The effect on the 2016 elections by the recent shootings by and against the police underlies the struggle to absorb the horror of what has happened. If the slayings reverberate in favor of Donald Trump, then this week’s events only presage greater terror. Trump’s lack of understanding of most topics of any magnitude and his shoot-from-the-belt approach — seriously, no pun intended — would make matters worse. He has more than demonstrated his capacity to unleash upon the land the full furies of the hate he already has used to fuel his campaign.
Sadly, the assassination of five law enforcement officers in Dallas by a black man transcends tragedy. The murders personify the country’s new fragility that changing demographics, a difficult economy and vitriol and corruption in Congress are abetting.
Like the new age of climate change that jeopardizes our very existence, we have entered a new era in which race and other critical social stresses animate the possibility of disunion. It can’t happen here, we are told. Yet the greatest and most dangerous moment in this already perilous passage into the immediate future emanates from the social media and 24/7 news platforms that govern the public space today.
Ironically, the very tools shedding light into the continuous and discriminate shootings of black men also are the weapons that will be turned against the development of leaders who could lead us through these times. Those who would lead will have their heads decapitated on social media before they can finish their statements on how to move us forward. Social media and 24/7 news will serve to make us increasingly leaderless.
If the new-media normal hamstrings President Obama and Republican leaders at so important a moment as this week represents, then it surely bodes ill for the country. How can anyone float a vision for the future in this unnerving environment?
In this poisoned mess, the country needs a Franklin D. Roosevelt. Instead, we hear the voices of angry whites and, justifiably, of angrier black men and women who are tired, tired, tired of the rampant murders inflicted on their community by police officers who almost always face no consequences for their actions. The question is if reaction to action will breed reaction and put us on the path to an abyss.
We as a nation need to rise above ourselves. But who can call us to our better angels? White people finally are beginning to understand that black and Hispanic/Latino complaints about law enforcement are neither bogus nor confection, and so white acceptance of reality must be encouraged. So, too, minority communities must rein in their rancor. But who can summon us together as a people to make sure that tomorrow or the next days or year or decade are not the beginning of the civic and internal strife that throughout history impelled empires and nations to self-immolate over time?
It can’t happen here denies the possibility of collapse of democratic rule or the arrival of a new holocaust or increasing disconnection that fosters extended paralysis. It is a view fast becoming antiquated. The new environment we have entered makes anything possible – even the election of a man like Trump who makes no bones of admiring dictators and dehumanizing his fellow citizens.
Without the anvils weighing her down, Hillary Clinton could have been the one who could speak directly and persuasively to moderate white voters and spark an electoral landslide to set us towards a better future. O, what judgment history might render on Clinton and her decision to install a personal computer server in her home! And this is easy stuff for the social media and the 24/7 menace. What they have done to her we shortly could rue. Not perfect, Clinton, compared to Trump, is clearly the way to not increase the chances that the new age ahead will be the history of old.
It really does not have to happen here.
Jesús (Jesse) Treviño is the former editorial page editor of The Austin American-Statesman.