Clear-eyed analysis of the current state of racial tension in the United States. Chris Hayes is aware of his privilege as an educated, relatively affluent, white male, and uses that privilege to elucidate his premise that, for all its lip service to equality and justice for all, the US is a divided society — the Nation, generally composed of white people excessively concerned with public safety and “law and order;” and the Colony, constituted in the main by people of color who are increasingly the targets and victims of the “law and order” mindset of the Nation.
Hayes’ premise is easily confirmed by recent events in which people of color just going about their own business have had the cops called on them for what amounts to breathing while black. Not that the Philadelphia Starbucks incident or the Oakland barbecue incident are anything out of the ordinary for black folks in this country: we just hear about them now because of the ubiquity of smart phones and use of social media.
While Hayes doesn’t offer any solutions, that’s not the point of his book. The whole point here is to raise awareness. Look around. Take notice of the many ways the Nation oppresses the Colony. And, if you’re white, do your best to recognize your part in the oppression — because we all do it, despite our best intentions. Recognition leads to self-awareness leads to a change in behavior.
True confession. I dog-eared pages as I read through this book.
*dodges the stones and rotten tomatoes *
I know. I know! But I have an excuse. I had only two bookmarks with me as I read, one for my current place and one marking the endnotes; neither did I have any little Post-it notes or sticky flags, nor any other method to mark all the passages that stood out. So I turned down the page corners instead.
Thomas Frank’s premise is that the progressive movement, or what he terms “The Liberal Class”, has forgotten its roots in the labor movement; has set aside its concerns for the poor and the working class; and has become obsessed with meritocracy rather than equality. Frank wonders what it means “…when the dominant constituency of the left party in a two-party system is a high-status group rather than the traditional working class? …[It] means soaring inequality. When the left party in a system severs its bond to working people…issues of work and income inequality will inevitably fade from its list of concerns.”
Let’s define two terms. Meritocracy is the belief that power should be vested in individuals almost exclusively based on ability and talent. Followers of this belief system proclaim those who work hard and take advantage of all educational opportunities will, by virtue of their talent, rise to the top; ALL of society’s problems can be solved if only everyone had access to higher education.
The high-status group Frank mentions above are members of that meritocracy [as a class name, rather than a belief system]. They are those who have risen to the top and taken power, based on what they believe is their ability and talent. Even though “liberal elite” is often used as pejorative term, it’s a valid description of the mostly-Ivy League-educated individuals who front the progressive movement. They are what Frank calls “the well-graduated”, mostly Caucasian, mostly from privileged backgrounds, and mostly wealthy in their own right. Exceptions abound, of course: the Clintons were not wealthy as young people; and President Obama is neither Caucasian nor from a privileged background; but they are by definition meritocrats, having been smart enough and lucky enough to take advantage of the educational opportunities that launched them into heightened circles of prestige.
Speaking of Clinton, Frank rips apart the 8-year presidency of William J., and doesn’t express much hope for the better for the prospective term of Hillary R. (The only thing that saves her from outright excoriation is the spectre of a Trump Presidency, something even more disastrous than Clinton II.) In Frank’s view, the Clinton Administration, with its 1996 welfare reform legislation, completed the dismantling of the social safety net that had begun with the Reagan Administration. Having worked on the front lines of a social service agency since 1995, I can testify that Frank is right. Fewer people may be on public assistance, but more people are in poverty.
It seems like I always have my own rant about inequality and the abandonment of the poor to impart whenever I read one of Mr. Frank’s books. I’ll spare you the rest of it; and the rest of the passages I marked. What I will say is access to higher education has never been the answer to income inequality. A college degree does not guarantee success. (Case in point: My own spouse has a master’s in business administration; he’s the smartest man I know; and he manages a retail store because he can’t get hired in his chosen field. I never finished college myself, but I was in the right place at the right time to be hired by my employer, and now I make three times his salary.) What will help those at the bottom of the social ladder isn’t just education, it’s opportunity and infrastructure investment and plain old good hard cash.
Go read this, especially if you are of a liberal bent. You’ll be enraged and outraged; you’ll be enlightened; you’ll despair; and then you’ll get back on your feet, filled with determination to vote, to write your Congressional representatives and the editor of your local newspaper, to make noise, and to take care of the “least of these”, because ultimately, that’s our responsibility as human beings.
