The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston was full to capacity on Sunday when it held a worship service honoring the six women and three men gunned down a few days earlier, in a racially motivated shooting by Dylann Roof. In order to conceal any traces of that crime, all the bullet holes had been patched — a cosmetic fix for a deed that can’t be so easily covered up by society.
A 21-year-old stands accused of nine counts of murder after he bought a gun for the express purpose of killing blacks, using money he received for his birthday. Fifty years after the bloody racial conflicts that resulted in equality laws giving blacks the same rights as whites, racist violence has exploded in America once again. The death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014 brought anger back to the streets.
Each additional act emphasizes what so many Americans try to ignore: Their society is threatened with collapse. Some citizens proudly display the Confederate flag — the symbol of those states which wanted to perpetuate slavery in the nation in the 19th century — while others, quite rightly, feel it should be banished to museum displays.
Barack Obama began his administration with a promise to bring liberals and conservatives together. He failed spectacularly and now criticizes the laxity of gun laws. The debate will become murky, as it always does in the wake of each shooting. The possession of a gun is, in the final analysis, a symptom of a societal development that cannot be ignored any longer.
Every candidate for the presidency running in 2016 has to put this question front and center in his or her campaign: How do we want to live together as a society? The United States is unbelievably good at defending itself with paranoia from external threats. It simply invades other nations and wages drone wars against them. But it is incapable of answering the question of why its citizens murder one another, and are becoming increasingly frightened of anything and everything that doesn’t look exactly like themselves. Relatives of the Charleston victims have publicly forgiven the accused shooter — an unprecedented gesture, a dialog where it appeared no dialog was possible. Democrats and Republicans must follow their example and take a lesson from them. It is the greatest challenge the United States faces.