It’s all wrong. It’s all awful. All of it.
It’s awful that Philando Castile was shot dead by a police officer while sitting in his car during a routine traffic stop in Minnesota. Although the circumstances are foggier in the case of Alton Sterling, who was killed by police in Louisiana as they were attempting to arrest him, it’s awful that both law enforcement and the accused find themselves in such tense, high-stakes situations constantly in this country. It’s awful that five police officers were killed and seven wounded in Dallas last night during a march to protest those two deaths,
at the hands of four snipers who killed shot coldly while civilians and police were trying to, in Rodney King’s famous phrase, just get along. (Note: It’s now unclear how many shooters there were.)
Taking a step back, placing these three incidents in the context of so much else that has happened in recent months and years, one thing is apparent. America today is a seething cauldron of fear, bubbling over frequently into anger and violence.
Specifically, it’s fear in the black community that they are more likely than other Americans to be killed during encounters with police. It’s fear among police that they are more likely than in the past to become victims themselves during encounters with civilians. It’s fear that exercising our right to peaceably assemble will result in violence at the hands of opportunistic criminals.
But there’s a more basic and general fear at play here. It’s a fear that we are no longer one people — E pluribus unum — but a series of atomized tribes who live near each other but not with each other, and certainly not for each other.
That manifests itself in police brutality, riots and, apparently now, even sniper shootings on peaceful marchers; but also in economic anxiety, clashes based on class and race and ethnicity, homegrown terrorism, and more. We have built, or allowed the development of, a fearful society — not all of it irrational fear by any means, because we have also committed, or idly watched, acts of injustice and lawlessness and hard-heartedness and division.
This is not mostly a political problem, although our politics tends to exacerbate rather than ameliorate it. Ask yourself: Who in America today is championing the politics of consensus and growth and unity, rather than that of pitting a group, or coalition of groups, against others in a race toward some notion of purity? Whatever you might identify as an issue on one side has an unhelpful analogue on the other.
Ultimately, though, our politics only reflects what’s wrong with us socially and culturally. If anything, we have chosen a doomed path by trying to deal with these problems in the political sphere, where the incentives tend toward a vicious cycle.
Reversing the decades of advance by fear, and its bases, is not a job we can outsource. We have forgotten a bit of wisdom given us from the start by Benjamin Franklin, and we are slowly hanging separately.