But along with the general rejoicing all over the social media and news sites I frequent, a peculiar and disturbing “my civil liberties have been infringed by SCOTUS” theme has emerged from some not wholly unexpected quarters. RepublicanPresidential candidates, religious zealots, and conservative media dittoheads, as well as certain family members and a few friends — some long-term, some more recent — are spouting the fundamentalist party line that this decision means the next thing will be lawsuits to force ministers to gay-marry people, therefore Christianity itself is at risk, and we better gather up the womenfolk and chilluns because they’ll be coming for your guns and Bibles shortly.
What complete and utter bullshit.
News flash, folks. The Obergefell v. Hodges decision affects your civil liberties not a whit. Ministers are still perfectly free to not marry anyone who doesn’t meet their particular denomination’s dogmatic standards. You are still perfectly free to believe whatever you like, worship however you like, and hold whatever opinions you wish. You are perfectly free to bemoan the “moral decay” you think you’re witnessing. You are perfectly free to rant and rave and quote obsolete and irrelevant Old Testament verses that support your views. And you are perfectly free to call for a Constitutional amendment to override a decision that you find abhorrent.
(Personally, I’d like to see a Constitutional amendment that overturns the Citizens United decision, but that’s a different rant. I wish us both good luck with that, by the way. This republic’s Constitution has been amended only 27 times in the 226 years since it was ratified, and the first ten of those amendments were done only two years after initial ratification, so essentially only 17 amendments have passed muster in over 200 years.)
However, what you are no longer free to do is discriminate against your LGBTQ brothers and sisters with respect to the legal protection of marriage. You don’t have to like it. That’s part of your freedom, as well. But you have to understand that marriage has very little to do with religion, anyway.
*pause to insert earplugs to block the screams of outrage*
Yes, you heard me. Marriage itself has nothing to do with religion.
Now I know a lot of people choose to get married in a religious ceremony, with prayer and talk of God and holy matrimony and so forth. I did so myself; it was lovely and moving and very special indeed. But the religious service that constituted the saying of our vows has nothing to do with the facts of our marriage. We could have just as easily walked down the hall to the office of the Justice of the Peace on the day we picked up our marriage license, had that fine worthy perform the ceremony, and been just as married. Because what constitutes the fact of my marriage is this: My husband and I went to the county courthouse, purchased a license, had a ceremony performed by an individual who certified on that license that he was authorized to perform marriage ceremonies. He then submitted that certified document back to the county for the marriage to be entered into county records as proof of the legally binding contract my husband and I entered into on that beautiful spring day many years ago.
Marriage in the United States is a legal contract, and thus it’s a civil matter, licensed, recorded, and sanctioned by the government. The fact that many people celebrate their marriage vows with a religious ceremony is irrelevant. That means it’s also irrelevant if your religion says homosexuality is a sin, and therefore gay people shouldn’t be allowed to get married. Marriage is a civil matter, and what your religion says has no bearing on the right of consenting adults to marry.
But here’s another thing you have to understand. Marriage equality is no threat to your church. Hordes of gay folk clad in rainbow-colored wedding garments aren’t going to storm your sanctuary, demand to be married at your altar, and file lawsuits if refused. Your church’s clergy are protected under the First Amendment and can refuse to perform a marriage ceremony for anyone who is perceived as not meeting dogmatic or doctrinal standards. For example, a Catholic priest may refuse to marry a divorced person because Catholic doctrine says divorce is a sin. An Orthodox rabbi may refuse to marry a Jewish person to a non-Jewish person because Judaism generally frowns upon interfaith marriages. Heck, my own pastor very nearly refused to marry my husband and me because my husband is an atheist.
As mentioned above, though, you’re perfectly free to believe homosexuality is a sin, although I would ask you to take a look at a little research on the so-called “clobberverses” that people with those beliefs generally quote to back their position.
And, because I don’t want to stop loving my friends and family who buy into this “my religious freedoms are being attacked” nonsense, I had to “unfollow” a few people on social media in the last couple of days. They aren’t de-friended or blocked, just not followed for a while, until their hateful, spiteful, inaccurate, or ugly status updates die down.