The Projection of All Their Fears: Justice and the Commonwealth

Few things illustrate the issues for all those “economically anxious” Trump supporters quite as well as the chain e-mail forwarded by the President’s lawyer: “You cannot be against General Lee and be for General Washington,” the email reads, “there literally is no difference between the two men.”  To repeat the obvious — yes you can.  You can differentiate between slave owners who created an imperfect Constitution (containing safeguards for slave owners) but who had the intelligence and foresight to establish a framework for freedom which could be perfected — to create a “more perfect union,” — and the slave owners who rebelled against this perfectable union and led an insurrection that sought to enshrine slavery from sea to sea.   The hoary old, and utterly illogical, silly syllogism that if you object to Lee you must then object to Washington requires the believer to reduce everything to whether or not a person practiced chattel slavery — and to ignore all other elements.  The repetition of this canard says more about those who adopt it than it says about any 18th or 19th century slave owner.

It says they are afraid, very afraid of losing their “culture.”  If a person’s “culture” includes the veneration of icons of rebellion, white supremacy, and chattel slavery as a part of one’s “heritage,” then it’s time to rethink that “culture and heritage.” This exercise can be extremely difficult for some “fragile whites.”   One of the most fragile appears to be Virginia Senate Candidate Republican Corey Stewart who commented: “The left isn’t doing this to redecorate some parks. They are going after the Founders next, to undermine the Founding Documents.”   Fragile white people live on a perpetually slippery slope.

To question a person’s racial biases is to “attack,” an attack must be nefarious, the nefarious attack must be from some equally objectionable direction, even if this requires attributing motives which are not in evidence.  Thus Stewart can maintain that questioning his support for white supremacists is an assault from some universal cabal composed of opponents of The Founders and their Founding Documents.  Perhaps those who feel assaulted might want to consider that predicating one’s sense of self on the basis of the coloration of a layer of skin, skin so thin it can be cut with a piece of paper, is a very fragile thing indeed.

That fragility creates its own environment of fear — the fear that a white person might have to compete for a job with a person of color, without giving the paler person an automatic edge.  The fear that a white person may not automatically assume an advantage in commerce, education, and in the judicial system.  The following paragraph summarizes this sentiment:

“They see all of this talk about Black Lives Matter and the importance of diversity, including through policies like affirmative action. They see recent moves to tear down Confederate monuments in the South. And they themselves have likely been accused of racism at some point in their lives, making them defensive and angry.” [Vox]

Skin coloration is an extremely thin basis for self esteem; frustration and anger are an even more fragile basis for a successful political ideology — leading as they do to short term gains with practically guaranteed long term losses.   This perspective is unjust, and as St. Augustine advised: “Where there is no justice there is no commonwealth.”

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