Sources of anguish, despair: Lawrence O'Donnell has done some good work down through the many long years.
He's highly experienced in certain areas. There have been times when he's put his experience to very good use on the air.
He's also had some remarkable meltdowns. On balance, these meltdowns haven't been helpful. We'll suppose that few meltdowns are.
Last night, Lawrence started his program by mocking one of the craziest things Donald J. Trump has said yet. In the past few days, the commander has gone farther and farther is support of the idea that we shouldn't do a lot of testing for covid-19.
Reason? If you do a lot of testing, you'Ll end up reporting a lot of "cases." As of yesterday, Trump was almost sounding like he thought the testing somehow creates the infections.
Lawrence started his program by mocking these statements. He didn't explore the possibility that the person making these statements may be cognitively or psychiatrically impaired in a way which medical experts ought to be discussing in public forums.
Donald J. Trump continues to make highly peculiar statements. Last night, at 10:26 PM Eastern, Lawrence made a very strange statement of his own.
MSNBC's Joy Reid had just offered a perfectly reasonable speculation. The videotape of George Floyd's death displayed remarkably heinous conduct by former officer Chauvin, Reid correctly said. Acknowledging that she doesn't know, she said that widespread viewing of the tape may be creating a major change in public perceptions concerning racial misconduct.
Reid's speculation was perfectly reasonable. O'Donnell's response was not.
Lawrence turned to a second guest, MSNBC's Trymaine Lee. This exchange occurred:
O'DONNELL (6/25/20): Trymaine, video has made all the difference. We didn't have a video like that of Michael Brown.Lee continued from there, moving directly to remarks about the history of lynching. He should have corrected what Lawrence said, but we aren't going to blame him for this.
LEE: That's right...
O'Donnell's implication was obvious. Videotape of Michael Brown's death would have shown horrific misconduct by a police officer, in the way the tape from Minneapolis did.
There are various ways to assess such a comment. The most obvious assessment would be this:
As a matter of basic anthropology, Lawrence's comment calls attention to certain facts about the basic nature of our self-impressed species. We say that for these reasons:
Surely, Lawrence knows what the Obama Justice Department reported about the unfortunate shooting death of Michael Brown. After a lengthy investigation, the department issued a lengthy formal report whose findings were explicitly endorsed by Attorney General Holder.
In its report, the department held that the unfortunate killing of Michael Brown did not involve any act of police misconduct at all. The report was based on forensic investigations and interviews with eyewitnesses, not on the bogus stories which quickly arose in the aftermath of Brown's death.
The liberal world—a world which includes corporate-paid, profit-seeking multimillionaires like O'Donnell—has chosen to ignore, indeed to disappear, the findings of that detailed report. Within that world, Michael Brown's death has remained an iconic example of racist misconduct by America's racist police.
How racist are America's police officers and our police departments? We can't answer those questions.
We can say that O'Donnell surely knows what Eric Holder said about the formal report his Department of Justice prepared. Surely, O'Donnell must know what that report said. He just isn't willing to tell you.
Our liberal world has disappeared the findings of that report. (Over on Fox, viewers are allowed to hear about the findings.) In this way, our liberal world creates our own preferred storylines and our own tribal beliefs, just as the conservative world generates various crazy beliefs about the coronavirus.
Aside from the millions of dollars in corporate pay which are involved in his conduct, why would someone like Lawrence O'Donnell mislead his viewers in the way he did last night?
Anthropologists tell us that this is the way life forms like us are wired. Our species is hard-wired for the creation of tribal beliefs, whether true or false, these disconsolate scholars now say.
They leave it to us to state the obvious. The refusal to tell the public the truth—by which we tend to mean the whole truth—may lead to anguish and despair, even to traumatization.
Lawrence behaved very badly last night, in a way which is required at his profit-based corporate network. By way of contrast, we think of the impressive young woman cited by the Washington Post's Theresa Vargas last week.
In our view, Vargas has been a superb addition to the Post's roster of columnists. In the column under review, she discussed Governor Northam's decision to remove the giant statue of Robert E. Lee which forms the centerpiece of Richmond's jaw-dropping Monument Avenue.
At the press conference announcing his decision, Northam appeared with Zyahna Bryant, a 19-year-old UVa student. Where do such impressive young people come from? That's one of life's continuing mysteries. Vargas offered this background:
VARGAS (6/18/20): When Northam announced at a June 4 news conference his landmark decision to take down the statue and place it in storage, he said: “Virginia has never been willing to deal with symbols. Until now.”Luckily, Bryant didn't "truly lose hope" when she was 12, at the time of Martin's death. Within a year, she had started to organize. This month, she stood nearby as Northam made his announcement about the Lee monolith.
Proof of that statement stood nearby. Zyahna Bryant, a 19-year-old University of Virginia student, had started a petition seeking the statue’s removal when she was a 16-year-old high school student.
The first time Bryant organized a rally was in 2013, after Trayvon Martin’s death.
“I remember that for so many of us, this felt like a defining moment,” she recalled on her Instagram page in a post that appeared a few days before George Floyd’s death. “This was a moment that I can cite in my life as a time where I truly lost hope in the systems that continue to fail Black and Brown people.”
Bryant was 12 at the time. That means she was in middle school when she first started asking, “How much more blood?”
Luckily, Bryant didn't lose hope—but we'll guess that others did. Reportedly, some kids in Flint truly lost hope in themselves as a result of the misinformation with which they were plied during the Flint water crisis. Earlier this week, we cited a 7-year-old who was "terrified" by the things he was told in the wake of George Floyd's death.
Somewhat similarly, a great deal of anguish and despair has accompanied the videotape of George Floyd's death. So too, we'll suggest, with the standard accounts concerning Michael Brown's death, and even concerning the death of Trayvon Martin.
