Second-Class Americans: How the Left Helps Create the Right it Fears and Despises
There's an assumption in Ross's latest column that has stayed with me since I read it yesterday. It's hard to forget because so many people disagree with it so unconditionally -- and approach our political life accordingly. See if you can spot it:
The first America [...] views the project as the consummate expression of our nation’s high ideals. [...] 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. And beneath these concerns lurks the darker suspicion that Islam in any form may be incompatible with the American way of life.
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.
Yep, there it is: that last line. For too many Americans, what Ross calls "the second America" has no wisdom to offer, only irrational hatred. For these Americans, "the second America" has been a constant impediment to America's success, and folks in "the second America" implacable opponents of justice, fairness, and enlightenment. Too many Americans have something seriously approaching zero respect for most of the defining concerns, commitments, convictions, and attitudes of folks in Ross's "second America."
Those who despise the second America wish to see its power and authority taken away by any political or legal means necessary. It's an attitude disturbingly similar to the one that the second America is alleged by its enemies to hold toward Islam. To be sure, there are those, like Andy McCarthy and now Newt Gingrich, who are feeding what seems to me to be a growing and errant hysteria over all things (and all people) Muslim. They do not speak exclusively for the second America, of course, but it is time their critics consider why their rhetoric has gained such traction.
Dave Weigel suggests that Barack Obama's inability to move the needle of US-Muslim relations in any sigificant way has made it possible for second-American extremism to gain a frustrated, concerned audience. Though that may well be a contributing factor -- what Obama's selling just isn't working -- the real appeal is a widespread understanding within the second America that the second America is increasingly considered an enemy to be defeated, not a broadly aligned coalition of fellow citizens.
It does a disservice to both sides to say that the left, pure and simple, has radicalized the right. But for too many on the left, the right already is so radical -- so unreasonable, irrational, kooky, atavistic, and unthinking -- that it hardly matters whether the second America tries to protect and advance its interests politely or viciously. When it plays nicely, they believe, the second America is engaged in the tactic of papering over the bigotry that animates it at a foundational level. The only thing the second America can do to earn goodwill from this influential segment of the left is to abandon and denounce its primitive worldview and its cruel policies. Not quite convert or die, but -- almost worse from the far left perspective -- convert or be ruthlessly marginalized and stigmatized. Confronted with such a choice, Americans -- not just from the second America, as its enemies on the left should know -- are inclined to stop being polite and start getting real.
The misfortune, as we all know well enough from reality television, is that unhappy people who get real on national television are apt to develop the habit of overdramatizing as a way of life. Folks who are told that they are inherently unreasonable quickly turn theatrical. Treating Muslims as if they can have no place in reasonable society shows them the door to the theatrics of political violence. Treating Americans the same way is illiberal in the deepest sense.
SAJAK > Ground Zero Posturing
BERLINSKI > 70 Socialists in Congress
LILEKS > Payback: Who'd You Tax?
HANSON > Birthright Citizenship Hysteria