Friday, April 26, 2019

This Supreme Court Case Threatens the Left’s View of Group Identity, Victimhood

Oral arguments heard at the Supreme Court Tuesday were ostensibly about whether the 2020 census could include a question about citizenship.

But don’t be fooled. The reason this case rocketed to the Supreme Court and has been so hotly contested is that the debate hinges, at bottom, on two starkly different visions of America.

In one vision, what matters is loyalty to and affiliation with a nation-state that is self-contained, independent, civic, and colorbind. In the other vision, priority is given to one’s membership in a subnational group that is based on subjective self-identity (like race or sexual orientation), and association with that group yields benefits and preferences in everything, from hiring to contracting, employment, housing, and even electoral redistricting.

The divide essentially comes down to a commitment to America as a nation vs. a commitment to one’s subgroup and the hierarchy of victimhood.

This is one of the great debates of our time—not just here, but around the world.

Whatever the Supreme Court decides—and an opinion is needed by summer if the Census Bureau is to meet its deadline of printing millions of forms—rest assured that this debate will not go away any time soon.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the death of the nation-state seem to have been greatly exaggerated. Despite pressure from above—from sovereignty-draining, transnational institutions like the United Nations and the European Union—and from below, i.e., from identity groups based on race, sex, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability status, and anything else that can confer conceptual victimhood (and thus special rights) on an individual, the nation-state has shown remarkable resilience.

Defenders of the nation-state remind us that democracy, the rule of law, self-determination, liberty, and everything else Americans and like-minded people hold dear depend on territorially and culturally defined nation-states. Its opponents like to portray the nation-state as archaic, unnecessary, and a gateway to authoritarianism, if not worse.

The Trump administration has championed the sovereignist view, and in 2017 recognized the importance of citizenship by requesting that a question on citizenship be added to the 2020 census.

Progressive groups have left no stone unturned in their bid to frustrate the administration on this front. Notably, these same groups defend a panoply of other census questions that divide Americans by sex, ethnicity, and race.

These groups argue that the citizenship question would depress responses among certain marginalized groups, especially Hispanics. Yet the Census Bureau says it has no credible evidence that the question would affect the quality of the data.

Dozens of progressive organizations brought suit in New York, joined by 18 states and the District of Columbia. They won in district court in New York, thus the case Tuesday was Department of Commerce v. New York.

The hearing Tuesday did not in the least devote itself to these large questions of nationhood, sovereignty, and the like. Instead, there was a lot of technical and statistical back-and-forth between liberal justices and United States Solicitor General Noel Francisco, who represented the administration, and between the conservative justices and New York Solicitor General Barbara Underwood; Dale Ho, the lawyer for the New York plaintiffs; and Douglas Letter, the lawyer who represented the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives. All of these latter individuals argued against including the citizenship question.

It is difficult, as usual, to predict which way a court will go. Ho did his side no favors by admitting at one point that, yes, the Trump administration is right that citizenship data is needed to enforce the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

At issue is the fact that the Voting Rights Act does indeed call, in some places, for drawing districts where at least 50 percent of the voting population are members of a racial or ethnic minority.

Ho, perhaps unwittingly, made the case that “if the minority group has relatively low citizenship rates, for example, as is the case with Hispanic populations in some circumstances, then you need citizenship data to make sure that you’re drawing a district in which minority voters are, in fact, a majority of the population.”

That data is now provided by the American Community Survey, a smaller census product that goes out to fewer households. But some states, ironically including some of those suing the Trump administration, have complained that that data is not reliable.

Justice Neil Gorsuch thus jumped on Ho’s argument and pointed out that “some of the states who are now respondents before us have in litigation, including in this court, argued that [American Community Survey] data should not be relied upon for purposes of citizenship or other purposes, that the census data is more accurate. What do we do about that? It seems to me like you kind of put the government in a bit of a catch 22.”

It is the unified left that is in a catch 22, however—and the Voting Rights Act, as it is currently interpreted, put it there. The left does not mind (it in fact loves) the racial gerrymandering that is aided by census questions on ethnicity, race, and so forth. But because what is actually needed is voters, the administration can now say it needs citizenship data, since only citizens are allowed to vote.

