Dangerous When Cornered

It’s a useful cliché – wild animals are dangerous when cornered. That’s why hunters wear camouflage and hide in blinds. The point is to kill those critters before they know what’s happening – sneak up on them before they realize what’s up. They won’t know what hit them. This is considered true sportsmanship, and an art of sorts, and the last thing any hunter wants is a fair fight. If a moose charges you, run – otherwise, deal anonymous death from a safe distance.

It’s great fun. In fact, Sarah Palin more than once told us that she used to get a real kick out of shooting wolves with a high-powered rifle from high up in a helicopter, which was probably intended as a metaphor – she was skilled and deadly and ruthless, and those she intended to destroy would never know what hit them. The angry white base of the Republican Party, furious that they had lost the culture wars long ago, loved that sort of thing. It wasn’t like she was going to sneak up on gays and minorities and bleeding-heart liberals and the urban poor and those who like science and shoot them dead, but the “feeling” was there. There were those who loved her, and still do, for this implied cold-blooded brutality that the clueless folks in the wrong would never see coming.

That would be so sweet, but that’s not politics. In politics, there’s no death from the sky. The McCain-Palin campaign tried that with Obama’s connection to Bill Ayers, a sixties terrorist of sorts, but there really wasn’t much of a connection. They tried that with Obama’s connection to Jeramiah Wright, the radical preacher at the church he attended for years, but then Obama gave that speech in Philadelphia on the black experience in America, and everyone pretty much understood what was going on there. They tried that with all the talk about “redistribution” and how Obama was really a socialist, but Obama kept repeating what he had been saying all along, that we’re all in this together and we actually have always helped each other out. You got a problem with that? There was no answer to that question. This wasn’t like shooting wolves from a helicopter.

There was no sudden swift death from a distance in 2008, and Palin was hopeless in a fair fight, the one-on-one stuff. She couldn’t even handle softball interviews with Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric. She didn’t exactly debate Joe Biden either. She delivered her canned lines, no matter what the question. No one was fooled. She said nothing, and it’s hard to imagine how she’d have handled facing a cornered wolf long ago in Alaska, with just a knife, and no helicopter. It’s best to avoid such things.

That’s easy enough for most everyone. Don’t go hunting in the wild. Buy a nice porterhouse at the market and toss it on the grill – but then there’s more than wild animals to deal with. People are also dangerous when cornered, and that may be the problem that conservatives face in America, particularly social conservatives. There are more minorities all the time and soon all the minorities added together will be the majority – and we already have a black president, in his second term. Evangelical Christians are also in decline:

The most recent Pew Research Center survey of the nation’s religious attitudes, taken in 2012, found that just 19 percent of Americans identified themselves as white evangelical Protestants – five years earlier, 21 percent of Americans did so. Slightly more (19.6 percent) self-identified as unaffiliated with any religion at all, the first time that group has surpassed evangelicals.

Secularization alone is not to blame for this change in American religiosity.

Even half of those Americans who claim no religious affiliation profess belief in God or claim some sort of spiritual orientation. Other faiths, like Islam, perhaps the country’s fastest-growing religion, have had no problem attracting and maintaining worshippers. No, evangelicalism’s dilemma stems more from a change in American Christianity itself, a sense of creeping exhaustion with the popularizing, simplifying impulse evangelical luminaries such as [televangelist Robert] Schuller once rode to success.

Evangelical Christians became tiresome scolds, and the new Pope isn’t helping matters either. He seems to be a Marxist who hates everything America stands for, because he seems to think vast wealth is a moral trap, not the only real sign of God’s favor in this world, and he also turned out to be one more fool willing to accept the idea that gays and atheists and even true Marxists are good people, good people with what he considers the wrong views, but good people nonetheless. Not only that, everyone likes the guy, and not only that, everyone likes gay people now:

Students and faculty at Eastside Catholic High School in Sammamish [Washington] protested this morning after learning their popular vice principal resigned after school officials learned he had married his male partner.

The protest spread via Twitter and text messaging to other students at area Catholic high schools. At one – Seattle Preparatory School – students showed solidarity with a similar sit-in protest.

Officials at Seattle Prep notified parents that staff members had discussed the situation at Eastside Catholic with students…

According to an online blog, Eastside Catholic vice principal Mark Zmuda married Dana Jergens at a ceremony at the Golf Club at Newcastle last July – seven months after same-sex marriage became legal in this state.

