“What do you have to lose?”
Trump threw out this empty, flippant line most famously when urging black listeners to vote for him in 2016. … And “What do you have to lose?” he later asked as he cajoled coronavirus patients to try an unproven medication.
Well, now we all know what we—all of us, blacks, whites and everyone in between—risked in that unlikely election: the lives of loved ones, our own health, economic security, peace of mind, the ability to engage in the simple pleasures of daily life without once evaluating risk before stepping out the door or bringing visitors in.
While Trump isn’t responsible for the existence of the virus, he is responsible for the sloppy lack of leadership that allowed it to spread like pollen in a Midwest springtime while he spewed assurances it would miraculously disappear.
“I take no responsibility,” he said in answer to a reporter’s question about his role in leading the battle against the pandemic. Harry Truman he isn’t. Tasked with the presidency upon the death of FDR, one of the giants of that office, Truman posted a sign on his desk in the oval office: “The buck stops here.” Until now, that was considered a truism, the essence of presidency.
But I digress. On the civic level, we’ve lost, among other things:
But all is not lost. Look at what we’ve gained. With the country in virtual coronavirus lockdown, a 17-year-old captured on her cell phone the slow, brutal murder of George Floyd by uniformed police in the streets of Minneapolis. It was a cruel loss for Floyd’s family and friends, but the video awakened a proverbial sleeping giant. Millions of people, of all colors and persuasions, saw that video and recognized, as many of us never had before, the reality of lives fraught with risk simply because one’s skin is brown or black, and to the reality of the oft-hidden inhumanity under blue uniforms and silver badges.
Had George Floyd not been murdered exactly when and how he was, the story of the pandemic would have been simply a story of the pandemic. But now it’s much more. Demonstrations spread from Minneapolis to New York, Washington, Seattle, Los Angeles … to places like tiny Pine Ridge, South Dakota, and Victor, Idaho … and around the globe—Capetown in South Africa, Melbourne in Australia, Copenhagen in Denmark, Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.
With many people out of work, the availability of time, energy, and commitment coalesced to power the demonstrations that already are prodding local governments to restructure police departments, develop more demanding training for officers, prosecute killings by police more diligently, and create more robust social services on the local level.
Minneapolis, for one, has already drafted an amendment of their charter with provisions for replacing the police department with a Department of Community Safety and Violence Prevention.” Thus amended, the charter will mandate a holistic, public-health oriented approach to ensuring public safety. Others likely will follow.
The perfect storm has met the fierce urgency of now.
We must keep up the momentum. It’s long past time and too late for too many.
Thoughts for Our Time
“Conservatism discards Prescription, shrinks from Principle, disavows Progress; having rejected all respect for antiquity, it offers no redress for the present, and makes no preparation for the future.”