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Saturday, September 12, 2020

Woke Disillusion, The Glories Of Classicism, And The Sad Fate Of A White Liberal Who Was Left On The Curb

There are two Americas – one on the way down the bayous of Louisiana where signs for ‘Fresh Crawfish’ outnumber Biden signs by 5:1 and where Trump signs outnumber Biden signs by 10:1; and the other in Northwest Washington, DC where the opposite is true.  Except for the fact that crawfish signs have been replaced by The Progressive Creed, little has changed.  “ Black Lives Matter, Women’s Lives Matter, Gay Lives Matter, All Immigrants Are Welcome, Hate Has No Place, Love Is The Answer” is the rainbow sign on one-out-of-three lawns in Brooker Park.

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Despite the nostrums on the DC signs, they are only symbols of a woke brotherhood, signs that say that those who post them are in solidarity with all progressive causes.    A Biden sign is no more convincing than one for Dunkin’ Donuts or McDonald’s Happy Meals; but a woke sign not only conveys philosophical unity, but hard-line opposition to Donald Trump.  The sign says not only that the owner believes in these principles, but that the occupant of the White House absolutely does not. 

The posters and the many flags, sidewalk messages, and banners expressing support for Black Lives Matter are the way liberal sentiments are expressed today– no longer as bus rides to Selma, lunch counter sit-ins, and marches through Mississippi.  It is an age of words and symbols, not action.  The many marches on the Mall for any of the other causes displayed on the signs are similar, done more for sisterhood, solidarity, and political camaraderie than to effect change.  

The marches on Washington in the days of MLK and the Vietnam War had a specific, actionable purpose – pass a Civil Rights Act and get out of Vietnam.  Today, liberals are content with armchair support and let others do the dirty work.  The protests in Portland, Seattle, New York and other cities against what demonstrators considered racial injustice were destructive riots; and while they were happening, liberals in Congress and high office kept their silence, but their silent support for such incivility and anti-democratic anarchy was deafening. The white professionals of New York’s Upper West Side or Washington’s Georgetown and Spring Valley want everything to do with civil unrest as long as someone else does it; and as long as rioters stay out of their neighborhoods.

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Perhaps more importantly most of these white, privileged liberals have grown up in elite, monied, if not storied families; and have never doubted the rightness of Western culture, Christian values, and Greco-Roman philosophy.  In the privacy of their own parlors, they support Alexander Hamilton who warned against populism and the rise of the uneducated and uninformed mob.  They do not quote Malcolm X but Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and Coriolanus,  plays about the incivility and ignorance of the unwashed; yet the rainbow flags fly on every trimmed lawn in DC and from the balcony windows of Riverside Drive.

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The question is how these liberals, schooled in Western history, philosophy, art, and culture could have so quickly and easily given ground to such inchoate anarchy? The groundings of the Enlightenment, Aristotle, Plato, and those who followed now mean nothing? There is nothing to be said for the Athenian state or Augustine’s City of God? It is hard to watch those who have inherited the traditions of the past to give them up so easily – to toss millennia of Christian history into the dust bin; to ignore the abuses of the street-level populism of Robespierre; to refuse to see how Soviet Communism was a penitential hiatus in the course of free, human expression.  Each sentimental sign of progressive idealism is angering to anyone who understands history.

The hypocrisy of liberal solidarity is astounding.  Anyone who lives in an 85 percent white neighborhood, with the other 15 percent hard-working, Confucian Asians and upwardly mobile Latin Americans can afford black solidarity at a distance.White residents of these affluent communities look at their own professional and financial success and especially at the remarkable achievements of Indians, Chinese, and Koreans who in just a few decades have risen from relative poverty to academic and economic success. They look with admiration at former Latino leaf-blowers who have bought a truck and a few mowers and set themselves up in business.  This is America, these privileged white liberals know, attained through hard work, discipline, Confucian and Christian values, and an American system of equal opportunity.  

