mardi 1 décembre 2009

The unwashed hordes?

I think not, although I can understand why a commenter the other day to my Thanksgiving post on Sarah Palin, "I have an opinion, therefore I am [American]", might be tempted to discount these thousands of Americans, lining up to get their copies of the New York Times bestseller Going Rogue signed by their idol outside major bookstore chains around the country, saying, "I am not at all concerned about the unwashed hordes. It is not now - nor has it ever been - about them."

I suppose I differ in opinion. It isn't about them, but it isn't about us, either. It is about America, a country to which we all hold rights to participate in decisions about how our society will be governed and its character. These are not a handful of filthy, ignorant Americans dribbling into the halls of evangelical churches in remote rural corners of our nation, but thousands of Americans with college educations, who run businesses and ranches, families raising children climbing out of their minivans and lining up outside Borders bookstores in major American urban areas, and they hold a set of ideals based on sometimes shaky factual grounds and but always rock solidly held religious and social convictions.

My husband has argued since Jean-Marie Le Pen started running for office that since France is a representative democracy with a proportional legislative branch, the people who vote for him have as much a right to be heard and their point of view represented as do he and I, whether we like what they have to say or not. I have searched for arguments to counter his point of view. They usually run along the "but you have to draw the line somewhere in society, or you might move closer and closer to Hitler's National Socialist politics without even realizing its imminence."

And he argues back ( in French, though), "Then you have to address the basis of their concerns, which are grounded in legitimacy, to prevent the extremism of their reactionary reasoning."

In other words, if white French people in cities and villages fear rising crime associated with waves of unintegrated immigrants, then you have to address the integration of those immigrants, spend more in policing, readopt neighborhood policing strategies, invest in education and jobs training and actually hire qualified immigrants to provide jobs, income and a sense of hope to people formerly ushered to the waiting cités, with their invisible but nearly unscalable ghetto walls, or you will see the numbers of those supporting Le Pen rise and society will shift in character from more inclusive to less inclusive, charges of racism aside, and people who might not actually have been racist will become so. Their concerns, he argues, are not less valid because they are less appealing to those who tend to identify themselves as "liberals" or on "the Left".

Damon Linker, writing in The New Republic today in his article "Against Common Sense", traces these more perfect, more Good Americans' unswerving confidence in the righteousness of the Truth of their vision, a vision of America and what it ought to be that is based on their conviction of the infallibility of their Common Sense. Sarah Palin belongs to them, proves them right, come as she has as a prophet of the credo of the Truth of Common Sense. Linker writes:
Drawing on the Scottish tradition of Common Sense philosophy—which asserted that commonly held opinions are our most trustworthy guide to truth—writers connected to the Princeton Theological Seminary naively suggested that spontaneous universal concord on every matter of moral, scientific, and spiritual significance should be possible. Men and women need only open their eyes to apprehend directly the timeless, objective, self-evident truth about all things: God, nature, right and wrong.

For these theologians, the very idea of a genuine (as opposed to a spurious) conflict between reason and faith, science and religion—let alone between opposing political views—began to seem inconceivable. They thus tended to trace disagreements to defects in the mind or morals of whomever dissented from prevailing religious, scientific, social, cultural, or political opinion. Maybe the dissenter had succumbed to the sin of pride, which led him astray. Or perhaps he made an innocent error of reasoning, or got caught up in futile metaphysical speculation. And then there was the most ominous possibility—that he was seduced by unbelief or false religion. Whatever the case, the disagreement was assumed to flow not from the intrinsic complexity of either the world or the nature of the mind but rather from an accidental failing rooted in a particular individual or group—a defect that could potentially be removed, thus restoring the inevitability of universal agreement based on self-evident common sense.

Listen to the voices in the video above. You will hear these very words: common sense, truth. You will hear them spoken, followed by silence, a look from the person uttering them that says, "That's it. There's nothing more to say. What I just said is inalienble, self-evident, undeniable."

And so I chose not to underestimate the force of their conviction, nor to write off the possibility that as society continues to become more complex and as people feel less able to create the society they believe is right for America, less heard and appreciated in their nation's capitol, that their numbers will grow. It happened in Germany in the 1920s and '30s, and it can always happen here. To believe otherwise might feel noble -- and it certainly sounds it to those who share Jericho's and my ideals --, but it dismisses dangerously a swathe of those who also call themselves Americans and will continue to make themselves heard and seek to influence the political structure that will determine the laws of the nation in which we all live or with which we are all associated emotionally.

They are Americans, and while they might not be as numerous as those of us who elected Brck Obama president, they do not want what we want, and they do not see America in the same terms as we do, and even if they actually do, they will not admit it. They will work to oppose us by whatever means they have. The Republican party is their party, and it is supported still by enough to keep it relevant for the time being without having to change its face, the face it has adopted since Nixon's "Southern Strategy" sought to appeal to what some now call "the unwashed hordes" of southern Dixicrats and other social conservatives. They had enough influence to change a major political party in their own image. Ought we discount them thus? Just how much do you want to insult and alienate them? How far do you want to push them, and how powerful do you want to make their leaders and spokespersons?

How, instead, to present our political philosophy and agenda in terms that come closer to meeting an opposing world view and find the common points that might exist in them, despite the huge differences in how we chose to live and what we chose to accept socially?

Before we come apart at the seams.


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