Saturday, July 04, 2020

Self-Deception


A happy thought about Independence Day from one guy on Twitter:
This nation was not founded on "free speech" and does not practice it. It was founded, among other things, on the First Amendment's guarantee "Congress shall make no law.... abridging the freedom of speech."

That prevents government from infringing upon free speech but private actors can do otherwise. We're reminded often by some on the race (formerly, "race and gender") left- of the Cooper vs. Cooper showdown in Central Park, NY. There, as the New York Times summarizes

Mr. Cooper, who is black, asked a white woman to put her dog on a leash. When she did not, he began filming. In response, the woman said she would tell the police that “an African-American man is threatening my life” before dialing 911.

The video went viral- or rather, half the video went viral- the portion Mr. Cooper decided to release minus the portion in which he threatened- uh, er offered- to feed a stranger's dog.

 (True, relevant, story: after a public meeting attended by many people including a K-9 police officer, I asked the officer if I could give a little of the food I had to the dog. She said "no" and only later, never having owned a pet, did I learn that chocolate is poisonous to a dog.)

Mr. Cooper dared her to call the police, as she did, identifying Mr. Cooper as African-American rather than simply "some guy." Mr. Cooper left, the police determined that the incident was minor, and that was it.

Unfortunately, that was not it as she faced a torrent of bigoted and sexist abuse on social media, a majority of which was prompted by her identification of Mr. Cooper as "African-American, apparently now a toxic charge. She was fired from her "high-level finance job," pleasing individuals cheered that a worker can be fired without due process. The dismissal was not constitutionally prohibited because it had nothing to do with government, and her employer evidently was less concerned with job performance than the popularity of the speech she expressed on her free time. 

It was a reminder of the limits of the "free speech" many people naively believe is guaranteed to us by the US Constitution. So, too, is naive the notion that we "look at our history with clear eyes and see both our flaws and triumphs."

In the video below, you will see presidential adviser Larry Kudlow contending that the USA is not guilty of systemic racism because "You have as evidence of that view, our first black president, just a few years back, won two terms, and I regarded that with pride as an American."





He said that; he really did. He said that we couldn't possibly be racist given that a black person had been elected President. Of course, that was a binary choice, one made in part because the presidential (and the very unpopular vice-presidential) candidate he was opposing had to defend an eight-year presidency soundly rejected by the American people.

Larry Kudlow's remark would have almost made a little sense had he himself voted for Barack Obama and thereby helped demonstrate that America had wiped out its original sin. However, the chance of that having occurred is slim to none, and slim is on its way out of town.

The theory that election of a black demonstrates that there is no systemic racism is absurd. And it is absurd not only insofar as the presidential terms of Barack Obama were followed by the election of an openly and brazenly bigoted candidate who first caught the attention of the Republican electorate by steadfastly maintaining that the black President was born in Africa.

It is similarly absurd when asserted by other individuals, most notably by Fox News host Tucker Carlson, whom I recently saw and heard state that America clearly is not racist because a black was elected President. It is a belief expressed by many conservatives, most of whom probably voted against Obama, though some no doubt did vote for him as a sort of expiation.

Trying to convince oneself or others that the USA is not racist because of the election of an African-American is a way for conservatives/Republicans to avoid looking "at our history with clear eyes (to) see both our flaws and triumphs." But it's not only the right and/or Republicans who need self-assurance.  A senior editor at The Atlantic actually tweeted
Seemingly unaware that when one finds herself in a hole, she should stop digging, some clarification:


No, Refusing to face our history honestly does not encapsulate a spirit to do anything better.  We should not choose to be deaf, dumb, and blind. A historian and journalist (of the left, actually) has the courage to explain

Historian Annette Gordon-Reed, who enjoyed the musical, nevertheless found

The show portrays Hamilton as a “young, scrappy, and hungry” immigrant (he was born on the Caribbean Island of Nevis, but qualified as a U.S. citizen when the Constitution was adopted), an egalitarian, and a passionate abolitionist. All of this is wrong, Gordon-Reed said.

“In the sense of the Ellis Island immigrant narrative, he was not an immigrant,” she said. “He was not pro-immigrant, either.

“He was not an abolitionist,” she added. “He bought and sold slaves for his in-laws, and opposing slavery was never at the forefront of his agenda.

“He was not a champion of the little guy, like the show portrays,” she said. “He was elitist. He was in favor of having a president for life.”

The musical simplifies and sanitizes history, said Gordon-Reed. “The Hamilton on the stage is more palatable and attractive to modern audiences,” she said.

Set amid the Revolution, the play fails to depict the central role played by slavery at that moment in history, and also neglects to mention that most of the Founding Fathers were slave owners.

Hamilton was not a bad guy for his time and no statue of his should be removed.  However, Abraham Lincoln fought a war to end slavery and Hans Christian Heg was an abolitionist, and their statues have seen better days.The celebration of "Hamilton" and of the man himself reflect our preference to see things as we wish they were rather than as they are.

Alexander Hamilton is not accurately portrayed on stage. Election of Barack Obama neither ended racism nor proved that racism does not exist. And Americans are not guaranteed freedom of speech. It would be comforting to believe that we "look at our history with clear eyes and see both our flaws and triumphs." But reality is often discomfiting and its admission, it appears, is prohibitively uncomfortable.



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