January 26, 2017
In the aftermath of Mike Pence’s attendance of Hamilton at which the cast delivered a harsh but courteous address to him personally, Trump unleashed a series of tweets bemoaning that the theater should be a “safe and special place” that attracted a storm of media and social networking attention.
The same week, Trump settled the fraud case against Trump University for $25 million.
“It’s just a distraction!” people yelled about the Hamilton debacle.
And though it may have been intended that way, the then president-elect’s tweets actually conveyed an entirely real message about how he views the proper role of the performing arts, free speech, and dissent in American society, and it was not benign or trivial at all.
On the day that we celebrated the collapse of Republican efforts to undermine the Office of Congressional Ethics, Merrick Garland’s chances of being confirmed to the Supreme Court were rapidly running out, and, lacking any evidence whatsoever that those events were connected or that the attempt to hobble the OCE was anything but a rushed, arrogant, disorganized power play, I saw another Facebook denizen declare:
“I knew it! This was just planned to distract us.”
(Never mind that Merrick Garland’s nomination had languished for most of a year; it was not news. It was not unexpected at all that it was going to expire without action from Congress.)
A few Republican legislators dared to rebuke Trump for his tweets mocking John Lewis; I note this is an interesting piece of information regarding who in the GOP might be more willing to openly oppose him on other matters. I’m told “pay attention if you want, but know that it’s just a distraction.”
I’m just gonna throw this out there:
There are a lot of bad things happening all at once right now. Some of them are really big deals and some of them are less so. That doesn’t necessarily make any one of them a “distraction” from any of the others.
We’re also going to have things go right, and just because something goes right in the midst of other things going wrong, doesn’t make it a distraction.
We might not be able to control very much right now, but that doesn’t mean we can’t meaningfully influence outcomes, and when we manage to do that, even if our victory was relatively minor in scale, does not make it a distraction. It makes it a lesson in what we did right and how much further we should reach.
Seizing on the issues that we can influence strongly and immediately does not mean that we were “distracted” from something that meant more. Sometimes that may be true, but it’s not just automatically true that if we saw a chance and took it, that we were “distracted.”
There’s no shortage of things that need doing right now. There’s no shortage of things that need attention. Very few of them are inconsequential. Sometimes we’re going to benefit from unity of purpose and sometimes from diversity. I’m not saying not to be conscious of how we’re using energy, but just because something isn’t everything, doesn’t make it nothing.
That bad things will keep happening doesn’t make good ones not count.
One of the ironies is just how distracted they really are.
Trump is not on the same page with his Secretary of Defense about the value and legacy of NATO.
Trump is not on the same page with his Republican congress about the actual content of the ACA’s supposed eventual replacement.
The Republican congress was not on the same page with Trump or their constituents about the OCE.
Trump has to have his television time restricted like an impulsive child.
Trump is distracted by the hijinks of National Parks Service employees on Twitter.
Trump is distracted by dissent over the size of his fandom.
Trump is upset that protests and marches have disturbed his ability to “enjoy” the White House in the way he feels he should be able to.
We are not distracted. There are 63 million of us and one of him. Our resulting ability to pay attention to more than one bad thing at a time is not distraction.
Let’s not give undue time or energy to Twitter drama, but the fact that there are people paying attention to the content and implications of what he says directly to the American public on a media platform used by millions, is not distraction.
There was a time not that long ago at all when I thought that he was frighteningly good at derailment and distraction, but I’m not so sure of that anymore.
I say keep him that way.
July 29, 2016
I’m not addressing this to Trump supporters. I don’t think there’s anything left I can say that I haven’t been saying that will matter to you.
I’m addressing this to mainstream moderates and conservatives who don’t like your options right now. This is brief, but something that I’ve been thinking for the past few weeks about how to say.
I will not ever tell someone to vote against their own conscience. I don’t think I have that right.
