Spence: We are not ‘better than this,’ and that’s the point

Tough Truth 

It’s repeated in pretty much every political commercial you’ve seen for the last umpteen years.

“We’re better than this.” Or something along those lines.

It’s wrong. And the sooner we realize that, the sooner we can actually get “better,” whatever that means.

And the scary part is that many instances of better-than-ism stem from a stubborn, irresponsible denial of reality. At the very least, it is a signal of an attempt to withdraw, dividing yourself from uncomfortable or unpopular elements of our complicated world. It’s natural to want to take the path of least resistance, but we should be wary of elected leaders who blissfully choose easy excuses over tough talk.

Sam Spence

The truth is, in virtually every case, things are exactly as they seem. No better. And that’s the point.

Just last week in a campaign ad, South Carolina Sen. Sandy Senn, up for re-election this year, blasted the May 30 riots on King Street: “As Charlestonians, we’re better than this.”

Better than what?

Better than destruction that hurt some downtown businesses when times are tough as it is? Or better than generations of unanswered cries for equal opportunity and a fair shot from the halls of power Senn occupies?

In a July 26 Post and Courier op-ed, Charleston City Councilman Harry Griffin answered calls to defund the police after a string of high-profile violent crime downtown with a challenge to city leaders to “be better than that” in their reforms.

Better than a rash of violence near the city’s tourist district? Or better than a criminal justice system that disproportionately affects Black Charlestonians and exacerbates economic inequality propped up by low-paying tourism industry jobs?

Don’t think for a second that Democrats are above this hollow rhetoric.

In a campaign ad last week, presidential nominee Joe Biden scolded protests that end with riots and violence, saying, “This is not who we are.”

We are not a nation of violence and looting? Or we are not living in a nation that has met even strident nonviolent demonstrators with violence at every single turn?

This is the contrived world too many hot-air politicians live in: One that ignores complicated realities in favor of cheap political narratives.

Of course, that brings us to Nikki Haley.

As South Carolina’s reigning champ of creating a convenient political world of make-believe, Haley has offered a few better-thans in her day. After all, she’s the one who ordered state workers to answer phones saying, “It’s a great day in South Carolina.”

In 2015, after nine people were murdered in cold blood at Emanuel AME Church, Haley suddenly claimed South Carolina was “better than this” when it came to the Confederate flag.

On July 14, in what I assume was an effort to pile onto some inane Fox News talking points, Haley published a Medium post canceling cancel culture: “America is better than cancel culture.”

So it was not surprising that, in Haley’s universe, America is not a racist country as she said during the Republican convention in August. A fitting refrain for a crowd in an enchanted dreamland where someone can claim to “make America great again,” you might say.

Unfortunately, acknowledging a tough reality doesn’t seem to win elections these days or gin up as many Facebook comments in an attempt to stir the pot.

In a city and a nation with so much pain and struggle built into its short and colorful history, we can only help ourselves by confronting that truth head on. No easy ways out. We are absolutely no better than this. 

Sam Spence is the editor of Charleston City Paper.

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