Charleston Did Anyone Learn Anything?

I have been in a CNN newsroom, but never at the moment it became clear that a major story had run its course. The hurricane has turned out to sea. The space shuttle has landed safely. I bet the news veterans can feel it coming, with the certain knowledge it is time to move on to shaking the life out of the next attention grabber.

It must feel that way today, a week following the murder of nine people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC. The story might have lasted longer if the murderer, Dylann Storm Roof, had not been caught quite so quickly. And then confessed. Rioting makes stories last longer, but the church leaders showed too much class to allow that to happen.

But, did anyone learn anything?

Not surprisingly, guns were a hot topic. Left and right settled into reliable comfort zones of controlling them or not. Strict orthodoxy was enforced. If gun control is to be a problem solver rather than a feel good answer, what is to happen to the 270 to 310 million-gun inventory in this country? Are we to expect that those denied the right to purchase new guns will not find what they want elsewhere?

Racism also had a good run with a replay of the usual talking points. Those on the right believe that much progress has been made, while those on the left argue that America is a hopelessly racist country and we should all be ashamed. It is not clear that any minds were changed.

The right believes that mental health care is a worthy avenue to consider, if solving the problem remains the goal. The left is mistrustful, thinking this a deflection from the preferred gun control solution. Shouting increases as background checks are discussed.

Two words enjoyed bursts of attention.

For some reason, many wanted this mass murder to be labeled “terrorism.” Apparently, this would attract more attention. The FBI actually defines the meaning of the word terrorism on its website. There are three categories: international, domestic and the federal crime itself. Each category includes violation of some other law (which seems like a relabeling) and intimidating or coercing the civilian population or the government. The relabeling of some other crime was probably the most likely avenue but the spinners never settled on it. Is the government feeling intimidated or coerced?

The other word was nigger, which President Obama used during a podcast. Of course, nigger is supposed to be called “the N word” but, after listening to the White House press corps elbow each other aside for goodness points in a press briefing, I wonder if the euphemism is not now worse than the word itself. How many ways can this distinguished group of reporters probe the President’s mental state in choosing the word before looking like middle schoolers examining the subtleties of a text message?

Note to White House press corps: I doubt that President Obama is the first United States president to say the word nigger. President Nixon and a whole host of others surrounding the Civil War come to mind. The better question might have been, “was President Obama the first to participate in a podcast?”

Politics were never far from the story. The tiniest zephyr of political wind sent Hillary Clinton to a condemnation of the Confederate flag. Few courage points were awarded, as Hillary Clinton would expect to receive precisely zero votes from those who favor that symbol. South Carolina Governor, Nikki Haley, on the other hand, vaulted to the top of the Republican vice presidential race by calling for the removal of the flag from the Capitol grounds.

Among those who write about such things, there was little curiosity as to where Dylann Roof learned his racism. Readers felt differently and last week’s Questions for Dylann Storm Roof drew the largest number of tweets, emails, texts and comments ever.

The question of male aggression was of far greater interest than discussion in the press would indicate. Unemployed, poorly educated, young, single men with limited prospects of attracting mates fare dramatically worse on all measures of propensity to violence than those with jobs, a good education and a civilizing female influence. It seems odd that few wondered whether that was deserving of exploration. Read the description again: unemployed, poorly educated, young, single men with limited prospects of attracting mates.  Does that sound like ISIS?

In the end, as is well known, a scapegoat was chosen and that scapegoat was the Confederate flag. Rarely has a “brand” been killed so quickly. The politicians piled on followed quickly by Walmart, NASCAR and many others.

Nobody seems to have worried much about whether “and then they took our flag” would become a rallying cry in the now-secret meetings of those who favor it, like for example those who might come to admire Dylann Storm Roof for reasons that will remain unexplored.

Though it seems an unlikely solution to the problem of gunning down churchgoers, the flag was thrown under the bus and the nation moved on but from Charleston did anyone learn anything?

Note: The author owns precisely the same number of guns as Confederate flags: none. But, at his most recent annual physical, he was told by his doctor that meditation might be a good idea unless he tried to fix that just like he always tried to fix everything else.

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Haven Pell

At the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, a woman asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” Without hesitation, Franklin replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

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  • Bravo! The simplistic banning of a flag as somehow a cure to racism is akin to removing the middle finger as a solution to bad behavior…. symbolic yes but moves us no closer to stopping the madness.