Monday, July 2, 2018

#183 / Hey Gang, Just Kidding!

Yesterday's New York Times Magazine ran a "First Words" article by Laila Lalami. It was titled, "Our Gang." At least, that is what the article was titled in the hard-copy edition of the magazine. The title given to the online version differs. 

Here is how Lalami's article begins: 

Early in June, the valedictorian at Bell County High School in southeastern Kentucky delivered a graduation speech filled with inspirational quotations that, he said with a twinkle in his eye, he’d found on Google. One line, in particular, drew wild applause from the crowd in this conservative part of the country: “ ‘Don’t just get involved. Fight for your seat at the table. Better yet, fight for a seat at the head of the table.’ — Donald J. Trump.” As people cheered, though, the valedictorian issued a correction: “Just kidding, that was Barack Obama.” Right away, the applause died down, and a boo could be heard. The identity of the messenger, it was painfully evident, mattered more than the content of the message.

The point of Lalami's article was to discuss "tribalism" in American politics, and she notes, right off the bat, that "it seems that civility has gone out of fashion."

"Tribalism" and "civility" (or the lack thereof) are very much discussion topics du jour. You might, for instance, want to read Teresa Bejan in The Washington Post. Bejan's column, published on March 8, 2017, calls for Mere Civility, which also happens to be the title of Bejan's book. She comes down squarely in the middle, where civility is concerned: 

Calls for civility can serve as swords as well as shields, and they are often abused to put an end to disagreement rather than enable it. Nevertheless, rejecting the idea of civility altogether would be a serious mistake, because abandoning our co-citizens in favor of the more agreeable company of the like-minded is what got us into this mess in the first place.

Ibram X. Kendi is the Director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center at American University.  He has a slightly different view. He worries, in an article titled "More Devoted to Order Than to Justice," that "political moderates who counsel against confrontation and warn of incivility would abandon the tools that have changed America for the better." Lalami seems to agree with this observation (and I'm not really sure that Bejan disagrees either): 

Some people think that dialogue and debate can help the United States defeat its current tribalism. If only we could calmly talk about our differences, the argument goes, we would reach some compromise. But not all disagreements are bridgeable. The Union and the Confederacy did not resolve their differences through dialogue; it was a civil war that put an end to slavery. Jim Crow laws were defeated through mass protests and civil disobedience. Schools were desegregated though a Supreme Court decision, which had to be implemented with the help of the National Guard. The Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed as a political necessity during World War II. Some fights are not talked away; they are, in the end, either won or lost.

To my mind, "mere civility" is a good policy. This is Bejan's view. But I also agree with Kendi and Lalami. Some fights cannot be "talked away." Why can't they? They can't because we must, as a political community, make choices between incompatible objectives. Making those choices is what "politics" is all about, and as the title on this blog advises (with a little assist from Mr. Dylan), "we live in a political world." 

Conflict and controversy go with the territory. We need to be ready for (and even celebrate) disagreements, and passionate disagreements. 

But "tribalism?" That's where I draw the line. "Our Gang" is all of us! It's not just those with whom we agree, or with whom we identify. If it's a good quote, that says something true, it's true no matter whether Donald Trump or Barack Obama said it! As long as we don't forget that (and it is regularly forgotten) we'll be fine. Let those arguments and debates begin!


We have a holiday coming up, as I remember. We are a people who fought for independence and then accepted wave after wave of immigrants into the nation, attracted by what that Declaration of Independence had to say about individual freedom and collective self-government...

That's who we are, folks. That's Our Gang!

Image Credit:

1 comment:

  1. Wow! That opening story is very interesting. Or perhaps, more appropriately, as Arte Johnson used to say "Very interesting, but also stupid."


Thanks for your comment!