Although this essay may seem madly discursive, everything revolves around one central point: American society is bullied into bad decisions by right-wingers who insult the masculinity of left-wingers. Liberals do stupid things out of fear that someone will call them pussies.
Let us begin by taking a look at the faces of the six officers
indicted in the case of Freddie Gray. Three are black; one is a woman. They're all pretty young. They don't look like devils or maniacs. These are six people, probably otherwise decent, who got caught up in a bad system.
So the question becomes: How did the system
get this way? Why did cop culture brainwash these six people into acting the way they did? What psycho-social disease caused six normal individuals to conspire against a man who had committed no crime
Many of you have already read this interview
with David Simon, the former Baltimore Sun journalist turned television writer. Asked to diagnose the problems of the Baltimore police force, Simon points first to the drug wars, and then to the tradition of "the humble" -- an arrest on a trivial charge, intended to humiliate someone the cops simply don't like the looks of.
Simon also points to Martin O'Malley, the former Baltimore mayor who attained that position at a time when the crime stats were truly horrific.
Everyone knows that O'Malley is politically ambitious. He probably wrote the first draft of his presidential inauguration speech in sixth grade. He and Simon have been at loggerheads in the past, even though both men consider themselves to be liberals.
And, hey, if he's the Democratic nominee, I’m going to end up voting for him. It’s not personal and I admire some of his other stances on the death penalty and gay rights. But to be honest, what happened under his watch as Baltimore’s mayor was that he wanted to be governor. And at a certain point, with the crime rate high and with his promises of a reduced crime rate on the line, he put no faith in real policing.
Originally, early in his tenure, O’Malley brought Ed Norris in as commissioner and Ed knew his business. He’d been a criminal investigator and commander in New York and he knew police work. And so, for a time, real crime suppression and good retroactive investigation was emphasized, and for the Baltimore department, it was kind of like a fat man going on a diet. Just leave the French fries on the plate and you lose the first ten pounds. The initial crime reductions in Baltimore under O’Malley were legit and O’Malley deserved some credit.
But that wasn’t enough. O’Malley needed to show crime reduction stats that were not only improbable, but unsustainable without manipulation.
That's when "the humble" became truly ubiquitous and unavoidable.
Now, the mass arrests made clear, we can lock up anybody, we don't have to figure out who's committing crimes, we don't have to investigate anything.
Charges were non-existent, or were dismissed en masse. Martin O’Malley’s logic was pretty basic: If we clear the streets, they’ll stop shooting at each other. We’ll lower the murder rate because there will be no one on the corners.
It didn't occur to O'Malley that humiliated people eventually become rebels. Those who lose faith in the system turn to insurrection.
In these drug-saturated neighborhoods, they weren’t policing their post anymore, they weren’t policing real estate that they were protecting from crime. They weren’t nurturing informants, or learning how to properly investigate anything. There’s a real skill set to good police work. But no, they were just dragging the sidewalks, hunting stats, and these inner-city neighborhoods — which were indeed drug-saturated because that's the only industry left — become just hunting grounds. They weren’t protecting anything. They weren’t serving anyone. They were collecting bodies, treating corner folk and citizens alike as an Israeli patrol would treat the West Bank, or as the Afrikaners would have treated Soweto back in the day. They’re an army of occupation. And once it’s that, then everybody’s the enemy.
The bottom line: A politician with liberal instincts instituted a police state because he didn't want conservatives to label him soft on crime.
Something similar can be said of Hillary Clinton, who is much likelier than Martin O'Malley is to become the Democratic nominee for president.
I'm hardly the only person to criticize her hard-right turn toward neoconservatism during her tenure as Secretary of State. Although her most fervent fans will blame her policies on the man for whom she worked, there is some evidence that she
is the one who pushed Obama
to the right. Hell, she even stepped to the right of Defense Secretary Robert Gates
So why did she become what she has become? She didn't start out as Hard Case Hillary. What changed?
And why did John Kerry -- a man who once tossed away his medals out of disgust with American bellicosity -- become, late in his career, an acolyte of Ares?
Why has Obama pursued such a disastrously neoconservative foreign policy in Syria, in Yemen, in Ukraine?
I honestly do not think that ideology has driven those three individuals toward the right. Is money the motive? I doubt it: They're set for life, especially Kerry. Power? Obama already has
power, as much as any one person is ever going to get, and Kerry is doing what may be the last job he will ever do.
I will suggest that all three are driven by fear -- fear of the umbrella
Allow me to explain what I mean by that term.
This amusing piece
chronicles neocon Bill Kristol's incessant references to Hitler and Winston Churchill. Actually, there's a third party in the Kristol mythos: Neville Chamberlain. Hitler, Churchill, Chamberlain
: These three men are the key figures in the great foundational myth of American foreign policy. Whenever far-rightists seek to bully politicians into some disastrous military adventure, they cite this myth.
If the neocons decide that they don't like some foreign leader, that leader instantly becomes Hitler. We are always told that the wrong way to defeat Hitler is appeasement -- the Chamberlain approach. The right way is the Churchill way. (Although, unlike Churchill, neocons always prefer war-war to jaw-jaw.)
