America Has Lost Its Mind

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Obama Administration

Someone asked Oz Sultan, spokesperson for the Cordoba House project, whether his group would accept funds from overseas, in particular the Middle East. Sultan said, in effect that the group was still working out its fundraising strategies, and no decisions had been made. This led to ABC news issuing a report that ties hypothetical Saudi donations to the September 11 attack. The report’s strong implication is that most of the 9/11 perps were Saudis; therefore, all money from Saudi Arabia is connected to 9/11.

This was not the New York Post, mind you, but ABC News. Although I believe the New York Post reported the story the same way.

Of course, the evil Iran also is in the Middle East. I saw a news story this morning — it seems to have been taken down already — that ran a photo of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf next to one of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad under a headline saying that money from Iran could be used to build the Islamic center. If you didn’t read the story itself very, very carefully, you’d believe it said that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was funding the “ground zero mosque.” But what Sultan said was that although the group would prefer to raise the money from domestic donations, they hadn’t yet ruled out accepting donations from people in the Middle East. Not everyone in the Middle East is a terrorist or a dictator, you know.

As Politico points out, so far all the planners have are intentions. They haven’t raised the money for the project yet. They haven’t acquired all the property they plan to use, just some of it. They haven’t even hired an architect. In fact, the Politico article says, they haven’t even hired a lobbyist. How can you possibly get anything done without a lobbyist?

Meanwhile, the percentage of the American public who thinks the president is a Muslim is growing. See also “In Defining Obama, Misperceptions Stick.”

Also meanwhile, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that Americans don’t understand the concept of “rights.” That’s rather sad, considering that our nation allegedly was founded on the principle of human rights, or the Rights of Man, as Thomas Paine called them. It appears, however, that large numbers of Americans think of “rights” as somewhat abstract privileges granted by the consent of society.

Thus, some Americans seem to think that while some Muslims in Manhattan may have a right to build an Islamic Center near Ground Zero, somehow preventing the center from being built is not an abridgment of that right. Muslims still have the right to build whatever they want on private property in principle; they just can’t be allowed to actually do it.

I’ve said before that conservatives seem to interpret freedom of speech as a right to not be disagreed with. At The American Prospect, Adam Serwer has a couple of posts up on “Tribalism And Constitutional Rights” that go into this.

It’s not surprising that Sarah Palin would come out in support of Dr. Laura Schlessinger’s interpretation of the First Amendment as not guaranteeing freedom of speech, but rather freedom from criticism. Palin’s expressed similar beliefs before, basically that the First Amendment only guarantees her and her political allies freedom of speech, while any criticism of her statements is an unconstitutional infringement on her right to say whatever she wants.

Of course, if Palin really does have a right not to be disagreed with, that means other people do not have the right to express opinions about Palin’s opinions. Serwer then calls out the implied rightie understanding of “rights” as privileges that belong only to right-thinking Americans, e.g., people who think the way they do.

The other assumption we’ve seen on the Right lately is the idea that a view held by a majority of Americans cannot be bigotry. This assumes that empirical reality is subject to majority rule, which I suppose is a natural extension of the idea that “we create our own reality.”

But, as I keep saying, there have been plenty of times in American history when a majority opinion reeked of bigotry. Before the Civil War, only a minority of Americans, including northerners, favored a complete abolition of slavery, for example. Until relatively recent times, most whites genuinely believed whiteness conferred some inherent superiority over other races. A 19th century white person who was not a white supremacist by today’s standards was extremely rare. Abraham Lincoln himself was a white supremacist by today’s standards.

And you don’t have to go back to the 19th century. If you are old enough to remember the “school busing” controversy, when courts after Brown v. Board of Ed were ordering schools to be desegregated, you remember another time America lost its mind. In some places whites literally rioted in the streets, and not just in the South. I remember white mobs attacking buses carrying black children. Although I don’t know numbers, I believe a majority of white Americans wanted to keep segregation in effect. So, yes, majority opinion can be bigoted.

Serwer says in the second of his posts, “prejudice does not cease being prejudice because it is widely held.” It’s obvious a large number of Americans, I assume a majority, harbor some prejudices against Muslims. People can complain about being bigots all they like; lumping all Muslims together with the September 11 perpetrators is bigotry, by definition. Just because everyone else they know thinks the same way doesn’t make prejudice not prejudice.

Living in a nation where people enjoy certain inalienable rights means that lots of times other people are going to do things you don’t like. It also means people will express disagreement with your opinion. If we have a rule of law and not a rule of mob, that’s how it is. A free society depends on most people understanding that.

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13 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Lynne  •  Aug 19, 2010 @5:43 pm

    This is all so depressing. A neighbor has a fancy hand painted sign by his mailbox on the road stating the need to impeach the “Kenyan”. It just goes on and on.

  2. Chief  •  Aug 19, 2010 @5:58 pm

    “It’s obvious a large number of Americans, I assume a majority, harbor some prejudices against Muslims.”

    I would suggest that a significant portion of the white people in the US are prejudiced towards African-Americans and all people of color. That is the best explanation that I can come up with for the Repubs in Congress to be against any idea/initiative that Obama or the Dems put forward. We’ve never, in our lifetimes, seen this kind of division and we’ve never had a person of color as POTUS.

