Some Brief Reflections on Dallas

Bill Evans head shot

Today I am grieving for Dallas, Texas—a great city that I have often visited and enjoy. The brutal killing of five police officers and the wounding of six more when a Black Lives Matter demonstration turned violent have left many wondering where the nation is headed and how the fabric of national unity can be restored.

Here are some brief thoughts:

First, the genie of lawlessness has been let out of the bottle long before last night. Unfortunately, this is evident even at the top with the Obama Administration. Years of selective enforcement by a succession of Attorneys General have made it rather clear that the political friends of the current administration likely will not be prosecuted. Most obviously, the current President’s efforts to “change” America have involved a pervasive breakdown in the enforcement of immigration laws. He knows that the best and quickest way to “change” America is to decisively change the makeup of the population in ways more favorable to his political agenda.

Not surprisingly, according to the Pew Research Center only 19% of Americans trust the government “to do what is right,” and many now regard their own government as the greatest threat to liberty. Given this pervasive distrust and suspicion, we are likely to see more violence coming from both the right and the left. The parallels to the cultural and ideological weirdness of the 1960s are patent, and things are likely to get much worse before they get better.

Second, racism as an interpretive category is wearing thin. Of course racism still exist—in both the white and black communities. The problem is that it often doesn’t explain very much about specific instances of possible abuse of power by police. Nevertheless, it is trotted out by politicians because they find it politically advantageous to do so. The so-called “Black Lives Matter” movement has majored on this theme (and its corollary of “white privilege”), but we need to recognize that divisive and inflammatory rhetoric can be taken to ghastly conclusions by some (as it apparently was last night in Dallas).

If we really want to have a national conversation about the tragic cycle of inner-city violence, we need to be talking about the collapse of the family, subcultures that glorify violence, lack of economic opportunity, and, yes, the pervasive militarization of police forces throughout the nation.

Third, the national conversation is now dominated by identity politics—focusing on distinctions of race, gender, sexual orientation, class, etc.—but identity politics will never bring the nation together. It can’t! By its very nature, the grievance industry thrives and depends on division and conflict. It only gets political traction by tearing communities apart.

Fourth, it seems to me that there are only two ways out of this mess—either pervasive statist control (which, of course, is exactly what the progressive left wants) or the recovery of a sense of the transcendent truths that, yes, transcend divisions of race, ethnicity, gender, and class, and provide a sense of individual and community obligation apart from governmental coercion.

I would also argue that religious communities of faith are positioned to speak to these issues, for it is there, in contrast to the depressingly pervasive “immanent frame” (to use Charles Taylor’s term) of the broader secular culture, that a vital sense of the transcendent often persists.