IN A COUNTRY WITH PERMANENT EMPATHY FATIGUE, YOU CAN DO PRETTY MUCH ANYTHING YOU WANT TO THE DESPISED
I've been at a loss for what to say about the events taking place in Ferguson, Missouri -- I've been looking at photos and reading accounts of an excessively militarized police force for a couple of days, and now the live-tweeters are talking about more tear gas, shortly after reporters from the Huffington Post and Washington Post were arrested, merely for having the audacity to try to charge their laptops in a McDonald's a couple of blocks away from what I suppose we should call the front lines.
But are you imagining that all this is going to shock the nation's conscience? Are you imagining that Heartland America is going to be horrified and ashamed at the disproportionate display of force in Ferguson, or disgusted that freedom of the press is a joke to these cops?
Forget it. Somehow, a certain percentage of American heartlanders managed to feel empathy across tribal lines half a century ago, in the civil rights era. Maybe it just that it was a prosperous time, and the majority populace felt it could spare a thought for peaceful black protesters being attacked by racist mobs, menaced by police dogs, assaulted by firehoses, blown up in churches.
But in 2014 we live in a country where middle-class wealth stagnated for thirty years before the bottom dropped out of the economy altogether, and now the wealthy are experiencing a members-only recovery while the rest of us cling to what we have left. It's made heartlanders very sparing of their empathy. Besides, there are ready-made formulae under which they can dismiss the victims in Ferguson: some of those protesters did loot and riot, so I guess all of them deserve whatever happens to them; plus, we don't trust the media, so who cares if those snotnoses get roughed up a little by the law.
Maybe I'm underestimating America, but I doubt it. I just can't see any reason why the arrogant SOBs who run Ferguson shouldn't ride roughshod over everyone they're confronting -- why would they expect to be accountable afterward? There's no large, broad progressive movement in America; the civil rights movement is moribund and elderly; and what the hell could we do to punish some inner-ring suburb of a midsize city anyway? Mount an economic boycott? What do we buy from Ferguson, Missouri, that we could stop buying?
Portions of the heartland will get upset at much milder infringements -- even imaginary ones -- that affect members of their own tribe, but I just don't see America caring about this. I hope I'm wrong, though.