While they may champion the cause of those black communities across the Anacostia, they silently wonder what is wrong – why after more than fifty years of progressive public largesse, consistent promotion of black identity, worth, and meaning; and a growing national awareness of the importance of civil rights, these communities still lag, far, far behind.  Why is there only one Barack Obama, Condoleezza Rice, Clarence Thomas, or Colin Powell? 

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An academic at a well-known university and longstanding supporter of progressive causes – papers, attendance at women’s conferences, lectures on queer culture and the environment – found to his shock and chagrin that he was descended on his mother’s side from New Bedford slavers who made millions in the Three Corner Trade; and on his father’s side from Virginia grandees who, recently discovered records confirmed, were brutal plantation owners.  When he found all this out he went on a penitential, flagellating tour of black America to seek forgiveness, but he was no historical revisionist.  He knew that history was always an as-is proposition, and although history always repeats itself, there is no 19th century assumption of the sins of the fathers passed on to their sons.  This particular bit of family history had no relevance whatsoever to who he was now, nor to what he believed. 

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Yet he felt the need to go on a penitential mea culpa tour, to express shame and remorse for the sins of his family, to ask forgiveness from the black community, and to ask that they keep him in the fold and respect and welcome his support.  Of course this revelation was just what Bob’s black colleagues expected – all white people had an unforgivable past and irreconcilable differences with black folk.  It was an era of heretical, historical traits, and Bob was not only shown the door by the black progressives he had courted, but by radical feminists who wanted nothing of his tame, married, heterosexual family; and gay men who knew better than to expect this aging, inveterate old American New Englander to understand the transgender revolution. His only redoubt was environmentalism which, thankfully, took all comers.

And so it is with Northwest Washingtonians who post signs of black solidarity and meaningful support for all black lives on their front lawns, who fly rainbow banners from upstairs windows, and who dress their six-year kindergartners in BLM anti-COVID masks.  ‘Safe Solidarity’ is the byword, the password, the key for admission to white liberal solidarity.  No one in Georgetown, Cleveland Park, or Glover Park really cares what goes down across the River; but flying the rainbow or BLM flag should be enough.  Let it be said in The Final Accounting that we did the right thing.

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However, despite the demurrals, most of these liberal advocates are white enthusiasts.  Not white supremacists by any means, but not ignorant either of Ancient History, Greek and Roman philosophy, the Bible, Western European imperial colonialism, or Anglo-Saxon principles of the Enlightenment.  It is simply difficult for them to expect that ex-slaves, themselves formerly chattel in African tribal society, to be included in this storied legacy.  They may join the mainstream, especially if they, after years of protection, entitlement, and preservation, adopt the same Confucian values that underlie North Asian success, the entrepreneurial energy of South Asians, the respect for learning, books, and the Law of the Jews, and the Christian moral tradition of the Founding Fathers.

Lionizing black people ipso facto, for no reason other than their race or color is counter-productive and damaging to everyone.  It demeans individualism and individual black achievement, it erodes the democratic context of American liberalism, and it perpetuates a culture of dependence.  Even the doctrinally pure Bob has had to admit that after 50 years of public investment and good will  in black, dysfunctional communities, things have only gotten worse.  The progressive program needs a radical re-think.

Bob will never reform, despite his recent chastisement by the clients he has served.  He is a liberal’s liberal, a deeply committed progressive who, now in his seventh decade, seems too old to question his career.  To do so would be to give up years of belief and emotional investment. 

So ideological banners still fly from his dormers, signs are still planted on his lawn, and he is at the forefront of the campaign to remove the man in the White House.   He, like many Hollywood stars and television personalities, has said he will move to Canada if Trump wins again, but that will not be enough.  Four more years of razing the society he has for so long worked for deserves more.  But what? And the knowledge that it is too late, that today’s liberalism is not what it was in the days of MLK, and that America is very unlikely to change, is his sad fate.

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