Leonard Pitts Hits It Out Of The Park

Leonard Pitts has long been one of my favorite columnists. I rarely quote him on this blog for a very good reason: his writing is usually–okay, pretty much always–too good, too precise and evocative to paraphrase or summarize, and I really do try to minimize the direct quotes in these posts.

That said, Pitts made a supremely important point in a recent column, and I need to emphasize it. He began by reporting the blowback he’d received over his use, in a previous column, of the phrase “you people.” As one reader wrote him, “How dare you lump all Trump voters like that?”

His response was direct.

Well, dear reader, I cannot tell a lie. That objectifying language was no accident. Rather, it was designed to make a point. In order to understand that point, you have to understand something else:

I’m an American. By that, I don’t simply mean that I’m a U.S. citizen, though I am. But what I really mean is that I venerate the ideals on which this country was founded.

Unalienable rights. Life and liberty, the pursuit of happiness. Freedom of speech. Of faith. Of conscience. Government by consent of the governed. Equality before the law. Because of those ideals, America already was a revolution even before it won independence from England. Despite themselves, a band of slaveholding white men somehow founded a nation based on an aspirational, transformational declaration of fundamental human rights.

And then came the taco bowl connoisseur and his acolytes. Their values — more accurately, their lack of values — have coarsened the country, impoverished its spirit, debased what once was revered.

His use of the phrase “you people,” Pitts wrote, wasn’t  a call for division; it was employed in belated recognition of the fact that some Americans have “seceded from common cause, common ideals, common hope.”

To put that another way: If I never see another cable-news reporter doing interviews in some red-state diner to help the rest of us “understand” the people there, it will be too soon. How about we send that reporter to a blue-state shopping mall to help the people in the diner understand the rest of us? What they will learn is they have no monopoly on frustration or anger.

Pitts then enumerates what “his” people continue to believe and  those he labels “you people” don’t–freedom of speech, the rule of law, democratic ideals, facts and reason.

You people don’t honor the aspirational and transformational ideas that made this country great. My people do.

For those reasons and more, you people are not my people.

My people are Americans.

Pitts has summed up, in his far more eloquent way, what I have been calling “The American Idea.”

What the culture warriors pontificating about “American Exceptionalism” don’t understand is the actual American exceptionalism that was baked into the country’s origin: the notion that one wouldn’t be an American by virtue of status or identity, but by embracing the philosophy of the new nation, by the willingness to “pledge allegiance” to an entirely new concept of governance.

It was–as Pitts readily admits–mostly aspirational. But with fits and starts (lots more fits than most of us learned in high school history classes), we’ve tried to follow that philosophy to its logical conclusion. We extended the franchise, welcoming non-landowners, freed slaves and women into the ranks of “We the People.” Our courts (again, with fits and starts) protected the rule of law against efforts to subvert it in favor of the greedy and unscrupulous and the efforts of racial and religious bigots.

What has so many of us worried sick right now isn’t simply the realization that so many of our fellow citizens are credulous, racist and mean-spirited. There have always been folks like that (although not as vocal or empowered by rampant disinformation).

We are worried that we are losing that aspirational America, that “American Idea,” to the people Pitts calls “you people”–people who never understood or embraced it.


  1. And THOSE people are rigging the system with antidemocratic laws that may give them the ability to ignore the will will of the people in future elections. This is getting scary.
    The filibuster needs to go away now and the right to vote act(s) need to be passed.

  2. I guess I’ve been trying to say that Leonard is one of “those people,” too. Or is it “you people?”

    I get confused.

    Until we reach the ideal laid down by our framers, guess what?

    We are an oligarchy with power distributed like a pyramid or triangle. Unless you are in the Top 400 families, guess what?

    You are part of the class structure in the USA, which falls within the pyramid. Those 400 people and their lawyers and accountants make the rules we abide by, but they don’t. They think they are exceptions to the rule.

    Now, our egos might think we are exceptional and better than or less than, but that is ego identification. It’s the “I AM.”

    The absolute truth is the 400 are also part of us – the collective WE. However, their money gives them the power to either oppress others or make them accessible. What will they do with that power? Will they serve good or evil?

    That’s the game life. You can struggle within the game or not. Peace!

  3. Yes. Pitts clarifies the basic issue, thus removing any confusion about what the ideals are and have been for our beloved country and Constitution…until now. NOW is Confederacy 2.0. NOW is the media slavering over a truly wretched creature from the sewers of New York greed, avarice and total immorality.