Right-wingers use this Hitler/Churchill/Chamberlain myth as a hyper-macho bullying tactic. In essence, the message comes to this: Do as I tell you to do, libby, or I'll call you a fag
Winston Churchill may seem, at first glance, to be an odd choice to play the tough guy role, because he was physically soft. (When told that he looked just like a big baby, Churchill replied: "No, all babies look like me
.") Worse, he read a lot of books and he liked to paint pictures. But he had been a war hero, and he was a man of cigars, hard liquor and harsh talk. These things make him an acceptable role model for modern American conservatives.
Most Americans know only one thing about Chamberlain: That he carried an umbrella, even when rain did not threaten. To the American mind, this affectation identifies him as a dandy. A pansy.
Modern American reactionaries won't tell you that, in the 1930s, it was the Cliveden Set
-- a powerful conclave of British Establishment-types -- who wanted Chamberlain to make a deal with Hitler.
Despite that uncomfortable fact of history, the post-war conservative movement in America quickly fastened on the Hitler-Churchill-Chamberlain mythos as a way of insuring that the United States maintained a fiercely anti-Soviet stance. Khruschev was Hitler, and so were his successors. Anyone who proposed peaceful coexistence was Chamberlain -- the guy holding the umbrella.
The umbrella became a frequently-seen symbol in William F. Buckley's National Review
Some of you may recall the strange case of the Umbrella Man, who was photographed in Dealey Plaza on November 22, 1963. Standing beneath the Texas School Book Depository building, under a clear blue sky, this man quickly opened up an umbrella just as JFK's car passed by. He seemed to be signalling the commencement of fire.
Despite widespread publicity, the search for this mysterious individual lasted more than a decade.
During the House Select Committee on Assassinations hearings of the 1970s, a man named Louie Witt claimed to be the infamous umbrella man. He even brought what was supposedly the actual brolly into congressional hearings. (It was no such thing: The number of spokes differed.) He said that he opened his umbrella as a way to mount a symbolic protest
against a president he considered soft on communism. Here are his words to the committee
It had something to do with the--when the senior Mr. Kennedy was Ambassador or England, and the Prime Minister, some activity they had had in appeasing Hitler. The umbrella that the Prime Minister of England came back with got to be a symbol in some manner with the British people. By association, it got transferred to the Kennedy family, and, as I understood, it was a sore spot with the Kennedy family, like I said, in coffee break conversations someone had mentioned, I think it is one of the towns in Arizona, it is Tucson or Phoenix, that someone had been out at the airport or some place where some members of the Kennedy family came through and they were rather irritated by the fact that they were brandishing the umbrellas. This is how the idea sort of got stuck in my mind.
Witt seemed to disappear off the face of the earth after he gave this odd testimony. Many people doubt that he was the real Umbrella Man
. In fact, it has even been suggested that the umbrella became a symbol of appeasement only after
According to John Simkin, a retired British history teacher and textbook author who runs the historical website Spartacus Educational, the umbrella was never the symbol of Chamberlain that the “umbrella man” claimed it was.
“In Britain, there was never any association with an umbrella at all,” Simkin told me. “Everyone had umbrellas and bowlers in those days.”
Each reader will have to decide for himself or herself whether Witt told the truth. What cannot be denied is the fact that, in right-wing rhetoric, Chamberlain-the-pansy-appeaser
has become an inescapable trope. To this day, most liberals live in fear of the umbrella.
Most -- but not all.
During the Cuban Missile Crisis, when President Kennedy decided to mount a blockade rather than stage an invasion, General Curtis Lemay -- a truly maniacal far-rightist -- reflexively compared the President to Chamberlain. The White House taping system recorded Lemay saying “This is almost as bad as the appeasement at Munich.”
Of course, if JFK had
invaded, the result would have been nuclear war. Lemay knew (as most Americans did not) that the Russians had already placed tactical nuclear weapons on the island. Field commanders were permitted to use these weapons at their own discretion.
Kennedy could not be bullied by a guy like Lemay. After all, he was John F. Kennedy
, war hero, and the F stood for Fucking. Every attractive woman in the world wanted to sleep with JFK. If you insult the masculinity of a guy like that, he'll just smirk at you. Kennedy knew who he was, and he didn't have to prove anything.
But the great secret of being a male in this society -- a secret which all men know but few admit -- is that most of us do not radiate JFK-esque self-assurance. We pretend
to have that kind of confidence, but the bullshit goes only so far. It's all too easy for testosterone-fueled thugs like Lemay to browbeat us into doing things we don't want to do. Every grade school playground has a couple of Lemays in it, and they teach us lessons that we carry around for the rest of our lives.
How do females deal with the Lemays who seem to dominate our culture? Do guys like that get
to them? Do politically ambitious women get bullied into pretending to be Tough Guys, even when doing so is counter-productive?
Such questions are best answered by a female writer.
I will simply offer the following suggestion: Just as the liberal Martin O'Malley turned Baltimore into a police state for fear of being called a softie, Hillary became a foreign policy monster because she doesn't want to be left holding that goddamned umbrella.