Random Thoughts on the State of the State

July 19, 2019

David Brooks

     The headline atop today’s column by David Brooks caught my eye:  “Donald Trump Hates America.”

That’s pretty categorical for Brooks, who writes some of the most thoughtful and nuanced think pieces printed in a daily newspaper.  A man who routinely counsels rationality probably winced when he read the headline.  OK, it’s an op-ed piece filled with analysis.   Not exactly the Who, What, When, Where, and Why of the first paragraph of a news story.  If you’re going to get even those predisposed to read the op-ed page, you’re going to have to juice it up a bit.

So, did Brooks say Trump hated America anywhere in his piece?  Not really.  He said, “Trump’s vision is radically anti-America.”  See what I mean?

To be clear, what Brooks was saying is that the real American idea is “not xenophobic,” (When did we become so?   After the sixth generation of being a foreigner?) ; not “nostalgic” (What are we nostalgic for?  Everyone looks like those who came here six generations ago?); and not racist (Well, maybe not all.  I think a case might be made that we became racist when 19 slaves arrived in Virginia in 1619).  He goes on to say that “America is pluralistic, future-oriented,  and universal.”   It’s hard to disagree with Brooks even when I do. I have to believe he is not just writing about the ideals and values of America that I would agree are shared by most Americans, but just not on display at a Trump rally.  I really liked his claim that America is “exceptional because it is the only nation on earth that defines itself by its future.”  I believe that to be true because it is a constant process.  That is truly exceptional.  But I also have to question whether France or Russia, even England and Germany, might not consider their revolutions as a redefinition of their futures.

By the way, Brooks also says that America has survived its failures.  So let us hope that we aren’t so far down the road toward revolution…yet.

 

Are We a Racist Nation?

     I certainly hope not, but, for openers I can tell you that we don’t make any of the lists of the “least racist nations” that are on the Web.  Even China makes the list.  And India.   So I don’t put much credibility in those lists.  Perhaps China only is “racist” against only those with unpopular political views.  And India, with its practice of “untouchables?”  Give me a break.  They may have made some progress in being less “racist,” but then, so has America.

Still, I think we are a racist nation if what you rely on to make your judgment is history.  Slavery, Jim Crow, lynchings, educational and job discrimination, marriage laws, red-lining.  It’s all there between the covers of any American history book.   But the past, as David Brooks, says, does not define America.  What I think is that racism in America is a very complicated thing, built around collective views rather than individual views.  So many people have told me that their parents or grandparents were “racist” under any definition you want to apply.  But almost all of them go on to say that their parents or their grandparents who had domestic “colored” help treated them like “one of the family, even to the point of covering medical costs or educating their children.”  Go figure.  That dichotomy is what makes most of us not give a damn now if someone different from us sits down to eat in a restaurant, uses the same rest room, or sits next to us in a movie house.  Oh, yes, there are still those who do.  What I said was “most of us.”

So, yes, I think we are a racist nation if you rely solely on history.   But if you look around you, you know that we are capable of learning from history…until someone like Trump plays the race card to appeal to the least among us because of screwy provisions in our election laws.  That’s when you see the better angels of our nature that sit so uneasily on our collective shoulders fly off to someplace else.

One thing I am proud of in my own family is that my Grandmother, a strong pioneer type, burned the Ku Klux Klan robes of my Grandfather around 1925.

 

A Great Comfort

Brooks’ column triggered a positive reaction in me because I’ve been walking around the house muttering that “I am tired of what’s happening in America” so often that Carole finally snapped at me “So what are you going to do about it?” Good question.  Just thinking about it isn’t much help.

Sure, I’m going to vote, but maybe that’s not enough.  Maybe this is that Tom Paine moment revisited.  Maybe we Sunshine Patriots need to rattle our philosophical bones.  So on Monday, I’m going to walk down the block to the Democratic Party headquarters in Winston-Salem and see if there’s something I can do more than vote.

 

Were the Founding Fathers Right?

As someone who decided to spend his time in college studying history rather than learning a marketable skill, I have always been suspicious of the lasting power of democracy.  It depends a little too much on James Madison’s formula, as expressed in his Federalist Papers #10, for making a representative form of democracy work when there are conflicting economic and social factions.   He writes:

“…to define and enlarge the public views, by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice to temporary or partial considerations.  Under such a regulation, it may well happen that the public voice, pronounced by the representatives of the people, will be more consonant to the public good than if pronounced by the people themselves.”

Well, it’s a great idea, but it also depends on “the people” relying on the “wisdom” of their elected representatives.  I checked the latest approval rating of Congress.  18 percent.

History teaches that when the masses lose confidence in their governance, be it King or not, something very unpleasant happens.

 

Are the Democrats In a Circular Firing Squad?

     Well, I don’t think so.  Yeah, it’s pretty messy right now, but what is democracy, even one as tortured and tenuous as ours is right now, if it isn’t a cauldron of ideas, freely expressed and fervently advocated?   As Winston Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of government ever invented by Man, except for all others.”

We Americans have a system that tolerates even a Trump.  It is worth defending.  The Democrats are doing just that right now.  They’ll get their act together.   Eventually.  Remember what old Will said, “I don’t belong to any organized political party.  I’m a Democrat.”

 

Are the Republicans Being Cowardly?

Yes.  Man up Sen. Tillis.

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