Over the Aisle: This You Must Defend

Marie Myung-Ok Lee finds herself conflicted about attending a controversial author’s reading and wonders: what does “speaking up” actually mean?

Source: Politics and Prose

Lee writes a fascinating article that is worth the long read for two reasons.

Most obviously, she is a progressive who is uncomfortable with the Antifa’s Red Guard style tactics. I take that as a positive: the more either side the US declines to align with its most extreme fringes, the more I nurture the hope that we will avoid civil war.

But what I find most telling is the grounds on which she criticizes the Antifa rabble shouting down a speaker: her problem is that the speaker is actually more sympathetic to their point than they realize, and if they listen they would understand. You see, the author they were shouting down was NOT someone like Richard Spencer. Because he was different than Spencer, because his position was closer to those of Antifa, he deserves to be able to speak.

It apparently does not occur to Ms. Lee that there is a greater crime being committed than the failure to recognize the importance of nuance in a political position. What Lee fails to do is to say – or even suggest – that the problem with the Antifa tactics is that they are not expressing their own right of free speech as much as they are denying someone else theirs. Lee – a writer who thrives on the rights granted by the Constitution – is unwilling to defend that right. By implication, indeed, free speech is not a right but a privilege to be granted only to those who agree with you.

I pick on Ms. Lee, and perhaps unfairly. She is not the issue. The problem is that on the progressive left it is okay to listen politely to someone you agree with, but that someone you disagree with does not even merit the privilege of a public forum. The problem is that it has become okay on the American left to suggest that those whose ideas I find repugnant have no right to self-expression; or, indeed, that there are ideas which must not be aired, even in a free society; and to do so without having to worry about being questioned by your fellows.

In so doing, the left runs the risk of sacrificing its opportunity to take political leadership of this country at a time when, even in the eyes of this conservative, the nation needs a liberal opposition capable of credible leadership.

The Democrats will probably take home a great victory in November, a “blue tide” that will give the Executive Branch the opposition it deserves. If it is to get the opposition that the nation needs, the left must make clear that it offers an inclusive vision of the future, one in which there is even a place for people whose ideas they find repugnant. Nothing will undermine that more quickly than questions about whether the left is prepared to uphold and defend the Constitution.

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A Nation of Creeds

To those who would make of America a Christian nation, I respond thus: if you succeed in your ultimate goal of having America decreed a “Christian Nation,” you might hold your head a little higher on your way to church. You might eliminate some of the opposition to your practices that have been an irritation for you. Maybe.

What you will have done, and done irrevocably, is to revoke the citizenship not only every Muslim in America, but every Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, Wiccan, Animist, and Zoroastrian, not to mention every agnostic, atheist, and traditional practitioner of Native American faiths. In so doing, you will have made a joke of the First Amendment of the US Constitution. You will have placed us on the road to becoming the kind of theocracy our forefathers rejected. You will, in so doing, have made yourself an enemy of Liberty, of the Constitution, of Freedom, and of these United States.

America is a country of religions, not a religious country; it is a nation made up mostly of Christians, but not a Christian nation. Accepting that fact does not make you less Christian – on the contrary, in your charity and mercy, in seeing to it that America ever remains a country where the granting of liberty and justice for all is what makes up a nation under G-d, have you not lived the very tenets of your faith?

Lay to rest, I implore you, this idea of declaring America a Christian nation. Raise high the banner of religious freedom, and show the world that America will live under the law of men under G-d, not the Law of God under Men.

The Sharks are Coming for Fat Albert

I grew up with Bill Cosby. I watched iSpy with my parents. I watched Fat Albert on Saturday mornings (“Nah nah nah, gonna have a good time!”) I saw Mother, Jugs, and Speed at an age when technically the theatre should not have let me in without a parent. The first comedy album I owned was To My Brother Russel, Whom I Slept With. Willie Sobel and I had the album memorized in 7th grade and we would recite entire passages, complete with sound effects. I saw Bill perform live at Concord Pavilion, watched The Cosby Show. And when he took to the page and the stage and challenged young men to be better dads, I listened to his advice and resolved to be a father of whom Cos and my own dad would approve.

I was white, male, and Jewish, and Bill Cosby was my role model. He transcended race, creating a post-ethnic space that made it possible for young white men to have black role models who weren’t athletes. Equally important, he became a stepping stone into a world where black voices were not just speaking to blacks, but were speaking to all men. Malcolm X died when I was a toddler; Dr. King died when I was in pre-school. They never meant to me what Cos did. Cos arguably opened the door for Morgan Freeman and Samuel L. Jackson, but in some respects, he did the same for  Colin Powell, Thomas Sowell, and Condoleeza Rice. In short, he was proof that the future of America would be integrated and diverse, and that for it to be anything else was foolhardy.

He was an icon. And for that reason, I wanted to believe the best about him. When he admitted in a paternity suit in 1997 that he’d had an affair with Shawn Upshaw of Las Vegas, I believed that it was an isolated transgression in an otherwise ideal marriage with his wife Camille. When questions arose about whether or not he deserved his Doctorate in Education, I believed them to be the jealous sniping of academics trying to score points on each other. And when he stood up and criticized young black men for not being better fathers, I believed it was tough love from a man who had wrestled with his own parenting challenges and won.