But…If we were in some kind of inverted situation from that in which we find ourselves presently, in which there were no viable liberal or progressive candidate, and Trump or someone much like him were running in the general election against a more traditional conservative or Republican… Just for instance, Jeb Bush or Lindsey Graham or someone much like them… Someone with whom I had really serious ideological disagreements, but someone who I thought had a basic core respect for the American democratic process, for Constitutional government, for civil rights… Someone who undoubtedly had the experience and temperament necessary to be President,
I would vote for that person.
Given the choice between a conservative with whom I had very deep political disagreements but who I believed, at the end of the day, had a conscience and an ability to govern, and an honest-to-God authoritarian with neither…
Not without a sense of conflict, but I’d vote for the person whose decisions on behalf of our country could even be subject to the effects of legislation, protest, advocacy, evidence, and rational debate.
Just… think about it, is all I’m asking.
January 9, 2016
As I see various reactions to things like Donald Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the country, requiring American Muslims to register and wear ID tags, or the attempts of multiple mayors and governors to exclude Syrian refugees from residence in their cities and states, it’s common to see comparisons between the prejudices underlying those proposals and those that preceded events like the Japanese-American internment of World War 2, or America’s refusal of Jewish refugees from Europe.
These ideas are gaining traction again, it’s said, because Americans don’t know our history.
Takei’s remarks here are worth watching, but I disagree with his conclusions that the problem is that we don’t know this history.
Most everyone putting this stuff forward, or backing the politicians who do, I’m willing to bet, knows about the Japanese-American internment.
It’s just that they have some kind of reason or excuse for why it was justified. Why the human suffering was regrettable, but the reasoning for it was basically sound. Or why maybe it wasn’t right, but it was an understandable reaction. Or why it wasn’t really that bad. Why people were lucky to be in our concentration camps instead of German concentration camps. Or why what they’re advocating now wouldn’t be really, really the same thing.
Or on some level, they think that people who maintain that it was wrong then and it would be wrong now can’t really be serious. That they’re just saying what “everyone” else actually thinks but won’t admit.
I really suspect that leaders who promote these policies don’t fully get that those of us who object to them aren’t just trying not to look racist or sound politically correct–that we really think with deadly sincerity that the protections of the Constitution and ideals of equality before the law apply to everyone. That it is wrong, across the board, to single out a group for stigma or retribution based on their race, religion, or national origin. (Aside from that it has never made us safer.) Always. Not “unless they belong to a group that enough people are afraid of,” or “unless someone else who looked like them committed a high-profile crime,” or “unless their culture is one we don’t understand or approve of.”
I don’t think we don’t know our history. I think a lot of people just believe that their own prejudice is better. This time, their threat perception is accurate. This time, it’s truly necessary. This time, we know who the real wrong group of people is.
June 26, 2013
It’s my birthday today. I’m 31. Yikes.
And I had just finished breakfast this morning, in the kitchen of a friend I’m visiting, when we got the news, just after 10:00 AM, of the Supreme Court decision overturning the Defense of Marriage Act, and shortly thereafter, Proposition 8.
I remember being a teenager, sitting at my own kitchen table, at breakfast time, in the house where I grew up, reading the news about DOMA’s passage. I wasn’t all that attentive to what went on in politics or the world at that time, I didn’t know things I do now about my own identity, and I didn’t think I knew any gay, trans, or queer people. I still believed some things about sexuality and morality then that I don’t anymore and am not particularly proud of to look back on.
But I remember reading about it in the morning paper and being so sad. Something about it just profoundly didn’t sit right with me. I couldn’t think of another instance within my own lifetime in which a law had been passed for the deliberate and express purpose of depriving a specific group of people of rights or protections. And based on very little except the perception by the majority that they were simply the wrong kind of people, or willfully deviant–a burden which I had always felt, though for different and at the time unnameable reasons.
And no matter what I felt about homosexuality, I couldn’t believe that that was right.
It was part of a long pattern, that I identified with the wrong people in the given narrative.