    I watched most of the MSNBC special on the Civil War last Sunday. It was disheartening to say the least. The denial of any wrongdoing by those interviewed from the old Confederacy was gut-churning in its fantasy-perpetuating nonsense. Yet, “those people” believe they were invaded after firing on Ft. Sumpter. “Those people” thought that slavery would “work itself out” over time. What they never addressed was that the eleven states committed acts of treason, insurrection and sedition. So, OF COURSE, they will embrace the likes of the orange hairball. He fed their ignorance, their hate, their bigotry and their pathetic dreams of state’s rights over Federal governing.

    Pitts may be right. I don’t think “those people” will ever truly join the Union in spirit or in mind. What’s truly sad is their comfort with being so hateful and prejudicial, prejudices based on lies, slavery and a “peculiar institution” that supported an economy based on agriculture. It should be noted that only 10% of Confederate whites owned slaves. So, how does that explain the fact that over 400,000 of “those people” died serving the selfish, cruel and inhuman few who felt aggrieved over losing slaves? This phenomenon has been discussed here before. The aggrieved white male in America has its roots in pre-Civil War slavery and steeply-tilted economic imperatives.

    Well done, capitalists. They made Karl Marx look like a genius even before he was born.

  4. I have also long admired Leonard Pitts’ values and his columns. His term “you people” reminded me of a conversation years ago with my husband’s sister and her husband, both influential people locally. Discussing the benefits and drawbacks of social services, I used the term “those people” referring to those who abuse the system was the issue; surprisingly my sister-in-law informed me there are no “those people”, there are just people. I said I have some of “those people” in my own family and they are detrimental to those who need and deserve public assistance.

    “you people” or “those people” they have now become detrimental to the entire country; whether in their politics, their religion, their support of violence as a means to their divisive ends of democracy are still in a position of power and control over government at all levels. When money elevates the powerful in government and business; democracy is lost to all of us.

    “We are worried that we are losing that aspirational America, that “American Idea,” to the people Pitts calls “you people”–people who never understood or embraced it.”

    Just yesterday, as I was getting my Covid-19 booster vaccination, I put the question to the CVS pharmacist, “What is wrong with American people today?” I was referring to the many unanswered job opening signs in many area businesses and specifically to the CVS pharmacy I had attempted to schedule the vaccination but only the pharmacist was working. He was filling prescriptions, waiting on customers to pick up their medication and giving vaccinations to those waiting their turn. Their help wanted signing offering a decent starting salary and all benefits during training and for part-time openings have been ignored for many months. Have we lost American ideals while suffering the Trump voters, who ARE all alike if they still support his deconstruction of this government?

  5. living with,’you people”in a red trumpdakota..when it comes the virture of the American spirit many a movie, this western portrays us wholly good,and pure. we need critcal race theory,and a required civics class here..this is fought by this very population. you people isnt a slant,its a reminder that you have made your own world accordingly. when i first moved up here
    i was introduuced to the relatives and followers of gordon kahl,posse comatatdus fame. i landed in the festered reminants of his kind,and still,wade thru it daily. i dont like looking over the fence,watching them,carry on like devoid sloths ready to kill our democracy they claim to defend.
    hypocracy is the steady diet of words here,every cafe,bar,or public place has fox on a t.v. constant ignorance and false naritve carlson style abound. (ive rebuked his claims and was met with open mouths and disblief as i was to dare contradict his spew)im glad i dont have to live with them as a family member,nor have to deal beyond my needs to make a living here.ive watched “you people”bought and sold on ideals and ideas,some were factual,some,(hey buddy wanna buy a watch) like a show in some carney,trump barking and the fans laughing. unfortunatly that one segment of America has been conned and bought and used..the money and powerful,have purchaced hate, spread the ignorance and will take our democracy and kill it.

  6. JoAnn mentioned the help wanted signs that are proliferating everywhere. My local rag had a front page story about lots of jobs, but nobody to work them. Let’s put our collective heads together and think about how to end this situation. Here’s my proposal, let more of those people at our teeming borders through the gates. They are “my people” and they would gladly take those jobs. “Those people” don’t want them because they aren’t their vision of America.

  7. Like many who comment I’m always struggling for a way to express my understanding of how our Constitution concisely defined the world’s first liberal democracy. I should have just waited to read how Leonard Pitts expressed it.

    “Unalienable rights. Life and liberty, the pursuit of happiness. Freedom of speech. Of faith. Of conscience. Government by consent of the governed. Equality before the law. Because of those ideals, America already was a revolution even before it won independence from England. Despite themselves, a band of slaveholding white men somehow founded a nation based on an
    aspirational, transformational declaration of fundamental human rights.”


    As the kids say now, “BAM!”

