Americans witnessed new feats of misanthropy on Wednesday. A group of four Chicago men and women determined to stretch the bounds of digital decency this week when they kidnapped an 18-year-old man with special needs and tortured him on a video they promptly posted on social media. For 25 minutes, the victim—bound and with duct tape across his mouth, terror visible in his eyes—was verbally abused, threatened, and cut with a knife. The attackers, all of whom were black, berated their victim for being white and routinely spouted profanities about “white people” and President-elect Donald Trump. This sickening and remorseless display inspired in some not revulsion but a frenetic effort to prevent the country from reaching inconvenient deductions about the episode.
By 6 a.m. Chicago time, local police cautioned reporters that it was too early to determine whether the attack had any racial motive. By 7:45, however, police were certain that there was no racial motive and that the man who was abducted from a local McDonalds was targeted only because he had a learning disability. Investigators believe that the victim knew one of his attackers from high school, and may have accompanied his tormenters willingly. To claim, however, that there was no racial element to a video in which a white man is tortured and berated about his skin color while his attackers shout epithets about white people and the Caucasian president-elect beggars belief.
A toxic sort of racial anxiety has come to typify America’s political landscape. Rarely, it seems, is an issue or a politician viewed outside the prism of skin color. No longer can this be called racial sensitivity. For some, this kind of racial awareness borders on apprehension, paranoia, animus, and is typified by an apparent desire for a reckoning. And the greatest tragedy of all is that the grotesque notion of retributive racial justice that was once exclusive to the left has become an epidemic. The American right has caught the bug.
The latest alarming indication of America’s descent back into corrupting color consciousness comes from ABC News/Washington Post polling. Their latest survey found many of the supporters of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have developed an unhealthy focus on race.
Hillary Clinton’s effort to run among the most anodyne, milquetoast campaigns for the presidency in American history is apparently paying off. A candidate who dares not speak much, and when she does says only aphorisms universally beloved by the left-leaning constituents she is courting, should inspire frustration among those tasked with speaking truth to power: namely, the political press. Instead, when Clinton dares to open her mouth on even a modestly controversial subject, she is lauded as a figure of unparalleled bravery and poise. Meanwhile, those candidates who have traversed objectively stormy seas, navigated political minefields, taken legitimately controversial stands, and stared down their constituents are given sideways glances by their chroniclers in the media. The latest example of this phenomenon from the Washington Post is nothing short of a disgrace.
This morning the Times of Israel reported on the fascinating archeological work of Caroline Sturdy Colls, an associate professor at England’s Staffordshire University. Colls just published a book on applying non-invasive, “CSI-like” forensic methods to archeological research at sensitive Holocaust-related grounds. It is a hopeful peek into the future, though that future has a cloud hanging over it too: we’ll need better forensic tools in part because we’re going to need to show the world what happened without survivors to guide us. Intellectually, however, educating people on the non-obvious lingering effects of the Holocaust will be even more challenging, as a bizarre piece in today’s New Republic reminds us.
“For only the third time since the founding of the United States we are in the early or transition phase of a new era in American and global history,” according to University of Virginia historian Philip Zelikow. He adds, “from the narrower point of view of economic and social history, however, we are in the early stages of a transition phase faster than anything we have encountered in more than 100 years, the largest since the economic and industrial revolutions of the late 19th and early 20th century.”
Given the volatility and sensitivity of “racial profiling” these days, heightened by recent developments in Ferguson, New York, and Cleveland and by brand new law-enforcement “guidelines” from the Justice Department, one could be tempted to thank the National Education Association for its recent effort, in league with a bunch of other organizations, to develop curricular materials by which schools and teachers can instruct their students on this issue.
The recent Bloomberg poll showing that a majority of Americans believe race relations have worsened on President Obama’s watch probably doesn’t have too much to do with Obama himself. No doubt he has contributed his fair share by running two presidential campaigns predicated on the belief that opposition to him was racist, and then writing off policy dissent as racist too. But the recent events in Ferguson and Staten Island of the death of black men at the hands of police have resulted in national protests. The public may have been tuning Obama out lately, but they notice riots and traffic-stopping “die-ins,” as well as retaliatory race-based violence.