The pandemic this time takes a back seat in a week that has seen protests in response to the murder of George Floyd that some have compared to 1968.
In 1968, I was 20 years old, working on a conscientious objector status. Many of us felt that the revolution was here after the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy. In August, the Democratic Convention in Chicago turned into what many called “a police riot.” Mayor Richard J. Daley had his police beat and tear-gas the protesters. As I watched the convention on a black and white TV in an apartment in New Brunswick, New Jersey, I could not believe the violence coming at the hands of the very people–the police–who were supposed to protect us.
Fast forward to November 15, 1969. The March on Washington, also known as the Moratorium, drew over 500,000 people. When the protest went on too long, the police used tear gas to break up the marchers. My wife and I got a small dose of the gas at DuPont Circle, and that evening, President Nixon disavowed the marchers. According to Wikipedia, “Nixon watched the march on television, staying up until 11 p.m. as he obsessively watched the demonstration outside of the White House and tried to count how people were participating.” Sound familiar?
I have not watched the brutal killing of George Floyd, nor do I plan to. I’ve not watched ISIS beheadings for that matter, nor other violent scenes on the internet. What I do know is that killing a handcuffed man giving no resistance while kneeling on his neck for over eight minutes is more than police brutality. Black lives apparently don’t matter to some people–especially this president. His teleprompter-read speeches sound like he is recording a hostage video, while his Twitter utterances show his real feelings.
I don’t know any Trump supporters, aside from friends of some of our friends here in Lyons. I can’t imagine anyone believing his constant stream of lies (over 19,000 false or misleading claims since taking office as of last month, according to the Washington Post fact-checkers). The provocations, threats, and insults are largely distractions meant to divert attention away from the twin catastrophes of the pandemic and subsequent economic chaos.
Over the last 50 years or so, I have looked at our presidents as flawed and self-serving leaders.
Presidents to me have always been disappointing at best and bordering on evil at worst. JFK started off good with the handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis, but then there was the Bay of Pigs fiasco. Lyndon Johnson did some nice work with the Civil Rights Acts, but then had to blow it with the escalation of the Vietnam War. I remember watching his speech on TV in my college dorm’s rec room and loudly cheering when he said he was not going to run again.
Nixon was a horrible man with the continuation and escalation again of that war. I loved that he was taken down by Watergate. Gerald Ford was like a palate cleanser after the dastardly Nixon. Jimmy Carter was a decent man, but his ineffectiveness with the Iranian hostage situation and long lines to get gas cost him a second term. At least his post-presidency work with Habitat for Humanity proved he was putting his money where his mouth was. George H.W. Bush was kind of nondescript, and Reagan was perhaps the last of the anti-communist hardliners (“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall”).
Bill Clinton had some good policies, but was a morally reprehensible man. George W. Bush was deceptive, with the invasion of Iraq built on lies, and terribly ineffective with Hurricane Katrina. Though I admire and respect Barack Obama, his decency was tarnished by his deportations of people trying to escape violence in their home countries.
And that brings us to Trump. When he rode down the golden escalator of Trump Tower to announce his candidacy, I looked at him as a bloviating Birther who would never win. How wrong I was. I don’t need to get into a screed about all his faults, but this week, with his bible photo-op and threats of “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” and numerous others, has really sickened me.
The 105,000 dead from the virus, and the brutal death of George Floyd, could have, for just about any other president, involved expressions of sympathy and appropriate sadness. But this president has no capacity for empathy or even feigned decency. I worked in my former professional life as a mental health clinician. I worked primarily with sexual abusers. Many of them expressed remorse for the harm they caused. But there were some that I believed should never be let out of prison because they lacked empathy. How could someone do harm to a child or defenseless person?
Empathy–putting yourself in another person’s place–usually inhibits our impulses to act out or harm another person. Narcissism blocks true feelings of empathy. Trump is not only narcissistic, but his diagnosis (I did do diagnoses of individuals) borders on what some would call pathologically narcissistic.
We have an election coming in November. Some polls are predicting a Trump defeat. But I remember 2016, and I wish I were confident that Biden will win. I’m not nuts about Biden, but I believe he is a decent man. It would be a breath of fresh air to return to some sense of normalcy. But the virus will likely still be with us, and economists are saying that we will have a long financial recovery ahead, one measured in years.
It was just a few years ago that Colin Kaepernick took a knee to protest the killings of young black men at the hands of law enforcement. Tuesday’s front page of the Denver Post showed the white chief of police marching arm in arm with a young black woman in the streets of Denver. That picture expresses hope, while Trump’s bible-hoisting photo-op shows only stark hypocrisy.
It is well past time for ending racial injustice and income inequality. This is what the protests are all about. Black lives do matter. Only Trump will never get it.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this Opinion Column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any staff member, contribution writer or the Lyons Recorder.