“What are you going to do?” Lavandera asks him.
“Go try to save some lives.”
That man was African-American. His partner appeared to be Caucasian or maybe Latino. But it doesn’t matter at all. We don’t know if they’re Republican or Democrat, pro-Trump or anti-Trump. All they wanted to do was help. They were just normal Americans.
All weekend, TV and social media highlighted stories like this. Granted, there were plenty of attempts to politicize the storm. Some had superficial legitimacy. Did Texas officials — particularly the Democratic mayor of Houston and the Republican governor of Texas — drop the ball in not ordering a mandatory evacuation? But even these debates lacked the bitter vitriol that marked coverage of Hurricane Katrina or even Hurricane Sandy.
Other attempts to bend an apolitical event to a preferred political narrative were more desperate and despicable. The Twitter account for an outfit called Charitable Humans unleashed a Cat-5 gale of schadenfreude at Houston’s woes. Over a satellite image of Harvey: “Texas has been bitten by Karma, but they still have a huge debt to the bank of Karma.” “I just can’t bring myself to even consider providing aid to any red state, let them clean up their own mess.”
We live in an ugly, tribal moment in American history. Indeed, the more representative story of the weekend came out of Berkeley, where “antifa” goons beat up nonviolent protesters they unilaterally deemed to be fascist.
By comparison, despite the terrible plight of its victims, Harvey was the happy story, at least in one narrow respect. Politics is becoming a substitute for identity, even religion, for millions of Americans. How you vote, what team you root for on the cable shout shows, is becoming a signifier of who you are. The media fuel this attitude, in large ways and small, by turning the news into “narratives” of good people and bad people. This is an unhealthy development, regardless of which ideological uniform you wear.
But politics and ideology are, or should be, downstream from all of the most important things in life, at least in America. (It’s a different matter in places like Venezuela or North Korea.) Under normal circumstances this can be hard to see, never mind appreciate, because we are lucky to live in a fabulously rich and free society where people can afford to make politics into a sport or fashion statement.
Most of us can see this within our own networks of friends and family, where political differences rarely trump more meaningful bonds. But on a mass scale, it becomes apparent only in dire circumstances, like when floodwaters wash away the nonsense and reveal the decency of the American people.