See how we are
(AP: John Minchillo)
"See how we are. Gotta keep bars in between us.
See how we are.
We only sing about it once in every twenty years
See how we are. Oh, see how we are."
Exene Cervenka and John Doe, Electra Records (1987),
Yesterday, a mob breached the capital in DC, destroying property, stealing and violently resisting capital police. The riots were fatal, four people are dead. One phrase seemed to be repeated throughout the day and evening, “This is not who we are.”
I can’t help but question that. To solve a problem you have to acknowledge it, and I wonder if we possess the cultural will do so. It’s incredible to me that politicians who have enabled their leader’s behavior for years feigned surprise at the events in the capital. I understand sadness, disgust, disappointment, but what part of this was in any way surprising? This is the very predictable end to the years of rhetoric and vitriol, and the Trump we saw yesterday was not some new and different person.
This President seemed at first to legitimately be surprised at what he had wrought. His flaccid “rebukes“ felt as though even he realized that you can’t put this kind of belligerent rage back into the bottle. But his pride and contempt soon flared again, causing aides in the White House to avoid him like a petulant child. As the scene wore on, elected leaders sheltering in place like a generation of school children have grown up doing, seemingly unaware of the irony. One wonders again, how is any of this surprising?
And yet, even after shots were fired, even after people died, even after the very chambers in which they meet were desecrated, 100 cowards and traitors still walked lock-step with their leader's wishes and threw more legitimacy on the wild fears and false hopes of the very mob that threatened them. Why? The siren song of power? Greed? Fame? Fear? What motivated them at that late hour of a long day?
Two points of reflection for me: one I believe was missed, and the other glaringly obvious. First, none of those people care about any politician aligned with Trump. They are laughing at them. Laughing at the cowardliness and the bootlicking. Laughing at how quickly anyone can fall from Trump's favor and be left in the cold. Laughing at political careers tossed in the dumpster for doing the right thing. If these politicians believe they can ever appease the base on their own, they are bigger fools than can almost be conceived. Ask Kemp, ask Pence. Loyalty is defined as serving every whim, and the moment they don't, they are attacked and blacklisted. The very base they deluded themselves into thinking they had the support of, turned on them politically, and as we saw yesterday turned on them physically.
Second and more obvious, that if the ethnic makeup of that crowd had been black or brown, dozens of people would have died. Hundreds arrested. The images would have been of men and women being beaten down like animals. We all know this, those belligerent idiots know it too. Violent, angry, incoherent, heavily armed white people are STILL somehow dramatically less scary to our culture at large than a black man taking a jog through a white neighborhood. This IS who we are. Sadly, at least half of our fellow citizens are seemingly okay with that state of the union, even if they can't bring themselves to admit the beliefs that underpin their complacency. So long as they don't have to pay taxes, racism is just an unattractive part of our culture we all to have live with.
That sounds pretty grim, I'll admit. But I make art to remind us of our humanity. My father was the American Dream personified; a poor, Mexican-American who became a field grade officer, doctor, and deacon in his church. Though I wonder if that dream is still possible, I want to. I want to believe that now 2020 has turned the lights on and we can see ourselves as we are, and not how we wish to be, maybe, just maybe that is starting point of real evolution and growth. I don't know. That's my hope. I know we cannot change by turning away. We cannot grow by behaving as we always have. We've seen things we cannot unsee this past year, and again yesterday. That's the space of discomfort. Discomfort is where real creativity happens.