World-Wide Radiance of the American Melting Pot

February 24, 2015

In this world the grossest of inhumanity is euphemistically described as ethnic cleansing. The mutli-directional genocide of the old Yugoslavia has become routine. Boko Haram takes aim at education and at religious difference in Africa, targeting connections with America and the west. The Islamic State and al-Qaeda in the Middle East, with tentacles into much of the Muslim world, target whoever doesn’t belong and subscribe to their version of Islam or dare question their authority, They have targeted America, England, Spain, France Norway and counting. It is terrifying how quickly decent peace-loving communities have been dismembered and destroyed.

The past is prologue, but can’t be undone. The question is what do we do now. This is partly an ideological struggle because terrorists depend on recruits. How can we handle such a high-stakes ideological struggle? One aspect of that is at home.

Urging the U.S. Supreme Court to end segregation in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 both the Democratic Truman Administration and the Republican Eisenhower Administration explained to the Court that our respect for people of all races, faiths and national origins were central to American worldwide success, especially in the fight against Communism.

Our melting pot and mutual concern and respect define the best of America. Our unwillingness to give in to bigots and bigotry, racists and racism, our willingness to see, confront and deal with bigotry and racism, our determination to stop it, make our strongest appeal. It is our tolerance, our neighborliness, our welcome to all from everywhere that makes us the shining city on a hill that our Founders hoped we would be. It is not our bloodlines but our coming together to make ourselves and welcome each other as Americans that makes us so. That e pluribus unum is what the world admires. They want our neighborliness; they crave the American idealism that gives anyone and everyone a chance to make a decent living and a decent life. They crave the welcome that glows from our melting pot.

People dream of America in corners of the world where they are crushed as if they are worthless except for the masters’ business, worthless unless they are of the masters’ bloodlines, worthless unless they have something to offer, at least a bribe. We need to keep the dream of the American melting pot alive both for their sakes and for ours.

Our American melting pot is more important than ever to the world we inhabit. But make no mistake it is crucial here at home. If the hatreds that once fanned the Old World and now fan the so-called Third World land on our shores, none of us are safe. We were all melted in that pot and we all live or die together. There is no safety in a cauldron. We have to sustain the values of our shared tolerant American culture.  For all our sakes. We are all beneficiaries.

I pointed out last week that the American melting pot, one of our most fundamental of institutions, was the result of very deliberate decisions to educate us all together, without regard to wealth, faith, gender, national origin or spoken language, and then, finally, without regard to race. And yet, the Court that once announced Brown v. Board of Education is not helping to preserve that centuries-old melting pot. Instead it is making it easier, in some respects even forcing us to re-segregate ourselves by race, religion and wealth.[1] By doing that, the Court is plunging a dagger into the heart of America.

— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, February 24, 2015.

[1] See, e.g., Ariz. Christian Sch. Tuition Org. v. Winn, 131 S. Ct. 1436 (2011); Parents Involved in Cmty. Sch. v. Seattle Sch. Dist. No. 1, 551 U.S. 701 (2007); Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, 536 U.S. 639 (2002); and see Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New York: New Press 2010); Erica Frankenberg, Chungmei Lee and Gary Orfield, “A Multiracial Society with Segregated Schools: Are We Losing the Dream?”  The Civil Rights Project Harvard Univ. (Jan. 2003) available at http://www.civilrightsproject.harvard.edu/research/reseg03/AreWeLosingtheDream.pdf (June 22, 2007).


The Dysfunctional House

February 26, 2013

I’ve spoken often about why sequester type budget cuts threaten a weak economy and can worsen the debt. Today I want to talk about history.

In 1787 the delegates to the Constitutional Convention struggled over the shape of Congress. Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia had the largest populations. The Carolinas and Georgia realized they had far fewer people, but since the primary activity of most Americans was farm or plantation labor, they thought their size would eventually give them large populations. So they formed a six state coalition for representation in proportion to population, especially with the added voting power of three fifths the number of their slaves – turning the principle of majority rule into a deal with the devil. Read the rest of this entry »


Due process & targeted assassination

April 24, 2012

Tasked with helping draft a constitution for India after World War II, B. N. Rau traveled abroad speaking to jurists. In Washington, Supreme Court Justice Frankfurter advised Rau not to include a due process clause in the Indian Constitution. Instead India should have a clause simply requiring that no one be charged with a crime but by the law of the land. That was the meaning of the Magna Carta in 1215 which said:

 No freemen shall be taken or imprisoned … or in any way destroyed … except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.

