When "compromise" really means "STFU"

As regular readers may have noticed, I don’t often write about politics. It’s not that I don’t care, it’s just not my thing. I can only keep up with and write about so many topics. But when someone uses the opinion page of what can arguably be called our national newspaper to continually spew irrational, hate-filled idiocy onto my laptop, well, sometimes enough is enough.

Such is the case with Ross Douthat. I think the guy styles himself as some sort of moderate conservative, and a bridge builder: someone who can see both sides of an issue and find the compromise. What he does in fact, though, is find the reactionary side and his side and then argues for a compromise between reactionary hate mongers and what his own biased mind thinks is slightly more rational.

In his latest piece, Douthat notes that their are “two Americas”. Most recently, this phrase was used by presidential candidate John Edwards to note the growing divide between “haves” and “have-nots”. This is not what Douthat means. He describes the first America as:

An America where allegiance to the Constitution trumps ethnic differences, language barriers and religious divides. An America where the newest arrival to our shores is no less American than the ever-so-great granddaughter of the Pilgrims.

If he had stopped right there, he would have had a very short Op-Ed piece, but one that reiterates basic American Constitutional ideals. But Ross just can’t shut up.

But there’s another America as well, one that understands itself as a distinctive culture, rather than just a set of political propositions. This America speaks English, not Spanish or Chinese or Arabic. It looks back to a particular religious heritage: Protestantism originally, and then a Judeo-Christian consensus that accommodated Jews and Catholics as well. It draws its social norms from the mores of the Anglo-Saxon diaspora — and it expects new arrivals to assimilate themselves to these norms, and quickly.

That is a great lead-in to a discussion of why assimilation, while often desirable, is a complicated issue, and one that is more about our own biases than about Constitutional ideals.   And he does go on to contrast the high ideals of the first America with the parochial xenophobia of the second.  But then he reveals which America he thinks is really the “right” one:

But both understandings of this country have real wisdom to offer, and both have been necessary to the American experiment’s success.

No.  No they don’t.  He admits that the second America is xenophobic and discriminatory.  What could it possibly have to offer other than hate and intolerance?  His examples are equally unfortunate:

The post-1920s immigration restrictions were draconian in many ways, but they created time for persistent ethnic divisions to melt into a general unhyphenated Americanism.

Bullshit.  The Johnson Immigration Act was a purely racist piece of legislation built on incorrect but popular ideas about eugenics, and it led to the deaths of perhaps millions of Europeans who were denied entry to the U.S.  because of their ethnicity.

His senseless screed is in service of his ideas on the “Ground Zero mosque” controversy.  He argues for the first America as the carrot, the second as the stick.  The first welcomes our Muslim brothers, the second demands that they give up their identity if they want to be real Americans (forgetting that many are not recent immigrants and that Muslims have been here for a very long time).

He doesn’t argue that this same argument applies to our own nativist hate groups.  He doesn’t mention that violent, hate-filled rhetoric that happens to come from American-born Protestants is also “anti-American”; he can’t argue this, because he just finished telling us that Protestant Americans are always right, even when they argue against the Constitutional protections of religious practice.

When you compromise with reactionary, anti-American hate-mongers, some would call it “negotiating with terrorists”.  I wonder why Ross only sees the hate on one side?

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11 Comments

  1. mariawolters

     /  August 17, 2010

    I never cease to be amazed by people who define “Americanness” based on a particular wave of 17th century immigrants and their ilk.

  2. Mu

     /  August 17, 2010

    Makes you wonder if he realizes that in the western and southern parts of today’s USA the other half of this christian-judeo heritage was busy “converting indians” while his glorious protestant pilgrims were still packing their bags.

  3. It never ceases to amaze me that these rightwing Constitutional ignoramii can call those of us in open, welcoming America antiAmerican.

    To riff something making the rounds about unthinking religious types, the TeabagAmerican reads the Constitution like a software license agreement- scroll to the bottom and click ‘Accept’ with no understanding of what is in it.

    • zuska

       /  August 17, 2010

      Ignoramii! ahahahahahaha! yes!

      Because they just want to take away the freedom of religion of Those Other People, and they can’t imagine how the same table might someday be turned on them, if the state were truly allowed to meddle in people’s right to practice religion the way they are demanding. They THINK they are asking for One Nation, Under Christian God-daddy, when what they are demanding is that the state be allowed to deny freedom of religion willy-nilly, whenever a majority mob feels enough agita about it and there’s nothing good enough on t.v. to keep them off the streets.

  4. I thought you were going to be talking about Asshat’s Douhat’s recent piece about same-sex marriage — which I thought was an excellently argued case in favor of banning divorcees from getting married… What a tool.

  5. James Pannozzi

     /  August 18, 2010

    On occasion, particularly when writing on political issues, PalMD gets it right.

    Hate to give credit to him, that pain in the neck, but there it is.

  6. Dave Hoffman

     /  August 18, 2010

    Thanks for an insightful piece. It saddens me when people espouse an American multiculturism which really means lots of brown-skinned people with colorful clothes holding a festival once a year and serving unusual food to white people. The rest of the year they really don’t want to hear their accents or God-forbid have to select English on the ATM.

    • You’re entirely right of course. However, I was disturbed to find that the phrase “brown-skinned people with colorful clothes holding a festival once a year and serving unusual food to white people” made me more hungry than outraged. I’m not sure what that says about me…

      • Dave Hoffman

         /  August 18, 2010

        Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy those festivals, too! Anyone for Goat Kebobs?

  7. The Douthat columns I have managed to stick through to the end appear to follow the same basic outline:

    “I am Christian, White, Male, Republican, Heterosexual and Affluent.
    People exist who are not me.
    Because they are not me, they are wrong.
    Evidence for their wrongness lies in the fact that they are not me.
    The fact that people exist who are not me means that I am a persecuted minority.

    [insert obligatory Reagan worship, mention that Islam = terrorism, and add some misogynistic bullshit and you’re done]”

  8. Samantha

     /  August 18, 2010

    Well written! I honestly can’t believe this is getting as much media coverage as it is; it’s a non-issue for most of the people it would affect most (New Yorkers).

    Ah, the crap the pundits will make up to drive an election cycle.

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