June 3, 2020

On the Streets Where You Live

Now while the COVID pandemic is still raging, and while the country is still engaged in a war over whether to open things up and let the disease spread where it will, we are now plunged into a new war, ultimately a much worse one.

It looks as if the evil specter of slavery that has been haunting this country for 400 years is demanding a reckoning. It’s not just a natural disaster hitting us this time, but a confrontation with our own history, our still-unresolved issues of race that have their root in that horrible, barbaric institution, which flourished in this country for a longer time than it has been outlawed.

COVID still is a natural disaster of unprecedented dimensions, a crisis still in progress, and now we are hit by another crisis of great magnitude, and now the two crises are interacting with each other in ways no one can predict.

This crisis is a natural disaster of human nature. We sometimes look at nature as if we aren’t part of it, but COVID has been a cosmic crack of the whip to disabuse us of that naïve notion.

Now the brutal murder of George Floyd by a gang of police officers has become the catalyst to ignite a nuclear chain reaction of events that is fueled by the energy of all the millions of similarly heartless and savage murders that have taken place over decades and centuries without justice. Even now in 2020, police can murder human beings with no consequences.

We are seeing now a resurfacing of issues that have burned hot underground for America’s entire history, first as a colony and later as a nation.

The initial reckoning took place in the American Civil War, with more than 600,000 Americans dead, but was left uncompleted because the leader who had the moral authority and the temperament to administer the transition to a post-slavery world “with malice toward none” was cut down.

We would have been a much better country today if Lincoln had not been murdered. Slavery, the curse of America, has still not been eradicated. The essence of slavery, the culture of slavery still has a strong presence in American life.

It seems the time for reckoning with that lingering infection cannot be put off forever. Eventually the “terrible swift sword” must come.

Slavery started in 1619 in Jamestown, Virginia. It was outlawed in 1865, 246 years later. It’s been outlawed for 155 years.

I guess it should be no surprise then that the attitudes that underlay slavery have not been fully routed out of this country. And that is the underlying conflict that we are seeing explode during the last several days. Unresolved issues from the time of Lincoln. He was killed before he could administer the actual abolition of slavery. With his moral authority he could have done a much better job of managing the transition than his successor, the southerner Andrew Johnson did.

The military occupation of the south was curtailed by President Johnson before the reform had time to set in. With the withdrawal of the Union armies, the former slaveholders and racists were able to re-establish their society, with its cornerstone belief in subjugation of the Africans. Though the outward form of slavery was abolished, what followed it continued much of what had gone before.

After the change to a post-slavery society didn’t take place during the rebuilding of the South after the Civil War, things settled back to a modified version of the former status quo. With the best opportunity for reform missed, it never really did happen. The spirit of white supremacy continued to thrive and wield a lot of power in the South. And just as in the time of the Civil War, white supremacy was not confined to the South. That culture had its adherents across America. And it still does.

Trump was able to capitalize on the underlying racism of the country, to signal to the white rage that went along with so many people having their lives ruined by the Crash of 2008. Trump channeled that rage, which was already misguided by Tea Party propaganda, and used it to gain power. A big part of his power is that bloc of white supremacists, so he is constantly signaling to them, arousing them, inciting them.

Now the pandemic and the economic catastrophe it has brought on have brought many of these seething issues underlying American life to a head.

Now while the pandemic is still raging, we are plunged into a new crisis that is deeper, and could cause a great deal more trouble. And this crisis is on top of the pandemic. The danger of people gathering in large groups spreading the lethal Coronavirus will no doubt be greatly worsened by all the demonstrations and civil unrest.

So we are back to where we were in March in the sense that we barely know from moment to moment what calamity is going to take place.

These are highly challenging times. Everyone’s adaptability is being tested.

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