I honestly didn’t think it would be so soon–though of course it’s been more than long enough for a lot of people who have suffered under the consequences of this law–that I’d get to look back on that day with a bittersweet happiness.
The world does change when people persistently stand up for what is right. We are capable of making the world kinder and fairer.
Remind people of this day, tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after, when they tell you any version of the lie that we can’t make the world safer by standing up for each other, or that it’s better to just keep your head down, fit in, and not speak up for justice or piss off anyone in authority, because the world never changes. It’s people with a vested interest in the world never changing who keep telling that lie.
(Edit: I hit publish on this, and then realized that I hadn’t come up with a title, but when I went back to edit one in, I thought that the date was kind of title enough. DOMA: 1996-2013. RIP.)
October 29, 2012
Playwright Doug Wright posted a Facebook status the other day that went:
I wish my moderate Republican friends would simply be honest. They all say they’re voting for Romney because of his economic policies (tenuous and ill-formed as they are), and that they disagree with him on gay rights. Fine. Then look me in the eye, speak with a level clear voice, and say, ‘My taxes and take-home pay mean more than your fundamental civil rights, the sanctity of your marriage, your right to visit an ailing spouse in the hospital, your dignity as a citizen of this country, your healthcare, your right to inherit, the mental welfare and emotional well-being of your youth, and your very personhood.’ It’s like voting for George Wallace during the Civil Rights movements, and apologizing for his racism. You’re still complicit. You’re still perpetuating anti-gay legislation and cultural homophobia. You don’t get to walk away clean, because you say you ‘disagree’ with your candidate on these issues.
I had been thinking along those very same lines myself, with regards to the alarming pattern of statements minimizing rape and its consequences, and advocating depriving women of the option of legal abortion even in cases of rape and abuse, on the part of Republican candidates lately.
That frankly, every time I hear someone defend their Republican votes, despite that party’s deplorable stances on women’s and LGBT rights (among a host of other issues), saying “I only vote on economic issues,” what I hear is, “Your rights as a citizen and presumed equality as a human being with control over your own life and body are disposable to me, and here is exactly the amount of the tax break or economic advantage for which I would sell them. Your worth and dignity, your rights to medical care and privacy, are for sale to the highest bidder as far as I’m concerned.”
But rationally, I know that it’s not exactly a fair accusation, because people are neither that simple nor that consistent nor that self-reflective, and really, really talented at double-think.
That people are, in fact, somehow capable of seeing absolutely no conflict between believing that they love and respect their wives, daughters, sisters, and their gay, lesbian or transgender children, friends, and coworkers–and voting for candidates whose policies directly threaten our well-being and civil rights.
I don’t understand this, but I know that it’s true.
My more vexing question for these voters is, “What on God’s green earth makes you feel safe at the hands of these people?”
Because let me tell you something: They are not only threatening me. They are not only threatening women, gay people, trans people, religious minorities, poor people, illegal immigrants, various demographic groups whose voting patterns they don’t like, and the societal resources that make all of our lives richer and more stable.
They are threatening you. And they are telling you that they are. And you keep voting for them.
How many times have we heard children who didn’t want to be bullies, but who witnessed their “friends” or ring-leaders bullying others and did nothing, talk about why they didn’t? Because they were afraid that their “friends” would turn the ugliness on them if they stepped out of line. And indeed, many teenage bullying victims report that this is exactly what happened. That they were part of the clique, part of the in-group, one of the right people, until they weren’t.
When someone will do something horrible to other people, ostensibly for your sake, what they are telling you is not that they so vehemently have your best interests in mind. What they are telling you is not that they will go to whatever practical lengths necessary, however hard-hearted they seem, to uphold the beliefs you both share.
What they are telling you is that they will do horrible things to other people. They are telling you exactly who they are and how they treat people.
And if they will do terrible things to other people for your approval, then know exactly what they will do to you when they decide they need someone else’s approval.
