John Roberts and the Nature of (American) Man

Altercation spoke earlier this week about the man the President has nominated to fill the newly vacated seat of retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor; in this post - which was little more than an aside - the good doctor included a blurb about “judicially-created and enforced liberalism” and how it may have weakened the cause of liberalism overall. This forms the basis of our sermon here today, for while Altercation did not state so explicitly, I want to return to this point as it at least implies that liberalism as a political philosophy is so weak it cannot sustain victories achieved in the judicial branch of a democratic government. There is indeed that potential flaw in liberalism and I would be the first among us to step forth and lead the re-forging of liberal thought, but as liberals we must first pay homage to root causes, as there are deeper aspects to what we are attempting to do here with this society - creating that more perfect union and all. Now is the time for that deeper reflection; indeed, there is no better time to do so than when we are called upon to endow an individual with the power to spend the rest of his or her life interpreting our most basic values and applying them to the world in which we live.

I posit that if you conduct this deeper analysis, you will find there is a continuous thread of existence that flows throughout all of the experiences of European immigrants in this New World: rejection of the need to respect the rights of "others" - however this “other” may be defined. It courses through our social fabric to such a degree that it infects our conversation - even against the will of those who are aware of its presence. The common terms we use to communicate - like "New World" - are laden with the blood of this disrespect. We teach "American History" (supposedly the story of the land on which we live) as though these lands were vacant before the arrival of the Pilgrims; while at the same time calling the people who met the boats on which the Pilgrims arrived: "American Indians" - a double misnomer, as it relates them to an Italian adventurer who arrived here millennia after their own ancestors and to a people who populate a land far on the other side of the planet. Yet our society has developed no terms of usage, with which to refer to those who welcomed the Pilgrims with any respect. "Native Americans", “indigenous” or "Injuns" are just separate ways of saying, "who you are is not up to you to define, it is up to us" and if you say to a people that you will not allow them to define themselves, you are saying you do not respect them or their right to exist as humans.

This model - creating a class of humans identified as "the other" and then removing from them the basic rights with which we supposedly believe all humans are endowed - is the most basic pattern of existence in this American experiment. That is how early African arrivals to these shores could be migrated so easily - across so many political jurisdictions - from indentured servants (a class which no one denies was placed upon Africans and at the same time no one reflects that this very status reflects a recognition of the humanity of the African - surely no one has ever called a cow or a dog an indentured servant; what could be the point of setting the animal free after a set period of time; what would the animal do? Yet still today, the humanity of the African is questioned and the highest phrase to be heaped on our shoulders is, "he/she speaks so well") to bondage slave. Once you create an “other” and codify that in law – whether through treaties which no court will enforce or through description in the ultimate law of the land as “nonpersons” – these “others” will forever have their humanity questioned. Creating an “other” enables humans to suspend what their eyes are telling them as you have placed before them a filter that says, “well, I would react in this form or fashion, but that is because I am a human – who knows what motivates these “others” to do what they do”.

We all know that it is important who resides at the table, the seat of power we call the Supreme Court, but unless we understand the patterns and practices of power that those nine individuals will be upholding, we cannot properly answer for ourselves whether or not an individual nomination is the appropriate selection to wield that staff of power. As John Roberts has already demonstrated in judgments on enemy combatants, he is well-versed in the practice of defining “others” and removing from them any of the rights, with which he nominally believes all humans are born. History shows us what evil leads from a Supreme Court that believes one people has no rights which need be respected by another people; this definition of what it means to be a slave comes to us from the 1854 Dred Scott case. The fact that a case from a time in our history – which we have all been taught was behind us – so reflects the battles that are being fought today, ably demonstrates how insidious is this disease of defining "others" and then taking away their rights. Indeed, this current administration has so enveloped themselves within this practice that they have empowered the descendents of slaves (either be they children of US slave stock from our own cotton/tobacco plantations or newer arrivals to this nation from the sugar plantations that the British West India company populated throughout the Caribbean) to present that declaration of “otherness” to the nations of the world.

To see this pattern does require some distancing of oneself from the current narrative being told (or the current hymn being sung), so that the parallels between "the savage", "the slave" and "the enemy combatant" can seen more clearly, but once that distance has been reached, the pattern is unmistakable. Indeed, it becomes obvious that our nation derives its strength from this most basic pattern; that our ability to mobilize our citizenry in an instant - whether into a lynch mob at the local level or into divisions of thousands of troops on the national level (Pat Tillman, anyone?) - is at the core of our existence. The world is littered with the corpses that tell the story of the ways in which man can be inhuman to his fellow man. One wonders what can be done to stop this cycle from repeating itself; surely the answer begins with teaching people to recognize this pattern when they see it in the actions of their fellow citizens - and in themselves. Once that pattern has been identified, it must be opposed - relentlessly.

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