THIS weeks grant proposal: comb the collected Times Op-Ed contributions of its two "reasonable conservative" columnists. Note the number of times either was forced to admit, even to freely declare, that a particular position held by the vast majority on their end of the political spectrum is ignorant, vile, shot through with racism or bigotry, or ill-considered partisan shit-flinging--either as part of the ongoing "reasonable conservative" ploy or because the position in question was, in fact, ignorant, vile, shot through with racism or bigotry, or ill-considered partisan shit-flinging--and subtract the number of times the column in question was actually about that position, or took the Right to task for holding it. Or, simply, one in which the "condemnation" of the position was not followed immediately by "Yes, but…." We're guessing the minuend and the remainder are identical.
Why is this? Tax cuts? Endorsement deals? Death squads? Reader, you, presumably, occupy one end of this country's political spectrum or other, to some extent, at least as commonly defined: when you find yourself in disagreement with your fellows, is it invariably the case that the other side is worse? And if so, do you go around waving your Moderate credentials in spite of it? Who thinks like this? And who's supposed to buy it? (To be fair about it, both Brooks and Douthat have spent their adult lives--one via conversion by Grace from Springsteen-bepostered Rebel, the other ascending directly from serial religious plerophory--defending an ideology which had been reduced--if that is indeed the word--to insisting that a decade of affirmative action trumped four centuries of racial oppression, that providing basic nutrition and access to emergency medical care hurt the Poor and Elderly, and that dropping three times the ordnance used in all theaters in WWII on a small area of Indochina in an attempt to reinstate a colonial system which had rotted away internally thirty years previous was an act of selfless humanitarianism. The American Right is, in fact, our longest surviving field experiment in whether, at some point, aping insanity is not the same thing as genuine insanity. And all signs point to Yes. In for a dime, in for a dollar, right Ross-O?)
This is typical of how these debates usually play out. The first America tends to make the finer-sounding speeches, and the second America often strikes cruder, more xenophobic notes. The first America welcomed the poor, the tired, the huddled masses; the second America demanded that they change their names and drop their native languages, and often threw up hurdles to stop them coming altogether. The first America celebrated religious liberty; the second America persecuted Mormons and discriminated against Catholics.
But both understandings of this country have real wisdom to offer, and both have been necessary to the American experiment’s success.
Especially, but not limited to, its success in getting cotton harvests in on time, and with remarkably low labor costs.
Sorry, I jumped ahead a bit there; let's back up and try to understand the intellectual basis for these competing, but equally beneficial approaches. (Ha! Did you catch the leg-pull in that sentence?)
There’s an America where it doesn’t matter what language you speak, what god you worship, or how deep your New World roots run. An America where allegiance to the Constitution trumps ethnic differences, language barriers and religious divides. An America where the newest arrival to our shores is no less American than the ever-so-great granddaughter of the Pilgrims.
Known, sporadically, as the Judicial branch.
But there’s another America as well, one that understands itself as a distinctive culture, rather than just a set of political propositions. This America speaks English, not Spanish or Chinese or Arabic.
Known, to itself at least, as the Staunch Upholders of those Political Propositions it defenestrates at the first sign of inconvenience. (And pray tell us, Master Douthat, how one comes to miss that?)
It looks back to a particular religious heritage: Protestantism originally, and then a Judeo-Christian consensus that accommodated Jews and Catholics as well.
How convenient for it, and for the thirty-year-old snake handler turned Papist. And what excellent timing, to go in just sixty years from Jews as Christ-killers, and Catholics as secret cabalists intent on running the US from Rome, to one big happy, if oddly oppressed, mega-majority willing to publicly ignore irreconcilable core beliefs sent by God for the sake of political power.
(By the way, I still would like to know when, exactly, the Jews voted themselves in on all this delicious ecumenicalism. Or do they just leave all such decisions to Dennis Prager?)