I used to listen to Dr. Laura. I was young and thought I was a conservative. But, as a broken clock is still right twice a day, I think she said about two things that are utterly true and brilliant, and one of them was:
If they will do it with you, they will do it to you.
And when these guys talk about what they think or what they want to take away from the poor, jobless, disabled, and marginalized…and you think that doesn’t apply to you? Ask yourself just how confident you are that you will never be one of the poor, jobless, disabled or marginalized. (And before you decide, recall that a lot of people who thought they’d done everything right were pretty confident of this before 2008.)
This is one of those things that I grew up instinctively understanding, and am mystified by people who don’t, who I guess have just never been in a situation in which you had to know this. I have always had to know this.
When someone threatens any vulnerable person or group of people, they are threatening me. They are coming for me next. They are broadcasting that this is what they do to the wrong kind of people. (In my heart, I’ve always been one of the wrong kind of people.) It doesn’t matter that it’s not you right now. It’s going to be whoever they need it to be.
They’re telling you what they will do to people. They’re telling you, on the basis of their authoritarian religious beliefs, and with no economic reasoning whatsoever, what they want to be able to do to us.
They are threatening to take away access to health care.
They are threatening to take away our rights to control over our own bodies, and to privacy of our reproductive and medical decisions.
They are threatening to invalidate marriages and families. They are threatening to take away from children the securities intrinsic to having legally married parents. They are threatening to turn back the clock on the progression of equal rights under the law no matter the sex of the person you love.
Even if you don’t give a damn that this is being done to women and gays, try looking out for yourself and your own self-determination for a minute.
They consider themselves uniquely justified in imposing their religious beliefs on other people’s lives. Why do you imagine you’ll be exempt?
Why do you think you’ll be safe?
Do you seriously think that they’re just morally bankrupt enough to do this to me and the people I care about, but not to you and the people you care about?
September 19, 2012
“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that’s an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax…[M]y job is is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” —Mitt Romney
I am actually not one of the people whose character you insulted the other night at your private donor event, in footage now made public by Mother Jones Magazine. You see–and this may come as a shock to you, as it does occasionally to people when they learn how much money I actually make, or who think that freeloading is easier to do than it actually is–I pay federal income taxes.
I mean, sure, I can barely afford my rent, my health insurance, the steadily rising cost of public transit, and the $300 in unexpected repairs that my computer needs, and may be applying for food stamps this month because even though I worked steadily all summer, the work was chronically underpaid and I’ve run through my savings…but I still pay federal income taxes. I say this not for your pity or anyone else’s; this is just how it is. I pay federal income taxes, and I’m very, very happy to do so. I have a fondness for the trappings of civilization, I think the social safety net is a good and moral idea, and I’m glad to be a contributor to those things.
But let’s take a look at some of the people who you did call entitled victims with no interest in taking responsibility for their own lives. Because I don’t think they are who you want us to believe they are.
People who find themselves exempt from paying any federal income tax may include, but are not limited to: People who receive tax credits for dependent children, or for being the sole head of a household; people who buy their first home, or an environmentally friendly vehicle; who suffer an initial loss in the course of starting a new business, or who make improvements in energy efficiency to their home or business. People with more than one income source who can deduct half of the self-employment tax they pay on freelance work, or charitable contributions, or the costs of private health insurance or health care if they don’t get insurance from their employer. They include students who still manage (or need) to work part-time during high school or college. They include people who survive primarily on disability or Social Security, or are financially supported by their families, but who volunteer or do other informal work in their communities.
They include people who work full-time, and yet still do not make enough money, particularly if they also have children, to be legally liable for federal income taxes under our current tax code.
Do these sound like people with no interest in taking care or responsibility for their own lives to you?
But no, I have a feeling that images like these, of people who are benefited by the tax code because they do economically or socially advantageous things, are not what you meant to evoke to your donors. People who in fact are doing the opposite of not taking any care or responsibility for their lives.
