The wind, the sun and the summer of 2020

Protestors at a burning barricade at Broad and Henry streets in Richmond in the early hours of May 31. (Sarah Vogelsong/Virginia Mercury)

For a while now, but especially in the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about “The North Wind and the Sun.”

If you know your Aesop, you’ve read the fable. The Sun and the North Wind engage in a contest to see who can get a traveler to remove his cloak. The Wind goes first, blowing with all his considerable fury, but succeeding only in getting the man to wrap the garment tighter about himself. Then comes the Sun’s turn. He gently turns up the lumens and in short order the man’s cloak is off.

Obviously, it’s a parable about persuasion, and the idea that virulent argument and force only push opponents deeper into their entrenched positions.

From the armed men storming the halls of the Idaho Capitol to the shrill screaming at sidewalk diners in Washington, D.C. and Pittsburgh, and the bloodstained, burned out streets of Kenosha and Portland, the United States’ as a governmental enterprise of the people, by the people and for the people and the concept of “E Pluribus Unum” has never looked more precarious in my four decades on the planet.

It seemed inevitable that confrontations between the people tearing up liberal cities in the name of fighting fascism and those playing paramilitary G.I. JOE — both of whom’s growing public presence during the Trump years has been derided and minimized as “LARPing” by too many — would eventually escalate from fistic flailing to major bloodshed. Now that it has, the burning question is how much worse will it get.

(Prompted by fears of similar armed confrontations in city streets, the Richmond City Council approved a gun ban during protests and other events last week.)

Heavily armed members of a the right wing “Boogaloo” group kneel outside the Siegel Center in Richmond, where the Virginia House of Delegates was meeting Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. (Pool photo by Bob Brown/ Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Violent delights have violent ends. Violence begets violence. Blood for blood. An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.

Pick your aphorism. But the largely silent majority who abhor the idea of civil discord leaving bodies on American streets need to speak out against what appears to be growing acceptance on left and right of violent confrontation as an acceptable means to an end. Too often, those who egg it on and media who give credence to dangerous nonsense seem to have no appreciation or direct experience of the damage bullets, blunt objects, punches and kicks from mob beatings can inflict on human bodies. It often spills out of control. There are almost always unintended consequences and collateral damage. And it often provokes a violent reaction.

It has been fashionable in the wake of the protests to selectively quote the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. saying “a riot is the language of the unheard.” But in the same 1966 Mike Wallace interview, King called riots “self defeating and socially destructive.”

“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you murder the hater, but you do not murder hate,” he also famously wrote. “Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

From the pathological inability of the president to salve the nation’s deep racial wounds to some Democrats’ reluctance to condemn rioting and violence for what it is until it appeared to pose a political threat, many of our leaders from the federal to the local level have not covered themselves in glory during our hellish summer of unrest.

Left, right and center, we should all hope the sun comes out soon.

The wind is howling.

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