Closing arguments at the Zimmerman trial captured the overall tone of the entire epic saga. The defense made sound arguments based in law and reason, while the prosecution hit the jury with emotional appeals to look into their hearts and see Trayvon Martin as a murdered “child.” Martin was referred to as a “child” often enough to evoke those outrageously cooked early media reports, which invariably juxtaposed a recent shot of George Zimmerman with a years-old photo of a baby-faced pre-pubescent Martin, creating the impression that the latter had been blown off his tricycle by a gun-crazy predator for no reason.
The clash between emotion and reason makes the Zimmerman trial a decent snapshot of this American moment. Everything seems to be about the churning waters of emotion smashing through the crumbling dike of reason these days. Intentions matter, not results. Coldly rational arguments are dismissed as heartless. Soaring rhetoric is more important that sober reflection upon past history.
And above all, the rule of law has been discarded in favor of passionate action. Whatever a majority, or even a vocal minority, is convinced is the “right thing to do” must be done at once, never mind whether it’s done right. The lack of necessary legal authority is a trifling distraction. Why let the intricate legal musings of dead white males stand against the “fierce urgency of now?” Why should the righteous many fret about the rights of the few who dissent? We have to Do Something, about everything, and universal participation is mandatory.
The events that led to Trayvon Martin’s death were terrible. If everyone involved could do it over again, they’d probably do it a different way. Every human death is a mournful event; even the necessary destruction of true villains may be accompanied by the melancholy reflection that so many lives would have been spared if they had chosen a different path. But at its core, the Zimmerman trial has always been about the fairly straightforward process of creating reasonable doubt about Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense. The prosecution didn’t get anywhere near accomplishing that goal. In fact, they got further away as the trial went on, and their witnesses relentlessly undermined their case.
Now we wait to see if first the jury, and then the larger community, accepts reasonable argument instead of emotional imperative.