Which two hundred people attended: What if they held a “Million Vets March” and 200 people came?
That’s what happened in D.C. this Sunday, if the Washington Post can be trusted. That’s why we tend to disagree with Ta-Nehisi Coates’ reaction to the day’s events.
Coates began his post as shown below. As a general matter, we agree with his comment about “lone idiots,” although we aren’t inclined to refer to regular people that way and we think his attention is somewhat misplaced.
Our main point of disagreement begins with his use of a term that doesn’t quite apply. We refer to his use of the word “crowd:”
COATES (10/15/13): On Sunday, a group of conservative radicals held a protest in Washington. Eventually they walked to the White House. One of these radicals felt it was a good idea to wave the flag of slavery, treason, and terrorism in front of the home of America's first black president. Lone idiots are often drawn to protest action. The behavior of such idiots, while alarming, should not necessarily be taken as an indicator of the aims and thrust of the protest. On the contrary, it is not so much the behavior of the lone idiot that matters—but the tenor of the crowd around him.The “lone idiot” to whom Coates refers is Michael Ashmore, 24, of Hooks, Texas. According to the Post’s Lynh Bui, this is who Ashmore is:
BUI (10/14/13): U.S. Park Police estimated there were 100 to 200 protesters and said there were no arrests.Is Ashmore an idiot? We wouldn’t be inclined to say that. Nor would we be inclined to call the gathering on Sunday a “crowd.”
Michael Ashmore drove 24 hours from Texas for the march. The 24-year-old former Marine served four years in Afghanistan and said his disability benefits stopped about a week ago.
Ashmore says he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and is "living one day at a time" without his disability check.
Politicians, Ashmore said, "just need to get their priorities straight and look out for everybody else instead of themselves."
Truth to tell, the Million Vets March didn’t rise to that level.
Who the heck is Michal Ashmore? We have no idea. According to the Texarkana Gazette, his father died this summer:
TEXARKANA GAZETTE (8/23/13): Thomas Eugene Ashmore, 69, of Hooks, Texas, died Saturday, Aug. 10, 2013, in a Little Rock hospital.What’s it like at the Bowie County Cowboy Church? Once again, no idea. “No people are uninteresting,” Yevtushenko said.
Mr. Ashmore was born Dec. 14, 1943, in Clarendon, Ark. He was a retired service technician with Howtex and a member of Bowie County Cowboy Church.
Survivors include one son, Michael Ashmore of Hooks; one daughter, Michelle Carlock of Mount Pleasant, Texas; three sisters, Elizabeth Richardson of Vidalia, La., Wanda Chaudoin of Jonesville, La., and Lee Blaney of Ferriday, La.; two brothers, Robert Lee Ashmore Jr. of Atlanta, Texas, and Roger Ashmore of Mesa, Ariz.; and a number of other relatives.
Memorial services will be 3 p.m. Sunday at Bowie County Cowboy Church, DeKalb, with Tuffy Williams officiating under direction of Bates-Rolf Funeral Home.
Back to Coates, whom we admire around here. As he continues, he suggests that the crowd which wasn't a crowd should have cuffed Ashmore around:
COATES (continuing directly): If, for instance, you witness a march against military action in Syria and see a Nazi flag among the protestors this should disturb you. But you would be heartened to see the protesters snatch the lone idiot in their midst, eject him from their party with great vigor, and give him some blows for good measure. The flag would still disturb you, but perhaps you might be able to see it as a fringe action, and not the heart of the protest itself.We disagree with the bathos and the melodrama of Coates’ reaction to this non-event from a dwindling minority of people who keep getting played by folk who are much more powerful.
It is the wisdom of the crowd that matters. The wisdom that marked Sunday's crowd was the idea that the president "bows down to Allah" and needs to "put the Qu'ran down." The wisdom that marked Sunday's crowd was the notion that Obama was not the president of "the people" but the president of "his people." The wisdom of Sunday's crowd held that the police, doing their job, looked "like something out of Kenya." It's not so much that a man would fly a Confederate flag, as Jeff Goldberg notes, in front of the home of a black family. It's that a crowd would allow him the comfort of doing it.
Would it be too much to suggest that progressives might feel a bit of pity for Ashmore? In Stride Toward Freedom, the moral giant of the last century discussed his feelings toward people who were much more powerful and almost surely more deeply fallen than Ashmore.
This is the way Dr. King spoke about the people who bombed his home and about those who enabled them. He describes his feelings late on the night after his home was fire-bombed in 1956:
DR. KING (page 138): I could not go to sleep. While I lay in that quiet front bedroom, with a distant street lamp throwing a reassuring glow through the curtained window, I began to think of the viciousness of people who would bomb my home. I could feel the anger rising when I realized that my wife and baby could have been killed. I thought about the city commissioners and all the statements that they had made about me and the Negro generally. I was once more on the verge of corroding anger. And once more I caught myself and said: “You must not allow yourself to become bitter.”“Even their ministers” taught them these things, Dr. King sadly declared. In effect, he lamented the fact that the leaders of white Montgomery hadn’t received the good home training he had received in his home.
I tried to put myself in the place of the police commissioners. I said to myself these are not bad men. They are misguided. They have fine reputations in the community. In their dealings with white people they are respectful and gentlemanly. They probably think they are right in their methods of dealing with Negroes. They say the things they say about us and treat us as they do because they have been taught these things. From the cradle to the grave, it is instilled in them that the Negro is inferior. Their parents probably taught them that; the schools they attended taught them that; the books they read, even their churches and ministers, often taught them that; and above all the very concept of segregation teaches them that. The whole cultural traditional under which they have grown—a tradition blighted with more than 250 years of slavery and more than 90 years of segregation—teaches them that Negroes do not deserve certain things. So these men are merely the children of their culture. When they seek to preserve segregation they are seeking to preserve only what their local folkways have taught them was right.
Much as Lincoln did in his Second Inaugural, Dr. King “pitied the poor immigrant.” These are the giants the world remembers down through the annals of time.
A chance for rumination: Do you pity the poor immigrant? To consider the question, click here.