By FRANK CARINI
The country is in a bad place when we can’t even agree that neo-Nazis and white supremacists are not very fine people. A vocal minority, which likely includes those who recently goose stepped their way across Charlottesville, Va., is outraged that a black NFL quarterback would dare kneel during the national anthem to protest police misconduct.
The sitting president of the United States has even taken credit that the over-criticized quarterback remains unemployed.
It’s astonishing that 72 years after World War II ended, groups of Americans would proudly carry swastikas and Nazi propaganda, give Nazi heil salutes, and chant “Sieg Heil.”
What’s more offensive? Our country’s collection of 21st-century Nazis spitting on the graves of the 407,316 servicemen and women killed during World War II, or an African-American athlete using his profile to protest the police killing of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old black child playing with a toy gun in a Cleveland park, and other police wrongdoing?
It’s not a difficult question, or at least he shouldn’t be. The president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association, for one, knows where the problem lies: NFL players kneeling during "The Star-Spangled Banner." Cleveland police officers had been preparing to hold a large American flag on the field while the national anthem was played before the Browns’ first regular-season game. They won’t now, because some Browns kneeled during the national anthem before preseason games.
As for the execution of Tamir, the patrolmen union's president essentially blamed the 12-year-old. He issued a statement implying that Tamir was at fault when he was shot at point-blank range some two seconds after police arrived at the park.
“Tamir Rice is in the wrong,” the union president told Politico. “He’s menacing. He’s 5-feet-7, 191 pounds. He wasn’t that little kid you’re seeing in pictures. He’s a 12-year-old in an adult body.”
The officer who fatally shot Tamir is white. The union president is white. The child was black.
During last month’s hate march in Charlottesville, neo-Nazis chanted “Jews will not replace us!” and “Blood and soil!” Their apologists said they were there to protest the removal of a Confederate statue.
Replace neo-Nazis with ultra-conservative Muslims and “Jews” with “Christians” and let the Charlottesville incident play out as it did, with the murder of a woman counter-protesting the marchers’ message. Would the same both-sides-are-to-blame advocates be screaming “Free Speech!” and claiming some very fine people were just there to protect a Civil War monument?
The reaction before, during and after the march would have been decidedly different.
Society is being ripped apart, but not because of some Democrat vs. Republican reality TV show, or by some ongoing feud between conservatives and liberals. It’s being led backwards by a disrespect of knowledge and truth. It’s become fashionable to embrace ignorance and mock critical thinking. The “debate” over climate change/global warming/accepted science perfectly illustrates this point.
You don’t need a high-school diploma to be a critical thinker. A Ph.D. doesn’t shield you from ignorance. Lying doesn’t make you the best, and alternative facts are fake.
We’re quickly descending a slippery slope that will end with a rib-breaking bellyflop in the D.C. swamp. A rising tide of broken ideology propped up by greed and vindictiveness has created an ever-expanding fault line. We’re fractured, and fracked.
The West is literally burning, and much of the rest of the country is drowning. Environmental protections are being chainsawed; the social safety net is being torn apart; our bedrock public education system, long under siege, has been put up for sale; and chunks of the public trust could soon be put up for auction — all this in the interest of industry and individual profit.
We’re distracted by crowd sizes, and entertained by “presidential” tweets. We applaud or hiss when a politician changes his or her party affiliation, excited that it could make or break a filibuster. We blame Dreamers for society’s ills.
We’re quick to label someone as both a communist and socialist — our infatuation with ignorance blinds us to the fact that the two philosophies have some very stark differences. We throw around labels such as “white trash” and “thug” to disparage anyone we don’t agree with or like. We call our neighbors to the south “rapists,” “murders” and “drug mules.” We elected and then pardoned a racist sheriff who terrorized people of color for years.
We feel safer and tougher when we vilify an entire group of people. Our history is paved with those the patriotic mob has trampled: Native Americans, kidnapped Africans, Irish immigrants, Italian immigrants, Japanese-Americans, African-Americans, McCarthy Communists, gays and lesbians, Muslims, Mexicans, transgender people. Sadly, we lack a collective courage to teach history, or even adequately fund education.
All this hate and ignorance is getting most of us nowhere. All it’s doing is getting unqualified people elected and further concentrating wealth and power.
We need to open our minds and hearts. Knowledge is a virtue. Compassion is a strength.
Frank Carini is the ecoRI News editor.