Ilhan Omar and Contempt for America
Scott Applewhite)
Ilhan Omar and Contempt for America
Scott Applewhite)
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“We have seen unthinkable atrocities committed by the U.S., Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban,” Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota tweeted last week to her 1.2 million followers. They responded with warm support. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was cooler. Although the speaker lives in San Francisco’s progressive echo chamber, she heads a national party and understands that most voters do not think our country is similar to the Taliban or Hamas. They have noticed a few small differences. Nor do they see a moral equivalence between Israel, which tries to avoid civilian casualties, and terrorist organizations, which use human shields and bomb pizza parlors. They wonder if a representative who thinks America is so evil should sit on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, as Omar does.

Pelosi pressed Rep. Omar for a “clarification” and received a half-hearted one. That was good enough for the speaker, who stressed that she was not rebuking Omar, whom she called a “valued member of our caucus.”

Pelosi walked gingerly because she has only a tiny House majority and relies on several hard-left members and dozens of very progressive ones. She doesn’t want to lose them, but she doesn’t want to endanger her more centrist members, either. Omar’s tweet put her between the dog and the hydrant. Jewish members issued an outraged statement denouncing the tweet, while Omar’s left-wing colleagues, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, criticized Pelosi’s tepid request for clarification.

Another member of the Squad, Rashida Tlaib, chose to portray Pelosi’s request as an attack on all Muslims -- on all women of color in Congress: “Freedom of speech doesn't exist for Muslim women in Congress. The benefit of the doubt doesn't exist for Muslim women in Congress. House Democratic leadership should be ashamed of its relentless, exclusive tone policing of Congresswomen of color.” Tlaib’s claim that she and Omar are being silenced was sent to 1.4 million Twitter followers.  Apparently, Tlaib has been fully inoculated against irony. Pelosi responded by saying that she had never meant anything as a rebuke. Not in the slightest.

The problem here goes well beyond Ilhan Omar, a Somali refugee who was welcomed to American and now sits in Congress, seething with contempt for her adopted country, its tolerant values, and those of its allies. The Democrats are stuck with a whole Squad of like-minded representatives and thousands, perhaps millions, of young supporters eager to promote these socialist attacks on America. That’s not just a problem for the Democrats. That’s a problem for the country.

Ordinary Americans are finally waking up to the danger. They see the pernicious impact of these ideas, which routinely condemn the police, demand they be defunded, support lax prosecutors (“Justice Democrats”), and say our prisons should be dismantled because they are the products of systemic racism. The predictable result is a sharp rise in violent urban crime. The consequences can be seen in the nightly riots in Portland, Ore., and the breakdown of civic order in cities like Seattle, Minneapolis, Chicago, and New York. 

They can also see the Squad’s ideas, which are now mainstream in universities, dividing the country by race, religion, and income and pitting those angry factions against each other. In the name of “anti-racism,” they are proposing policies based squarely on racial discrimination.

Its most prominent spokesman is Ibram X. Kendi, who says the answer to previous racism is more racism. “The only remedy to past discrimination,” he says, “is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.” In a paroxysm of hyperbole, he wants severe punishments for even small acts he deems unacceptable. “What other people call racial microaggressions, I call racist abuse. And I call the zero-tolerance policies preventing and punishing these abusers what they are: antiracist.”

It is bad enough for feckless institutions like Boston University to award tenure and lucre for such drivel and for every university to stock its administration with dozens of deans of diversity, equity, and inclusion. It is far worse for that ideology to suffuse compulsory K-12 education. Parents are shocked to see their children coming home from elementary and middle schools indoctrinated with these ideas about race, oppression, and the pervasive evils of American history. Parents want to see their children taught, not indoctrinated. They don’t want to see first-graders told that they are “the oppressors” simply because they are white, or “the oppressed” simply because they are black or Hispanic. We are already seeing a hard pushback against local school boards that adopt this curriculum.