The left is terrified by this prospect. It now realizes that available citizenship data will allow jurisdictions to apportion and redistrict seats according to voter, or citizen population, not total population, as they are constitutionally entitled to do. That would, for example, prevent liberal districts from swelling their numbers by adding populations of non-voting noncitizens or even illegal immigrants.

This essentially means citizenship data on the American nation itself—not arbitrary subgroups—would determine the shape of the House of Representatives, and the number and composition of electoral votes at election time. Our elections would more accurately represent the America that really exists, not the faux America envisioned by intersectional activists.

To win this issue, not just in the Supreme Court, but in the all-important court of public opinion, those who believe in the nation-state must constantly make the case that its view of the nation is nonracial, but instead is truly inclusive and colorblind. We must show that the other vision leads to balkanization, conflict, and ultimately, national splintering.


The banishing of Kate Smith isn't 'sensitive' — it's ridiculous

by Jeff Jacoby

OUTSIDE THE WELLS FARGO ARENA in Philadelphia is a nondescript, grit-strewn concrete slab. It is all that remains after the Flyers hockey organization last weekend hauled away the statue of an exuberant Kate Smith that had stood there for 32 years. Gone too is the plaque that explained Smith's cherished place in Flyers history:

"Blessed with a voice and presence which led her to stardom on Broadway, radio, and television, Miss Smith came to symbolize joyous, homespun American patriotism. Kate Smith had a special relationship with the Flyers. . . . Her live performance of 'God Bless America' helped inspire the Flyers to become Stanley Cup Champions for the first time in 1974. This statue, honoring one of America's greatest patriots, is a gift from the Philadelphia Flyers to the people of our great country."

For decades, Smith's recording of "God Bless America" was embraced by Flyers fans as a harbinger of luck; the team went 101-31-5 in games when the song was played. The New York Yankees had a Kate Smith ritual as well: After 9/11, Smith's rendition of "God Bless America" was heard during every seventh inning at Yankee Stadium.

Both traditions screeched to a halt last week. The Yankees and the Flyers announced that they would no longer play the Smith soundtrack — and in the Flyers' case, would immediately remove her statue — because early in her career she had recorded two songs with cringe-inducing racial lyrics. By 21st-century standards, the songs — "That's Why Darkies Were Born" and "Pickaninny Heaven" — are undeniably grotesque. But there is no indication that Smith's recordings were motivated by racist hatred. In fact, "Darkies" was a biting satire of white supremacist bigotry, which explains why it was also recorded in 1931 by Paul Robeson, the formidable African American baritone whose father had been a slave.

Smith was one of the most popular American entertainers of her time. She recorded some 3,000 songs and sold 19 million records over her long career. During World War II, she traveled more than 500,000 miles to entertain the troops, and sold an astonishing $600 million in War Bonds to help finance the war effort. Her 1938 recording of "God Bless America" was so influential that both of the 1940 presidential candidates, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Wendell Willkie, made it their official campaign songs. To this day, millions of Americans know Kate Smith for that iconic patriotic anthem. Until last week, almost no one remembered the two songs with the offending racial stereotypes.

The Flyers and the Yankees are private companies and free, if they wish, to treat Smith as a pariah after decades of celebrating her legacy. They shouldn't get away, however, with pretending to be doing something enlightened. A Yankees spokesman claimed Smith's "God Bless America" was being dropped because the team "take[s] social, racial, and cultural insensitivities very seriously" and is "erring on the side of sensitivity." But obliterating every reference to the memory of honorable men and women on the grounds that, by today's benchmark, they were imperfect isn't "sensitive." It's ridiculous — and chilling.

If Smith had been newly exposed as a lifelong bigot who despised African Americans and championed Jim Crow, the case for declaring her persona non grata would be strong. No one has suggested anything of the kind. On the contrary: In 1951, Smith invited Josephine Baker to appear on her popular TV program, the first time the controversial black entertainer was seen on American television.

