The Zimmerman verdict had me moping around for a couple days. I read a little about Zimmerman when he was first charged, and he really sounded like a manipulative bully. Just the kind of guy who would want, but shouldn’t have, a gun. And then there was his “apology” that expressed regret for the consequences of his actions, but notably, not for the actions he chose. He even had the gall to assert Trayvon’s death was God’s will. The Guardian had a piece I thought sounded all the right notes. Namely, since Zimmerman targeted Trayvon, where was Trayvon’s ground to stand?
After sleeping on it, I wonder if in some ways this tragedy is playing out in miniature a dynamic happening in America at large. Both men acted out of fear for their lives. One had lethal power and one had no power at all, but each felt genuinely threatened (whether justified or not). Likewise, almost half the people in this country own almost all the wealth, while the other half has almost none, and yet both feel threatened. To be more specific, the top 40% of Americans enjoy 95% of American wealth while the bottom 40% cling to 0.3%. The top 1% holds 42%–almost half–of American financial wealth, and yet many of those at the top are genuinely afraid that somehow healthcare for all or better public education or some other common good will take something away from their own wellbeing. They genuinely feel financially threatened and, frighteningly, have the clout to drive domestic policy.
Imaginary threats drive foreign policy as well. We dove into a decade of war that cost thousands of lives and trillions in taxpayer debt predicated on imaginary weapons that never turned up. The fear is not rational. Dare I say, Americans would be more secure today had trillions been spent on diplomacy and education instead of war. And the richest Americans would benefit financially from a healthy, educated workforce. Despite this, much of policy discourse is driven by (and in fact depends on) people feeling genuine fear.
What happened to courage? High school kids all over Dallas have been assigned Devil in the White City for summer reading. It’s stacked on bookstore display tables and has long request lists at area libraries. Two kids in my house are reading it. From what I can remember from having read it a decade ago, it offered a fascinating account of how architecture and police work were done in the 1890’s. More fascinating still was the civic pride of ordinary citizens and their courage to undertake such an ambitious project. Where today, in our vapid celebrity culture, do we find ordinary people undertaking extraordinary things for the sake of human achievement? Please comment with examples. They would surely lighten my mood.
For both Zimmerman and Trayvon, fear drove the fatal missteps. If Zimmerman had had the courage to question Trayvon without a gun, if Trayvon had had the courage to respond without fists, if either had had the courage simply to ignore the other, what would have been possible? What would be possible if the 1% advocated common good or governments advanced diplomacy over jingoism?
Join the conversation. What fears can you identify within yourself, and what could a little courage make possible for you?
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