At a dinner with some of my colleagues last week someone mentioned the fact that many of the crime alerts on campus – our university police are particularly aggressive about sending out alerts/updates to counter the perception, and frankly reality, that we are in a high crime area – turn out to be fabricated. These are property crimes, not violent or sexual in nature. It struck several of us as odd that students would lie about being relieved of an iPhone by a nighttime mugger.
The problem is that students – particularly the ex-suburban private school type – are more afraid of their parents than they are the law. Or just about anything else for that matter. Despite the fact that these college students are all legally adults, their primary concern is to avoid getting In Trouble with mom and dad. So when Dakota loses her $500 smartphone because she got too wasted on Saturday night to keep track of her limbs let alone her electronics, she has two choices. One is to tell Dad that she lost it. The other is to call the police and say that a black guy took it. They choose the latter and generally I don't imagine that police have a hard time finding inconsistencies in the mugging story (or in the security camera footage that covers more of the area than most people realize).
This is not something that happens daily, mind you, but there have been multiple incidents in the past year. It's a good anecdote to pull out when someone tries to argue that race isn't a thing. Because the "suspect" is always the same. If you want to claim that something was stolen or a crime was committed, what else would you invent but a Black Male, 18-30, tall and slender and wearing a hoodie and baggy pants? It makes sense that college kids are sheltered and do stupid things and in a moment of panic they might make up a story. That's not the alarming part. The alarming part is that well-off and mostly white college kids instinctively know that if you're going to invent a crime, the best faux-perpetrator is the person everyone already thinks is a criminal anyway.
Over the past year or two I've used this forum for a terrible confession a few times: that following the minutiae of elections and domestic politics no longer holds much appeal for me. In the past I've devoted considerable time and space to covering Senate races, for example, but this year it felt even more pointless than usual. What is at stake in this $4 billion election in which neither party has advanced any kind of agenda? The Republicans are running purely on fear and lies and the Democratic game plan is…there isn't one. Obama has completely given up and has disengaged from Congress. Who can blame him, and what reason is there not to follow his example and say "Alright, fuck it"?
There has always been an aspect of voyeurism to politics and elections. Now it feels like the participatory aspect has gone out the window and we are now simply spectators in a battle (or "battle", if you recognize how slender the differences between some pairs of candidates are) fought between complicated legal fictions turning billions of dollars into terrible TV commercials on behalf of corporate interests. It feels like there is nothing at stake and everyone is just going through the motions. Turnout will be abysmal as usual and 2014-16 will rival 1998-2000 in terms of gridlock, pettiness, and absolute futility regardless of what happens on Tuesday.
A handful of gubernatorial races should, in theory, be interesting but we're all so used to punitive austerity and legislative ineptitude at this point that no one even bothers to pretend that our situation will improve depending on which candidate wins. The Republicans are promising to keep destroying everything and the Democrats are doing their usual "We'll do, uh, something different from that, or probably nothing. And isn't nothing better than something bad?" Hard to imagine why nobody cares about participating in this process with incentives like that.
More pointless "showdowns," more pointless Repeal Obamacare votes, more pointless Benghazi investigations, and more nothing happening for months on end while we wait for the odd Supreme Court decision for the rare spectacle of something actually happening. That is what we have to look forward to whether there are 45 or 50 or 55 Republicans in the Senate or whether they add more to their historically awful House majority. This is the new normal and it stretches endlessly before us. And another election in which most of the people who vote are over 55 offers nothing more interesting than the possibility that things will get even worse.
But I'm being a little ambitious. Getting even worse would mean that the election managed to change something. Let's be serious.