I don’t much like wading into the ongoing political debates, except as they might concern economics. But sometimes what seems to be a polemic is really just a set of astute observations. Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post (?) unveils some truths about the differences between our governing class and the governed:
— Resistance to the vast expansion of government power, intrusiveness and debt, as represented by the Tea Party movement? Why, racist resentment toward a black president.
— Disgust and alarm with the federal government’s unwillingness to curb illegal immigration, as crystallized in the Arizona law? Nativism.
— Opposition to the most radical redefinition of marriage in human history, as expressed in Proposition 8 in California? Homophobia.
— Opposition to a 15-story Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero? Islamophobia.
Now we know why the country has become “ungovernable,” last year’s excuse for the Democrats’ failure of governance: Who can possibly govern a nation of racist, nativist, homophobic Islamophobes?
To simply dismiss the concerns of so many by basically accusing them of being backward, stupid, non-progressives wishing to turn back the clock on all the good and progressive stuff going on with their intellectual betters at the helm, is well, un-American. The first part of that creed we supposedly aspire to is that “all men are created equal”. Nevermind that it took nearly two centuries to make the idea a reality, it still resonates. So, just because the Tea Party folks seem to be out of step with high-minded progressivism does not render them irrelevant and unequal. Which the Democrats will likely discover in November.
While I’m at it, it can’t be ignored that Glenn Beck and the Tea Partiers had a big gathering on the mall in Washington today. The National Park Service no longer issues estimates of crowd size, but by all accounts, it was packed.
No matter how much Beck objects that the date was unintentional, I don’t believe him. The rally was held on the same day in 1963 that Martin Luther King gave his “I have a dream” speech.
The thing about racial politics is that the pendulum will inevitably swing the other way. The ascendancy of black power politics as represented nationally by Obama’s candidacy and election was bound to indicate a high point for black political power. It could only go down from there. Whites still comprise over 70% of the voting public in America, no matter how much you read about their decline in power. Whites elected Obama. There is mathematically no way to win a presidential election without white support. Blacks only comprise about 12-13% of the voting public. Hispanics, about the same. That only gets you to about 25%, even if you sweep both demographics.
The history of race relations since the Civil War has been cyclical, rather than linear. First there was Reconstruction, when blacks were effectively given the reigns of Southern governance by radicals in the North that wanted to punish the South for the war (in that regard, the worst thing that happened to the South was their assassination of Abraham Lincoln, who emphatically did not want them punished.) Then the North got weary of imposing its will via occupation, and Southern whites roared back with Jim Crow. Then the industrial revolution and World War II and the ascendancy of American hegemony world-wide made equal rights worth fighting for, and blacks struggled to achieve equal or better status with whites. Now, the Civil Rights movement has reached its apogee with the election of a black (well, half-black) man as president, and the whites are beginning to feel a bit put upon, what with affirmative action, etc. providing federally-mandated advantage for blacks. The flash point now seems to be the vast expansion in federal government power accruing under the Obama Administration. Whites aren’t stupid. They know that more power for the federal government means less power for them–as an absolute consideration, and as a relative matter to blacks.
The experiment of the United States–a polyglot country without a national identity, without the glue of culture and common heritage–without a common genetic background, was always a dicey one. Is it really possible for man to rise above his natural proclivities towards favoring his own people and culture in order that all could live in freedom?
The glue that made it possible up to now was the promise of riches and opportunity. People were able to somewhat put aside their racial and cultural differences for the possibility that in doing so everyone would be better off. That idea is fading, because opportunities are fading. Sustained and substantial economic growth is not apt to resume anytime soon, given the headwinds facing the economy. What then? Will the United States become a polity polarized along racial and ethnic lines, more like modern Iraq than ancient Rome?
Possibly, but what an incredible fall from grace such a thing would represent. The Puritans arrived on these shores some four hundred years ago seeking only to be free to worship God in the manner with which they pleased. They didn’t come seeking riches. How ironic it would be if the drive for enrichment that became the raison d’être of the United States, that in the process subsumed the Puritan’s desire for religious freedom, ultimately were to yield a sectarian, polarized society, where no one is ever really free, either religiously or economically, of their race, creed or national origin. I think the Puritans, were there any still around today, would wish to emigrate anew.