Trump is a fool and a clown and not worthy of our time except for the way he has poisoned our national spirit. He is killing in the abstract with his policies, and that is horrifying and inexcusable. But I am now drawn to a more immediate, more real killing that took place on the streets of my old hometown, the town of my birth – Minneapolis.
If you have not watched the video showing George Floyd die in real time before your eyes, you should. It is not easy; it is not pleasant. It is different from watching shootings, which have a surreal immediacy that seems distant from our lives. Those are about killing. This is about dying.
This is watching the life ebb out of a man who is begging for his life and calling for his mother – a grown man in his 40’s. And an indifferent police officer – the embodiment of all our nightmares about uncaring authority, and the absolute embodiment of every Black person’s fears – kneeling on the man’s his neck with almost disinterest, as if waiting for him to die so he could get back to the business of going out to get a burger or getting home to watch his favorite tv show. If there is anything at all in his gaze, it is a distant satisfaction.
I know these streets of Minneapolis. I know this place. I know this corner. What I cannot know, and what I cannot even imagine, is what it is to be a Black person or any minority in America right now, facing the reality that America only cares in the abstract, and sorts out anger into “good” protests and “bad” protests, just like it sorts out minorities into “good” Black men or “good” feminists or “good” Indians and the “bad” ones who are not expressing their anger in “acceptable” ways.
I’m sorry, and this is where we return to the poisonous origin. This comes down on Donald Trump. He did not cause this, he unleashed this. His bullying, demeaning, mocking, and morally defective behavior have legitimized behavior of division and hate, and allowed this poisonous strain to rise to the surface in the American character.
Perhaps it is good that this is coming to a head. Perhaps something can change, though I don’t know what the change is that we should seek, at least not in practical terms. All I know is that when these things take place it means that something deeply sick is being unleashed in the country. It is the oozing of cultural pus, and the stench is unendurable.
If you want to light candles and think beautiful thoughts, that’s fine. If you want to hold hands and sing “We shall overcome,” that’s fine. We need people to do those things. We need calmer heads and dreamers of great dreams. But I’m not going there, any more than I am going to go down to the corner Target to break a window and steal a television set.
What I am going to do is bear witness, with such tools as I have, to a grown man having his life snuffed out while pleading for mercy and crying out for his mother, and a police officer snuffing out that life with an expression on his face more appropriate to someone waiting for a sandwich at a drive-through than someone taking the life of some mother’s child.
And here is the truth, and you can cut it anyway you want. Even as this is on all of us, and even as this is just the dark eruption of something that has always been in the American character, this murder is on Donald Trump.
We have heard his rhetoric. We have heard his dog whistles. We have seen his tendency to turn everything – even a killing disease – into self-aggrandizing political fodder. We have seen his lack of empathy and gleeful cruelty and pathological narcissism.
But here’s the deal, Donald. You can say what you want. You can blow all the dog whistles you want. You can mouth all the empty platitudes any speechwriter can write for you. But you can’t change the simple truth that anyone of good heart anywhere in America knows. There are not good people on either side of that officer’s knee.
My son, Nik Nerburn, spent six weeks living in Worthington, Minnesota, doing a project for the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership. It involved creating a book that documented the lives of folks in an apartment complex that housed mostly workers at the JBS Pork Processing plant. He taught photography to the kids, photographed family weddings, ate at their tables and heard their stories and their dreams.
I visited him there. I met these kids. I met some of the families.
350 of the workers at the plant have now tested positive for coronavirus.
These are not just numbers, just as the now forgotten children and families in Donald Trump’s prison camps on our southern border are not just numbers.
Does Donald Trump know? Does Donald Trump care?
Can I get a haircut? Will the NFL season start on time?