One student at Eastside Catholic said the entire student body was protesting; students either walked out of class or never went. Many were crying along with their teachers…

The Catholic hierarchy in Seattle didn’t get the Pope’s memo – this is not the battle the Church should be fighting right now, as there are more important things, like people starving and dying in hopelessness all around the world – and Andrew Sullivan adds this:

One wonders how much longer Catholic archdioceses can keep doing this, without severe blowback from an entire generation. And let’s be clear here. The school and the archdiocese were fine with the teacher’s sexual orientation as long as he didn’t actually commit to another person for life. What they’re punishing is not gayness; what they’re punishing is love and responsibility.

Even the kids get that. If there’s much more of this there will be severe blowback from an entire generation, because the times really are changing, and the social conservatives really are cornered:

Salt Lake County began issuing marriage licenses to jubilant same-sex couples on Friday, hours after a federal judge ruled that Utah’s amendment barring same-sex marriage violated the United States Constitution.

The decision, by Judge Robert J. Shelby of United States District Court, ordered Utah to immediately cease enforcement of its laws restricting marriage to a man and a woman. Gov. Gary R. Herbert condemned the decision and said he was trying to determine “the best course to defend traditional marriage within the borders of Utah.”

The attorney general said the state would request a stay of the order pending an appeal.

This is a big deal:

Utah, home of the Mormon Church, is one of the country’s more conservative and religious states. But if Judge Shelby’s ruling is upheld, it will become the 18th to permit same-sex marriage, along with the District of Columbia. The decision came one day after the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry, and follows a year of legal and legislative victories for gay rights advocates.

“The court holds that Utah’s prohibition on same-sex marriage conflicts with the United States Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process under the law,” Judge Shelby, appointed by President Obama, wrote in a 53-page decision. “The state’s current laws deny its gay and lesbian citizens their fundamental right to marry and, in so doing, demean the dignity of these same-sex couples for no rational reason.”

State courts in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts and New Jersey, as well as New Mexico, have required recognition of same-sex marriage. But only once before, in California, has a federal court voided a state constitutional amendment barring such marriages that had been adopted by a popular vote.

That’s the big deal here. In all the states that have amended their constitutions to ban gay marriage, no one could file a suit claiming the ban was unconstitutional, because in the state in question it wasn’t. That would stop all this gay marriage nonsense. Now, for a second time, and as a precedent, a court has ruled that any of those state constitutional amendments are null and void. States don’t get to ignore the federal constitution, unless they want to secede from the union. The kicker here – what kicked social conservatives when they were already down – is that this was Utah. Everyone knew that Utah would be the last state to give in and allow gay marriage, if it ever did. It just fell to the forces of darkness, or love and responsibility, depending on your point of view.

Matt Wilstein points out another irony:

When Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia delivered his fiery dissent in the case that deemed the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional (United States v. Windsor), he warned that the ruling could lead to individual states overturning bans on same-sex marriage. Today, Scalia’s prediction came true in the state of Utah.

U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby issued his ruling Friday, which deems a 2004 law passed by Utah voters to be unconstitutional for its infringement of the 14th amendment rights of gays and lesbians in that state.

Shelby went so far as to quote Scalia’s dissent in his 53-page ruling as justification for his decision to overturn the Utah law…

Scalia warned of a slippery slope then. Hell, he warned of the same slippery slope in the 2003 case Lawrence v. Texas – if you forbid the State of Texas from busting down doors to arrest consenting adults doing what they want together, pretty soon gay marriage will be legal everywhere and anywhere. And he was right. And the problem with that is what, exactly? Judge Shelby was probably giggling as he wrote his decision. He made the worst nightmares of the social conservative come true, as a matter of simple justice.

It’s no wonder they’re feeling cornered. They’re fighting a lost cause, but then they should be used to that by now. It’s that Lost Cause of the Confederacy thing – Southern nobility fought bravely and fairly, and Northern generals were crude and vile and had no sense of fair play, as seen in Sherman’s March to the Sea – and Ulysses S. Grant was a damned alcoholic too. It just wasn’t fair, and they won’t let it go. They can’t let it go. It’s who they are, and it’s no coincidence that the Tea Party crowd is heavily white and Southern, even if they long for the white-bread world of Ozzie and Harriet America in the fifties. (Ozzie and Harriett actually lived three blocks east of here, in the Hollywood they hate too.)