You meant to evoke a bogeyman image of a lazy bum who purposefully refuses gainful employment and would rather sit around collecting government benefits, mooching off the hard work of the rest of us just because they can, and who will vote for anyone just to protect that status.
And those people do exist–I’m sure they do, because wherever there is any system of benefits or safeguards, there are people who will figure out how to take unfair advantage of it, among the rich as well as the poor. But that is really, really, really difficult to do these days, in our current system of welfare benefits, if you are a non-disabled adult with no dependent children and no work history. (Hell, it’s difficult to get benefits if you are legitimately disabled, generally requiring more than one appeal no matter the validity of your claim.)
This leaves about two possibilities that I can think of. Either that, one, you don’t know very much about how our tax laws work and how responsible, working people can benefit from them to the extent of winding up owing no federal income taxes, and you don’t know the difference between people who reap tax advantages by working and people who choose not to work, and you don’t know the difference between people who work full-time (or more) and still don’t make enough money to pay taxes on and people who think that the world owes them everything.
Or, two, that you do know these things, but you thought that you could win some advantage or approval with a few rich and powerful donors by smearing these people, and so you did.
You either know nothing about the lives and economic situations of nearly half of our citizens, or you see them only as pawns for your own advancement, whose character, work ethic, and well-being mean nothing.
Either one leaves you unfit to be President.
I, on the other hand, believe that if we don’t hang together in times like this, we will surely hang separately, so non-freeloader that I am, it doesn’t help you to tell me that nearly half of my fellow citizens are economically or morally disposable moochers.
I believe, unlike you, that the vast majority of our citizens and not only a little over half of us, both desire and are capable of doing something worthwhile with our lives and making this country a better place, and that valid ways of doing that are not confined to occupations that wind up making you an arbitrary amount of taxable income.
And this is the reason that I will vote for Obama and not for you. Not because I’m a freeloading entitled victim who pays no taxes and just thinks the government should provide for me. But because I don’t like how you treat people.
November 20, 2011
There was this guy…
(Here’s a link to better visibility and a transcription, along with a great point by point response.)
And then I saw this one today…
And that’s not even everyone in my Facebook news feed, let alone some corners of the internet where I don’t hang out, suggesting that the real problem with all these people bitching, whining, and complaining, is that they “just don’t want to work.”
Let’s get a few things sorted out, internet critics of Occupy Wall Street and the 99% movement:
Protesting injustice and corruption is not the same as “just not wanting to work.”
Calling attention to it when something is seriously wrong is not the same as “not wanting to work.”
Standing up for your rights is not the same as “not wanting to work.”
Doing any of those things is not even a sign of somebody “just not wanting to work.”
Saying that “what is being done to us and our communities is wrong,” or that “the conditions under which we’re being expected to make ends meet are crushingly unsustainable,” is not the same as “not wanting to work,” nor a sign that somebody just doesn’t want to work.
Pointing it out when an entire system has become radically unfair, or that the people who *did not cause a global economic collapse* are the ones being disproportionately punished for it, is not “just making excuses” or “not taking responsibility for your own life” or “wanting to blame somebody else for all your mistakes.”
So you can think that the OWS protesters are dirty hippies. You can resent them taking up park space and making too much noise. You can dislike their tactics and criticize their vagueness, disorganization, and lack of concrete goals or actual policy proposals. You can think they’re misguided and wrong.
But do not slander them as “just not wanting to work.” They’re doing the work of calling attention to major injustice and keeping the tradition of protest and dissent alive in this country.
As for the people on the 99% Tumblr–not the Occupy campers–it takes all of 20 minutes to write a screed on a piece of paper, take a picture, and put it on the internet, so you really have no basis whatsoever to judge these people’s use of their time or decide that they’re putting insufficient energy into finding or keeping a job or working for their own futures.
Telling a story on the internet is not the same as not wanting to work. Telling the truth about how hard things are for most people in America right now is not the same as not wanting to work.
