No stupid history, no crime scene kitties

Resisting the urge to find small positives in the generally horrible.

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A cat sits on the sidewalk and watches as Chicago Police investigate inside an apartment in the 7700 block of South Carpenter Street after an officer shot and killed a man while answering a call of a domestic disturbance in the Gresham building on the South Side, Monday, Oct. 4, 2021.

A cat watches as Chicago police investigate inside an apartment in the 7700 block of South Carpenter Street after an officer shot and killed a man while answering a call of a domestic disturbance in the Gresham building on the South Side, Monday, Oct. 4, 2021.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

What is it about stupid people anyway?

You can believe the most god-awful nonsense — factually incorrect, self-flattering, steaming kettles of BS — and parade that stupidity around to the delight of your fellow idiots, cheering and high-fiving one another at big rallies, celebrations of toxic dumbness.

Yet let somebody point it out, let them cough into their fist and mutter, “You’re stupid,” and suddenly the stupid fall to the ground, clutching themselves, declaring their injury to heaven.

It’s so ... for want of a better word ... stupid. How can some people get upset if you call them stupid when they’re perfectly happy being stupid? It’s a mystery.

Say your house were on fire — a situation even more dire than being stupid. And I say, “Your house is on fire,” causing you to collapse in a heap and declare yourself insulted, insisting that your house — obviously ablaze before us, thick black smoke pulsing out of the windows — is fine and how dare I suggest otherwise? Rude!

Who does that? Stupid people, I suppose.

I haven’t written much about Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, honestly, because I still suspect he’s some kind of a sham — a performance art piece perhaps — designed to make Donald Trump look good, between his daft war on Disney and his imbecilic assault on history.

Maybe you haven’t heard. In its constant quest to make white people feel better, the state of Florida’s No. 1 priority, apparently, is downplaying race when teaching American history.

Florida’s new curriculum, unsatisfied with presenting racism as a dusty relic of the 19th century, is taking the next step and redefining America’s original sin, slavery, as something akin to high school shop class.

“Slaves developed skills, which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit,” the curriculum notes.

Now, it is one thing to suggest that historic wrongs can have positive consequences. Polish anti-Semitism a hundred years ago was bad, but it drove my grandfather to Cleveland before the real butchery began. Which was good. For him.

But to focus on that scrap of positivity while denying the bulk of the horror is just ... stupid. It’s like celebrating that Anne Frank got a best-selling book out of hiding from the Nazis while ignoring that she died in Bergen-Belsen.

Yet there was DeSantis on Friday, doubling down — the go-to move for the stupid since they can’t reevaluate — and supporting the new curriculum.

“They’re probably going to show that some of the folks that eventually parlayed, you know, being a blacksmith into doing things later in life,” DeSantis said.

And they give out free pudding in the Burn Center at Loyola. But were I to tuck a line in a burn story — “Burn patients enjoy free pudding, to their personal benefit, since pudding is delicious” — my editor would ask me to rethink that.

Then again, I’m a professional communicator and snug among — I hope — the non-stupid. We consider our audience.

Let me end with a true story. A photographer mentioned what she calls “crime scene kitties.” Her job takes her to crime scenes, where cats often appear. We got into a discussion of why the kitties are there — drawn by commotion? The cats I know would flee instead. Maybe cats are everywhere but, when standing around crime scenes for hours, she notices them.

“That could be a story!” I said.

Then I did a trick the stupid seldom attempt: I thought about it. I don’t write a lot of crime stories. To swoop into a tragic problem plaguing Chicago — people being murdered — and focus on the cats that wander over, there’s something grotesque about that. Something trivial. Something insulting, to victims and families. I did that empathy thing liberals are so good at, considering people other than myself, and reluctantly concluded: no crime scene kitties story.

That’s why Ron DeSantis should never be president. Because his campaign strategy — appeal to people threatened by anyone not exactly like themselves, people who can’t recognize the racism both in America’s past and in their own hearts right this flippin’ second — is stupid, if effective. We don’t want that guy. As if to underscore the difference, on Saturday the White House announced the creation of national monuments to Emmett Till. Till’s story is jarring and terrible — that photo of him in the casket. And essential and true and American. How could you ponder a history that didn’t include it?


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