For the last two years, I’ve written mostly about political or cultural issues, large and small. I chose to title this column “Public Policy Limited” as a nod to a great band and a way for me to focus on writing about public policy issues. It hasn’t always worked, but that’s how things go. You can’t expect there to be that many good public policy debates going on each and every week, after all.
Even if there were, this is the time when columnists are expected to spend some time pondering the end of the year. In the past, I’ve been reticent to do this sort of thing. First off, it seems ridiculous. Actually, that’s the only reason.
I certainly don’t do a recap of stories in any given month or quarter of the year, so why bother with a year-end recap? Because everyone else is doing it, and it’s expected, and if I don’t do it, then clearly I’m so incredibly un-American that I don’t even recognize the calendar? Or at least that’s how the logic works for a lot of people.
So, fine, here’s a year-end rundown on what we’ve learned this year:
Here in South Carolina, we learned — if somewhat accidentally — that our governor’s true constituents are the corporate CEOs that she talks to and that if they don’t have a problem with something in South Carolina, then it isn’t a problem.
Closer to home, we’ve learned that if a young person dies during an altercation with a police officer, the Charleston Police Department will somehow mismanage the event so badly that the truth of the event becomes entirely secondary to their poor handling of the matter.
We’ve learned, again, that people want to be able to choose where their children go to school as if they were choosing a restaurant and that “diversity” means several different-looking people of different genders all supporting “school choice” as they vie for a seat on the school board.
We’ve learned that not only is it perfectly acceptable for a major sports organization to sit on evidence that one of its players assaulted his fiancé, but that it’s also completely OK to use that fiancé’s testimony of her love for her future husband to somehow discredit all the victims of domestic abuse.
We’ve also learned that if one media organization gets one story about campus rape horribly wrong, it completely invalidates every woman’s story about being raped. We’ve also learned that there is no good time to come forward with claims of sexual assault, and if you’re accusing someone who is famous, you’re out of luck.
We’ve learned that it’s completely OK for us to be upset because a film release was canceled after threats were made about its release but not to really question how we’d feel if, say, Al-Qaeda made a film about assassinating our president. We’ve also learned that the cancellation of a movie release is the real threat to freedom, not strip searches at airports or a national security apparatus that monitors our phone calls.
In connection to that, we’ve learned that it’s an act of war against America if a company based in Japan is hacked into, allegedly by a foreign power (although it’s nigh impossible to prove), simply because the Japanese company makes movies in America. There’s a joke here about the transitive property of capital, but I’m not going to make it because then I’d have to explain how nation states are actually no longer important to the One Percent, and no one would understand a word of it.
More importantly, we’ve learned — or, for some of us, been reminded — that what we say goes. If we say that torture isn’t torture, then it isn’t. And even if it is torture, the people we’re torturing deserve it — because “America.”
We’ve learned that it is completely acceptable for protestors to point weapons at law enforcement officers, but only if those officers are members of the federal government, the protestors are white, and the object of their protest is a blatantly illegal action undertaken by a multimillionaire farmer. And if some of those people later go on to actually fire on and kill police officers, their actions are merely an isolated incident and not part of a larger problem.
On the other hand, we’ve learned that America’s police are virtually immune from accountability, much less prosecution, for extrajudicial executions of suspects, particularly people of color.
We’ve also learned that protests against police misbehavior must not only be peaceful and include no weapons, but they must also take place in a manner that insures that the middle class is not in any way inconvenienced or forced to examine how American society works.
Mostly, we’ve learned that America is not operating under the rule of law and there is no real accountability to itself or its citizens.
Oddly enough, this last end-of-the-year epiphany makes me hopeful for the New Year. After all, nothing changes if we don’t learn from our mistakes, and it seems Americans might finally be learning something.