Politics today is depressing, but is it any more depressing than our everyday existence? I would argue that the need to stay politically engaged in this moment might be the last, best defense against people falling into hopeless despair right now. Absent the election little more than 60 days away — and actually starting much sooner with mail in ballots and early voting — we would watch these events unfold as helpless spectators.
Given these circumstances, I have great respect for people who go beyond their democratic privileges to speak out against injustice as it’s unfolding. I firmly believe that changing power in Washington has the potential to make a tremendous impact in our lives, but it’s a grave error to believe that any person will save us from the world we’re now confronting. It’s so easy to fall back into self-deception and cynicism. It takes courage to stand up and say enough and, yes, keep up the pressure on the candidates we vote for as well.
That makes the events this week even more potentially dispiriting. Two people exercising their rights of free speech — albeit after curfew — were gunned down by a minor toting an automatic weapon. And the reaction on this from the right was to praise this murderer. I have no words for this.
I wrote a three part series recently on “Taxi Driver” and did quite a bit of soul searching about my own reaction to the film through the years. I have, at times, voiced the opinion that Travis Bickle’s actions were justified in the face of police indifference to the horrors being perpetuated. I have since walked away from that opinion. But I need to point out that Bickle went on a murderous rampage to kill pimps and johns of young girls. There’s room for debate on whether extreme action is justified to put an end to such inhumanity.
What is the justification for murdering people protesting a police injustice? I cannot fathom anyone believing that “law and order” benefits from vigilantes driving across state lines and using deadly force to defend neighborhoods where they do not live because a curfew has been violated. Absent a nearly religious need some people have to give cover to Donald Trump in all circumstances, I cannot imagine rational human beings freely expressing that sort of opinion.
So we live in dispiriting times. It’s horrific than a man was shot seven times in the back and is now paralyzed. It’s also horrific that a 17-year old felt justified in opening fire on peaceful protesters. And, to me, it’s most horrific of all that there’s even a moral debate about any of this. Forget about the discussion of whether Americans share the same vocabulary or the same set of facts — we apparently don’t even share the same sense of right and wrong anymore.
We carry on amid all this because we have no choice. Despair and withdrawal are luxuries right now, and we have to summon whatever strength and courage we have to keep going. It’s clear by now that there are certain people who want routines and sports and a rising stock market to send us back into complacency and escapism. It’s up to us to declare “not this time” and heed the words of Frederick Douglass: “power concedes nothing without a demand.”