When people like Lawrence refuse to tell the public the truth, there may be unfortunate consequences. On the brighter side, their selective presentations may boost their ratings. In this way, their vast deceptions help Keep Salary Alive.
But in response to their presentations, sensible people feel, then express, anguish, dismay and despair. They may even end up terrifying their 7-year-old children.
This conduct may be based on the sense of anguish people like Lawrence agree to engender. Anthropologically, so it goes as our tribal leaders pave our current revolutionary road.
There is no single correct way in which an adult should respond to accurate accounts of this nation's brutal racial history. There is no single correct response to the horrific videotape of George Floyd's death.
In our view, there probably is a correct way to respond to Lawrence's conduct. We think people like Lawrence should stop deceiving their viewers, though anthropologists rush to tell us that nothing like that will ever occur.
In recent weeks, we've read columns in the New York Times in which substantial people have expressed remarkable states of despair in the wake of George Floyd's death. In some cases, the judgments these people describe may not seem to make total sense.
There was the philosophy professor from UVa, Yale and Johns Hopkins. In his column, he said that by 2010, while living in Charlottesville, he "was hardly leaving the house."
"When I did venture out," he wrote, "I kept to myself, avoided small talk, went straight home after doing what I needed to do, grateful when I finally made it back to the safe comfort of my own home."
It isn't clear that he was talking about fear for his physical safety, but it isn't clear that he wasn't. He did say that he felt that he was "possibly in danger [at that time] just by walking out my front door."
As he continued, he too mentioned the death of Trayvon Martin, which occurred two years later, in 2012. On June 17, when his column appeared, he also said this:
"It will be a great surprise if I am not driven to my keyboard within the next few years writing about our campus’s very own George Floyd moment. In the meantime, I keep my distance—I don’t want to be a candidate for such a moment."To date, there has been no such moment on his current Hopkins campus. Granted, he still has a few years to go. But on a basic statistical or common sense basis, should that fact be anything like "a great surprise?"
In the language of modern literature, that professor was perhaps expressing a sense of "despair." On June 6, the Times had published a somewhat similar column in which a black author who lives in New York City expressed annoyance with the white friends who, "brazen as ever," had emailed him in the aftermath of George Floyd's death.
Did we mention the fact that he said he was talking about white "friends?" At one point, addressing these friends, the writer said he knew that he had "to avoid offending you. Because I know offending you is dangerous."
As with the philosophy professor, so too with this writer. "As a black man, what I actually feel—constantly—is the fear of death," he wrote—"the fear that when I go for my morning stroll through Central Park or to 7-Eleven for an AriZona Iced Tea, I won’t make it back home."
Presumably, there's no way to declare that any such fear is "wrong." It is possible to wonder about the extent to which such a fear makes basic statistical sense.
It's also possible to wonder about the sources of such fear. This writer also mentions Trayvon Martin, and he too mentions something his teachers showed him, perhaps unwisely, when he was 7 years old.
In line with its treatment of everything else, the Hamptons-based New York Times loves to publish such testimonies. These testimonies may not necessarily seem to make perfect statistical sense, but they do serve to spread the sense of despair.
Concerning the unfortunate death of Trayvon Martin, we're so old that we can remember what Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote about the incident in real time. He said that, based on his own experience as a youth, George Zimmerman was legitimately in fear of death as Martin banged his head on the ground, or perhaps on the sidewalk, just before Martin was shot.
Coates was newly returned from Paris at the time. He quickly shifted his point of view in the days ahead. But as with Michael Brown, so too here:
Young people like Bryant routinely hear a heavily edited account of what is known to have happened that night. In a possible break with editorial norms, the Times let the June 6 writer describe the killing of Martin as a "murder," ignoring the fact that a duly constituted jury unanimously found that it wasn't.
Our tribe has created novelized versions of these events which please our need for moral superiority. On the down side, our heavily edited storylines may also terrify children while helping fill good decent adults with anger, anguish, despair.
On Fox, viewers hear the fuller story concerning these unfortunate events. On our own exalted channels, we much brighter liberals do not. If a person like Lawrence is willing to say what he said last night, what chance is there that he will honor admirablele young person like Bryant with a fuller account of what was once called "the whole truth?"
Seven-year-olds are terrified; 12-year-olds lose hope. Professors are afraid to leave the house. Other highly substantial people write such things as this:
MCDONALD (6/15/20): We can’t rely on the education system to do this work for us: A friend in education told me about white teenagers she’s come across who didn’t learn about slavery or the civil rights movement until high school...One study found that white children who attend predominantly white schools and grow up in predominantly white neighborhoods are less likely to take racism seriously than children who grow up in more diverse settings; many of them have a limited understanding of our country’s sordid history. A quote from an 11-year-old in a 2018 Time article says it all: “Racism was a problem when all those slaves were around and that like bus thing … like Eleanor Roosevelt, and how she went on the bus. And she was African American and sat on the white part … but after the 1920s and all that, things changed.”Really? A single (alleged) statement by a single 11-year-old child "says it all?" Claims like that may seem to make sense in the world where mothers are terrifying their 7-year-olds, but also in the world where people like Lawrence agree to mislead millions of viewers in the ways their owners prefer.
To what extent are we the people being told "the whole truth" about a range of deeply important matters? We plan to explore that question next week.
For today, we invite you to think about Lawrence. If we were inclined to behave in the fiery way he often does, we'd call last night's statement a "lie."
Surely, though, he must have known what he was doing when he made that grossly misleading statement. He must have known that he was misleading the bright young people he often pretends to admire.
To what extent are we the people over here in our tribe actually told "the whole truth?" More on this question next week.
But why did Lawrence say what he did? Also, and very important:
Do you think his conduct was wrong?
Still coming: Examples and statistics