Published April 21, 2021
George Floyd at his death was 46, two years older than F. Scott Fitzgerald when he died in Hollywood. Fitzgerald was born across the river from Minneapolis, in St. Paul. Both men had bad habits—addictions. Floyd was poor and black. Fitzgerald was white, privileged and occasionally rich; or anyway he consorted with rich people and dreamed about them. Both men were known to smash things up (as Fitzgerald wrote of Tom and Daisy Buchanan) and then to retreat into their “vast carelessness.” In the 1920s, Fitzgerald would get drunk at Gerald and Sarah Murphy’s Villa America on the Riviera and break their expensive crystal. Floyd served four years in prison for a 2007 robbery and home invasion.
It’s obviously absurd to compare Floyd to Fitzgerald. And yet why not compare them? Each has a place in America’s folklore—two sides of the nation’s coin. In each, you behold a complicated American life and a common denominator of tragedy and waste and relatively early death. And which of those two imperfect lives will prove to be more consequential? Which is more representative—or says more about their imperfect country?
Derek Chauvin’s trial became a melodrama of American themes: racial grievance, rage, rebellion, justice and injustice, revenge. It became historic American theater, up there with Sacco and Vanzetti, the Scottsboro Boys, Alger Hiss and O.J. Simpson —that last one a circus and a travesty and a showcase of the idea of jury nullification, the principle that appeals to what the pioneering black lawyer Dovey Roundtree called “justice older than the law.”
Mr. Morrow is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. His latest book is “God and Mammon: Chronicles of American Money.”