Daring to say that “the circumstances that allowed this to happen to me are not okay” is not the same as not wanting to work.
The thinking that says that it is, is a relic of the way we were treated in middle school–that somebody speaking up about unfairness or calling attention to a problem was shamed as guilty of creating a problem where there wasn’t any when no one was speaking up.
I guess a lot of people learned that lesson well. I didn’t.
A lot of the Occupy and 99% protesters are college graduates or have advanced degrees. You really think they dragged themselves through that many years of school, and the work and expense involved, because they “just didn’t want to work?” A lot of them went deep into debt for their college educations. You think they did that because they *didn’t* want to get a job? Or because they believed parents, teachers, and employers who told them that they needed a college degree *in order to get a good job* these days? Do you really think that what they’re doing now is easier than working a regular job, earning a living and going about their daily lives? Do you really think they’d all still be out there, with winter coming, if there were enough jobs paying livable wages to go around and they could just go get one?
When the economy first went into recession and unemployment spiked, many of these same people now protesting and occupying–including myself–yelled for a new WPA and Federal Theater Project, for the government to directly create jobs and put people to work. We wanted desperately to work–to put the economy back together, to put the country back together, to contribute in meaningful and permanent ways to our culture and future.
We begged to be allowed to work, to do the work that this country needed done.
But our government didn’t go that route…it mostly tried instead to entice private enterprise into bringing jobs back. Private enterprise didn’t come through with that.
And now you say that we “just don’t want to work.” It makes the irony-processing center of my brain freeze up.
It might be funny if it didn’t hurt so much.
March 10, 2011
Today, Republican Representative Peter King’s congressional hearings on radicalization within the American Muslim community begin. And I would say that this blatant and apparently un-self-conscious re-enactment of the McCarthy hearings, this repellent attempt by Representative King to use collective blame to make us view our Muslim fellow citizens with fear and suspicion or as somehow less than fully American, makes me ashamed to be an American, or makes me ashamed that King represents my state.
Except that everywhere, I read about people standing up to what King’s doing, speaking up in defense of the Muslim community, pointing out the hypocrisy of the very premise of the hearings, and drawing comparisons to the McCarthy hearings and Salem witch trials. And it makes me proud, and makes me wonder if we might finally actually be learning something as a country, even if our leaders aren’t yet. Which is that, while any of us are in danger of persecution or officially sanctioned injustice, all of us are.
In illustration, one of my favorite articles of the week, shared by a Facebook friend, comes from the Washington Post and chronicles the relationship of support built between the Muslim and Japanese-American communities on the west coast in the years since 9/11. (Japanese Americans: House hearings on radical Islam ‘sinister.’) The Japanese-American community remembers the internments of World War II, based on nothing more than suspicion of their ethnicity. They remember that it can happen to them, and it can happen again.
I have a theory, which is that people who instigate and support this kind of targeting and suspicion of others based on group identity, are people who are themselves pretty sure that the same tactics will never be turned back against them. People who have never been excluded or abused or marginalized based on who they are, have an easy time believing that they never will be. People who have always been able to take their place in society, or even humanity, for granted, have a hard time imagining not being able to do so.
But people who have been marginalized instinctively identify ourselves in every marginalized person, and see the danger to ourselves in injustice against anyone.
There’s a scene in one of my favorite books, which I’ve written about before, World Without End, in which a serf named Wulfric and his family have run away from the lord who controls their land, to another community where they have a chance to be independent and escape the grinding, perpetual poverty of feudal life. Sir Ralph comes to force Wulfric to return, as was legal in those days: the lord who owned your land effectively owned you. Another man tries to defend Wulfric, who says “Be quiet, Carl. I don’t want you killed for my sake.”
“It’s not for your sake,” says Carl. “If this thug is allowed to drag you off, next week someone will come for me.”