There are times when it is appropriate to expunge the name of honorees from the public square. I strongly favor the removal of every memorial to the Confederacy, and of rechristening every school, military base, or highway named for the politicians and generals who went to war to perpetuate slavery and dismantle the United States. The Confederate cause was a hideous one, and nothing about it ever deserved public esteem.

But that's a far cry from retroactively dishonoring someone whose life was largely admirable, if imperfect. Even great people can have lamentable flaws, especially when viewed in retrospect. Rarely is it wise or fair to let the flaw nullify the greatness.

Before deciding that someone's name or image (or recording) be purged from a place of honor it has long occupied, I propose a two-part test: (1) Was the person honored for unworthy or indecent behavior? (2) Is the person known today primarily for unworthy or indecent behavior? If the answer to both is No, the honor or memorial should stay.

Kate Smith was a beloved singer who brought joy to millions, raised America's spirits in dark times, and materially aided the war against Nazi Germany and its allies. That is her legacy, not a couple of dubious, long-forgotten songs.


Mass.: Officials close ranks in defense of secret courts

Massachusetts’ “secret courts” will remain secret for the foreseeable future. So much for transparency in our justice system.

The show cause hearings — preliminary hearings held by clerk magistrates, who are not even necessarily lawyers — will remain largely behind closed doors in the wake of the latest report from a trial court working group. The report was released, not surprisingly, on the same day as the Mueller report. A cynic might conclude that the members of the committee — all current or former judges, clerk magistrates, or other court personnel — wanted to deliver their homage to the status quo on a day when it probably would be buried beneath an avalanche of breaking news.

The widespread use of these closed-door hearings was exposed in a recent Globe Spotlight report that found inconsistencies in how the policy of private hearings was implemented from one courthouse to another and a range of abuses, especially when it came to cases involving public officials.

But the working group, headed by retired District Court Judge Paul LoConto and Boston Municipal Court Judge Kenneth Fiandaca, recommended only that “the magistrate should consider opening the hearing to the public when the accused or complainant is a public official or public employee. However, the fact that the accused or complainant is a public official or public employee should not, by itself, be a basis to make a hearing or the records available to the public.”

And it added, “When determining whether the accusations are of legitimate public concern and the accused is a public official or employee, the magistrate should consider whether the accused’s conduct is relevant to the conduct of his or her office, misuse of authority, or are allegations of official wrongdoing.”

By that standard, a bothersome DUI or an assault on a spouse or girlfriend probably wouldn’t come close.

One of the few sensible recommendations: “The magistrate should consider whether there has been prior publication of the name of the accused or the conduct for which the accused has been charged.” This calls to mind the case of Kevin Spacey. The actor’s show cause hearing on sexual assault charges on Nantucket was duly recorded, and that recording made public.

As for recording those secret hearings on a routine basis — in the event there is a question about their content, propriety, or outcome — well, that apparently will hinge on the outcome of a suit brought by the Globe, to be heard by the Supreme Judicial Court next month. The report did note that show cause hearings held by a judge are “required to be electronically recorded,” but not hearings held by clerk magistrates.

The report also revealed that only about one-third of the 62 District Court divisions routinely record show cause hearings, and that doesn’t include Boston Municipal Court.

The working group found absolutely no need to change policy when it comes to clerk magistrates — who, remember, are not judges — holding hearings in felony cases.

The only good news — however slim — was that the group punted on a full review of standards for show cause hearings, suggesting “a new cross-departmental committee be formed.” A committee that isn’t already wedded to the status quo might be a good place to start.

Just because a system has operated for decades under the premise that such closed-door hearings are “for the protection and benefit of the accused” is no reason it must continue to do so. The system continues to cry out for more transparency, for greater regard for the public interest, and for the rights of victims.

Bills filed in the House and Senate this session would require such hearings generally be open, unless there’s a good reason to close them, and would mandate they be recorded. That’s certainly an option, given the unwillingness of the judicial branch to reform itself.


Persecution of Christians being taken to extremes

The barbaric and evil attack on Christians in Sri Lanka is yet a further illustration of what Christian activist Patrick Sookhdeo in The Death of Western Christianity describes as Christianophobia: “a state of fear and hatred against Christianity and Christians”.

