In Troubled Times, Our Nation Turns to…Trevor?

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?
A nation turns its lonely eyes to you…
–from “Mrs. Robinson” by Paul Simon (Simon & Garfunkel)

I know my last post was dedicated to keeping up our spirits, but, wow… things have gotten so much darker than when I wrote that, which was only a few days ago. Then (mostly Thursday, May 28), I was just focused on the general coronavirus situation, before all the protests over the death of George Floyd had spread and became even more violent.

One of the strange things that is especially alarming at what has been happening the past few days is the dearth of national leadership about how we as a nation should be dealing with all this. In the past, our presidents have gone on the air to give us some words of comfort and direction. But as Captain Jack Sparrow said in the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie:

The only rules that really matter are these: what a man can do and what a man can’t do.

President Trump has never been good at the “Consoler in Chief” role. Given the negative reactions to his tweets on the subject by the mayors and governors trying to get things under control, a speech that would help the country move beyond the current violence is apparently something he just can’t do. However, it leaves a void. Who is to address our nation if our President can’t?

As it turns out, it’s our late night talk show hosts.

Friday night, Trevor Noah, the host of The Daily Show on Comedy Central, gave a talk that was the most heartfelt and helpful piece I’ve seen to assist us as Americans to frame the events of the week. It was not given as part of his comedy show; it was a sometimes stumbling, yet very eloquent, off-the-cuff attempt to explain to his, I’m sure, mostly white audience what we just don’t get. As a black man, he tried to help us all interpret what happened this week from the perspective of an oppressed community that’s just DONE with police killings and institutional racism being business as usual.

I really recommend watching it:

I think he does a magnificent job of helping us understand the perspective of a segment of our fellow Americans whose life experience is so different from our own (at least those of us who are white and relatively privileged, such as myself). I think that matters a lot, because it helps us to move from judging them as “senseless lawbreakers” to having compassion for their situation. That is not to justify the violence; violence is never the answer. But it certainly increased my commitment to the fact that things have to change in this country. As seen on many signs of the 99.9% of the protesters who were engaged in peaceful political action: No Justice, No Peace. And right now, there is way too much injustice in our nation.

Plus, as someone who majored in philosophy as an undergraduate (and social and political philosophy at that), I LOVE someone explaining the Social Contract as the root of the problem.

The only comedian that I’ve seen whose show was supposed to air Friday night was Jimmy Kimmel, host of ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live!. He, too, gave a serious talk instead of his usual humorous introductory monologue. It was not as powerful as Trevor Noah’s talk, but I think he did a good job. I mean, that’s a task that’s way above his pay grade (as the saying goes), but somebody had to say something. He ends with a really beautiful video by African-American actor, comedian, and musician Tyler Merritt, and I think it’s worth watching as well:

I’m sorry that our federal government seems incapable right now of saying things to help calm the situation and to motivate us all to rise up and overcome the challenges we face. This is not a black problem; it is an American problem But I’m grateful for Trevor and Jimmy and Tyler, who stepped up and used their platforms for better understanding and hope for a brighter future. They certainly helped me regain some inner peace after seeing news about the rioting…and maintaining my own inner peace is the only thing I know to do right now to contribute to restoring peace in our troubled nation.

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