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The Trayvon Martin case is a wholly familiar one to residents of any major urban city. If you live in Chicago, New York or Los Angeles, then it’s only a matter of time until an incident between a law enforcement officer, or more rarely a civilian defending himself, and a member of a minority group flares up into a citywide grievance theater complete with angry reverends on the steps of City Hall, women with stony faces holding up banners calling for justice and a media driven debate about police tactics and racism.
This sort of thing happens with depressing regularity in cities where even the most liberal residents have to choose between police overreach and being murdered. It never leads to meaningful debate or a resolution, instead it peters out with the best actors in the grievance theater picking up money and influence, the media selling a few more papers or ads for nasal polyp relief on the drive time news and everything going back to the way it was.
The grievance theater is never really about the specific case, the specific shooting; it’s about the links between the social problems of the black community, the compromises of civil liberties necessary to keep entire cities from turning into Detroit and the inability of the media to address the sources of crime as anything but the phantoms of white racism. It’s about a black leadership that is more interested in posturing as angry activists and shaking loose some money, than in healing their own community’s problems. And so the same story repeats itself again and again without an honest dialogue or anything meaningful coming out of it.
The Grievance Theater has been going national. It’s no longer just extraordinary cases like Bernie Goetz’s Death Wish moment on the number 2 train that briefly catch hold of the national conversation. The obsessive coverage of the so-called Jena 6 case, an incident of so little internal meaning, signaled that Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton would no longer just be able to drive a local controversy; they now had the freedom to drive national controversies any time they wanted to.
Trayvon Martin is their big moment. It’s no longer just Grievance Theater being used to influence the political fortunes of a municipal election, the way that Howard Beach was used to bring down Mayor Koch and replace him with the execrable David Dinkins. Now it’s being used as part of a presidential campaign on a national level.
The fortunes of too many black politicians have been tied to white guilt and black rage. The worst sort of black politician channels black rage to score points with black supporters while playing on the guilt of white voters, promising to heal the social conditions that bring about that anger and protect them from its ravages. But never before has that game been played out of the Oval Office.
The last two Democratic presidents were southern governors, but the current occupant is a veteran of the corrupt urban political machine where there are only two games in town and when the money runs out, this is the one you play. The money is running out, the polls are running down and accordingly we have been treated to an episode of Grievance Theater, with our beloved leader in the role of healer and inciter.
Obama helped Al Sharpton achieve an unprecedented national profile in order to marshal that part of his base which cares less about jobs, than about finding someone to blame. The Trayvon Martin circus is a bullhorn urging all of us, black or white, to stop focusing on the economy and start focusing on race.
It’s Community Activism 101 to divide and conquer the electorate by breaking them down and feeding local anxieties, whether it’s about birth control or racial injustice. And it’s a win-win for Obama, who at worst gains a distraction from economic turmoil and a few thousand guilty voters and at best, upends the national dialogue by asserting the dominance of the racial narrative. While his associates wield the bullhorns, he carefully plays healer and if there is violence, then his currency as racial healer increases.
What does it say about America that what was once a form of political theater rising out of the grimy urban blocks of the failed city is now a national art form? Nothing good. A local dysfunction has become a national dysfunction, not because every city has become New York and Chicago, but because the people at the center of power hail from New York and Chicago.
Our racial dysfunction has always been secondary to our political dysfunction and now our political dysfunction is second to none. We have the best government that Warren Buffett’s money could buy and that ACORN’s election fraud can achieve. And we have a national government that is starting to look like the dysfunctional urban governments at the center of the grievance theaters.
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