America is at a low ebb. Pain and destruction strangle hopes and dreams of people across the country. People are dying – alone from a terrible virus or from a knee on the neck in full public view. Cities burn, destroying businesses and inflaming divisions. Tens of millions are out of work. The president makes it all worse.
This is the state of the union as the nation reels from multiple blows, each one arriving with swift and overwhelming force. Long-standing, untreated inequalities have been exposed anew, and they, in turn, have highlighted the country’s real vulnerabilities. What has been just below the surface, known but barely acknowledged and rarely addressed seriously, is now impossible to ignore.
America experienced a wave of burning cities in the aftermath of a racial killing in 1968. America was hit by a pandemic in 1918 that killed even more people than the 102,000 who have died of the coronavirus. America was battered by a Great Depression in the 1930s and laid low by a Great Recession just a decade ago. America has never experienced all of this kind of tumult in the same moment. It is more than the system can bear, and people grieve for the country.
The heinous killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police – one officer, Derek Chauvin, has since been fired and charged – provoked instantaneous outrage that united nearly every racial and ideological group in the country. It was a collective cry of anguish and a demand for change to what has become commonplace, the killing of unarmed black people at the hands of law enforcement.
But today that unity brought about by Floyd’s death is fraying, as what began as peaceful protests over yet another senseless killing of a black person quickly turned to violence and looting and businesses and police cars in flames. City leaders on the front lines, many of them black Americans, struggle to express their sympathy and solidarity with the underlying conditions that provoked the demonstrations while trying to quell those protests so they can save their communities from further damage and division.
Through all this, President Donald Trump has spewed division with ill-chosen tweets about looting and “shooting” or “vicious dogs” and overpowering weapons. He has attacked Democratic leaders as their communities burn. He flails rather than leads, his instincts all wrong for what confronts the country.