  8. I suggest reading Jack London’s “Martin Eden” or Theodore Dreiser’s “American Tragedy” or Henry Roth’s “Call it Sleep”. Each depicts the struggle within between intense individualism and compelling collectivism. It was the subject of my “final exam” talk for a Public Speaking class at Midwood H.S. (Brooklyn) in 1953 or ’54.
    Americans have not been able to resolve this internal conflict and its consequences for immigrant populations since our founding as a nation.

  9. Whenever there is a red state diner segment, I wish the reporter would ask the patrons where they get their information from. They will all answer the same sources: Facebook, InfoWars, Gateway Pundit, NewsMax, Fox News (particularly Tucker Carlson or Sean Hannity). These are not people who get their information from watching CNN or reading the Washington Post or New York Times. Their minds have been poisoned with misinformation and many of them have become radicalized.

    I see this morning that Adam Kinzinger has decided not to seek re-election. I’m not surprised. The Illinois Democrats were likely eliminating his district.

  10. Do they teach the aspirations of the founders of our country in high school? I suspect they do not. It could create a wonderful discussion in government or history classes. Furthermore, wouldn’t it be great if teachers and/or students could reenact some of the debates with the authors of our Constitution? That would be a great way for students to learn about American ideals. Or maybe they could rap it.

    Using the term “those people” is divisive. I don’t like MAGA people and yet, I won’t call them those people because like it or not they are also American citizens. Their understanding of the aspirations of our founders is very different from ours. Maybe they are stuck in the 18th century when it was legal to own slaves and/or they want to return to the Jim Crow era. There is no doubt they see people who are not straight or sisgendered as criminal or perverted. I suspect most of them also believe that women should be teachers, secretaries, nurses and home makers who are pro-birthers.

    When Sen. Nadler asked a man from Texas what he used his semi-automatic weapon for, the man replied that he used it to kill hogs and hunt. I am sure my grandfather did not butcher hogs that way. To me, the real hunters use a bow and arrow for deer hunting. I suppose a semi-automatic would come in handy if attacked by a bear or maybe a wolf. I am sure Native Americans are far better hunters because they probably kill the old and the weak from a herd of buffalo or elk. They even had rituals to thank the animal for its sacrifice. They certainly had more reverence for life than that Texas citizen.

    I don’t understand this “rugged individualism” that is part of the MAGA populism. This sort of individualism belonged to the days when pioneers moved into the frontiers of the American wilderness. Now the wilderness has sadly been “tamed”. Many of the white inhabitants have little to no reverence for the interdependent web of life.

    If we are not careful, we will forget that “those people” are supposed to have equal protection under the law. The first principle of the UU faith is that each person has inherent worth and dignity. That even applies to “those people.”

  11. Robin,

    Well said, but the Nazis in Texas are now coming for the books. Watch for a book burning in all towns across the state. There’s bound to be one near you…guarded by the AR-15 toting hog hunters, no doubt.

  12. So it is that per Pitts there was in fact an American exceptionalism afoot before the revolution led by slave-holding Jeffersonians who were somehow, if ironically, products of the Enlightenment and Greek philosophy – just not the American exceptionalism that capitalists and textbooks have sold us on (from sea to shining sea, capture of the means of production by capitalists good, capture of the means of production by communists bad etc.). I like to think Pitts is right but I await further evidence to confirm that we were ever the exceptions to the conclusions he has reached.

  13. Mr.Pitts nails it!
    There are “Those people,” proudly that way, like the elderly lady(?) seen here, in Florididia, wearing a “PROUD DESPICABLE” tee shirt, last year. They were always here, just not loud and proud, just not especially riled up and emboldened, until the sick orange gutter-being used them to raise him up.
    “You people,” them, can not see how he pressed their “Me Bigot” buttons, and lined them up behind him, nor how little, if any, he cares about them. He has never been interested in any sort of American dream, other than the one of greed, which in an expanded version is also their dream, in the sense of wanting “More,” just for them: more power, more control, more of the pie.
    Mitch D.
    P.S.: Welcome to Floridah, Vernon.

  14. I am still amazed that Thomas Jefferson could own slaves and simultaneously write the Declaration of Independence, a document that continues to inspire people around the world. I think sometimes people are caught in the evils of their own time while seeing a good for the future that is worth fighting for. I’m glad Mr. Jefferson wrote the Declaration. It is a good reference point for articulation of our hopes.

    As for Leonard Pitts, I have been an admirer of his for a long time and appreciate his thoughts. And I would also like to see interviews with members of the “blue” neighborhoods who could articulate what we “blues” think and feel so the “reds” can learn to understand us.

  15. When I was in my teens I payed a lot of sports. Most of the teams had a few Jewish players and no problem!Then we heard the term “you people ’ and “those people” many Jews and all the other immigrant groups that made up our city! Those terms were camouflage of bigotry! Those people!!

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