A Date to Pinpoint on the Moral Arc of the Universe

๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡น at https://www.salto.bz/it/article/06062020/lo-stesso-film-di-52-anni-fa

In early March I found myself, like so many fellow Italians, playing the role of Cassandra. My open letters to American friends describing what was happening with the arrival of the Coronavirus – the rapidity with which the health situation had worsened, the dismay about the lockdown, immediately followed by the awareness of its inevitability – were also an early warning system: get ready, what happens here is only the prelude to what will happen to you shortly.

I never thought that the disbelief with which my messages were received in the U.S. would have turned quickly into my own disbelief , with friends, former neighbors and colleagues now sending pictures of familiar places in Washington, D.C., now locked by gates and fences, of looted shops, of the most symbolic places of American democracy surrounded by military personnel.

The tragic reality is that, however shocking and painful, all of this was perfectly predictable – probably much more so than the pandemic. After all, we’ve known it since that November morning of almost four years ago, when we woke up with a new president, enveloped in sadness, filled with the awareness that nothing good would come from this, and that no, leaders are not just all alike: even in our tired and hollowed democracies, the moral compass counts. These certainties were confirmed by every single act, proclaim, tweet, interview, photo-op., ever since. This disaster, now for all to see, was only a matter of time and circumstances.

Today marks the anniversary of the death of Robert F. Kennedy, assassinated in 1968 after winning the primary in California, on the way to obtaining the nomination of the Democratic party and, perhaps, the presidency.

Just two months earlier, Kennedy had found himself in front of a mostly African-Americans in Indianapolis. Martin Luther King had been murdered that afternoon, and it was Kennedy who broke the news. He had been advised against keeping that election event and addressing the crowd, but Kennedy showed courage and moral standing, telling local police officers that if they crowd would bother them, โ€œyouโ€™re the one with the problem.โ€ RFK had the credibility to speak honestly about King, and how personal that loss was, evoking (for the first time in public) his brother who was murdered five years earlier.

In the somewhat grainy video of the time, you can clearly hear the gasps of disbelief and pain with which the news was received. RFK spoke only for about five minutes. Quoting Aeschylus and the Greeks, he said, among other things: “What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black.”

John R. Fulton, Jr./Associated Press

The mostly improvised words he delivered that April 4, 1968, are dramatically current as America relives scenes from the same movie 52 years later – the riots in the cities, the police brutality towards African Americans, the economic crisis that aggravates the already dramatic social inequalities.

Nobody can say how the same crowd would react today, in the same situation, to RFK’s words. Words of compassion, love, understanding can sound hollow 50 years later: the injustice perpetrated runs just too deep, the original sin of slavery is too persistent, the inequalities and the missed promises and, above all, the infinite deaths for police brutality. They are no longer enough.

But it is also true that without leaders like these, without these words and without these acts, America remains an empty box that not only is not, but cannot even aspire to be what the world still needs it to be.

A new president will not eliminate the injustices of American society, just as eight years of Obama’s presidency did not erase institutional racism. But it has become a categorical imperative to remove the moral and intellectual misery of somebody who brandishes the bible like a weapon without having the moral qualities to represent any ethical, religious or human principle.

While hundreds of American cities burned on the night of April 4, 1968, there were no riots in Indianapolis.

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice, said King. And on a specific point in that arc, Americans must now pin the date of November 3, 2020.

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