Earlier this morning I went up by the still-shuttered Carla Madison Recreation Center to turn in my ballot – you know, over there by East High School and the Tattered Cover? I came home by way of Colfax, passing the beautiful George Floyd mural there on the north side of the street between High and Race. Turned in my ballot; dropped off a deposit at the bank. Done and done.
Got yelled at twice, which these days is about average for Colfax and environs. A woman – camped out by the gym parking lot and obviously suffering from untreated mental illness – suggested that I go do a rude thing to myself. Then, as I turned onto Franklin there by the 1stBank, a youngish man, fully dressed but disheveled and wrapped in one of those thin white blankets you get when you go to the emergency room – you know, the ones they heat up – leaned into the car window and, in a red-faced fury, told me that the whole world, myself included, could go do the same rude thing. To be honest, and having already seen the morning’s headlines, it was all I could do to refrain from seconding his opinion.
It’s no secret that we are in the midst of more than one national crisis, to which our president has responded by posting, lying about, and then taking down a tweet with white-supremacist overtones. The tweet itself would be the stuff of satire were it not so heartbreakingly real and representative of the state of things. It’s a video, taken in a “census-designated area” (I’ve always wanted to live in a census-designated area.) in mid-Florida called the Villages. The Villages are a collection of planned retirement communities, the residents of which are nearly 100% white, older, comfortable, and solidly behind Mr. Trump. The video clip at issue shows part of a June 14 parade celebrating law enforcement, Flag Day, and Mr. Trump’s 74th birthday. The parade consisted of some 650 golf carts – which I’m not sure I was aware that there were that many golf carts in the world – decorated with flags and MAGA signs and formed by residents into a long and slow-moving squadron of angry Trump supporters. Given that the Villagers are not only segregated but safe, comfortable and secure, it’s not clear what they’re angry about, but in the video clip they are VERY ANGRY. Their anger is directed most immediately at a number of equally ANGRY protesters standing along the route waving anti-Trump signs. And shouting. In fact there’s no one in the thing who isn’t shouting. The money shot shows two people in a golf cart yelling at and being yelled at by a nearby woman with a sign calling Mr. Trump a racist and a bigot. Responding to something she’s said shouted (probably not “Jesus loves you!”), the driver of the golf cart (later revealed to be a retired fire department employee) holds up his fist and shouts “White Power!” Which is yet another reason we should all carry 3X5 cards entitled “Things I Promise Never to Say on Camera.” And a hint that life in the Villages may not be as idyllic as all that, even with a chicken in every pot and a golf cart in every garage.
The Republican club that sponsored the parade has since condemned the incident as “appalling,” and has called for national unity. Ditto with the local fire department. Noted, with appreciation.
Can we do better than this? For starters we might could stop shouting, but I suppose that goes without saying – although I also suppose that when you’ve just said a thing you needn’t and perhaps shouldn’t follow it up with “that goes without saying” because if in fact it did go without saying you wouldn’t have said it in the first place. But I digress.
We know that racism and systemic racism are cancers, eating away at the American soul. At the same time, we know that shouting at people – even if they actually are white supremacists and not just hapless retirees giving voice to the first sentiment that sadly enough for them and for the rest of us comes to mind in the heat of the moment – does nothing to move things forward. Even as we know, or at least I suppose we do, that allowing those suffering with mental illness to wander the streets is no way to care for them.
Do we know that America is broken? It’s an unwelcome realization, but it is becoming increasingly clear to me that America is indeed broken. That’s one thing the pandemic has shown us, and in saying that I’m not just thinking about the way America does health care. As noted elsewhere, the United States is unique among the world’s nations for politicizing the wearing of masks. And now, infamously, the states in which COVID-19 infections have really spiked are the same red states that opened up too quickly as a matter of politics. When people who should know better disregard – and by disregard I mean against all reason actively dismiss as a left-wing conspiracy – medically sound and perfectly reasonable policy recommendations that were intended to do nothing more than protect the health of every American, we have a problem. As in, “Houston, we have a problem.”
A broken system – and believe me we were headed for trouble long before the 2016 election – can neither address nor fix the growing gap between the wealthy and the rest of us. It cannot address climate change, or the ongoing crisis in health care, or systemic racism. It cannot even, for heaven’s sake, contain a pandemic that so far has taken the lives of 128,000 Americans.
It’s when you realize you’re broken that you can begin to take steps to clean up the mess and find better ways of doing things. THINGS DO NOT HAVE TO BE THE WAY THEY ARE. The Holy Spirit has given us – because we are loved – the chance to take stock, clear away the rubble and build anew. It’s time. Let’s not waste it. Oh, and BTW? Jesus loves you.