No words my feeble brain can conjure could possibly rival those spoken by President Obama on the 50th anniversary of the Selma March. But if I may be so bold as to nevertheless wield my inadequate sorcery to opine on the event, every line, while delivered with masterful conviction, resounded of inspirational theatrics bereft of feasible solutions. We are beset by partisan gridlock so intense it rivals the tectonic fury of the San Andreas Fault. The conspicuous absence of Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell paints a sinister picture. Slighting Selma, the motion picture, as the Academy did, was an artistic decision. Slighting the commemoration of an historic march for voting equality, however, exposes the inner rottenness stewing on the Right half of our political process. Alas, all the Republican Party could spare was House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a clumsy half measure soon bested by Rep. Steve King’s (IA – Foot-in-Mouth) tone-deaf proclamation that, “Yes, there was blood in Selma, and there was blood in other places, but compared to transformations in other countries, it was comparatively bloodless.”
In a second brilliant political maneuver, the Republican Party deferred the spotlight to GOP’s most recent prisoner of the memory hole, President George W. Bush, who, in a rare moment of forgetfulness, stood and clapped when the President Obama suggested renewing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, passed as a direct consequence of the “comparatively” minor amount of blood spilled on Edmund Pettus Bridge by Alabama state troopers and “county posse,” code for deputized good old boys aching to bust the heads of colored folks. For the relatively bloodless record, Edmund Pettus was a Confederate war hero and Grand Dragon of the Alabama Ku Klux Klan. That regrettably but truthfully discloses what lies in the pinchbeck heart of the American South and its current cabal of enablers/BFFs, the Republican Party. In deference to President Obama, Hope better roll up its sleeves and get to work if it ever hopes to reach the South’s Olympian heights of audacity. I can think of no immoral equivalent in the North, unless there’s a Wisconsin bridge named after Ed Gein or Jeffrey Dahmer. Levity aside, my cheese-loving neighbors have a measure of blood on their hands as well.
The day before Obama’s Selma speech, the life of 19-year-old Tony T. Robinson was cut short in an altercation with 12-year veteran of the Madison, Wisconsin, Police Department, Matt Kenny. Officer Kenny deposited multiple rounds into the unarmed Robinson, who, by all accounts, was a suspect in a domestic dispute. Do I even have to mention that Robinson was black and that Kenny was white? This scene has played so many times in the streets of America it has achieved cliché status, one accompanied by a second cliché, the obligatory shaming of the victim to excuse his demise at the hands of overzealous law enforcement. Within hours of Tony’s death, out rolled mugshots of a Tony Robinson declaring “Here’s the ‘Angel,’ last year after his armed robbery arrest,” implying that anybody locked out of Heaven deserves an execution-style death, with the proviso that the bullet-riddled corpse is black, therefore his failure to strive for angelic perfection negated his civil rights. Take the case of 12-year-old Tamir Rice. While playing with a toy gun in Cleveland, Ohio, Tamir was shot dead less than three seconds after two officers rolled up on him from the blindside of a gazebo. Tamir, at such a tender age, didn’t have a criminal history. Fine material for the Lord’s chorus. Except the media was quick to reveal his father had a record, so let the sins of the father be visited upon the son, destined to be something less than an angel. And in line with that mode of thought, the Cleveland PD’s investigation concluded Tamir’s actions “contributed to his death.” Actions, such as being born black, have consequences.
From Selma to Madison to Cleveland to Ferguson, to any and all destinations America is steeped in the blood of its perceived inferiors. It’s no coincidence that seven of the thirteen stripes on Old Glory are red, the six white stripes representing the spotless conscious of the American collective as it continues to feast and prosper on the broken backs of the dead, be they Negro slaves picking cotton in the sweltering Alabama heat, migrant “Celestials” (Chinese laborers) driving railroad spikes under the blistering Nevada sun, or undocumented Latino immigrants employed by “factory farms” to pick vegetables for penurious wages. The common thread connecting each and every epoch of American history is, regardless of the term of art used to soften the emotional impact, a steadfast reliance on slave labor. Apple’s net income for the last quarter of 2014 was an astounding $18 billion, a record for any company in any industry in the history of capitalism, a bottom line fattened by outsourcing to a Chinese facility so conducive to suicide they installed nets around the exterior windows to save prospective jumpers from their own deepening well of misery.
I apologize, partly, for the title of this rant. I do a disservice to lizards by dragging them, an innocent group acting on primal instincts, down to the level of our kind and its penchant for self-annihilation. Interpret it as a prediction, that given our inevitable rendezvous with eternity, this nation will eventually bow to the might of sun-worshiping reptiles that cannot be faulted for muscling us out, for they are indisputably fucking lizards. Shunting aside my own crippling inability to handicap sporting events, I peg our ultimate expiration date as six decades from now, give or take an election cycle. Ample enough time to fecklessly brandish the light of the rare victory against the gathering gloom of Reckoning Day and pretend everything will in the end work out for the best. Which it will. Just not for us. The doomsayer wisdom of old farts writing off a world they will no longer be a part of is best taken with a measure of salt and a chaser of cold comfort, for one day you too will be where I am, standing in the shadow of the past knowing the future is a precious commodity growing ever rarer.
Excuse the excursion into maudlin territory, but my last junket into political madness contained an offhand Star Trek reference, and lo and behold, Leonard Nimoy, famous for his portrayal of Mr. Spock, a childhood hero of mine, shed his mortal coil. It was strange to feel sad for a man I knew only through his art. I last experienced vicarious loss, the sensation that I’d lost a limb, that I was less complete than before, when Kurt Vonnegut died. It was he who planted the foolish idea that I could write, just as Leonard Nimoy planted the foolish idea of reaching out to the stars and touching the edges of reality. Even as I paint a grim picture of humanity’s fate, I, a living contradiction, still fundamentally believe in Star Trek’s central theme of ushering in a new age, of going boldly where nobody has gone before. In honor of that contrary mindset, I humbly defer the final word to the giants who made me the incongruous pseudo-sentimental fool I am today:
“We are here on Earth to fart around. Don’t let anybody tell you any different.”
—Kurt Vonnegut (1922–2007)
“LLAP (Live Long And Prosper).”
—Leonard Nimoy (1931–2015)
R. A. Roth