Friday, June 19, 2020

"Is Anybody in Charge?"

Sydney M. Williams

Thought of the Day
“Is Anybody in Charge?”
June 20, 2020

The inmates have taken over the asylum.”
                                                                        Idiom, adopted from the short story
                                                                        “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether,” 1845
                                                                        Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1949)

Civilization moves inexorably forward. Over centuries, more and more people have enjoyed the freedom that democratic forms of government offer, and the fruits that industrial and technological advancements and free market capitalism provide. But bumps and potholes inhibit progress. The United States (and the western world) must not allow the disruptions by a few to impede the rights of the many. In the midst of chaos, we ask: Is anybody in charge?

Reminiscent of the takeover of deans’ offices in 1968, college students at UCLA, already granted safe spaces where they are protected from white-privileged professors and students, demand a “no-harm” grading system, shorter exams and extended deadlines for Black students. As a form of virtue signaling, corporations empower activists, in hopes of reducing the threat of litigation. The New York Times, at the instigation of the staff, fired James Bennet, a white, male editor for publishing a Republican Senator’s op-ed. A headline in the Philadelphia Inquirer, “Buildings Matter, Too,” led to the resignation of a top editor. In a dozen and more cities, like New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and Des Moines protests turned into riots, and looters took to the streets, burning cars, smashing windows and robbing stores. Police stepped aside and knelt in obeisance to protesters.

Mayor Jenny Durkan of Seattle has allowed a vigilante group to take over six blocks in the residential area of Capital Hill, which includes a police station, as an autonomous zone (CHAZ). They patrol its border with weapons, demand rent control and reverse gentrification. They want to abolish the police force and receive free healthcare, and they want the release of all those imprisoned on marijuana charges. Under the banner of Black Lives Matter, mobs have defaced and destroyed statues across the country. While their preferred targets are Southern Civil War Generals, they have been indiscriminate in their targets. In Los Angeles, a statue of Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who saved the lives of thousands of Jews during World War II was marred with irrelevant slogans: “BLM” and “Free Palestine.” In Washington, D.C., vandals defaced the Lincoln Memorial and the World War II Memorial. World War I American doughboy statues in Birmingham, Alabama and Pittsburg, Pennsylvania were vandalized. The Sacred Heart of Jesus statue at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Wasco, California had its head ripped off.

The erection and tearing down of figures from our past should be left to sober debate and reflection, not mobs. Nevertheless, it is not statues that should be permanent in our culture, but respect, civility and tolerance. Our local paper, the New London Day, celebrated the taking down of the statute of Christopher Columbus because it was “offensive.” They said it represented a symbol of “dominance of one group over another.” But that has always been so – tribes have fought tribes and nations have fought nations. One side always dominates.  No mention was made of the risks Columbus took in his voyage of discovery. Far wiser were words uttered by President Trump at West Point: “What has historically made America unique is the durability of its institutions against the passions and prejudices of the moment.”

Half a dozen retired U.S. Generals denounced President Trump for threatening to call in the military to subdue violent protests. On June 3, 2020, National Guard vehicles, along with police, blocked 16th Street near Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C. Under the Insurrection Act of 1807, Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and George H.W. Bush deployed troops to states. In a June 1, 2020 article in the Chicago Tribune, Jonathon Berlin and Kori Rumore listed twelve occasions when the President, under the Armed Forces Reserve Act of 1952, sent troops to quell riots.

While the use of the military to quash civilian rioters is rare, it is even more unusual for retired generals to criticize an elected President. Under our Constitution, the military is subservient to an elected, civilian President. There should never be any question as to who has ultimate authority. General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, apologized for joining the President in his walk across Lafayette Square to St. John’s Episcopal Church whose basement had been burned by rioters. It was his apology, not the walk, that turned the event political. General Martin Dempsey referred to President Trump’s rhetoric as “inflammatory.” This is the same General Dempsey who as President Obama’s nominee to be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff refused to deploy F-16s from Aviano Airbase in Italy to protect U.S. soldiers at the Benghazi compound in September 2012. General James Mattis, in The Atlantic wrote: “Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people – does not even pretend to try.” Has General Mattis forgotten the ways in which we have been divided by those who feign inclusion? The compartmentalizing of the electorate by sex, sexual orientation and race; the splitting of us into oppressors and victims; the calling of Trump voters “deplorables” and “clinging to guns and religion.” The identity politics of Democrats are not politics of inclusion.

Slavery was an abomination, which the Civil War was fought to eliminate. But preservation of the Union was also critical to Lincoln. An estimated 360,000 Northern soldiers died during the War and almost as many from the South. Families were torn apart, brother fought brother. Statues of Southern generals and politicians were erected, not to honor the antebellum South, but to help reconcile a nation divided by rivers of fraternal blood.

In his 1919 poem “The Second Coming,” written in the aftermath of the Great War and during the infamous Spanish Influenza, William Butler Yeats wrote; “Things fall apart, the center cannot hold;/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…/The best lack all conviction, while the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity.” The right to protest is protected; anarchy is not. We need leaders who call for unity, but who do so with wisdom, sanity, civility and tolerance.

Defunding the police is not an answer to crime-infested streets, nor is dividing people into victims and oppressors unifying. A free people are not a homogenous unit. We need an escalator that allows people to move up the economic ladder, based on ability and aspiration, regardless of race, sex or religion. We cannot forget that a poor white family in Appalachia has more in common with a poverty-stricken inner-city Black family, than does that Black family’s “woke,” hypocritical ally twenty blocks south, who marches with a sign calling out white oppressors, and then heads home to her doorman building. When leaders abdicate responsibility, as has happened in blue-coated cities, elite universities and schools, corporations and media outlets, chaos ensues. During the economic challenging and inflation-ridden 1970s, the New York Times concluded an April 14, 1978 column that we lived in “an atmosphere of confusion, indecision and incoherence.” Words that could serve as an epitaph for today.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home