Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Frank Bruni...Why I'm So Heartsick....

I was born in 1964, so I was much too young in 1968 to be aware of the fires and the fury. In the mid-1970s, when President Richard Nixon resigned, I was hardly attentive or mature enough to appreciate the magnitude of the moment. It wasn’t until the early 1980s, really, that I became a rapt and opinionated consumer of current events.

So from then to now is the timeline — the context — for the following statement: I have never before been so heartsick about the state of America. I have never before felt so panicked about our future. We’re a nation in terrible crisis, at a crossroads we must navigate with enormous generosity of spirit and exquisite care. And especially with President Trump at the helm, I’m not sure we’re up to that.
I’m heartsick and panicked because when I look at that video of the last minutes of George Floyd’s life, I see not just unconscionable cruelty but inexplicable failure. How is it that more than five decades since 1968, we still have such rampant police brutality, such florid racism? Floyd’s fate wasn’t an aberration. It was an emblem.

I’m heartsick and panicked because of the internet. We’ve confronted and survived social upheaval, urban unrest and pronounced political schisms before, but not with Twitter. Not with Facebook. Not with an information (and misinformation) ecosystem in which individuals curate their sources of “news” to the point where they customize their realities, consuming utterly different narratives, arriving at spectacularly divergent conclusions and having their biases hardened like granite.
Did you read about the recent poll in which 44 percent of Republicans said that Bill Gates was plotting to use a coronavirus vaccine to implant microchips in our bodies? If you did, tell me how we hold on to a healthy, functioning democracy with a citizenry so crazily receptive to conspiracy theories — so perversely gullible.

I’m heartsick and panicked because the one-two-three punch of the coronavirus, tens of millions of people plunged into unemployment and Floyd’s shocking death may well be more than this already teetering country can withstand. That series of stressors has exposed us to ourselves: our ludicrous inequality, our capacity for ugliness. Less than six months ago, Trump became only the third American president in history to be impeached, and that’s almost never mentioned anymore. It’s nothing compared with the national traumas since. That’s how dire these times of ours are.

I’m heartsick and panicked because of all the cowardice I see, and while it’s everywhere, it’s especially conspicuous among the Republicans who enable Trump. They know that he’s rotten. They dread what he’ll say or do next. Yet they want so selfishly not to provoke his wrath that they gag themselves, and if they suffocate America in the process, so be it.

Take a look at this montage put together by Kasie Hunt of NBC News, who tried in vain to get Republican senators to say something meaningful about the use of flash grenades and chemical spray to disperse peaceful protesters so that the president could pose outside a Washington church with the Bible in his paw. The senators’ evasions are breathtaking — and par for the course.

Mike Allen of Axios related a quote from an unnamed “senior White House official” who cringed at the exultation in the White House over that photo op, no matter its wretched orchestration: “I’ve never been more ashamed. I’m really honestly disgusted. I’m sick to my stomach.”

Then why is the official still there, cowering in a cloak of anonymity? Trump can only be Trump. The bad actors around him, including most Republican politicians in Washington, have chosen to be little or no better.

I’m heartsick and panicked because of what will happen in November. It’s possible that Trump loses; that would be my current bet. But if he does, he’ll promote division rather than healing by attacking the legitimacy of the results, just as he has undermined other processes and institutions that don’t bend readily to his whims. He’s determined to bury anything that doesn’t flatter him.

That’s another reason I’m heartsick and panicked: because the designated caretaker of our future behaves more like its undertaker.

And yet …

It happened on Sunday night in Louisville, Ky., of all places. I say “of all places” because Louisville is where Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old African-American emergency room technician, was fatally shot by police officers who, executing a search warrant that had nothing to do with her specifically, used a battering ram to enter her apartment. You can read in more detail about the circumstances of her death in this account in The Times.

That happened in March. Over the past week, Louisville has been the scene of especially tense encounters between protesters and the police, and of harrowing violence. On Monday, David McAtee was shot and killed just outside of the restaurant he owned, YaYa’s BBQ, in what Louisville authorities said was an exchange of gunfire involving Louisville Metro police and members of the Kentucky National Guard. Pictures and videos from Louisville portray a militarized police force and streets that look like war zones.

But a video from Sunday night portrayed something else. Captured and shared by Roberto Ferdman of Vice News, it showed a protester and a police officer clutching each other. Hugging.

“She just went in for the hug, and the officer accepted,” Ferdman wrote in the tweet in which the video appears. “Lasted almost a minute. Incredible.” Indeed. And while it’s just one moment involving two people, it says something and it means something. There’s hope in that hug.

It doesn’t contradict and can’t compete with the images of George Floyd being tortured. It doesn’t erase or excuse what happened to Breonna Taylor. It’s not closer to the norm than those injustices. Given too much weight, it’s a distraction.
But it’s a reminder that within our messy humanity, there’s a yearning for unity that can be every bit as powerful as any impulse for division. There’s tenderness. While there are too many Americans who thrill to confrontation and find hate more intoxicating than love, there are more, in my opinion, who want what the protester and police officer in that video seem to want: connection, healing, peace.
The video went viral and has been watched about three million times.

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