This Angry Season
In the United States, the conventional wisdom holds that, when the nation is on the wrong track, “we the people” will set it right. It’s a comforting thought. But, in this angry season, one must ask if that axiom is always true. There is a pathological quality to much of the anger one sees and hears these days. When Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and Carl Paladino keep returning to the refrain that Americans are mad as hell, it is worth remembering the late Lee Atwater’s explanation of how the so called “Southern Strategy” worked:
You start out in 1954 saying ‘Nigger, Nigger, Nigger.’ By 1968 you can’t say ‘nigger’ — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a by product of them is that blacks get hurt worse than whites. . .’ We want to cut this’ is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than ‘nigger, nigger.’
Given the assertions that President Obama is a Muslim alien and Kenyan anti-colonialist, one wonders how much of the anger stems from an unemployment rate of 9.6%, and how much of it is a socially sanctioned way to yell, “nigger, nigger.”
I do not wish to minimize the legitimate anger Americans feel towards those from both parties whose faith in unregulated capitalism has led to the loss of their homes and their jobs. Those whose 99 weeks of unemployment insurance have expired are in a particularly precarious position. Their fury is completely understandable. But, when Rand Paul muses that he might not have voted for the Civil Rights Act, and when those protesting the recently passed health care bill throw the “N” epithet at people like John Lewis, it is clear that there is more than unemployment behind their rage.
Moreover, when people like retired Utah Supreme Court Justice A.H. Ellett argue for the repeal of the 13th, 14 and 15th Amendments to the Constitution — the so called “Reconstruction Amendments” — you know there is a lot more in the mix that just joblessness. Justice Ellett wrote:
The validity, or should we say the invalidity, of the Civil War Amendments is very important to reinstating the inalienable rights of free white citizens of the United States of America. At every juncture where the government of the United States of America and/or the governments of the several States attempt to usurp inalienable rights, the Civil War amendments are ultimately claimed to be the authority for such deprivations of rights.
And precisely what right or rights have those amendments breached? Before 1865, white Americans were immune African American political influence. Ellet pulls no punches. In his view, the Constitution was desecrated by the extension of the franchise — and the right to hold office — to America’s citizens of color. Before the Civil War:
. . . only White State citizens held the privileges and immunities known to Article IV, Section 2 among the several States, and no State could confer that Constitutional protection on any other race. In consequence thereof, the “also” could not authorize a “non white” to be an Officer of the United States government.
Two years ago, when Barack Obama was elected president, a significant majority of Americans were euphoric that their country had finally torn down its most significant barrier. At the same time, a significant minority ground their teeth in disgust. How much of the angry rhetoric comes from those who not only want to repeal the New Deal but who also want to repeal the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments?
This November, Americans will be asked to distinguish between legitimate anger — which is an extension of their economic situation — and an illness which is as old as the Republic itself. Their choice will ultimately prove the truth or falsehood of the conventional wisdom.
Canada’s Owen Gray grew up in Montreal, where he received a B. A. from Concordia University. After crossing the border and completing a Master’s degree at the University of North Carolina, he returned to Canada, married, raised a family and taught high school for 32 years. Now retired, he lives — with his wife and youngest son — on the northern shores of Lake Ontario. This is cross posted from his blog Northern Reflections.