Blowin’ in the Wind..

The great American bard Bob Dylan asks some pointed questions in this classic . What that says about us, that this song, written almost six decades ago is still pertinent in the times we live, I will leave to the reader’s judgement.

How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind
Yes, ’n’ how many years can some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free?
Yes, ’n’ how many times can a man turn his head
Pretending he just doesn’t see?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind
Yes, ’n’ how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, ’n’ how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

Other than the obvious fact that Dylan is a genius, prescient even, given what he wrote almost six decades ago is apropos for these times, it is a stark if much needed indictment of the times in which we live. More particularly, a reminder, that even given the steady if slow progress we have made toward racial equality over the course of time there are mountains yet left to climb.

I recall reading a story in the local news media several years ago about a young black male, in his late teens, who at the time had broken into a luxury car dealership in the Dallas Fort Worth area. He was reported to be on some sort of mind altering substances, The man was unarmed, at least as far as firearms go, except for an iron pipe (or a hammer, perhaps) if I recall correctly, which he was using to vandalize cars in the dealership. The end result was that the young man ended up dead, shot by the police. I remember following a discussion in the local media about this. One participant pointed out that this was a luxury car dealership and these were really expensive cars. Another asked what the worth of a human life was? Say he vandalized ten cars, each on average worth a hundred thousand dollars. Is that human life worth one million dollars? Say he vandalized twenty cars. Is that human life worth two million dollars then?  Does it matter that he was on drugs? The reason I found myself thinking about this is because in George Floyd’s case the Hennepin County attorney released a statement that reads:

“Mr. Floyd had underlying health conditions including coronary artery disease and hypertensive heart disease. The combined effects of Mr. Floyd being restrained by police, his underlying health conditions and any potential intoxicants (emphasis mine) in his system likely contributed to his death.”

There have been numerous reactions to this statement ranging from “the fix is in, they had no intention of prosecuting anything” to ” See? He was up to no good. He was writing bad checks”.  Never mind the fact that they concluded “potential intoxicants” even before the toxicology report was available. Because that’s hardly the point. Say he was. What does it matter if he was? Say he was writing bad checks. Does that somehow justify what happened?

There’s a lesson or two here I suppose for us liberals too, for I consider myself one, even if I find myself increasingly disagreeing with so many of their tactics. I recall the outrage among liberals when in response to violent protests and riots in Ferguson, MO several years ago, as the leader of the nation then President Obama asked the protesters to refrain from violence and looting. He was excoriated by several liberals for being a “sellout”. Since he grew up in relative privilege he could not possibly understand they said. On a lighter note, another lesson is that if you think things can’t possibly get worse, rest assured they can. As someone who squandered away several hours of my time watching the Netflix show Tiger King, I can assure you they can. Instead of Trump we could have Joe Maldonado aka Joe Exotic as President. Although I acknowledge that whether that would be worse is certainly up for debate.

I have had the unique opportunity of participating in the democratic process of two countries. I was born and raised in India and had five years of eligibility to vote as an adult in India. In 2011 I became a naturalized American citizen and got to participate in the 2012 and 2016 general elections this side of the world. Just when I was in the junior year of college in India I became eligible to vote. A result of vote bank politics (a broad category that includes caste and religion based politics), unscrupulous politicians, and other factors, the inability of any major political party to win an outright majority in the Indian parliament meant that between May 1996 and March 1998 (twenty two months), India had four Prime Ministers; one of them lasting a whopping sixteen days. So by the time I became eligible to vote (at eighteen in 1994) and emigrated for the United States at twenty three (in 1999) I had voted in three Indian general elections. To draw a loose analogy, that would be akin to voting in elections for three American presidents in a span of less than five years.

Given all the instability caused by coalition politics, I never could, for the life of me, as a young person living in India, fathom why minorities, Muslims in particular could not bring themselves to vote for a majoritarian Hindu nationalist party. The party — now in power in keeping with the trend we see across the world, of majoritarian regimes, with a stranglehold that seems unlikely to be broken anytime in the near future — was then led by a man who could be described as moderate. The man was a statesman, and I don’t use that word lightly. There are politicians, the run of the mill, oftentimes scheming, sometimes conniving, but mostly with only one goal: to stay in power, and then there are statesmen who can look beyond partisan politics to the greater good even if it means political losses. This man was a statesman, at least my twenty year old self thought he was one. So I could not understand why,  “these people”, the Muslims, would not see what coalition politics was costing us in terms of stability, not to mention the laughingstock we were of the rest of the world as a result, and vote for him, even if his party represented a view of India where Hindus were naturally entitled to rule and the Muslims, an invading, pillaging race, were the “other”. Because in my privileged (read middle class, upper caste, Hindu) young mind I could not understand what it means to be a minority. But I do now because I have lived as a minority in another country. I do understand now what it means to be that “other”. I am by no means claiming discrimination or victimization, because America has been nothing but a welcoming haven for me personally. America has given me opportunities and success far more than I am deserving of. It has, in the immortal words of our sixteenth president given me far more than my “poor power to add or detract”. In my twenty years of living here I have had perhaps four or five  instances of overt racism where I was asked in turns, either to “go back to your country”, called a terrorist, or been asked “how I can eat that shit”, the last one in reference to my food. Most of them were in the aftermath of the worst foreign terrorist attack on American soil when emotions were running high and thus understandable. Unpleasant but nothing along the lines of what I can only try to imagine black or Latino Americans face.

Lets set aside the discussion around systemic racism in law enforcement, and other important questions raised by these events for a minute. A leadership rendered conspicuous by its absence is bad enough as we saw from the response to the pandemic; but a leadership — if one can call what we see from the White House that– that actively promotes the other-ing (to use a term from a writer I highly respect) and demonizing of those that don’t look like you or share the same religious beliefs as you do for little more than political gain, a leadership that will use any tactics to sow division and exploit those divisions, a leadership so harebrained that it is incapable of seeing things except in the most simplistic light, a leadership whose pursuit of power is so nakedly opportunistic — is no leadership at all. It is an abomination. The answer to what then candidate Trump asked of black voters, in an apparent questioning of black support for Democrats: “What do you have to lose?” is clear. The answer, it turns out, is plenty. There is plenty to lose. Not just for black voters but many of us that don’t share the narrow worldview of his.

We deserve better than this. Scratch that. Let me rephrase. Fashionable as it is to blame politicians for the all the ills that ail us, they only exploit already existing divisions and stoke already burning embers. The burning of the Reichstag came after at least a sizable number decided it was worth giving this guy who promised to make Germany great again a shot. We deserve whomever we put in the White House and if we don’t show up in November at the booths we will deserve four more years of this. Amidst all the gloom here’s the good news: We get to show up in November. If we give this guy four more years, there’s no telling what else is in store. We may not get to show up in 2024. Because, as one commentator pointed out, Rome had a senate too. One that pretty much rubber stamped everything the Caesar decreed. Not much different from the United States senate of 2020 and a repeal of term limits is not as far fetched as it sounds. Remember when the possibility that Trump would be our president seemed far fetched?

Thanks for reading.

Lakshman H.

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