The Rittenhouse American Experience

The verdict is in—not guilty on all counts.

It appears the jury delivered a fair verdict, considering the law as it now stands. Questions remain whether that law is just, or whether it should it be overturned by vote? And, how to interpret and justify the responses of the Left and Right, before, during, and after the trial?

In my opinion, the law is not fair and just. We should not condone the rights of citizens of any age to carry automatic weapons into our streets to protect from whatever or whomever they object to. This right is entirely separate from a legitimate right to have a weapon in your home to protect your family. Had Kyle Rittenhouse not gone out into the night with an AR-15, two men would still be alive and a third uninjured. In my opinion, his undertaking should be strictly limited to our police.

The responses which have dominated television news for weeks are perhaps not surprising, considering our political polarization. Considering the heightened emphasis on personal freedom vs. the collective good. Considering the ardor of Republicans and Conservatives after recent state election wins, in which the issue of personal freedom has been dominant.  This has been so clearly illustrated with parental rights overriding those of teachers in our schools. In that context, teachers are seen as a form of government—albeit local government the objectors themselves elected from their own neighborhoods, but still government. We are living in an American age in which there is widespread distrust of institutions of all forms.

The 1619 project has been characterized as attempting to redefine white America as the villain under whose rule blacks have been systematically subjugated for centuries—a designation white America doesn’t like. Any form of “critical race theory” being taught in our schools is also to be stopped. One might ask whether this is symptomatic of white supremacy still reigning? Fox argues the Rittenhouse scenario has nothing to do with racism, but in fact, Rittenhouse went out into a mob which was incensed over a policeman shooting a black man—clearly a racist situation. What was his mission? Which side was he on—Black Lives Matter or Law and Order? We don’t know, but since the protesters were mostly incensed at the shooting, it would appear Rittenhouse viewed those protestors on the side of the black man as dangerous—dangerous enough to justify his AR-15. His victims were not black, but this was a racist situation, and he had a view.

The trial has turned into a national referendum on personal freedom vs. the collective good: Those for Kyle Rittenhouse being acquitted of these numerous charges see him as entirely within his rights to take a loaded automatic weapon and go out into the night, into a potential mob scene environment, and set about to protect personal property (of someone who did not even ask for such protection). These supporters apparently feel it is perfectly acceptable for citizens to act as armed vigilantes whenever they individually deem it necessary.

Those on the other side (my side) are incredulous that a 17-year-old should find it acceptable to take on a vigilante role under such dangerous conditions. To those on this side, it’s simple: Two people would be alive and a third uninjured, had this young man just stayed home, or at least had he gone out without such a weapon. He could have asked police to be sure to watch the business he alleges he set out to protect. 

No surprise, Fox News hits repeatedly daily on Rittenhouse’s rights to do this, heady with the discovery that personal freedom has turned out to a lightning rod issue, a hot populist issue, just as immigration was for Trump in 2016. Parental rights, and personal freedom can be seen under the umbrella of individualism. Individualism—the belief that we are each independent agents, extends to the right that we each have the right to protect ours (Rittenhouse’s neighborhood), just as we had to do in colonial America, when there was no other law enforcement. 

Individualism has been shown to be extreme in the American fabric. No other developed nation shows such lack of regard for the common good. It extends to the view that every person should make it on his/her own—no help is needed. One’s failures are only attributable to his/her lack of ambition or talent, and not to their poverty or skin color, their neighborhood, their parents, or any other. The US welfare system is the worst of the major developed nations of the world. Republicans are finding it no matter of conscience to vote virtually unanimously against both the Infrastructure Bill and the Build Back Better bill—characterizing them as socialist. These are a far cry from socialism. See the analyses of David Brooks and Larry Summers.

Enough said: The Rittenhouse verdict is fair. The law is unfair. The vitriol in support of personal freedoms can sound heroic to our masses, but where is our recognition of the importance of our common good, of the value of our institutions, of our elected government at all levels? Where is our conscience? Where is our heart?

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