Sunday, April 8, 2012

Sunday Reading

Leonard Pitts, Jr. — Some Republicans have had enough, but not enough of them have had enough.

Meet Nathan Fletcher, candidate for mayor of San Diego.

He will lose, at least if the polls are right. But he has raised a minor stir through a video posted online a few days back. In it, he explains his decision to leave the Republican Party and identify henceforth as an independent. “I don’t believe we have to treat people we disagree with as an enemy,” he says. “I think we can just say sometimes we disagree. . . . I’ve fought in a war,” adds Fletcher, a Marine who served in Iraq. “I have seen the enemy. We don’t have enemies in our political environment here.”

Fletcher’s decision has been scorned by observers from both parties as a desperate gamble by a guy trying to shake up a flagging campaign. Maybe it is. But that doesn’t denigrate the essential truth of what he said, and in particular, that word he used: enemies.

It is a telling term. After all, one might negotiate with an “opponent.” One only contends against an “adversary.” But one seeks to destroy an enemy.

And it makes you wonder: Is that really the way we the people see ourselves? The evidence of recent years suggests that it is. The so-called culture wars — a battle of ideas and ideals concerning abortion, faith, gay rights, gun rights, Muslim rights, global warming, healthcare, immigration — are fought with splenetic bile that would have been unthinkable not too very long ago.

But that was before a congressman heckled a president, before guns were brought to presidential appearances, before a radio host called a college woman a “slut,” before someone set a fire at the construction site of a Tennessee mosque, before “I want my country back” became a rallying cry. It was before there grew this gnawing sense that we do not know each other anymore, that the extremes are pulling the center apart.

Lisa Armstrong — Teaching White Kids About Trayvon Martin.

While I understand all these well-intentioned warnings in the media, I think we are focusing on the wrong conversations. This is not about what I should be teaching my son in order to keep him alive. This is about getting the others, the people who will think him dangerous because he is black, to change their perceptions. I think it is the white parents who should be having conversations with their children, so that those children don’t grow up to perpetuate the racism that has plagued this country for so many hundreds of years. I want the people who cannot recognize their own biases to take a closer look at themselves. I’ve had white friends admit to me that they sometimes cross the street or clutch their purses closer when they see young black men on the street. And you know what? I’m not angry at them. At least they can admit those things. The problem, for me, lies with those who cannot, the George Zimmermans of the world who insist that they could not possibly be racist because they are half-Latino or, the old standby, have black friends.

So how about an article that focuses on “How to Talk to Young White Children About Trayvon Martin”? The other night on AC360, Anderson Cooper shared interviews with young children that showed how their ideas about race are shaped. While black parents speak about race with their children early on–likely preparing them for discrimination they might face–white parents do not have these very necessary conversations with their children.

Out of this tragedy, my hope is that we parents, black and white, can all have honest conversations with our children about race and figure out a way to truly tear down these barriers that separate us. I know it is going to take time. But I cannot put an end to racism by telling my son to beware, to be afraid; the best that will do is give him the street smarts so that he won’t get shot. Like all those thousands protesting around the world, I want to do whatever I can so that we won’t have any more Trayvon Martins. But the focus, really, should be on having no more George Zimmermans.

Charles Pierce — Holy Weak.

Holy Week is my favorite liturgical period of the year. Christmas is my favorite season because, well, it’s Christmas, and not only is the story itself a good one, but it subsequently prompted It’s A Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol, and the soundtrack to A Charlie Brown Christmas. But the liturgies of Holy Week — especially now that they’ve wrung all the grotesque anti-Semitism out of the Good Friday services, which always made me wonder, when they were going after Jeremiah Wright, whether good Catholics like Tim Russert, and Peggy Noonan, and Chris Matthews were listening back when they were kids (or dozing, like I did) — are the most moving because the one thing they’re not about is authority.

Authority is the villain during Holy Week. Secular authority, in the person of Pontius Pilate. Religious authority, in the institution of the Sanhedrin. What matters most throughout the season is the individual conscience. As Garry Wills never tires of pointing out, Christ did not make priests. He did not make a Church. And he sure as all hell didn’t make a Pope, draped as the office is with the sad detritus of medieval royalty. What the pope said in his homily above has no basis in the gospels of the season. Christ does not ask his disciples to be “radically obedient.” He washes their feet and tells them, according to the Gospel of John.

Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me, Teacher, and, Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, have washed your feet, ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye also should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, a servant is not greater than his lord; neither one that is sent greater than he that sent him.

What stands out in the Holy Week services is humility in the face of unreasoning authority. What stands out, ultimately, and whether you believe in the Resurrection or not, or think the whole thing is a bunch of hooey imported from the Egyptian mystery cults or somewhere, is that, in the story of Easter week, unreasoning authority loses. It loses badly. It makes a fool and a scandal of itself through the ages, so resoundingly that we eventually had ourselves a Reformation, and the secular explosion against unreasoning authority that came after it in Scotland, and France, and, most important to us, in the British colonies of North America.

Sometimes, I think I stay in the church just to be one of the stubborn people who say this stuff. Anyway, Happy Easter to y’all.

Doonesbury — Nice place you have here.