 That meant Parliamentary supremacy. Whatever crimes and procedures the legislature defined were kosher. But there was no check on the legislature. Read the rest of this entry »


Our Stake in Europe

December 6, 2011

Do we have a stake in what is happening in Europe? Some countries, particularly in southern Europe are having trouble paying their debts in a recession. It shouldn’t be a surprise – taxes shrink in a recession. Of course in some places it is pathological – Greeks refuse to pay the taxes they owe in such large numbers that they are bankrupting their country. But the problem is wider, with deep roots in the recession.

As a result other countries have been reconsidering their participation in the Euro and even in the European Union itself. Should we care? Read the rest of this entry »


Should we let government attach their GPS’s to our cars?

November 9, 2011

Earlier today the Court heard arguments in United States v. Jones. For a solid month, the feds tracked Jones with the aid of a GPS device hidden on his car. And they got him. He dealt drugs. The feds figured it out and convicted him. Why should anybody care? GPS data can be very revealing. Shouldn’t we cheer? Read the rest of this entry »


The Threat to American Democracy

January 11, 2011

I’m angry and I’m not going to mince words. I fear for our republic.

Most Americans have little awareness of the violence in our past. But murder has been a feature of American politics since the Civil War, often making elections meaningless. Mass slaughter of Republicans after the Civil War allowed Southern Democrats to retake the South, by eliminating and terrorizing the opposition. Even the U.S. Supreme Court chose to look aside and let the South have its new “peculiar institution,”: substituting a reign of terror for legal slavery. Read the rest of this entry »


Violent Videos

November 10, 2010

The Supreme Court heard argument in a case about a California statute banning violent video games. The law mimics almost precisely the way the Supreme Court requires that laws restricting obscenity be written: the banned acts have to be precisely described, appeal to base instincts, be patently offensive, and without any serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value. In other words, if it’s worthless, it isn’t speech and government can stop it.

The justices doubted whether they should prohibit another form of speech, and if they prohibited violent speech, what next? Those questions would apply equally to obscenity. But my question, and Justice Breyer’s, is why we can ban pictures of naked people but not images of disgusting and worthless violence?

We commonly hear that obscenity and pornography are potentially harmful to women. Men who see it might do violent things to women. But the video games at issue do precisely that; they depict very violent behavior purely for the pain they cause. What’s the point of saying that sex, which is legal, and sometimes blessed, is off limits so long as it isn’t literary, but violence toward men, women, children or animals, which is illegal, and for which we put people in prison, is protected?

I once listened to an elderly women that I had long known describe to me and to her daughter her own sexual ignorance when she was married, and the pain that caused her. Some sex education would have been very helpful. I haven’t heard anyone tell me they missed out on life because they hadn’t seen films of people pouring gasoline on others and burning them to death.

I understand that people have dressed up their views of nudity and sex in religious garb. Yet any scripture that could be cited against sexual misbehavior also has plenty to say about misbegotten violence. There’s a choice being made and I wouldn’t blame it on God. The question for us is whether prudery is important more important than protecting people from the most obscene violence?

A portion of our country believes that exposing people to naked bodies or sexual behavior will ruin them for life and bring down the republic, but exposing them to violence and then handing them weapons just makes “men” out of boys. Actually, that is a much more direct threat to the republic.

Laws against porn, obscenity and violence are in tension with fundamental First Amendment principles – both are designed to control people’s minds, to make sure they think one way rather than the other. But it isn’t any more problematic for violence. Of the two, violence seems much more dangerous to the social fabric.

If we really want to make “men” out of boys and “women” out of girls, I’d suggest national service would provide a much more valuable lesson in shared responsibility – for all of us.

— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, November 9, 2010.


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