This is just a slightly different lost cause than the Confederacy, one where the bad guys were Jack Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson and the hippies of the sixties, not Union soldiers. The Republican Party itself has become the Party of the South – that’s where almost all of their electoral votes are, and they’ve lost the last two presidential elections, badly, which is actually fine with them. It’s easy to slip into thinking of yourself as a loser, but a loser who should have won, if the world were as it should be. It’s self-pity as a defense mechanism, and there’s a lot of anger involved, and quite a bit of lashing-out. Cornered animals are dangerous.

That probably explains the firestorm of conservative anger over A&E suspending the star of their reality show Duck Dynasty – for an unfortunate interview in GQ in which this bearded fellow, Phil Robertson, told it like it is, as he sees it. Homosexuality is the root cause of all evil – God said so, and He hates them, so deal with it. And, by the way, black folks were happy in the Jim Crow South, from the end of the Civil war to the beginning of the Civil Rights stuff, which ruined everything. He was there. He never saw or heard even one black man or woman ever complain about how the white folks treated them, before the troublemakers, like Martin Luther King, arrived and caused no end of trouble. No one was mistreated before that. Oh, and by the way, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor because there is no Jesus in Shinto. It’s a fact. You can look it up.

A&E was making a ton of money from this show about the ultimate rednecks, but they got more than they bargained for. Hollywood has always known there was big money in shows about absurdly crude rednecks, but sponsors hate controversy, and they hate boycotts even more. A bit of trailer-trash redneck stuff makes for great television, if you like that sort of thing, but the real thing, unfiltered, is surprisingly repellant.

Ta-Nehisi Coates says what needs to be said about the actual reality of the Jim Crow South, and Andrew Sullivan adds this:

To celebrate segregation as a means to African-American happiness seems to me a truly dark and asinine piece of self-centered racism. It really casts into serious doubt the essential charm of a fundamentalist Christian. The second is that I’m a little stunned by the vehemence of the right’s reaction. I agree with them on the substance. I think it’s preposterous to fire a reality show star for being real. But does the GOP really want to rally behind someone who truly talks of gays the way medieval anti-Semites spoke of Jews? Do they really want to embrace someone who believes the civil rights movement has hurt African-Americans? Over the last day or so, with such unqualified and righteous defenses of Robertson, it seems to me the GOP is jumping a very large shark. It’s as if the year of relentless, decisive advances in gay civil rights has prompted an emotional venting which is as informed by victimology as anything on the politically correct left.

Paul Waldman is just exasperated:

I’m not even going to bother addressing the idiocy of the “constitutional conservatives” who think the First Amendment guarantees you the legal right to (1) a cable reality show and (2) never be criticized for anything you say. Nor am I going to talk about Robertson’s anti-gay statement, except to say that nobody buys you couching your bigotry in “biblical” terms just because you call yourself a Christian and throw out some scriptural references. Once you start campaigning to have people who eat shellfish and the sinners who work on the Sabbath executed (the Bible says so!) then we’ll accept that you’re just honoring your religion.

It the racial stuff that bothers Waldman:

I don’t have trouble believing that Phil Robertson never saw the mistreatment of black people with his own eyes, so long as he’s thinking about mistreatment as dramatic things like lynchings and cross-burnings. Maybe as a child, he wasn’t aware of what life was like for black people in Louisiana in those days. But he isn’t a child anymore. He’s a 67-year-old man, and it’s 2013. And part of being a thoughtful adult is realizing that maybe the narrow world of your childhood, as seen through a child’s eyes, was not in fact the entire world. By now, Robertson has had plenty of opportunities to learn about the horror of the Jim Crow era. He can read, and I imagine he owns a television. It shouldn’t be news to him. We’ve had a rather lengthy discussion about it over the last half-century or so.

What Robertson is saying is, “Forget about all that – the real truth lies in what I saw, which is that the black people I knew didn’t complain to me about Jim Crow, so that means that for all intents and purposes it didn’t exist.” But empathy requires us to at least try to imagine that our own experiences might not be the same as everyone’s. Sometimes it even requires that we consider the possibility that our experiences, and the perspective we originally had on them, distort reality. If your neighbor let you borrow his shovel and you thought, “What a nice guy,” and then later you found out that he also used that shovel to bury the 14 runaways he murdered, you wouldn’t say, “He couldn’t be guilty, because he was a nice guy who once lent me his shovel.” You’d understand that the shovel-lending, nice though it may have seemed at the time, didn’t accurately reflect his entire person.

