Where politics and faith dance in the shadow of the windmill.

Senator Milquetoast

It’s good that U.S. Senator Gary Peters has spoken out against the President’s anti-immigration Executive Order. But sadly, the voice is muffled.

“As a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Armed Services Committees, my top priority is ensuring we’re doing everything we can to keep Americans safe. But I am also proud to represent vibrant Muslim and Arab American communities that are integral to Michigan’s culture and our economy.

The first sentence is pure political muffery: “my top priority… doing everything… keep Americans safe.” What is missing is a clear point of view, what he (or his office) thinks. The second sentence is little better: he’s “proud to represent.” yeah yeah yeah. This is indirect speech, at a distant from a straight forward presentation of the case.

There are big, legitimate issues of national security involved. This is the natural forceful lead. And it’s powerful, as Mother Jones demonstrates.

In the second paragraph Sen. Peters compounds his wishy-washiness.

“One of America’s founding – and most sacred – principles is the freedom of religion. I am extremely alarmed by President Trump’s executive order that effectively implements a religious test for those seeking to enter the United States…

The shift to First Amendment issues has a nice ring to it, but again one may ask whether it demonstrates a grasp of the actual Constitutional issues involved with the Executive Order. If anything the focus on Freedom of Religion plays into the cultural push of the President’s order, namely that of privileging Christian America. Immediate feedback from Trump supporters indicates their approval of the action. So rather than change opinion the appeal to the First is a sign of political boundary making. It is a lost opportunity.

And then finally there is a return to muffery with the final sentence:

 “While I support continued strengthening of the refugee screening process, I remain opposed to the suspension of the refugee admissions program.”

This is the sound of a man trying to have it both ways. “While I….” Oh, be direct. Know what time it is, and what the issues are. In the days ahead the battle needs far more direct, far clearer expression of ideas. Now is no time to waffle.

— Originally published at Written and Noted.



Filed under: Michigan, Washington, , , ,

Free Speech Follies

Saturday brought word of two interesting free speech clashes.  The first takes place in Nevada, where a challenge to state recusal laws was upheld. In the face of a conflict of interest that would otherwise bar an elected official from voting, the Appeals Court ruled that in wake of Citizens United case, voting could be considered an exercise of free speech.  The details from Saturday’s New York Times:

Nevada’s law requires elected officials to disqualify themselves, much as judges often do, when they are asked to vote on matters that touch on what the law called “commitments in a private capacity.”

In 2006, not long before an election, a member of the Sparks City Council, Michael A. Carrigan, disclosed that his campaign manager was a consultant to a business seeking to develop a casino, before voting its way in a land-use matter. The Nevada Commission on Ethics later ruled that the vote was improper and censured Mr. Carrigan.

The Nevada Supreme Court reversed that decision, saying it violated the First Amendment and citing the Supreme Court’s decision last year in Citizens United. “Voting by an elected public officer on public issues is protected speech under the First Amendment,” Justice Michael Douglas wrote for the majority.

Careful with your singing!

Meanwhile, in the state to the south, a different use of Free Speech was being invoked, as the State of Arizona shut down a Mexican-American ethnic studies program at the Tucson High School.  The conflict superficially follows the bitter division in the state over Hispanics and immigration.  The perceived problem is that the program is that it is in the business of creating “little activists.”  As the New York Times makes clear, part of the reasons lie in literature (aside: while Pablo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed is no friend of such conservatives, it is well worth reading), and part in pique.  It also comes wrapped in a sympathetic irony: the author of the measure, the State Superintendent of Schools, Tom Horne, also was a marcher in the great Civil Rights struggles of the 60s.

Nonetheless, the intent of the bill was to shut down the Tucson program. The bill of particulars is plain:

Programs that promote the overthrow of the United States government are explicitly banned, and that includes the suggestion that portions of the Southwest that were once part of Mexico should be returned to that country.

Also prohibited is any promotion of resentment toward a race. Programs that are primarily for one race or that advocate ethnic solidarity instead of individuality are also outlawed.

On Monday, his final day as the state’s top education official, Mr. Horne declared that Tucson’s Mexican-American program violated all four provisions.

The good news in all this has been that the school board stands with the school.

Meantime those who care about the First Amendment can only scratch their head.  How is it that one type of speech focused on ethnic pride is prohibited, but another that seems to promote “honest graft” is sanctioned? Oh well, as they say, “see you in court.”

Filed under: Horace Mann, Washington, , , , , ,

You Think So?

You could call it collateral damage.  The paper the other day had the story of a Romanian immigrant’s impending deportation,  along with his naturalized wife and native-born son.

(Kevan) Chapman, of Ehlers’ office, agrees: “It’s important for people to know that (some immigrants) are being deported on a daily basis and are not criminals.”

Cases like Tiberiu’s, he added, are “just heartbreakingly common.”

Chapman’s right, the problem is all too common.  And Tom Rademacher did a service to put a human face to the problems that come in the immigration debate.   But there is also a whiff of sentimentality here, the sort of emotion that hides as much as it reveals.

Let’s start with the obvious: why do we hear about this family and not say some one else?  Does it make a difference that this takes place in Grand Rapids Township, rather than say in Burton Heights?  The reality, of course, is that when the person in harm’s way looks like us we care more than when they do not.

And of course, this instance is common: each day thousands of families suffer, even if they never make into our view.  But knowing the policy, why do we then tolerate such harms?   I suspect we tolerate it for two reasons, first we have  a war-metaphor in the back o our mind: as in military combat, so here in the “war” on terrorism, there exists collateral damage.  The innocent suffer as a necessary aspect of doing our duty.

Second, there would seem to be a more utilitarian dimension: the innocent suffer as a lesson to others.  This is a darker sort of reasoning, a belief in the efficacy of power, or better, force. We do, because we can.  In the words of a recent vice president, it is better to be feared.  As we have no intention of deporting all 11 million, the act of force is meant to be theatrical, it is something that reduces the immigrant family into a stage prop, a thing.  They are now defined as law breakers and so aliens; they are the other and no longer us.

In short, we tolerate the action of deportation because we think injustice the price of our freedom.

Yet can this tolerated harm, this realpolitik of suffering, excuse our inaction?

For our political class, we tolerate injustice because the alternative is considered too (politically) painful.  So our legislators side step.  We pretend the elephant is really not in the room, even it is eleven million strong.  Some will suffer, yes, but there is little consensus for a remedy.  But if we this lack of consensus is the reason, it only hands over power to the most recalcitrant in our political class.

Sadly, this same reluctance dogs other issues.

We can see the same shying when it comes to education or our State’s budget.

The most negative get the most power, and so those who actually face the reality of injustice, this “all too commonplace” world are left exposed.  The terrifying truth is that we simply tolerate the injustice because of a desire not to change. Faced with injustice we walk on the other side of the road, waiting for some other good Samaritan to come and do the rescue.

At the end, our politics will reveal our heart.

Filed under: Community,


August 2020