Alan Zendell, August 31, 2020
When my younger son was a high school junior he was attacked in the school cafeteria. Since my son is white, and the boy who jumped on him in front of hundreds of students and three teachers was black, it looked like a racial incident. In our highly diverse county that prided itself on racial harmony, that set off a knee-jerk chain reaction of events. Both boys, who were good students with clean records, were suspended during exams week.
The truth was that the two sixteen-year-olds were friends and teammates. No harm was done and the boys wound up shaking hands. The testosterone-charged incident arose over (what else?) the attentions of a girl at a party the previous weekend. It was a minor thing that would have gone unnoticed and completely forgotten the next day if not for the intervention and over-reaction of a politically motivated school superintendent.
The suspension ruined any chance of either boy earning an athletic scholarship to college. It was devastating to their morale, and increased tension and resentment throughout the school community – to what end? So an ambitious politician could claim he had enacted a zero tolerance policy on racial violence, though the teachers who witnessed the incident testified that no such thing had occurred.
That was my first personal interaction with a lying politician who cared more about his image than the integrity of the institution he was empowered to manage and the welfare of the people we’d trusted him to protect. It taught me that the only way to stop it from recurring was to force people like him to be accountable for their malfeasance.
The carnage these people leave in their wake is often irreversible. Although the offending politician paid a price for what he did, that didn’t mitigate the harm done to the boys. (Fortunately, they both grew into fine adults.)
What we experienced was not an isolated episode. Things like that happen all the time, at all levels of government, and ultimately, it’s up to us to fix them. Whenever politics is involved, the first casualty is truth. The facts were clear for everyone to see, yet they were ignored. In battle, it’s referred to as the fog of war. Once emotions are triggered, the result is usually chaos, the outcome wrong-headed.
Demagogues know this. It’s how they survive and prosper. They know that if they cause enough confusion, no one will ask who instigated it. In today’s world of divisive politics, the greatest crime of our current would-be autocrat is the degradation of truth. Spinning a narrative has become more important than honest investigation and determination of facts.
We’ve made enormous progress in race relations since I was a kid, but the problem remains larger and more deeply ingrained than we realized. The election of Barack Obama in 2008 proved that we had matured considerably as a nation, but it also energized the latent racism remaining in large segments of our population, which became the populist movement that enabled someone like Donald Trump to become president.
One of the tragedies of the Trump administration is that systemic racism among some people in law enforcement is exacerbated by a president who has no respect for truth. People of color being murdered by rogue police officers erupts into demonstrations of civil disobedience, which after dark, attract thugs, criminals, and political agitators. It has always been this way – what’s different now is a shameless president who knows that if he throws gasoline on the fire, the question of who caused it will be lost in the ashes.
If we let him, Donald Trump will continue to spread his own sick narrative. There is no connection between a nonviolent black man being murdered in the streets of a typical American city by police and the security of our suburbs. But in the hands of a skillful distorter of truth like Donald Trump, a racist act of violence committed by law enforcement personnel has somehow been twisted into a narrative that raging hordes of non-white anarchists are planning to ravage our white suburban housewives. Trump’s solution is to have federal police marching in our streets.
Far too many angry Americans cheer Trump on because he seems to get away with things they wish they could. It’s like a Robin Hood scenario in which the folk hero villain turns out to be a depraved individual who keeps the gold and power he steals to enrich himself.
This is not a political debate. It is literally about the future of our country and the minds of our children who are being exposed to it. It’s not about Trump or Biden. It’s about We the People.