Robert LaVoy Finicum died last week. He was shot by an Oregon state trooper and died in the snow alongside a highway because he refused to spend time in “a concrete box.” Finicum’s daughter said her father died “…defending freedom and he knew the risks involved.”
No, no, Robert Finicum did not die defending anyone’s freedom. He died because he was a misguided, delusional minuteman wannabe who, contrary to his daughter’s remarks, had no idea what he was doing. As I write this, I’ve just watched – several times, in fact – the overhead video of Finicum’s death. It is an awful thing to see. And it shouldn’t have happened. Finicum should not have been floundering around in an Oregon snowbank trying desperately to yank a gun out of his coat pocket. He should have been home in Arizona tending his ranch and his 11 foster children.
The idea that self-styled gunslingers waving the U.S. flag are somehow courageously confronting an oppressive government is a fantasy, and we already know where those fantasies lead. They lead to widows and orphans and ruined farms and, in the most extreme case in our nation’s history, utter devastation of broad swaths of the land.
The worst part of Finicum’s death is that it was, to use the old cliché, utterly in vain. He didn’t sacrifice anything, he simply committed suicide in a fit of rage.
His death is devoid of meaning.
It was also part of the senseless outrage expressed by privileged white people who pretend an oppression that doesn’t exist. A handful of ignorant, bull-headed ranchers who refuse to take their cattle off of land they’ve overgrazed has tainted the image of the thousands of hard-working stockmen and women who, as it turns out, are better stewards of the land than the Sierra Club will ever be. Media lunkheads have been calling it a “sagebrush rebellion” since the early 1980s, but while the stupidly arrogant few have been fomenting conflict, the rest have been working hard to husband the land, the water, and the air we all need to live.
This imaginary rebellion is part of a larger cancer in our American body politic. Pundits trying to explain the baffling popularity of a foul-mouthed fourth-grader with a bad comb-over have come up with the idea that the great white middle class is fed up with being marginalized.
Working class whites aren’t any worse off now than we were 20 years ago and, in many cases, we’re better off. Yes, there is a widening gap between the top tier of wealthy people and the rest of us, but wealth isn’t a zero-sum game. Wealth is something that’s manufactured and built, and anyone who knows how – or is lucky enough – can build all the wealth he or she wants to without taking anything away from anyone. Google “income inequality” and read the first five articles that come up. It’s an eye-opening experience
We’re a lot freer than ever, too. More Americans are free to vote, live where they want to, marry whomever they want to, have children when they want, and even be whatever sex they want to than ever before. We have more choices, more food, more money, more privacy, more labor-saving devices and bigger houses than ever before. Why should we be unhappy?
Truth is, we’re not. Politicans want us to be so they can pretend to have solutions so we’ll vote for them. And a handful of folks dumb enough to buy into that notion went to Oregon to express their imagined unhappiness, and now one of them is dead.
What an awful waste.