The speed and scope of the cultural and political sea change following George Floyd’s killing have left many professional politicians and pundits racing to catch up. As we see from the flurry of statue-toppling, the move to banish Confederate icons from the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s apology for not listening to protesting players and NASCAR’s ban on Confederate flags, what was barely tolerated a month ago is now widely seen as utterly unacceptable. Policy ideas that never would have been considered possible — reinventing the police — now seem reasonable, if not inevitable. And the circle of leaders promoting the cause of rooting out racial injustice has expanded dramatically.

Republicans and their retinue of sycophantic media supporters are in denial if they think the same word-smithing games (insisting that “Defund the police” means “No police!”) and baseless accusations (wrongly asserting former vice president Joe Biden wants to cut police forces) are going to reach anyone beyond the most cultish, out-of-touch sliver of Americans. These tired, trivial tactics are utterly unsuited to the issues at hand and, hence, become embarrassingly irrelevant.

By contrast, some important figures recognize the enormity of the moment and are adjusting swiftly. Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, gets it. In a remarkable address for the National Defense University graduation ceremonies, he apologized Thursday for his participation in the assault on peaceful protesters near the White House on June 1 designed to provide the floundering president with a photo op. “As many of you saw the result of the photograph of me at Lafayette Square last week, that sparked a national debate about the role of the military in civil society,” Milley said bluntly. “I should not have been there. My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.” He continued: “We who wear the cloth of our nation come from the people of our nation. And we must hold dear the principle of an apolitical military that is so deeply rooted in the very essence of our republic.”

His mea culpa went beyond his recent behavior. “The foundational value that underpins American rights embedded in the Constitution is that all people, no matter who you are, are born free and equal. And I want to address this value in the context of our military,” he said. "Our military has a mixed record on equality.”

He added: “We cannot afford to marginalize large portions of our potential talent pool or alienate certain demographic groups. No, we need all the talent that American society can muster. Our responsibility as military leaders is to ensure that each and every one of our service members is treated fairly with dignity and respect. And each of them is given equal opportunity to excel. We must, we can, and we will do better.”

It is hard to recall a military official at this level publicly prostrating himself so thoroughly. It would not have happened in ordinary times, but these times are anything but ordinary. Milley correctly realized that the culture and legitimacy of the U.S. military are at stake.

The times call for people to act in new and extraordinary ways and for those who never considered themselves “political” to understand that the issue of race goes to the heart of who we are as a country and how we want to live. When someone like LeBron James joins forces with a list of marquee athletes and entertainers to form a group to promote voting and combat voter suppression, you understand that a new cast of people with a different audience grasps the moment. The New York Times reports:

Invoking the names of an earlier generation of athletes who called for social justice, Mr. James, a forward for the Los Angeles Lakers, said he wanted to be a model for future generations.
“I’m inspired by the likes of Muhammad Ali, I’m inspired by the Bill Russells and the Kareem Abdul-Jabbars, the Oscar Robertsons — those guys who stood when the times were even way worse than they are today,” Mr. James said. . . . In some respects, Mr. James’s activism reflects a return to an earlier generation of athletes who used their fame to speak out about racial equality and the Vietnam War with little regard to whom it might offend.

He, too, sees that it is not good enough to leave politics to the professional politicians. The habit of voting has to spread to those who never considered politics to be important. The revulsion over voter suppression has to spread beyond the talking heads, the “likely voters" and the mainstream news consumers.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell reportedly said that Congress must think “big” on stimulus efforts to counter the covid-19 pandemic. It is worse to do too little than too much. The same should be said about racial injustice.

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