Smart people saying smart things (7.2.18)

Smart people saying smart things (7.2.18) July 2, 2018

Adam Serwer, “Trumpism, Realized”

Trump’s harsh policies are the product of his view that Latin American immigrants will “infest” the U.S., changing the character of the country. It is a racialized view of citizenship, one that perceives white Americans as the nation’s rightful inheritors and the rest of us as interlopers. It is a worldview both antithetical to the American creed and inseparable from its execution.

I suspect that part of what horrifies Americans is not the novelty of Trump’s policy, but its familiarity. Americans are fighting a part of themselves that they naively thought they had vanquished. From chattel slavery to American Indian schools to convict leasing, child-snatching has been a tradition in America since before there was an America. If one is convinced that the parents are not truly human, then the children cannot truly be children, and what should be unthinkable becomes inevitable.

The sins of the past are not guardrails. There is nothing to prevent them from being committed again, except for the dedication of the living to creating a better world. The people in the past who convinced themselves to do unspeakable things were no less human than you or I. They made their decisions; the only thing that prevents history from repeating itself is making different ones.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Dissent, Trump v. Hawaii, 2018

Just weeks ago, the Court rendered its decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop … which applied the bedrock principles of religious neutrality and tolerance in considering a First Amendment challenge to government action. … (“The Constitution ‘commits government itself to religious tolerance, and upon even slight suspicion that proposals for state intervention stem from animosity to religion or distrust of its practices, all officials must pause to remember their own high duty to the Constitution and to the rights it secures’ ” (quoting Lukumi); (“[S]tate actors cannot show hostility to religious views; rather, they must give those views ‘neutral and respectful consideration’ ”). Those principles should apply equally here. In both instances, the question is whether a government actor exhibited tolerance and neutrality in reaching a decision that affects individuals’ fundamental religious freedom. But unlike in Masterpiece, where a state civil rights commission was found to have acted without “the neutrality that the Free Exercise Clause requires,”  the government actors in this case will not be held accountable for breaching the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious neutrality and tolerance. Unlike in Masterpiece, where the majority considered the state commissioners’ statements about religion to be persuasive evidence of unconstitutional government action, … the majority here completely sets aside the President’s charged statements about Muslims as irrelevant. That holding erodes the foundational principles of religious tolerance that the Court elsewhere has so emphatically protected, and it tells members of minority religions in our country “that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community.”

Oscar Wilde, letter to The Daily Chronicle, 1897

Ordinary cruelty is simply stupidity. It comes from the entire want of imagination. It is the result in our days of stereotyped systems, of hard-and-fast rules, of centralization, of officialism, and of irresponsible authority. Wherever there is centralization there is stupidity. What is inhuman in modern life is officialism. Authority is as destructive to those who exercise it as it is to those on whom it is exercised. It is the Prison Board, with the system that it carries out, that is the primary source of the cruelty that is exercised on a child in prison. The people who uphold the system have excellent intentions. Those who carry it out are humane in intention also. Responsibility is shifted on to the disciplinary regulations. It is supposed that because a thing is the rule it is right.

The present treatment of children is terrible, primarily from people not understanding the peculiar psychology of a child’s nature. … The child consequently, being taken away from its parents by people whom it has never seen, and of whom it knows nothing, and finding itself in a lonely and unfamiliar cell, waited on by strange faces, and ordered about and punished by the representatives of a system that it cannot understand, becomes an immediate prey to the first and most prominent emotion produced by modern prison life–the emotion of terror. The terror of a child in prison is quite limitless.

Michelle Goldberg, “We Have a Crisis of Democracy, Not Manners”

There’s a moral and psychic cost to participating in the fiction that people who work for Trump are in any sense public servants. I don’t blame staff members at the Virginia restaurant, the Red Hen, for not wanting to help Sanders unwind after a hard week of lying to the public about mass child abuse. Particularly when Sanders’s own administration is fighting to let private businesses discriminate against gay people, who, unlike mendacious press secretaries, are a protected class under many civil rights laws.

Whether or not you think public shaming should be happening, it’s important to understand why it’s happening. It’s less a result of a breakdown in civility than a breakdown of democracy. Though it’s tiresome to repeat it, Donald Trump eked out his minority victory with help from a hostile foreign power. He has ruled exclusively for his vengeful supporters, who love the way he terrifies, outrages and humiliates their fellow citizens. Trump installed the right-wing Neil Gorsuch in the Supreme Court seat that Republicans stole from Barack Obama. Gorsuch, in turn, has been the fifth vote in decisions on voter roll purges and, on Monday, racial gerrymandering that will further entrench minority rule.

All over the country, Republican members of Congress have consistently refused to so much as meet with many of the scared, furious citizens they ostensibly represent. A great many of these citizens are working tirelessly to take at least one house of Congress in the midterms — which will require substantially more than 50 percent of total votes, given structural Republican advantages — so that the country’s anti-Trump majority will have some voice in the federal government.

But unless and until that happens, millions and millions of Americans watch helplessly as the president cages children, dehumanizes immigrants, spurns other democracies, guts health care protections, uses his office to enrich himself and turns public life into a deranged phantasmagoria with his incontinent flood of lies. The civility police might point out that many conservatives hated Obama just as much, but that only demonstrates the limits of content-neutral analysis. The right’s revulsion against a black president targeted by birther conspiracy theories is not the same as the left’s revulsion against a racist president who spread birther conspiracy theories.

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