Home > United States > No Rodney, we cannot get along

No Rodney, we cannot get along

Rodney King who died a few days ago will be remembered mostly for his bafflement at the furor caused in 1992 after the acquittal of police officers who had beaten him up in a videotaped incident. The acquittal caused LA to erupt in violent protests. Fifty-three dead, 2000 injured, scores of arrests, the riots were spectacular but more surprising was the reaction to the 25-year-old’s plaintive suggestion that we all get along. In those pre-YouTube, pre-Twitter days, the short sentence still managed overnight to become comedy fodder with endless parodies and repetitions, causing guffaws across the land, with King coming across as a moron for even thinking of the possibility. That, I’ll have you remember, at a time when people did actually sometimes get along.

That was then, this is now. These days, division along clear lines is the norm. Wherever people are involved, a chasm separates clearly defined camps. In our country, Republicans are Republicans and Democrats are Democrats and never do the twain meet. Why, just a few days ago, Jeb Bush, yes, he of the impeccable family credentials, was almost excommunicated for having dared to mention “an orthodoxy that doesn’t allow for disagreement, doesn’t allow for finding some common ground.”  Anyone on that side giving a whiff of softness is bound to cause an uproar. A good Republican is a rigid Republican. See how Romney has managed to do a less-than-graceful 180-degrees turn on health, immigration, or tax issues that, even for him, used to go without saying. As for Democrats, busy holding up a hand to protect themselves from the mud-slinging, they appear completely clueless. Indeed, the days are long gone of bipartisanship, of people from different sides of the aisle working together for the common good, of Reaganites, of committees bringing together decent and committed elected officials such as Ted Kennedy and John Warner.

Clear-cut lines run in European politics as well. After last week’s parliamentary elections in France gave the majority to supporters of Socialist president Hollande, the French heaved a collective sigh of relief. They had been terrified of a rightist UMP majority which would have taken them back to the days of the type of “cohabitation” which occurred three times in recent French history, when a leftist President has had to name a rightist PM or vice versa. The uneasy combination would be unthinkable now. Also in France, as in other European countries, election results have more or less done away with a relic called the center (Bayrou, representative of the movement in France, is gone from the political spectrum.) No one, but no one, can remain in the center of anything in these days of snarling at adversaries, of destroying them by any means possible rather than, egad, trying to find compromises.

Interestingly enough, the chasm between political parties also exists between what we say (paying lip service to others, respecting diversity, being unswervingly pc regarding every social or cultural issue) and what we actually feel, the pure hatred that animates us whenever we encounter anything or anyone that doesn’t conform to what we consider acceptable.

So no, Rodney. Here’s hoping you are now in the kinder, gentler world where you belong but down here we definitely cannot get along. Let me tell you, we won’t even try.

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  1. June 25, 2012 at 7:59 pm

    Sad but so very true.

  2. June 26, 2012 at 2:37 pm

    I’m not sure how relevant the riot sparked by the Rodney King incident in an earlier time is to the technocratically contrived political combat of today. Nor is it so clear who “we” is supposed to be or what “getting along” is supposed to mean.

    There is nothing new about the human population being fragmented among a diversity of nations, states, communities, tribes, religions, clubs, interest groups, etc. So the political use of “we” hardly seems to reflect the persistent reality of pluralism.

    As for getting along, by some measures, the level of global conflict, notably armed conflict, has been going down in recent decades:
    http://www.systemicpeace.org/conflict.htm

    The degree of social conflict seems to be determined far more by demography, economics, and financial markets than by the dogmas of political ideology. Social scientists have observed that the degree of social violence is closely correlated with a ‘youth bulge’ — the proportion of young males (especially unemployed or disaffected) in a country’s population.

    • June 26, 2012 at 4:08 pm

      Thank you for the thoughtful comment and for the cogent points. My guess is the “we” used by RK meant just people, whoever they are and wherever they are. The disproportionate glee the comment caused at the time just went to show how ridiculous any “we” thought it could be to expect people to actually get along.Also, by the “not getting along” of our day and age, I wasn’t talking about global conflict (you are right to note that actual armed conflict is going down (and, I would add, causing less damage; just compare casualty figures in World Wars or in Vietnam with the casualty in the unfortunate wars still going on today). And though I have to agree that unemployed male youths do indeed cause social violence, I would add that it’s hard not to note the persistent brainwashing they are subjected to, with catastrophic results (be it in our own small towns or elsewhere in the world, such as Egypt).

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