We could press on, but let's enjoy the shade here for a moment. Not that my opinion counts, but it counts as much as Douthat's, apart from his natural advantage in real estate holdings; this is absolutely the worst feature of modern American religiosity: the willingness of the Right, particularly the Protestant Right, to (pretend to) abrogate its very identity for the sake of political gain. We can begin with that (fittingly, Reagan-era) "Judeo-Christian" nonsense. We can add on the Right to Life and pro-military hegemony positions (the politics of which, and not theology, has driven the "Judeo-Christian consensus"), and follow right down the rabbit hole to the War on Televised Smut (the Christian Right don't do so hot when it's abandoned by its Brothers in Ecumenicism, huh?), Religious insult (until Mel insults the Jews--in a movie, I mean, not on voicemail--or anybody insults Islam), and the risible Wars on Christmas, The Ten Commandments, and the Plej-uh-lejunce. Individual Protestants, and any of the 225-plus denominations of the One True Church, are free to take whatever positions they choose here, and defend it with scriptural excerpts if they wish. What they can't do is declare all Protestantism on their side. Pacifism is certainly an older Christian tradition than standing armies; only the most Anglican of denominations pay attention to the liturgical calendar; plenty of American Christians find the orgy of Christmas commerce something less than holy. One hundred fifty years ago nobody but a few non-English speakers celebrated the Gratuitously Solsticesque Birth of the Lord, and anyone was free to get an abortion without fear of being gunned down by someone better informed theologically, unless it was the man who owned her. The bemused observer of this game of Bronze-Age musical chairs may go so far as to suggest "Judeo-Christian consensus" as the late 20th century refuge of the congenital authoritarian nostalgic for the 15th. You'd think someone who had switched from extremist Protestant Glossolaligist to full-on Papism would have some sort of personal insight into that.
Else we could simply ask, "Okay, so whose True Version of the Ten Commandments goes on the courthouse lawn, then?" with the understanding that the other two are agreeing to permanent religious vassalage.
It draws its social norms from the mores of the Anglo-Saxon diaspora — and it expects new arrivals to assimilate themselves to these norms, and quickly.
Well, first, you say "diaspora", I say "global subjugation of less populous, less technological peoples". Second, is there some history of the United States which teaches this, and isn't aimed at homeschooled preteens? The cliché was Three Generations, where the first retained its old cultural identity, the second moved into the new culture, and the third readily embraced it. And there were exceptions: the notably legally-segregated Chinese, the religiously-segregated Orthodox Jews, and imported Africans, who were discouraged from full participation in such cultural institutions as education, land ownership, and noticing white women.
We ought really to consider that such began to change only after two world wars, and then via the law and the political confrontation which slowly changed it and the perceptions behind it, not because of any advances in Persuasion Technology. We ought to, really, but of course if we're a right-wing apologist we're required to treat sixty years ago as ancient history.
The second America begs to differ. It sees the project as an affront to the memory of 9/11, and a sign of disrespect for the values of a country where Islam has only recently become part of the public consciousness.
Aside from the Barbary Pirates, you mean.
This is rich: de jure racial discrimination, ended (officially) in a process which takes us at least from Brown (1954) to Loving (1967), without counting the years--even decades--it took for the culprits to come into compliance, is supposed to be seen as a long-established fact; contemporary unlettered recognition of Islam, which, assuming one has never heard of Standard Oil, dates to the US-led creation of Israel (1947), accelerates through the Six Day War (1967), the rise of Yasser Arafat and the PLO in its wake, followed by his thirty-year demonization in the US, the Iranian hostage crisis, and scores of paperback and cinematic potboilers featuring swarthy terrorists who dine on tenderloin of unbaptized baby, is, to Douthat, an angry butt boil he woke up with yesterday morning. Oh, I mean to the second America, of course; Douthat is an Ivie.
The steady pressure to conform to American norms, exerted through fair means and foul, eventually persuaded the Mormons to abandon polygamy, smoothing their assimilation into the American mainstream.
Well, actually, the requirements of Utah statehood, admittedly driven by religious bigotry, and the concomitant Federal largesse and opportunities for private aggrandizement are what actually did the trick.
Nativist concerns about Catholicism’s illiberal tendencies inspired American Catholics to prod their church toward a recognition of the virtues of democracy,
Oooh, that reminds me, Ross-boy. When I want you to pass the baloney, I'll say "Pass the baloney." Old Protestant-American custom.
So it is today with Islam. The first America is correct to insist on Muslims’ absolute right to build and worship where they wish. But the second America is right to press for something more from Muslim Americans — particularly from figures like Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the mosque — than simple protestations of good faith.
And, y'know, somehow one has the sneaking suspicion that should Feisal Abdul Rauf, or any other American of Islamic tendency, turn up in a backwards baseball cap and Mets jersey, downing Red Bull and vodkas, that Second America would be convinced. That he was covering his terrorist activities.