I will leave questions of his parenting for his children to answer, but the glow of the rest has faded. The award of his doctorate and possibly his Master’s degree appear less justified than first glance, not only because he never completed an undergraduate degree, but because of an allegedly weak thesis, spotty academic work, his strong-handing of both the university and his doctoral committee, and the fact that he was given academic credit for appearing on “Fat Albert” and “The Electric Company.”  And now it appears that the L’affaire Upshaw may not have been a once-in-a-marriage misstep, but the leading indicator of a long love life lived away from the marriage bed, and allegedly under extremely unsavory circumstances.

I am trying, however, to reserve judgments on each the crimes of which he is accused. Having spent most of my adult life living in a land where a person is guilty until proven innocent, I am enjoying the luxury of sustaining a reasonable doubt about Cosby’s guilt of each accusation until a jury of his peers has had their say. I suspect that not many will join me in that. Cosby has been tried and convicted in the court of public opinion, and many view his court proceedings as a formality.

That is a shame, not for Cosby, but for us. If we truly believe in our system of justice, it is our obligation to remember and remind ourselves that we are obliged to hold a man innocent until he is proven guilty in a court of law as judged by a jury of his peers. When we stop doing that, we undermine the monopoly our system of justice has on punishment. In a day when a man must live or die by his public reputation, participating in a trial by public opinion is the moral equivalent of vigilantism.

Let us allow justice to be done. And then let us pass our own verdicts.

Opening Up the Identity Conversation

Men should have the same right to opine on gender issues as women. Having an identity doesn’t give you total authority over certain issues.

Source: Christian Alejandro Gonzalez, Rejecting the Left’s Conversation-Ending Identitarianism | The American Conservative

Agreed. And first principle.

But let’s open this up:

  1. Atheists and agnostics should have the same right to opine on religious issues as the faithful.
  2. All Americans should have the same right to opine on Veteran’s affairs as those who have served.
  3. All people should have the same right to opine on accessibility issues as do those with disabilities.
  4. People of all ethnic backgrounds – including those of us who find ourselves insensitively lumped into the derogatory catch-all category of “white” – should have the same right to opine on racial issues as do people of color.
  5. People of all sexual preferences – including monogamous heterosexuals – should have the same right to opine on sexuality as those identifying themselves as lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgendered, queer, asexual, or polyamorous.
  6. People of any one culture should have the same right to experience and adopt aspects of any other culture as those who are born into or who have hereditary ties to that culture.

The minute you start quashing debate about any of these issues, you have killed democracy and ended the American experiment. That’s a line we cannot afford to cross, even at the cost of causing offense and even hurt feelings.

Racism, Axiomatically

  1. Racism in any form is abhorrent.
  2. Anyone can be a racist, regardless of their own race.
  3. Racism, even when rooted in a desire to exact retribution for racism, is unjustifiable, in part because it creates a negative feedback loop that results in increasingly virulent racism.
  4. There are different kinds of racists: some are unrepentant, but others are deeply troubled by their prejudices and seek ways to repress, redress, and expunge them.
  5. To address all racism with a single response is unconstructive. The response must match the situation and the perpetrator.
  6. Racist behavior and actions can and should be regulated by law and government as a matter of protecting the fundamental rights of all.
  7. Racism itself cannot be eliminated by government action or legislation.
  8. Racism often takes insidious forms and can hide behind ostensibly non-racist or even anti-racist behavior.
  9. At the same time, projecting racism into a situation in which it does not exist is as reprehensible as ignoring racism where it does exist, if for no other reason than it undermines efforts to address and eliminate actual racism.
  10. Historically, in the United States, European-Americans have been the primary vector of racism.
  11. That does not mean, however, that only European-Americans can be racist, nor that racism today is found only among European-Americans.
  12. De-legitimizing or ignoring European-American voices in the dialogue about racism is prima facie a racist act, especially as European-Americans undergo the transition to ethnic minority status.

 

 

Ease the Hammer

For the record, I think the consumption of pork is an affront to G-d. I think abortion in most cases is morally indefensible. The smell of marijuana in a public place disgusts me. But you will never in these pages read or hear of me calling for bacon to be outlawed, for the re-criminalization of cannibis, or for the repeal of Roe v. Wade.

For all of you who would use the heavy hand of legislation to stop your neighbor from doing something that has been a part of their lives or culture, know this: there are many things that you like doing that your neighbors find objectionable, if not downright sick-making, depraved, and socially dangerous. But we do not try to legislate them out of existence. We understand that tolerance is the handmaiden of liberty.

So the next time you are tempted to show support to a law that will criminalize someone else’s lifestyle, remember: that knife can cut both ways, and it is the nature of history that the further the knife cuts one way, the further it will swing back and slice the other. Deep inside you know this, and this is why books like The Handmaid’s Tale do, and should, scare the living daylights out of any thinking liberal. Payback is an unholy bitch, and all of us would be wise to remember that fact when we are tempted to overmilk the political climate on behalf of our own ideologies.