Yet the Biden administration’s political appointees are reflexively parroting these racialist ideas, and weaving them into federal policy. Expect to see more from the Department of Education and the Department of Justice’s Office of Civil Rights, now stocked with ideologues eager to issue discriminatory new regulations. Last week, a federal judge slapped down one of the administration’s new policies, which recompensed black farmers strapped by the pandemic with more funds than whites received, solely because of their race.

This kind of explicit racial discrimination violates America’s principles as well as a hard-fought consensus forged during the civil rights movement. It is no less noxious or unconstitutional now than it was decades ago when white farmers received such benefits. Those preferences ended well over 50 years ago. Returning to them now is a grave mistake.

The proper remedy, which won overwhelming support in the mid-1960s, was to adopt a race-blind legal regime. Almost immediately, however, federal bureaucracies, universities, corporations, and others transformed those race-neutral laws into a system of racial preferences. Liberal courts approved most of the changes, despite explicit legislative language to the contrary. Some of the new discrimination had to be tweaked. When quotas were ruled unconstitutional, they were changed to “affirmative action.” These preferences have lasted for over half-a-century and developed powerful constituencies, including large corporations, to perpetuate them.

Public reactions have gradually changed. Several decades ago, as the Old South emerged from Jim Crow and the North from its own forms of invidious discrimination, most voters were willing to provide extra benefits to historic victims of bias and prejudice. But the widely shared ideal was to gradually eliminate those preferences, not to lock them in permanently. These pragmatic policies were meant to move past the damage of systematic bias and reaffirm the principle of equality under the law. That principle states that laws should be administered without bias, without regard to race, religion, social status, or country of origin. It is foundation of all Western law, at least since the American and French revolutions.

That is not the only foundational value under attack. We are witnessing the left denigrate the very idea of love of country, somehow equating it with exclusionary nationalism. American patriotism has always been based on civic pride, not on European ideas of “blood and soil.” Yet a member of the New York Times editorial board, Mara Gay, told a television audience last week that "I was on Long Island this weekend visiting a really dear friend, and I was really disturbed. I saw, you know, dozens and dozens of pickup trucks with expletives against Joe Biden on the back of them, Trump flags, and in some cases just dozens of American flags, which is also just disturbing. … Essentially the message was clear. ‘This is my country. This is not your country. I own this.’"

As usual, it helps to make a few distinctions. Cursing the president is disturbing. Displaying the American flag is not. Nor is singing the national anthem, despite Colin Kaepernick’s objections. Mara Gay is welcome to fly the flag, sing the anthem, and say the Pledge of Allegiance – or not. It’s a free country, and she can do what she wants. It is her country, too.

It’s time to remind Ilhan Omar that America is not like Hamas or the Taliban. It’s time to remind Mara Gay that the American flag does not mean “This is not your country.” It is time to remind kneeling athletes that our “The Star-Spangled Banner” is not the emblem of white supremacy. It is time to reject Ibram Kendi’s terrible idea that the answer to past discrimination is to apply reverse discrimination into a never-ending future. It is an indelible stain on our history that African Americans suffered centuries of slavery and seven decades of segregation on these shores. That cruelty should be taught in school without sugarcoating. So should the displacement of Native Americans by an expanding population of white settlers. But we should also teach that America ended chattel slavery with the costliest war in its history, and that, after the failure of Reconstruction, our country has made enormous racial progress over the past six decades. It is reasonable to debate laws that tighten voting rules in Georgia and Texas, but it is wildly distorted to call them “Jim Crow 2.0,” as President Biden himself has done. That demeans everyone who suffered through the reality of legalized segregation – and everyone who fought to end it.

These exaggerated, mean-spirited attacks poison our civic discourse. They treat political adversaries as mortal enemies, not the loyal opposition. They divide the country along racial lines. It is time to condemn these attacks in plain language and find better ways forward. We need to restore our commitment to tolerance, equal treatment, and democratic debate. Those are America’s finest values. They belong to all of us.

Charles Lipson is the Peter B. Ritzma Professor of Political Science Emeritus at the University of Chicago, where he founded the Program on International Politics, Economics, and Security. He can be reached at charles.lipson@gmail.com.



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