And that’s why King seeks with his hearings to get Americans to see American Muslims as not truly us, but “them,” some alien and hostile force among us. Whatever his ultimate aim is, and I don’t believe for one second that it’s really just to determine the extent of radicalization in the Muslim community, it depends on us seeing Muslims as something other than and less than ourselves.
And that’s why I say that today, I’m a Muslim too, or might as well be, because anything that can be done to anyone–like being presumed guilty of collusion with terrorists and investigated by Congress for your religious identity–can be done to all of us. Every single one. Never pretend that it can’t.
Representative Keith Ellison’s testimony at King’s hearing:
March 2, 2011
A friend shared this video on Facebook the other night; it’s several years old, being from the 10th Anniversary concert of Les Misérables, in which 17 actors who have played Jean Valjean in productions from around the world join in singing “Do You Hear the People Sing?” and “One Day More.”
I remember reading the book in high school, and then seeing the musical, and mostly wondering whether, if it came down to it, I’d be capable of the incredible acts of bravery and love that characters like Valjean, Marius and Eponine were. I wonder it again now as I follow the coverage of the democratic uprisings in Yemen, Egypt, and Libya. I often wonder how much what looks like bravery in retrospect only felt like the only possible or acceptable thing to do at the time.
So I dedicate this to all the brave people of the Middle East.
Note: Copyright issues apparently will not allow the embedded video to play here. Use the link provided in the error message to watch it on YouTube. Sorry!
January 12, 2011
This makes me so upset that I somewhat doubt my ability to write coherently about it.
Arizona Orders Tuscon to end Mexican-American Studies Program (New York Times)
The attorney general of Arizona has decided that a Tuscon magnet school’s Latino literature class an illegal propagandizing and brainwashing program, under a law which he himself wrote, seemingly for the specific purpose of targeting the Tuscon school district’s ethnic studies programs, after a perceived personal insult by a high-profile guest speaker:
It was Mr. Horne, as the state’s superintendent of public instruction, who wrote a law aimed at challenging Tucson’s ethnic-studies program….Mr. Horne’s battle with Tucson over ethnic studies dates to 2007, when Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers, told high school students there in a speech that Republicans hated Latinos. Mr. Horne, a Republican, sent a top aide, Margaret Garcia Dugan, to the school to present a different perspective. He was infuriated when some students turned their backs and raised their fists in the air.
According to the Times article, the law explicitly forbids programs that “promote the overthrow of the United States government,” suggestions that “portions of the Southwest…once part of Mexico should be returned to that country,” “promotion of resentment toward a race,” and programs that “are primarily for one race or that advocate ethnic solidarity instead of individuality.”
I’ve long had mixed feelings about ethnic studies programs. And I haven’t attended Tuscon’s Latino studies class, so I can’t claim to know what’s going on. But I doubt very, very, very much that students in a high school literature class are actually being indoctrinated to support the overthrow of the government of the United States. And if denigration of individuality is the real problem, well, AG Horne, you might as well outlaw high school.
It seems far more likely that Horne is terrified by the prospect of a minority group, which he sees as a threat to his version of Americanism, taking justifiable pride in the literature of their own heritage, examining their place in American history and their hopes for its future, and that those hopes might conflict with his own. He’s not afraid of a bunch of Latino high schoolers plotting to topple the US government; he’s afraid of them having a narrative of their place in society that’s valuable, unique, and powerful.
And he’s counting on misinformation, ignorance, apathy, and xenophobia to protect him from any real consequences for his astonishing and vindictive attack on students’ First Amendment rights and academic freedom. He knows he probably won’t face any appreciable outrage from the state’s citizens, because not many people will see themselves in the group of young Latinos he’s maligning. Not many people will perceive any threat to the freedoms or safety from intimidation that they take for granted in this action, because they aren’t part of a controversial literature class alleged to be inciting disloyalty and racial discord. But they should. Because if this can be done to any of us without the protest of our neighbors–being legally targeted for what we are, read, or learn–then it can be done to all of us, for any reason.