“King of the Hill” came to mind while looking for some explanation for the cruelty we saw in Memphis. This incident seems different. Tyre Nichols had not been stopped for “driving while Black.” The cops were also Black. Why would five Black cops stop a young Black man to beat him as though they were members of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK)? This horror was not about race. What happened was about something deeper that’s killing us all from inside out.
King of the Hill
Training for the game of Dominate
The object of King of the Hill is domination. In my back yard, most of us got to be king, for a moment. The rest of the time we were disgruntled subjects, doing what we could to knock the latest king off the mountain. It was just a game we kids played in each other’s back yards.
It was fun back then, but it’s not fun and it’s not funny anymore. It’s no longer a kindergartners’ game. Children no longer play King of the Hill in our backyards these days, and that’s too bad, because, if they did, we adults might see and flee from the game we’ve been trained to play. King of the Hill has become America’s game.
You have to dominate or you’ll look like jerks
“You have to dominate,” declared the king of the hill to the nation’s governors, “or you’ll look like a bunch of jerks, you have to arrest and try people . . . You don’t have to be too careful . . . . You have to dominate. If you don’t dominate, you’re wasting your time.”
Donald Trump had just peeled back the layers of obfuscation that keep the game’s ugliness out of sight and hearing, until it surfaced again, as it did in Memphis two years after George Floyd died under a White police officer’s knee in Minneapolis.
Some social critics attribute the unrestrained violence to police training or the lack of it. But perhaps the cause and remedy are deeper than police training. Before they put on badges and uniforms to “protect and serve,” they — like the rest of us — had been well-trained by the culture of king of the hill where the objective is to dominate without legal and moral guard rails to restrain us.
Domination = you can cheat, you can lie, you can beat without consequences
America stands at a crossroads between the reign of compassion or tyranny; between kindness and cruelty; between tending to the Samaritan’s wounds or throwing him in the ditch. “You have to dominate. If you don’t dominate, you’re wasting your time.” And, remember, “You don’t have to be too careful.”
To get to the top of the hill and stay there, you can cheat, you can lie, you can roll stones down the hill to stop disloyal subjects and enemies from taking your place.
We are well trained in how to succeed in a society without the spiritual, moral and legal guardrails that would keep us honest and true to our better selves. “It’s a movement,“ said an angry president, referring to Black Lives Matter. “The only time it’s successful is when you’re weak and most of you are weak.”
King of the Hill — dominate or you’ll be dominated — has become America’s game in Minneapolis, in Memphis, and here, there, and everywhere. It’s not fun anymore.
Gordon C. Stewart, Public Theologian, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017, Wipf and Stock), 49 short social commentaries on faith and public life; Brooklyn Park,