  3. PW  •  Aug 19, 2010 @6:50 pm

    Statement from an “elitist”: It’s the education thing. And the education I have in mind includes far better acquaintance with other countries and cultures and a ban on self-glorification from kindergarten through the rest of one’s life. Languages are good. Travel is good. Too many among us are cut off from the rest of the world.

    I had a conversation some years ago with an elderly woman who admitted that she knew, “of course,” people of color are inferior to “us.” “I know,” she admitted, “I’m not supposed to think that way. But it’s the truth. We [we whites] just are better. It’s a fact of life. And I’m tired of lowering my standards and saying we’re all equal.”

    The insularity, ignorance, and self-justification are appalling. Awful. But I guess we need to remind ourselves that it’s also a defense mechanism in many who are terrified of the speed at which the world is opening up, changing, “out of control.”

  4. Bonnie  •  Aug 19, 2010 @6:59 pm

    And, in this country’s history are things known as “The Trail of Tears” and “the only good Indian is a dead Indian.” When America got its government together and despite they were here for religious freedom, one of the first things they did was enact laws making all religions of American Indians illegal. The white man fears and always has feared any people different from them.

  5. joanr16  •  Aug 19, 2010 @7:09 pm

    Sometimes as desktop wallpaper (at home, not work) I use a “lolcat”-type photo of Betty White, America’s Grandma, shooting a gun at someone. The photo is captioned: “Betty White Is Tired Of Your Shit.”

    To borrow a phrase oft used at Wonkette: “Today we are all Betty White.” I think we are all SO immeasurably tired of this shit.

  6. Gordon  •  Aug 19, 2010 @7:10 pm

    ‘Ground Zero’ Imam: ‘I Am a Jew, I Have Always Been One’.

    Ok, he is radical, just not the way that any opponent means “radical”.

  7. JITC  •  Aug 19, 2010 @7:26 pm

    Democrats and factual pundits need to harp on one thing and one thing only: These so called Constitutionalists and Strict Constructionists don’t understand or actually care about the Constitution.

  8. Ken Lovell  •  Aug 19, 2010 @8:49 pm

    To me the affair is not about the mooted mosque at all. The project has simply become a conveniently ‘respectable’ issue to use as a medium to vent all the pent-up fear and hatred of Muslims. It’s a case of “Political correctness prevents me saying how much I despise Muslims but now by God I can tell the world how contemptible they are by criticising this proposed building (about which I know nothing and care less)”.

    In Australian politics it’s called ‘dog-whistling’: claiming to be talking about one thing when in fact you are sending messages about something else entirely, pitched at a level only the target audience will hear.

  9. c u n d gulag  •  Aug 20, 2010 @8:11 am

    People who were ‘profiles in courage’ formed and forged this country.
    It took work. Abolition, womens rights, and civil rights weren’t advanced in a day. Gay rights are a work in progress. Apparently religious rights are also.
    But where are the ‘profiles in courage’ today on this issue?
    They are drowned out by the “Profiles in Outrage.”
    ‘Dime-a-dozen’ demagogues are paraded in, and by, the MSM.
    ‘Courage’ takes knowedge, empathy, and a conviction that equality has to be the human future, because to think otherwise is to ackowledge that there will be no future.
    ‘Outrage’ is so simple, 3 year-olds can summon it up at will. “Adult’s” are supposed to show them the better way. Where are the ‘adults’ from the right, explaining what is right?
    Mayor Bloombergs speach was a ‘profiles in courage.’
    We need more.
    NOW!!!

  10. Felicity  •  Aug 20, 2010 @10:54 am

    More and more it seems to me that news-jockeys, I call them spamheads, actually interfere with the news, misinterpret the news, just plain get it wrong, and I’m not talking about Fox which broadcasts the news according to Fox not according to the content of the news.

    That said, we’re getting precariously close to tyranny in this country in that the road to tyranny is taken when men begin to rule above the law – isn’t this at the heart of the mosque controversy?

    In principle, I see little difference between the Jim Crow laws which came about when the Court decided that separate was equal so, fore instance, black people could still ride buses, could still buy houses, could still enter and exit public buildings but they could only do so in designated areas as it’s being argued now that Muslims can still build mosques but only in designated areas, not where they might want to build them.

  11. mnpundit  •  Aug 20, 2010 @12:22 pm

    But of course they’re right.

    Right’s really ARE essentially a consent of society. If rights were REALLY inalienable we wouldn’t have put them in the constitution and its amendments in the first place. For example, say everyone decided that if you had red hair, you were no longer a citizen. A constitutional amendment to that regard could pass via the process and the boom, red heads wouldn’t citizens. You couldn’t say it was unconstitutional because it would be in the constitution.

    The point is, rights ARE given by the suffrage of the majority. The system we have designed has created a situation where those rights are difficult to remove even when the majority no longer feels the same way. That’s good, and it makes it all the more important to fight for those rights.

    But for all the rhetoric about human rights, they’re not really rights, but privileges. That doesn’t meant they should be taken away not at all, but it does mean that they are fragile and needed defending.

    Now more than ever.

  12. erinyes  •  Aug 20, 2010 @6:52 pm

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