“We are a nation of laws and the jury has spoken,” President Obama said in his statement responding to George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the killing of Trayvon Martin. Indeed. The president’s message to the American public was no doubt delivered to tamp down any larger race-based responses (the hypothetical riots that haven’t yet materialized) to the verdict. It reminded me that being a nation of laws requires a particular kind of trust in lawmakers that our country is losing.
Many commentators, including The New York Times, saw the jury’s decision as proof that stances carried forward by the NRA and other pro-gun lobbies, particularly concealed carry and stand your ground laws, are tantamount to deputizing a white majority to enforce its racial prejudices. Jelani Cobb, who blogged the trial for The New Yorker, said, “The most damning element here is not that George Zimmerman was found not guilty: it’s the bitter knowledge that Trayvon Martin was found guilty.” Trayvon Martin was guilty of being a black teenager with a hoodie, so George Zimmerman wasn’t guilty at all.
Democrats will see the Trayvon Martin case as an example of the end result of Republican madness. Republicans will see it as an example of the way Democrats push their unfounded agendas by manipulating the media. Almost no one will disagree, behind closed doors, that had Martin been white, he’d be alive. So the question posed to us as citizens of a nation of laws is what to do about it. And the answer will likely be—as this week’s feature demonstrates with regard to gun laws—that with race politics, abortion, immigration, health care, and all of the other serious social issues of our day, there is no middle ground remaining from which to start the conversation.
Is it that we have collectively given up our middles for the sake of our wings, or just that class identity is the only common ground left in our culturally confused and increasingly individualistic world?