Artur Davis: A Moment of Pause?



Who knows what this tortured week in Boston means for the future? After all, the hunting down and killing of Osama Bin Laden hardly lifted America out of the morass that has distorted politics for the better part of five years, not even a little bit. There was agony at the shooting and maiming of a congresswoman while she was attending to her constituents, and the misery of knowing that a child died that day while on an outing to see democracy in action. Those tears haven’t washed any of the anger out of our campaigns, and they haven’t slowed down the denigration of public service.

But permit me one burst of wishful thinking. It goes like this. If only the fanaticism of two brothers who twisted themselves into killers would remind us that America faces threats worse than anything our left or right fear of each other. If only the intensity of the Tsarnaev brothers’ hatred makes the values we clash over, from immigration to gun laws to the weight of government, seem not unimportant but not worth surrendering our civility over, either.

davis_artur-11If only both sides of the ideological divide will forego the politics this one time: the fact that one killer turned into a radical under the protection of a student visa, and that another plotted how to sever bodies months after becoming a citizen, tells us much about the unpredictable warp in human souls, but next to nothing about the immigration deal Marco Rubio is trying to save. The agents and officers who wove this case together in four days from thin air can’t be lifted up enough, but spare us any side lectures on sequestration or talking points about the limitations of federalism. Save it for a week that doesn’t keep punching our gut.

If only we could savor one moment, let it be the faces in the crowds gathering in Watertown to celebrate a return to the ideal of being safe in one’s own home. I spent enough time as a student in metropolitan Boston to know that the blacks and whites and browns, and Catholics and Arabs and Jews don’t ordinarily mix so easily on those streets after dark. They often clutch their purses and roll up their car windows, and clench when they see each other. What a striking thing to watch them unclench their mutual suspicions for even a little while. It only took two bad seeds to make those gritty, divided neighborhoods re-imagine the meaning of “us” and “them.”

(A version of this essay was cross-published at


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