Laura Hollis / Jun. 11, 2020

No One Is Listening to the American People — Still

I am watching the various classes of America's "elites" — politicians, commentators, academics, activists, Hollywood big mouths and corporate CEOs — drive this country deeper into conflict for the sake of their own personal aggrandizement and profit, and it is disgusting.

I am watching the various classes of America’s “elites” — politicians, commentators, academics, activists, Hollywood big mouths and corporate CEOs — drive this country deeper into conflict for the sake of their own personal aggrandizement and profit, and it is disgusting.

If you’re on Twitter, Facebook or anywhere else (even during a pandemic), you can read, watch or hear Americans speak for themselves, and there are many common threads:

  1. The overwhelming majority of Americans of all backgrounds think George Floyd’s death was a despicable crime, and that the police officer who did it should be tried for murder, convicted and sentenced to prison. They feel outrage and sorrow and infuriating helplessness about Floyd, and Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor and Philando Castile. But no one is listening.

  2. Black Americans are saying that it isn’t just the deaths; it’s the profiling, the persecution from law enforcement, the fear, the injustice, the poverty. They’ve been saying it for years, but it doesn’t stop. No one is listening.

  3. Most Americans understand that law enforcement is dangerous work, that police officers put their lives on the line every day and that many lose their lives. Americans can simultaneously hold that view and demand reforms that sanction and prevent abuse by cops. No one is listening.

  4. Most Americans — again, of all backgrounds — oppose violence and looting, even in response to egregious events like the killing of George Floyd. They understand that punishing innocent people only creates resentment and encourages retaliation. Destroying minority-owned businesses — as the looting often does — only makes the economic situation worse for the very people who need help most. No one is listening.

  5. Most white Americans understand that black citizens have faced challenges, cruelty, outright hatred and violence that whites may never encounter in their lives. They want to do their part to make things better. What they don’t want is to be smeared with labels and epithets, and told they are somehow “responsible” for slavery, murder or oppression that they themselves did not participate in and that they personally abhor. No one is listening.

I could write more. There is actually a great deal of agreement among Americans on very fundamental principles. But you’d never know that by listening to the news media, politicians or commentators. Their stock in trade is hysteria and headlines, and it’s ripping this country apart.

A common trope about contemporary American involvement in foreign wars is that we’re pushed into them by ignorant, warmongering politicians who want facile slogans for reelection campaigns, and by arms merchants and others with profit motives, all of whom exploit tragedies as a justification and none of whom care how many innocent lives are destroyed in the process.

That — like most such blanket statements — is probably a gross oversimplification. But it’s astonishing how similar this is to our current crisis, which threatens to escalate into an internal war if we don’t calm things down.

Wise and courageous political leaders would ease tensions by looking for instances of universal goodwill and bringing those to everyone’s attention; collaborating with members of other parties to find meaningful and effective solutions; and upholding civil rights (like the right to peaceably protest) while protecting innocent bystanders and the rule of law.

Instead, our politicians make inflammatory accusations because they think it’s going to win elections. Elected officials arrest surfers, skateboarders, barbers and moms at public parks but turn a blind eye while property is burned, looted and destroyed.

That isn’t common cause; it’s cowardice.

We have academics and other “thought leaders” pitching extreme and absurd sociological theories that demonize wide swaths of Americans because it gets media attention, sells books and provides lucrative speaking tours.

We have opportunistic CEOs only too happy to mollify the mobs by spreading smears, firing employees, silencing speech, banning books and toys, or blacklisting films.

We have too many journalists who publish and promote falsehoods that confirm their political leanings but avoid investigations that don’t. They steer clear of controversy when it upsets their corporate higher-ups but betray the public’s trust by abandoning their commitment to civil rights, the rule of law and the presumption of innocence. They happily ignore the rampant abuses of government power under former President Barack Obama’s administration and its holdovers but insist that the narcissistic tweets of a bombastic real estate mogul pose an existential threat to the republic.

In fact, the very existence of Donald Trump as president of the United States is a direct consequence of millions of Americans having not been listened to — for years.

But this is not a Republican or conservative phenomenon. It is not a white phenomenon. It is not even a uniquely American phenomenon: I give you Bernie Sanders, the #WalkAway movement, #Blexit and #Brexit. All of these — as well as the protests (not the looting or violence) we’ve seen over the past two weeks — are grounded in similar sentiments: What is happening is wrong. We’ve been telling you this for years. And you’re not listening.

It’s true. They’re not. But here’s what the “elites” don’t know — or don’t want us to know: We can get ourselves out of this mess if we stop listening to them. It’s time we stop believing what they tell us about ourselves and start talking to one another. We’ll not only get something done; we’ll make them irrelevant.

Win-win.

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