"Do something!" "Do something!" But Americans disagree about what

By Tom Baxter

On a day when President Trump has addressed the nation to condemn “racism, bigotry and white supremacy,” it might not seem appropriate to begin with Champ Bailey’s Pro Football Hall of Fame induction speech on Saturday.

But the former Georgia Bulldog great spoke about that very subject with expertise, as he put it. It’s something, he said, which black men “have more expertise in than any aspect of our lives.”

“I’m a firm believer that if you want to create change you better start with your friends and your family, so I’m starting here today,” Bailey said in the closing minutes of his speech. “The first thing people see when they look at me is not a Pro Football Hall of Famer, or a husband or a father. They view me first as a black man.

“So on behalf of all the black men that I’ve mentioned tonight and many more out there who’ve had the same experiences that I’ve had in my lifetime, we say this to all of our white friends. When we tell you about our fears, please listen. When we tell you we’re afraid for our kids, please listen. When we tell you there are many challenges we face because of the color of our skin, please listen. And please do not get caught up in how the message is delivered.”

This is a black man who has succeeded in white America in a way few do. He’s worked closely and had friendships with white agents, coaches and teammates. He’s been cheered by mostly white throngs at Sanford and Mile High stadiums. When someone like this gets choked up talking about his fears for his kids, imagine the fear level among those who have been less fortunate in their encounters with white America.

Bailey was right, that real change involves a long and patient conversation. But the racially-motivated shooting in El Paso Saturday, followed so shortly by a deranged shooter’s brief but deadly rampage in Dayton, made it incumbent on Trump to take some kind of decisive action, or to seem to.

“Do something! Do something!” a crowd in Ohio chanted at Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine when he spoke at a memorial service Sunday. What that something is, to different Americans, is the great knot of our politics.

Trump in his speech promised to defeat the “sinister ideologies” of racial hatred, which largely seems to mean authorizing the FBI to go after potentially violent white nationalist networks like the one on which the El Paso shooter posted a statement (“Manifesto” is beginning to sound too grandiose for these recurring rants.) before his murders.

The website 8chan, where the shooter allegedly posted, has already been shut down by its service provider, but Trump’s words on this subject seem at least as noteworthy as his grudging use at last of the word “white.”

“The perils of the internet and social media cannot be ignored and will not be ignored,” Trump said. Critics will immediately point out the president’s near-constant tweets, but he knows the voters who cheer him on social media also fear the “perils” they can encounter online. Where this new-found concern might go, administratively and legislatively, is one of the big questions to arise from this speech.

In a pre-speech tweet, Trump floated the idea of a compromise involving gun sale background checks and immigration reform, but in his speech he voiced support only for the concept of red-flag laws that would allow guns to be confiscated from people considered to be dangerous.

“Mental illness and hatred pull the trigger. Not the gun,” Trump said.

The latest round of mass shootings comes at a time when the National Rifle Association is reeling from internal problems, but it could not have been more pleased with Trump’s formulation of the problem.

“Evil,” “wicked,” “twisted monster.” There was a lot in Trump’s speech that was intended to distance the president from the perpetrators, and quell the idea that his rhetoric helped to incite their acts. There wasn’t so much that seemed aimed at truly comprehending how some got so twisted. As Champ Bailey said, if you want real change, you better start with your friends and your family.

Watch the full speech here:

Tom Baxter has written about politics and the South for more than four decades. He was national editor and chief political correspondent at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and later edited The Southern Political Report, an online publication, for four years. Tom was the consultant for the 2008 election night coverage sponsored jointly by Current TV, Digg and Twitter, and a 2011 fellow at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. He has written about the impact of Georgia’s and Alabama's immigration laws in reports for the Center for American Progress. Tom and his wife, Lili, have three adult children and seven grandchildren.

1 reply
  1. Avatar
    George Wilson says:

    What we need are much saner laws concerning firearms.
    STONE MOUNTAIN, Ga. | According to the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit research organization, it reckons that so far this year guns have killed 4,764 Americans, including 873 teenagers—and 196 children. Every day 109 Americans die from guns. Other advanced industrialized countries show us solutions everyday to this grave problem.
    Furthermore, we can see what a democratic country like New Zealand does after a terrorist attack on Christchurch. They voted immediately to eliminate assault rifles, a measure that passed in about four weeks. This was record time in their parliament of 120 members, with only one opposed.
    Any attempt to control firearms is something that our state and national representatives are afraid to do, even though most American citizens, according to reliable polls, would not object to reasonable solutions. This is also true of many National Rifle Association (NRA) members. Again, the NRA has strayed from its original goals. It is in the iron grip of gun manufacturers and paid lobbyists that feed off membership dues created by fear. This is something some of their members are becoming aware of, as the recent dissension in that organization proves.
    Consequently, we should ban assault weapons, close loopholes that allow domestic abusers to buy guns and prevent the bulk sale of firearms. Accordingly, we need to create a national licensing program. This would require prospective gun-buyers to undergo an extensive background check by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, entailing fingerprinting and an interview, to obtain a five-year gun license.
    Moreover, a study from 2015 that shows gun deaths in Connecticut dropped by 40 percent after the state introduced a gun licensing program. Massachusetts, which requires buyers to obtain a permit—a weeks' long process involving an interview and a background check—has one of the lowest gun death rates in America. In 2016 it had 3.4 gun deaths per 100,000 people. Nearby New Hampshire, where buying a gun is a much simpler process, had 9.4 deaths per 100,000.
    Of course, any comprehensive legislation would have to pass Congress. While the Republican Party remains controlling the Senate, that is unlikely to happen. In March, having taken control of the House, Democrats passed a universal background check bill, the first major gun control bill since 1994. Though such a step is backed by a majority of Americans, it has not gone anywhere in the Senate, controlled by Republicans. If you agree, then let us all work together make these important changes in our gun laws which will make America much safer again.Report

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