Socialists.
“As freemen and citizens, we in The League will arm ourselves, defend public order and property, and stand beside our brothers and sisters in the peace keeping profession,” said Michael Hill, president of the neo-Confederate and increasingly anti-Semitic League of the South.
Hill was not alone in reading the circumstances behind the shooting in Dallas as the opening volley in a race war.
On Stormfront, the largest white supremacist website, one user wrote: “Well, if they keep this **** up then, yeah, there will be a war.” Another anonymous Stormfront poster using the name: “Kriegsberichter-NZ,” was more blunt. “Race war is here,” he said.
From the Southern Poverty Law Center – Micah Xavier Johnson, the man identified by police as the sniper who shot 12 law enforcement officers at a protest in Dallas last night, was a fan of black separatist hate groups monitored by the Southern Poverty Law Center. :
NBPP was formed in Dallas, and its leaders have long expressed virulently anti-white and anti-Semitic opinions. Its leaders have blamed Jews for the 9/11 terrorist attacks and for the slave trade. The late former party chairman Khalid Abdul Muhammad once said, “There are no good crackers, and if you find one, kill him before he changes.” A document on the NBPP website titled “The Nationalist Manifesto” claims that white men have a secret plan to commit genocide against the non-white races. It also refers to black people who condone mixed-race relationships as the “modern day Custodians [sic] of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”
The SPLC has also noted that the unabated killing of blacks by police is fueling a rebirth of black extremism in the U.S. And, this recent protest sign in California sums-up the dire situation quite well:
Although a lot can happen between now and January when Obama leaves office, his successor with either be another out-of-touch centrist (Hillary Clinton) or a right-wing nationalist (Donald Trump) who’ll likely pour high-octane fuel on the already raging fires of cultural disharmony. One thing is assured, neither of them will even attempt to correct the underlying structural problems which have led America to this existential crisis. From Sunday’s editorial on this blog:
America is in turmoil now because widening inequalities of wealth, opportunity, and justice have reignited the country’s latent racial and ethnic frictions which have been further exacerbated by the political resistance to gun control. This socially destabilizing situation will only get worse with time as these growing causative factors remain unresolved. Weak appeals for calm to rally our “better nature” will matter not; our culture has become much too polarized for rational pleas. The causes of inequality must be reversed, bigotry and racism must be forcefully shamed, and the ubiquitous availability of guns must be halted.