Sookhdeo argues that we are living across the globe in an intolerant and oppressive “anti-Christian age” where those committed to the Bible suffer oppression and violence, and in extreme cases torture and death.

In China the communist government creates a climate of fear and intimidation where Christians are treated as second-class citizens and the Catholic Church is denied the freedom to act independently of government.

In Egypt the Christian Copts are also oppressed: in April 2017, on Palm Sunday, 45 worshippers were killed when two churches were bombed by Islamist terrorists. A year earlier in Pakistan, 75 Christians were killed and hundreds injured while celebrating Easter in an attack by Islamist militants.

And as explained in the just-released book The Thirty-Year Genocide by Benny Morris and Dror Ze’evi, detailing the treatment of Christians in what is now Turkey, there is a long history in the Middle East of extreme and inhumane violence and cruelty.

During the period from 1894 to 1924, covering the last years of the Ottoman Empire and the establishment of the Turkish republic, Christians suffered under a state-mandated strategy of “premeditated mass killing, homicidal deportation, forced conversion, mass rape and brutal abduction”. Indeed, such is the barbaric treatment currently inflicted on Christians that Muslim commentator and author Mehdi Hasan argues online in The Intercept that commentators and politicians in the West should do more to acknow­ledge their brutal and merciless treatment.

After noting the widespread condemnation in response to the horrific attack on the mosques in Christchurch, Hasan writes: “I am a Muslim, and I consider myself to be on the left, but I’m embarrassed to admit that in both Muslim and left circles the issue of Christian persecution has been downplayed and even ignored for far too long.”

As to why there is an aversion in the West to admitting Christians are suffering and that more needs to be done to make public what is happening, the reasons are many and complex.

Italian academic Augusto Del Noce, in The Crisis of Modernity, argues the prevailing orthodoxy dominating the West is one of secular humanism inspired by neo-Marxism, critical theory and scientific rationalism. Since the end of World War I, Christianity as a moral and spiritual system based on the New ­Testament and the word of God has been supplanted by an ideology committed to creating a ­man-made utopia based on empiricism and the belief that political and economic factors deter­mine how societies are structured.

Such is the hostility that secular critics argue we are living in a post-Christian age where the belief system based on the New Testament that has nourished and underpinned Western civilisation for thousands of years is obsolete and irrelevant.

As detailed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI, the dominant mode of thinking and relating to others and the world at large is characterised by relativism and subjectivism. Christianity, on the other hand, is based on the word of God and the conviction that there are ­absolutes.

In this postmodern world of critical theory the Bible is simply one text among many that has to be critiqued and deconstructed in terms of power relationships and how it imposes a Eurocentric, mis­ogynist and heteronormative view of the world — one guilty of privileging whiteness.

The subservience to multiculturalism and uncritically celebrating diversity and difference also help to explain why Christianity is not being given the recognition and attention it deserves.

For years schools and universities have taught students that there is nothing special or unique about Christianity and that all cultures and belief systems deserve the same recognition (with the exception of Western civilisation).


Best illustrated by the national curriculum, Christianity is absent or considered on the same footing as indigenous spirituality. Harmony Day and Sorry Day are on the same level as Christmas and Easter, and Dreamtime stories are given the same emphasis as Genesis.

Evidenced by those hundreds of academics who have signed open letters condemning universities for entertaining the possibility of hosting a Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation, the aversion to Christianity is widespread in the academy.

The hostility and indifference to Christianity in Australia is not limited to schools and universities. Whether it’s the ABC’s The Drum and Q&A or The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald,most commentators are cultural-left and more concerned about identity politics and politically correct victimhood than the plight of Christians.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the  incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of  other countries.  The only real difference, however, is how much power they have.  In America, their power is limited by democracy.  To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already  very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges.  They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did:  None.  So look to the colleges to see  what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way.  It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH,   EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and  DISSECTING LEFTISM.   My Home Pages are here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here.  Email me (John Ray) here


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