And they may not like it, but white people who grew up in the South during Jim Crow have an extra responsibility to reflect on their own experience, their youthful perspective, and the reality so many people endured.

And as for the conservative world rallying behind this guy:

The way a thinking, moral person would react to his statements is to say, “Listen, I may not agree with his views about certain things, but he’s only one character on that program, and there’s a lot of value there.” A thinking, moral person doesn’t defend nostalgia for Jim Crow and compare gay people to those who commit bestiality. If you want to love this particular sinner but hate his sin, you’ve got to acknowledge the sin. And my conservative friends, the next time you’re wondering why gay people, black people, and pretty much anybody who is a minority of any kind all consider you intolerant? It isn’t liberals unfairly maligning you. It’s this kind of thing.

Josh Barro puts it this way:

In one America, it’s OK to say this of gays and lesbians: “They’re full of murder, envy, strife, hatred. They are insolent, arrogant, God-haters. They are heartless, they are faithless, they are senseless, they are ruthless – they invent ways of doing evil.” In the other America, you’re not supposed to say that.

There’s one America where it’s OK to say this about black people in the Jim Crow-era South: “Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.” There’s another America where that statement is considered to reflect ignorance and insensitivity. In one America, it’s OK to attribute the Pearl Harbor attacks to Shinto Buddhists’ failure to accept Jesus. In the other America, that is not OK.

There are two Americas, one of which is better than the other. And it’s instructive who’s sticking up for the worse America.

Barro sees something else going on here:

When Sarah Palin and her cohorts talk about the importance of “free speech,” they mean something much more specific: That the sorts of things that Robertson said are not the sorts of things a private employer should want to fire someone for saying – that they are, or ought to be, within the bounds of social acceptability.

But they’re wrong. The other America – the America I live in – has this one right. Racist and anti-gay comments and comments disparaging of religious minorities are rude and unacceptable and might cost you your job. It’s not OK to say that gay people are “full of murder.”

I will add one caveat…. The things Phil Robertson said should get you fired from most jobs. But starring on a reality show is a special kind of job, one where demonstrating that you are a good person who follows good social conventions may not be necessary.

Yeah, well, maybe the problem is redneck trailer-trash shows – they were a bad idea in the first place – but the conservative world did explode in anger over this move by A&E to protect itself from what they were too dumb to see was inevitable. The conservative world snarled and scratched and bit like a cornered animal, because they were cornered. They lost the culture wars long ago and they know that for sure now. This is going to be nasty, precisely because they already lost and now they feel like noble victims with nothing left to lose, but who can still do real damage, somehow, and cornered animals are always dangerous. That’s why Sarah Palin liked that helicopter.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to Dangerous When Cornered

  1. Rick says:

    Josh Barro:

    “The things Phil Robertson said should get you fired from most jobs. But starring on a reality show is a special kind of job, one where demonstrating that you are a good person who follows good social conventions may not be necessary.”

    There’s something to that, and it says something about everyone who has ever wondered what the “reality” means in “reality TV”.

    I mean, there have been other shows on TV showing rednecks and whatnot — including one about people who live in swamps, and others who race ATVs through mud puddles, or something — but what did viewers think of the people in these shows, that they may act all hilly-billy, but just because they’re God-fearing country folk doesn’t necessarily mean they’re all racists and anti-this or that — after all, this is the 21st century, for god sakes! There’s no reason to think these people aren’t civilized, just like us, after all!

    Yeah, but no.

    I know television helps homogenize the whole world and makes us all part of some global village and all, but just because some guy is on television doesn’t mean he necessarily has the same world-view as you. Still, it does seem odd for a channel to cancel a “reality TV” show that they presumably scheduled in the first place because it offered a different point-of-view, but then cancels it because it turns out that, hey, you know what? These people have a different point-of-view!

    Maybe some day, people won’t have different points of view, so we won’t see this sort of thing happen. Maybe in a few years down the road, we’ll all be liberal Democrats, but when that happens, what will there be to watch on TV?

    Rick

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