“The question is, which is to be master — that’s all.”
— Humpty Dumpty, in “Through the Looking-Glass,” by Lewis Carroll, 1872
From its very beginning, the American constitutional system has been an attempt to balance the principles of majority rule and minority rights.
At first the idea of a protected minority was rich landowners who wanted to protect their property — including their slaves — from a majority that might vote away their privileges. Later it became the principle that ethnic minorities were fully persons entitled to the same rights as everyone else.
But now the disputes seem less about majority vs. minority than they do minority vs. minority, with the only question being which of them should rule.
That’s why you have members of the Utah Legislature and of the Utah State Board of Education busying themselves to show opposition to something called critical race theory, or CRT.
The professed fear is that CRT is about telling small white children that they are personally to blame for slavery, Jim Crow, lynchings, the genocide of the Native Americans, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, the Chinese Exclusion Act and the cancelation of the original “Star Trek.”
Bushwa, all of it. But it serves the purpose of giving white people the glorious feeling — without any of the risk — of being a put-upon minority that has to stand up, perhaps violently, for its rights.
The truth of our history is that human beings often exhibit beastly behavior to other human beings, on the basis of skin color, culture, religion, or for no reason at all. There need be no personal guilt. But a little commonly felt revulsion would go a long way toward improving our future.
We also have Utah’s Sen. Mike Lee embarrassing us again. This time he is worried that people who participated in at times violent demonstrations associated with the Black Lives Matter movement have not felt as much of the brunt of law enforcement as have people who are being arrested for rioting in the U.S. Capitol in the Donald Trump-inspired riot of Jan. 6.
There is one, and only one, justification for Lee’s question. And that is the idea that white people are allowed to engage in violent acts of treason against the government of the United States — acts that didn’t succeed mostly because those who carried them out were too stupid — while Black people are not allowed to assemble for a redress of grievances, as guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution.
Every single person who gained unauthorized entry to the Capitol building that day was engaged in an act of treason that should be punished to the full extent of the law. If we still did things the way my English ancestors use to, we’d have every one of them drawn and quartered. Which is why a lot of white people today should be glad society has evolved since then.
The fact that Lee, or anyone else, wants to play whataboutism with that is appalling.
The idea that we are an atomized nation of ethnic groups, fighting tooth and nail for political supremacy, also motivates the moves in Georgia, Texas and elsewhere to suppress the votes of the poor and of Black people and other ethnic minorities.
The only conceivable purpose of these laws is to keep white people at the top of the political heap. Not just white people, but a select elite among white people. The kind of white people who fear and seek to keep a station above Black and brown people. The kind of white people who are likely, in a free and fair election, to be outvoted by other white people, in the kind of alliance with other groups that a multi-cultural nation must have to survive in peace.
The real constitutional rights of all Americans are not threatened by the rise of a multi-ethnic state. Rights such as free speech and freedom of religion, the protection of due process of law in criminal cases, the right not to have the government take your property without paying you for it.
Those are all individual rights, which only become questions of group rights when members of one group are deprived of them because of that membership.
As the T-shirt says, “Equal rights for others doesn’t mean less rights for you. It’s not pie.”
While I am not in the habit of approvingly quoting war criminals, there is line from Henry Kissinger that fits here.
“Nobody will ever win the battle of the sexes,” he said. “There’s just too much fraternizing with the enemy.”
Applying that logic to ethnic and religious groupings, we should see that, while we are not enemies, there needs to be a lot more fraternizing.
George Pyle, opinion editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, has noted on more than one occasion that the minority group he thinks should rule the nation is the National Basketball Association.