Monday, June 25 , 2018, 8:47 am | Overcast 63º


Jamie Stiehm: The Summer of America’s Discontent

Now is the summer of our discontent, Shakespeare might say, with none to make it glorious.

Under a broiling sun, Washington feels stuck on the head of a pin, as Democrats look forward to one party convention in Philadelphia and Republicans dread theirs in Cleveland.

What if they gave a party and nobody came? Some fear the party’s about over, now that Donald Trump has crashed it.

The funeral of five Dallas police officers killed by a black former Army reservist was a solemn panoply of presidential unity. To comfort a country rocked by two years of police violence against black men, Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama led the grieving in the summer’s darkest hour.

They represent opposing sides of a desperately divided country, so why not give peace a chance in Dallas, a highly segregated big city? The bloodshed in 1963, the day President John F. Kennedy died — that history can be overcome.

(But I majored in history.)

Yes, the presidents seemed to say to restless street rage: Black lives matter. And yet, police lives matter more, when it comes down to official attention and rites of mourning.

Nothing is resolved. Nice try, though. Angst festers in Dallas, in Baltimore, in Ferguson, Mo., — to name but a few cities sundered by racially streaked encounters between white police officers and black civilians.

Police brutality is nothing new, but it has sunk deeper into the cultural soil, and black men have borne the brunt of it.

As a white woman, I witnessed it for one night in Baltimore. You haven’t lived until you’ve spent a night in the Baltimore women’s jail.

It’s been real, police militarization, since 2001. Just the other day, in Baton Rouge, La., it was caught on camera. Police with excessive body armor, carrying clubs and weapons as if they were going into battle against civilians at a peaceful protest.

In Minnesota, another questionable civilian police-involved death recently took place. Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton conceded race was probably a factor.

And that is how bad it is. The Black Lives Matter movement has changed civilian awareness. Whether it has changed police behavior is the question.

The despair of this summer alone suggests not. Police have the power, and they like it that way. Race relations are plunging to their lowest level since 1992, The New York Times said.

Politics in Obama’s final summer is full of spite, with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., asking what planet Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is living on. That kind of personal enmity didn’t used to happen on the floor.

Senators look ready for a change of season from this ill-fated summer. Obama, too, looks weary, his face etched with sorrow as he reached the end of his words on racially based police violence.

“I’ve seen how inadequate words can be,” he declared in Dallas, “in bringing about lasting change.”

As the first black president, that has to be painful. Then again, Obama never ran to change America’s colors, to lighten a heart of darkness. He cast himself as a post-racial president, dealing with race only in case of emergencies.

Congress just marked its last day on the job until September. Hillary Clinton came to the Capitol to sit down to rally the team of Senate Democrats over lunch. Wish I were there, to see if she could lighten the gloom.

Bush, the former president, gave a good oration in Dallas, but how much “street cred” does he have? His entire war presidency brought this moment upon us.

Had he not been so quick to invade Iraq on false grounds, we might have recalled that 15 of 19 hijackers on 9/11 were Saudi. None were Iraqi.

He sowed suspicion at home and started a clandestine “war on terror” that involved torturing detainees. The precision shooter in the Dallas slayings got his military training in Afghanistan — Bush’s first stop in his war — where we still have soldiers deployed.

Police departments across America inherited pieces of the Pentagon’s excess war equipment — (a policy Obama later opposed.)

I saw with a reporter’s eyes, in Baltimore, how police demeanor shifted in unsettling ways, to a more aggressive “us vs. them” stance.

Several relentlessly pursued poor Freddie Gray one Sunday morning, a “suspect” who broke his back in police custody and later died. Riots followed.

Not a pretty pass right now, while the sun is high in the summer of our discontent.

Jamie Stiehm writes about politics, culture and history as a weekly Creators Syndicate columnist and regular contributor to U.S. News & World Report, The New York Times and The Washington Post. Follow her on Twitter: @jamiestiehm. The opinions expressed are her own.

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