Friday, February 10, 2017

A Voice in the Wilderness

Life is full of educational surprises.  I was greatly amused by this tweet, which I thought summed up Keith Olbermann's pretensions very neatly, so I shared it on Facebook.

Then this morning I noticed more tweets from J Burton on my Twitter page; apparently I'd clicked on Follow without realizing it.  And those tweets were not remotely as amusing as his swipe at Olbermann, or at least not in the same way.  For example:
At first I agreed with that one, because I agree that there is no moral parity ("equivalence," I believe, is the word normally used nowadays) between a Mexican crossing the Rio Grande to look for work, or a Guatemalan trying to escape death squads, and the religious bigots, convicts, and greedheads who settled the original thirteen British colonies.  But as more of Burton's tweets showed up, I realized that he meant it the other way around:
Speaking of historical illiteracy, the "original Americans" crossed the Bering Land Bridge more than 10,000 years ago.  Spaniards and Frenchmen also beat the English colonists to North America by more than a century, though they weren't good guys either -- the point is that the English were not "original" in any sense of the word.

"Pilgrims," first of all, is a misnomer.  According to Merriam-Webster, a pilgrim is "one who journeys in foreign lands," which better describes the French trappers and traders than the English religious separatists who settled in Massachusetts because they had made themselves obnoxious by their fanaticism and bigotry in Britain and the Netherlands.  Nor were they "one who travels to a shrine or holy place as a devotee," the other M-W definition.  "Colonists" and "homesteaders" don't describe all the English intruders either; some came here, as in Virginia, as employees of corporations or as indentured servants (before the latter were replaced by African slaves); some were convicts, transported here as their sentence.  Burton is purveying a hoary quasi-historical origin myth here, not offering historical literacy.

Ditto for "arrived at a wilderness" (!).  North America was not a wilderness, though it contained some.  It was inhabited by millions of people, who had villages, towns, even cities; farms; and complex systems of government and social organization.  The English interlopers (I won't call them "immigrants" either) would have had a harder time displacing the original Americans if the latter hadn't been decimated by diseases brought to the Americas by those who preceded the English.  It's even part of the American origin myth that the "Pilgrims" nearly died off in their first year due to their ignorance and incompetence as homesteaders, but were saved by the generous help of the surviving original Americans.  Much of the land they eventually farmed had been cleared and prepared by those original Americans; as their successors learned, clearing a real wilderness is a lot harder than taking over other people's lands.

Most of the hard work of MAKING a country was done not by those first arrivals but by later generations of (yes) immigrants and slaves, along with the descendants of previous French and Spanish colonists who already lived in the territory and became "Americans" through land purchase or conquest.  Burton overlooks -- or maybe he approves of -- the enduring hostility to each new wave of immigrants, from the Scots and Irish to the Swedes, Italians, Greeks, Chinese, Japanese, and others, whose labor was desperately needed by business elites who didn't want to pay fair wages to the workers who were already here.  But without those immigrants, the United States as we know it today would not exist.  As I've noticed before, the hostility of today's nativists confuses (partly strategically but mostly through ignorance) "undocumented" and legal immigrants, to say nothing of internal migrants like the Okies and Southern blacks who moved west or north to find jobs and escape Jim Crow.  Even though they were already Americans, they were treated as if they were "illegal" immigrants -- badly, to put it concisely.

I agree with some of Burton's points, mostly when he's trying to skewer liberal hypocrisy.  But then he endorses right-wing hypocrisy, or exemplifies it himself.  He's critical of our corporate overlords, but seems to overlook that Trump is one of them, and has packed his administration with his peers.  He criticizes the corporate media, but mistakes them (along with Democratic elites) for the "left."  And then there's his curious literalizing of a typically ham-handed Wuerker cartoon: "Wow! Didn't realize you can radicalize Muslims with a mean poster or two. Maybe it's wise to not bring large quantities of them into the US."  He's not totally ignorant, since he elsewhere criticizes the craziness of those who "wanted to shoot down Russian jets over Syria," so I have to suppose that he's deliberately forgetting about the US murder of countless people in various Middle Eastern countries, which leftists have been pointing out does more to win recruits for ISIS than "a mean poster or two." Or that Trump didn't try to ban entry by Muslims from countries like Saudi Arabia, whose citizens masterminded the 9/11 attacks.  A well-disciplined memory is as essential for a Trump devotee and apologist as it is for any liberal Democrat.

Ah, there's more.  This is one of the first I saw that made me reconsider my initial impression of where Burton was coming from:
Well, no, "gay marriage" isn't "in" the Constitution, any more than "interracial marriage" is; but then maybe Loving v. Virginia also occupies a prominent spot in Burton's Wall of Shame.  The Constitutional issue is what limits governments can put on marriage.  By analogy, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints isn't "in" the Constitution either, but it is still covered by the First Amendment.  As for "the right to control our borders," well, "control our borders" isn't "in there" either, and like so many right-wingers Burton is hostile to "activist courts" that invent rights based on Political Correctness.  But I'm fine with the idea, which I'd have thought to be in line with article 8's "provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States."  Is there anyone who genuinely disagrees?  The Devil's in the details, however, like what constitutes rational control of our borders, what is prudent or necessary to defend the country, whether establishing a garrison state is a good idea, and so on.

Speaking of activist judges, Burton is displeased that some of them dared to obstruct "the majority-supported exercise of a duly-elected President's rightful powers."  Considering that the Framers were extremely wary of majorities, and put numerous brakes on majorities "in there," this complaint is as funny as Obama's very similar (and similarly unfounded) "Ultimately, I am confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress."  What part of "checks and balances" doesn't Burton (like Obama) understand?

I could quote more, but this is probably enough.  For now, anyway.  It might be worth noticing that Burton writes well, in grammatically correct, properly spelled English.  That should please liberals, many of whom can't do as well themselves.  He even makes a valid point here and there, but on examination they turn out to be inspired by partisanship and F├╝hrerprinzip: he can't see the same errors when they're made by his side, or by himself.  Just like your typical liberal Democrat.

P.S. I just saw, to my horror, that I wrote "their" for "they're" in that penultimate sentence.  Luckily I noticed and fixed it in time.  I blame Putin.