Tag Archives: Leonard Pitts

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.

 

The Incomparable Leonard Pitts

Among the columnists I admire–and, admittedly, envy for their eloquence–is Leonard Pitts. Pitts, for those unfamiliar with him, writes for the Miami Herald, but his column is widely syndicated.

Pitts recently wrote “An open letter to all you privately disgusted Republicans,” and in it (unlike our demented President) he really “tells it like it is.” He began by quoting former GOP Rep. Charlie Dent, who recently told CNN that his former colleagues continue to support Trump publicly because they fear the base, but “having spoken to many of them privately, they’re absolutely disgusted and exhausted by the president’s behavior.”

Pitts response was acerbic.

As the scope of Trump’s abuse of power grows ever more obvious, as his contempt for the rule of law grows ever more plain, as leaders of your party offer ever more threadbare justifications and rationalizations for that which is neither justifiable nor rational, we receive word that you folks are “privately … disgusted?”

As Rick Perry and others claim Trump as God’s “chosen one,” as a new Economist/YouGov poll finds that most Republicans rank him a better leader than Lincoln himself, as the party grows ever more indistinguishable from a cult, with Trump as he who must not be questioned, he whose wisdom is beyond mere mortal ken, we hear that off the record, you lot are “very concerned?”

One struggles for adjectives to convey how little that means, how insignificant is the comfort it offers.

Pitts is giving voice to the majority of American citizens who are not part of the cult, who are watching with increasing panic as men and women elected to tend the nation’s business violate their oaths of office by elevating their political prospects over the national interest, and remaining silent–supportive–while the administration dismantles and defiles our government.

Indiana has sent people to Washington that I know personally; I know they understand how appalling this President is, and how deeply he is damaging the country. Yet there has not been a peep, not a dissenting vote–party has consistently trumped integrity. (And yes, I used “trumped” intentionally.)

Pitts says it far better than I can:

Sixty years ago, Martin Luther King issued a warning: “If you fail to act now, history will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”

King was addressing white racial moderates, but it is remarkable — and disheartening — how well his warning fits you, who have prioritized your own political backsides above truth, above honor, above national interest. As the country lurches toward a precipice from which it will not recover, you count votes. In a time that demands every good man and woman raise their voices, you embrace the appalling silence instead….

We are posing for history here, ladies and gentlemen. One day we will be judged by what we said and did not say, the stands we took and did not take, in this moment of peril. And you, the party of Reagan and Eisenhower, T.R. and the apparently overrated Lincoln, are coming up well short. Where is your courage? Who broke your moral compass?

Enough with your private disgust and off-the-record concern. The times are calling. They demand you stand up like American women and American men — stand up like John McCain would long ago have done — and speak what you know to be true, what we all know to be true.

Or else, at the very least, please shut up completely. Let the rest of us mourn our country in peace.

 

Quick, Dirty and Accurate

Every so often, I read something that expresses an opinion I hold so succinctly and clearly that I get a bit jealous of the wordsmith. (That tends to be my reaction to pretty much anything Leonard Pitts writes, and especially this one).

That was also my reaction to a recent post by Ed Brayton at Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

Brayton was addressing the recurring question of why Trump supporters don’t care about his constant–incessant–lies. He began by referencing two classic analyses by Richard Hofstadter, the book  Anti-Intellectualism in American Life and Hofstadter’s much-quoted essay, The Paranoid Style in American Politicsboth of which are well worth reading if you haven’t already done so. Hofstadter wrote in the 1960s, and Brayton’s point was the cyclical nature of American history.

It seems that about every 40-50 years we go through this bout of pseudo-populist, anti-intellectual, anti-immigrant and racist fervor. You can go back to the Know Nothings of the mid-1800s, to the rebirth of the KKK in the early 1900s, to the McCarthy era and the birth of the John Birch Society in the 60s (which was just starting when Hofstadter did his analysis). What we’re seeing with Trump is the latest rebirth of those movements. He’s tapped into a rich vein of ignorance, paranoia and bigotry that is never far below the surface in America.

When I am particularly worried about our prospects for emerging from the current cesspool of corruption and bigotry, I remind myself of these episodes from America’s past. After all, we survived those; surely when the fever breaks, we can repair the damage being done every day by the looters and racists who now control our government.

Can’t we?

Brayton makes another point I’ve frequently made: these eruptions occur in times of economic and cultural stress.

When people feel insecure economically or socially — as in white Christians feeling threatened by becoming a smaller percentage of the population, coupled with vast income inequality and the massive recession of 2008 and 2009 — they tend to retreat into this very simpleminded tribalism. They want to build Fortress America and shut everyone else out. They retreat to racial tribes and lob bombs — sometimes literally — at other tribes. Their fear and insecurity make them easy targets for demagogues like Trump to whip them up into a fervor by telling them that it’s all the fault of (insert scapegoat here — blacks, Latinos, immigrants, Muslims, Jews, gay people, “elites” or “globalists”). Fear is a powerful motivator and is easily exploitable by those seeking authoritarian power.

And once people are fully in the grip of tribalism, the truth simply doesn’t matter to them anymore.

Brayton points to Trump’s repeated–and largely fact-free– attacks on immigrants as an example. Those immigrants (unless, of course, they are pale and come from Norway) are dangerous threats, they are “other.”

Leonard Pitts, in the linked column, brilliantly summed up how we fell into this particular abyss.

There is no mystery here. Trump is president because Obama was, and because there were many people for whom that fact was apocalyptic. It’s no coincidence David Duke loves this man, white people chant his name to taunt black ones and hate crimes spiked during the campaign.

After all, what’s a lie or two–or 3,000–when your white Christian heterosexual tribe is in danger of losing its hegemony?

The Sour Truth

My two favorite columnists are Gail Collins and Leonard Pitts. They often say what I am thinking, but in a much more elegant and/or eloquent way.

This morning, I’m relinquishing this space to Pitts. Read him and weep.