My Second Conviction

It was my second conviction in a month.  The prosecution called their witnesses –modern commentators at the peak of their popularity – and I called a witness, too, but his age and obscurity made that a colossal mistake.

It was a cold case, and their witnesses speculated confidently about the defendants’ character.  (My witness had only lived among the defendants and their children.)  Their witnesses forcefully denounced the crime of which they accused the defendants.  (My witness had merely eradicated that crime, following instructions from the defendants.)  Their witnesses lived, they said, for justice.  (My witness was just the last in a long train of men to die for it.)

Well, as I said, it was my second conviction in a month.  In the court of public opinion, disputing the idea that America and its founders were racists now makes you a racist, and not even eye-witnesses like Mr. Abraham Lincoln can defend America against its passionate accusers.

I don’t question the accusers’ sincerity so much as their accuracy; not the fullness of their hearts, only the fullness of their heads.  They speak as if the United States was conceived in Eden among a race of unfallen creatures and, like the snake, our founders led those innocents into the sin of slavery.  It is ineffective, I have learned, to point out that slavery had long existed on every continent, or that by declaring the equality of “all men” the founders really intended the revolutionary phrase “all men”.

There was never a plan for getting slavery into this nation, only for getting it out.  The founders’ Declaration of Independence and their efforts to abolish the slave trade make that clear – especially so when we remember that for much of that period they were fighting for their lives.  The mandate Mr. Lincoln felt to keep slavery on the path to extinction makes that clear, and the votes of the American people to support that mandate, and the violent rebellion of those who opposed that mandate, and the lives of half a million men sacrificed to finally decide if that mandate would be fulfilled.

To America’s accusers, this is all woefully inadequate, but what if they had been alive in the age of slavery?  As it happens, we don’t need to wonder because they are alive in the age of slavery.  A new class of persons has been declared less than human, and from them we tear not only freedom but arms and legs and life.   And the accusers, so anxious to charge their fathers and grandfathers with brutality, are strangely quiet.

Here is the heart of the matter.  The accusers speak incessantly of right and wrong, but morality is their tool, not their objective.  For Progressivism to work, the present must defeat the past.  Our history must be emptied of its nobility and inspiration.  A new history must be written, hiding and distorting the past, projecting upon it the assumptions of the present.  A new ethic must emerge, shaming those who contest the distortions.

Though I have been twice shamed as a racist for defending our nation (and this may make three), I maintain that there is much in American history for all of us to honor, especially our foundational truth that all men are created equal.  Our nation’s founders were born into a culture just as we were born into a culture, and they, like Mr. Lincoln, spent themselves to change it for the better. For all of our fervent talk about justice, I wonder if we will do so well.

The Making of Devils

I am not the devil, though I have performed some convincing impersonations.  I mention this to save time because, in our highly distilled political environment, this is one of the categories to which we are easily assigned.

One of our presidential candidates, for example, is the devil.  You may have received clues as to that person’s identity, arising from (ahem) years of disinterested research and even-handed reporting.  For my purposes, it doesn’t matter which candidate that is, or if both have an equal claim to the title.  I simply want to consider the process of devil-making.

Devils themselves are sometimes confused by their role in our society.  On the one hand, their time-tested formulas, so frequently disparaged throughout history, are generating renewed interest here.  On the other hand, devilry itself retains unpleasant associations.  On the whole, I believe they suspect us of cultural appropriation.

Be that as it may, presenting your adversary as the devil simply works. 

It is less effective to accuse a man of being good.  The charge seems improbable and is hard to prove.  Stories of goodness are more complex than stories of badness because goodness itself is a strange thing and requires explanation.  Curiously, the explanation always points away from the man himself and toward something higher.  He may love a child or a nation or a God – even a dog might do – but he must (unlike the devil) believe there is something higher and sacrifice himself for it.

But stories of goodness are easily smashed.  Accusations, especially when false, are like bricks hurled through the brittle glass of reputation.  And you can wear a mask while you smash, merrily shattering the subject’s identity while concealing your own.  As political transactions go, this one is a bargain.

And that’s only the beginning.  Demonizing your adversary is emotionally satisfying, even addictive.  It’s cheap and concise: a party platform that can fit on a bumper sticker.  It’s distracting, removing the need to offer competing ideas.  It’s fast, allowing a lifetime of achievement to be canceled in about the time it takes to pull down a statue.  Most of all, it’s flexible and comprehensive: Love may cover a multitude of sins, but hate can spray paint anything.

Still, at the end of the day, there is one story of goodness we choose not to smash – a story each one of us has narrated, if not written down, and that is the story of our own life.  In this story, though we have access to the most lurid details, the protagonist comes out – if not a hero – a very decent fellow at least, given the circumstances.

We don’t need to be convinced that humans fail in miserable ways, because we have done it.  We find it easy to believe that _____ is the devil because we have been the devil.  We are practiced in the art of remembering others’ failures while forgetting our own.  We are – if we are not very careful – well qualified to take on a mission of hate.

And it seems that many of us have done that.  We spend little time asking what our candidates have sacrificed or what they believe to be higher than themselves, and too much time posterizing their failures, as if we had never failed.  We ask too much who the devil may be, and not who does the devil’s work.      

The Experiment

As good experiments sometimes do, my experiment proved me wrong.

It’s only one experiment, but the results are spectacular, and you can easily run the test yourself. 

I got the idea a while ago, remembering this story I heard as a kid – a story that has haunted me ever since.  The story was so big, so crazy that I imagined it with a dramatic backdrop – earthquakes, signs in the sky, vast armies marching across the countryside.  Well, it’s been a strange year in America, but not that strange.  Still, I thought I would give it a try.

I began at a restaurant I’ve frequented for years and, yep, it worked.  Then I tried the bank.  And then the grocery store.  Finally, the church.

I’ve been running the experiment for weeks now and it works every time.  It works so well that I’m reconsidering that old bible story, which describes a massive social shift – a movement to unite behind an idea and bake that idea into the daily processes of life.  If you show support for the idea, your life is allowed to continue, much as before.  You don’t have to believe; you just have to go along.

Well, as good experiments sometimes do, my experiment proved me wrong.  I thought that story could not happen here, or that it would at least be accompanied by earthquakes and armies.  I thought it would take longer, or that we would think harder, or be more inclined to resist, or be more loyal to old neighbors than new rulers.

In fact, my experiment proved that the story I feared has already come true.  I have been turned away from the restaurant and the bank, the grocery store, and the church; turned away by old friends who doubt whether the idea behind the current story is even true.  I don’t blame them for turning me away.  That’s the way the story works.  You don’t have to believe, but if you want to participate in this society – to buy or sell or bank or worship – you do have to go along.

And go along, we do.  The book of Revelation tells of a “mark” that will be required by the government “to buy or sell”.  We’re not there yet, but if the story seems far-fetched to you, take off your mask and try.