The Center Is Not Holding

Earlier this week I was listening to the excellent New York Times podcast called The Argument when one of the co-hosts, Michelle Goldberg, said something that put the first five months of this year into stark perspective. She said that 2020 started off like 1974 (an impeachment crisis), quickly became 1918 (a pandemic), turned into 1929 (economic crash), and is now 1968 (massive urban unrest). 

The impeachment crisis was polarizing from the start, but each challenge we faced since became polarizing with remarkable speed. The initial wave of solidarity surrounding the pandemic has degenerated into yet another series of cultural conflicts, over masks, over jobs, over churches, and virtually anything we can find to divide us. 

Then came George Floyd’s shocking, brutal death. The initial wave of bipartisan sadness and anger soon gave way to the violence of riots and a president who poured fuel on the flames:

Trump’s defenders claimed that he was merely predicting shootings, not threatening violence (indeed Trump made the same argument the next day), but the context says otherwise. The history of the phrase – rooted in get-tough policies of the late 1960s and used by George Wallace in his 1968 presidential run – also says otherwise.

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