America’s Problem Starts With Obama
Monday night, Fox News bombshell host Megyn Kelly brought in a couple of dozen representatives of the nation’s current Great Divide — “What (If Anything) Is the Matter with Cops Today?” — and, predictably, it quickly devolved into an hour of herding mouthy cats.
The most memorable thing I recall anyone saying is, “Let me finish!” After 60 minutes of this, the only reasonable conclusion was that being interrupted worried the speakers far more than the perishability of young(ish) black men at the hands of police, or the nigh-on impossible task assigned the thin blue line.
If Megan Kelly’s free-for-all demonstrated anything, it’s that we’re nowhere near finished yelling past each other. To her credit, Kelly conceded at sign-off the problem with cable news is things rarely get solved.
Her knock-on justification for an hour of cacophonous chaos — sometimes they “shine a light” on the problem — struck me as overly self-congratulatory. Unless she meant to expose the obvious, that is. In that case, that otherwise forgettable hour was like a million suns illuminating each side’s entrenched talking points:
Black lives matter. All lives matter. You’re a racist if you say that. You’re a racist if you don’t. Well, then, hands up, don’t shoot. Really? Hands-up-don’t-shoot is a lie. Oh, yeah? It turns out Ferguson cops were racist. Maybe, but every investigation of the Michael Brown shooting exonerated Darren Wilson, who still has to live in hiding.
So it went, from the specific to the general and back again, neither side surrendering a rhetorical inch. Why would they? Each sees things through its own special prism, and neither is willing to concede its view is even slightly distorted.
Is this somewhere close to where we were in the summer of 1968, just 12 months after the legendary Summer of Love? Do our strife and unrest, our suspicion and fear, measure up to the powder keg that exploded in Chicago, where Democrats met to nominate Hubert Humphrey, a veteran of the old guard, for the presidency? Better historians than me think the parallels are striking.
Four months later, in November 1968, voters narrowly laid the blame on the party that had been in power, giving Richard Nixon, once political road kill, an astonishing resurrection. Pundits sizing up this year’s unpredictable election can make of that what they will, but this much no one will miss:
Nixon won running a law-and-order campaign.
Deciding against leaving interpretation to chance, in a speech Monday, GOP presumptive nominee Donald Trump proclaimed himself “the law-and-order candidate.”
Whether Trump is able to make that stick will hinge, to a significant extent, on how voters come down on the question of blame for the fix we’re in.
Some of us want to fault the pervasiveness of guns. Never mind the eye-opening Centers for Disease Control statistic showing that, since 1993, as gun ownership has gone up, gun homicides have gone down. Of course, coincidence is not causality, and there may be other factors at work. Even so, this disparity alone explodes the idea that more guns necessarily equals more gun murders.
Nonetheless, we can certainly agree that there are some people who shouldn’t be allowed to get their hands on firearms: Ex-felons, the mentally incompetent, certain classifications of domestic abusers, legitimate threats to pubic order.
That’s all well and good, but what constitutes mental competency and societal menaces often falls into gray areas. Even so, lots of us tell pollsters it would be fine to deny people on secret government lists the right to buy or own a gun. I’m not sure if they’ve thought that through.
Others say once you start publishing hate on social media you should be denied access to firearms.
Tell me, because all the calls will not be obvious: Which government-sanctioned body of supremely infallible judges gets to decide what is speech protected by the First Amendment, and what spills over into hate? And where do those convicted without due process go to appeal?
Still, let’s have that discussion, all the while knowing that virtually every “common sense” reform recommended since the Sandy Hook massacre would not have prevented the killing spree that provoked the latest wave of demands.
On the other hand, will voters blame President Obama, as voters blamed President Johnson in 1968? Why not? Obama himself is master of the blame game when it suits him.
After the recent police shooting deaths of black men (under radically different circumstances) in Baton Rouge, La., and a St. Paul, Minn. suburb, Obama said America has “a serious problem” and all Americans should be “deeply disturbed.” In short, he’d sized up the situation and, despite ongoing investigations into exactly what went down in each instance, arrived at a foreboding conclusion.
Compare that to his selective reticence after Omar Mateen announced with alarming explicitness what motivated his rampage in Pulse, the Orlando nightclub favored by LGBT partiers, and again just a few weeks later when Michah Xavier Johnson made plain in real time why he gunned down a dozen Dallas police officers at a Black Lives Matter march.
Their motives, Obama said with his most somber face, remain unclear.
No wonder we simply yell past each other. When the first black president, who arrived as if descending from a sacred mountain, promising to heal our harsh divides, can’t bring himself to honesty, let alone consistency, what chance do the rest of us have?