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 previous issue                                          issue #49,  posted 7 / 8 / 2016                       archive of all  issues

Venting Frustration at the Slow Pace of Changewith Guns, with Votes

in the newsToday's USA news is dominated by reports from Dallas of twelve policemen shot, and five killed, by a sniper as a peaceful protest ended. The protest was over previous police killings of black men in Baton Rouge and Minneapoliscaptured in widely viewed, emotionally charged cell phone videos. Before those black men were tragically killed, police had confronted them for a) selling CDs outside a convenience store, and b) driving with a broken tail light, respectively.  

While the deranged person killing the Dallas policemen used a gun to vent frustration and hatefully take lives, days earlier millions less violently vented frustration at the ballot box.  On June 23rd Britain voted to leave the European Union. In London, The Economist magazine, in a July 2 editorial entitled "The Politics of Anger," identified "anger at immigration, globalization, social liberalism, and even feminism" as the cause.  And weeks earlier in the Philippines, voters elected hot-headed, seeming strongman Rodrigo Duterte, who according to a May 14th story in The Economist, "tapped into a deep resentment at the immense wealth and political sway amassed by a few elite families."     

commentary and analysis (by Stephen P. Cook, founder and manager, project Worldview, www.projectworldview.org): The project Worldview theme we focus on here is #35B Working for Change.  Generally speaking, those feeling both outrage over some social problem that touches their lives, and powerlessness over their inability to do anything about it, can choose to work for change within the system or outside of it. Clearly the sniper in Dallas, like those during the 1960s civil rights movement who scorned Dr. Martin Luther King's non-violent approach and picked up guns, opted for the latter. While he may have felt a morbid, warped sense of satisfaction at killing the perceived source of the problempolicemenand that justice was  done as he had this revenge (see theme #17A Bitterness and Vengeance), such taking the law into your own hands does nothing to constructively address the underlying problem.  

With respect to frustration felt by those involved in the Black Lives Matter movement, I'd say the underlying cause is lack of trust between black people and law enforcement.  As the Dallas police chief pointed out this morning, police officers are among the few remaining professionals who make house calls. Sadly, the result of both today's killings of innocent policemen and yesterdays' of innocent black folks that triggered the protest, is a major setback for community policing reforms aimed at restoring that trust. Rather than representing a trust-building, problem-solving step forward, these tragic incidents are a step back: they have produced only more fear. 

Those similarly feeling both pain and powerlessness, but choosing to work within the system, in Britain, in the Philippines, and in the unfolding USA presidential election, have certainly got the world's attention.  David Brooks writing in June 28th  New York Times in an op-ed entitled "The Revolt of the Masses," reported on the pain that working class folks are feeling in both America and Britain. He writes, "Their pain is indivisible: economic stress, community breakdown, ethnic bigotry, and a loss of social status and self worth. When people feel their world is vanishing, they are easy prey for fact free, magical thinking and demagogues who blame immigrants."

In this last sentence,  Brooks is most obviously referring to American Republican party presidential candidate Donald Trump. But like Trump there are many politicians throughout the world who seek to benefit from an angry, dissatisfied electorate that wants to "throw the bums out" or "kick the establishment in the nuts" (the words of a Louisiana Trump supporter as reported by Politico).  Giving the radical change that he is proposing, even Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders might fit into this category. The early June morning of the California primary election saw a Sanders' spokesman belittling the "grudging incrementalism" with respect to the prospects for change offered by Hillary Clinton, and urging voters to opt for the "revolutionary change" Sanders promises.

I'd say whether those working within the system seek incremental change or revolutionary change largely depends on two things: 1) their assessment of what change is realistically attainable and 2) how patient they are. And I offer a view from a centrist (where things get done!) perspective:  those whose realistic assessment is lacking or non-existent and who are extremely angry and impatient may succumb to the "fact free, magical thinking" of demagogues and / or naively think that all of the weighty inertia of the compromise built social structure can be easily torn down and painlessly rebuilt in revolutionary, constructive change.  

Sadly, those who are especially angry, more violent (see theme #29B The Threatening, Violent Person), looking for someone to blame / scapegoats (see theme #39B Scapegoating) , more impulsive (see theme #18A Passionately Impulsive),  more irrational and mentally unstable, may take matters into their own hands in picking up a gun and finding someone to shoot. 

Will the patient, incrementalist, rational folks or the revolutionary hotheads prevail in the USA? One would like to think that elected officials—beginning with the President— will lead the way to constructive change.  Encouragingly, in response to last year's police killing in Ferguson, Missouri, an Obama appointed task force recently reported on ways to improve relationships between police and communities. In response to the videotaped deaths of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota, the day before the Dallas police killings, as reported by the Washington Post, President Obama noted, "There's some [police force] jurisdictions out there that have adopted these [task force] recommendations."  Ironically, and sadly, one of them was the Dallas Police Department. 

From a centrist perspective, it once (decades ago?) seemed reasonable to assume that the Congressmen voters elect fit into the "patient, incrementalist, rational folks" rather than the "revolutionary hotheads" category. Sadly, in our increasingly polarized nation, making this assumption may no longer be safe. And just this morning, one of those (once) elected officials—a single term (former) Congressman from Illinois, Joe Walsh—has hotheadly sent out a disturbing tweet. His chilling message, again as reported by the Washington Post,:  "Watch out Obama. Watch out black lives matter punks. Real America is coming after you" 

To me, the big thing about democracy is that those suffering pain can give feedback to those they elect. Ideally that feedback —admittedly sometimes imperfectly and slowly—eventually fixes the underlying, pain-producing problem. In contrast, those whose feedback comes from guns they use seemingly produce only more pain. Of  course the challenge—embodied in theme #31 Education for Democracy—is more than getting people to prefer ballots to guns. It's one of  getting people actively engaged in the democratic system so that it works well for everyone! 

Comments: (added July -- September 2016)
from EW:
 I really enjoyed your commentary.  So dang sensible.  Have you considered running for office?  NO NO NO!  I’m sorry.  I like you and I would not wish that on you.  haha.
from RS:
This week felt like the 60's to me.  In a sense it's hopeful because maybe we get change (reformed

police depts).  I am extremely worried that Hillary will lose ... but I am also deeply disturbed that the DNC interfered with the process.  I was a big Sanders supporter.  My stressed out son... is beside himself that we have Hillary instead of Bernie.  He will vote for Jill Stein but he keeps nagging me to leave the country.  He is not mentally healthy, but his perceptions are not wrong, he just worries too much about them.

from JC: Oh, so you like the incremental change that has steadily brought us more inequality in recent decades?

SPC: OK--you've got a point!  I guess I (naively?) like to think that "the arc of  history bends in the direction of justice" to paraphrase someone famous (MLK?).  


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