Will events that transpired in Dallas, Texas, prove catalytic to developments in American politics and, by extension, the rest of world? Right now at least, it does not seem at all unlikely. The presidential race is already being affected by the murder of five white police officers by an African American veteran, who had served in Afghanistan, during a peaceful protest against the recent killings of black men by police across the US.
On November 22, 1963, the assassination of John F. Kennedy raised the vice president to the highest office, making him the 36th president of the United States. To a degree, Lyndon B. Johnson continued the work of his predecessor, particularly in respect to legislative policy tackling institutional, not just personal, racism in the states of the south. Nevertheless, his presidency was marked by his decision to embroil the US in the Vietnam War in August 1964.
Johnson’s rival in the presidential elections of November 1964 was a political ancestor of Donald Trump: the ultraconservative businessman Barry Goldwater, a fervent opponent of the fight against racism and social welfare, and a champion of immediate, “radical” solutions. His answer to Vietnam? Simple. Press the button. Cuba? Simpler still. Invade and occupy. Johnson’s resounding victory with 61 percent of the vote was not just due to fear of his Republican opponent’s extreme views but also to his promises for peace and a society without racism, poverty and inequality. Peace, however, was a long time coming and when it arrived it was bloody and defeated on many fronts. As far as racism is concerned, it’s never been out of the picture.
Even the election of Barack Obama – twice – failed to act as a milestone to bring about a sea change. Proof lies in the killings of unarmed African Americans by police that appear to continue unabated and, in most cases, without any serious consequences for the offending officers. The ease with which they pull out their guns and fire is not viewed as terrible misconduct or as a massive violation, but simply as a continuation of a long tradition that is rooted in the notion of cowboys versus Indians. The belief that black lives matter less is an extension of this tradition, a belief that has also given rise to the preconception that a black man in a car at night is either a thief or a drug dealer.
Another part of American tradition that could not be shaken by Obama’s presidency was the notion that gun possession is synonymous with freedom, if not pleasure and joy. Even after everything that has happened, the outgoing president has been unable to seriously challenge this custom. Instead, the Dallas massacre has played into the hands and rhetoric of Trump – and the possibility that he may win is cause for universal distress.