Last week, protests erupted in dozens of U.S. cities over the killing in Minneapolis of George Floyd. They have continued for days - buildings have been burned, people injured, several killed and thousands have been arrested. As I write this on Sunday, it continues and has even spread to Europe.
President Trump publicly gloated over the quality protection he received when demonstrators, on Friday night, gathered across the street from the White House. It's worth noting how he said it:
"The front line was replaced with fresh agents, like magic. Big crowd, professionally organized, but nobody came close to breaching the fence. If they had they would have been greeted with the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons, I have ever seen. That's when people would have been really badly hurt, at least. Many Secret Service agents just waiting for action.”
America is burning. The national shame of dead black men and women at the hands of police over many years has come to a boiling point. (It appears to also be an opportunity for provocateurs with other agendas to join the demonstrations, but that's a story for a different day.)
It cannot be incidental that this explosion of unrest is happening as a global pandemic has kept people in most of world under lockdown in their homes for more than two months.
And the president appears eager to have protesters attacked by “vicious dogs”? But that's the way he rolls. On Thursday, he warned the governor of Minnesota in another tweet,
“Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
And so on. You have undoubtedly seen the wall-to-wall coverage of the protests on television and online.
For people our age, it must immediately bring to mind the summers of the late 1960s and early 1970s: Newark, Detroit, Orangeburg, Dr. Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, Columbia University, Democratic National Convention, Stonewall, Kent State.
And those are only the ones I can recall off the top of my head. There were dozens, if not hundreds more. It is unnerving now to see it happening again.
It seems to me that something is building now toward a level of violence fueled by ignorance, lies, misinformation, stupidity, fear along with justifiable revulsion and frustration at the number of dead black people year after year for whom no one pays a price.
Is it just me, or is there a sense in the air that something more terrible than what we are seeing now is going to happen?
But then this came along - a sliver of hope.
Over the weekend, The Guardian published an essay by Dorian Linskey about W.B. Yeats poem, The Second Coming which was published 100 years ago.
The entire essay is interesting and you would probably enjoy reading it but here is the salient part to my thinking today:
”As the world is wrenched out of joint by the coronavirus pandemic,” writes Linskey, “many people are turning to poetry for wisdom and consolation, but The Second Coming fulfills a different role, as it has done in crisis after crisis, from the Vietnam war to 9/11 to the election of Donald Trump: an opportunity to confront chaos and dread, rather than to escape it...”
If you think you don't know the poem by it's title, just notice all the astonishing number of phrases within it that you have heard and read in reference to many situations throughout your life.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
Maybe this helps a little. You can read the full essay here.