Sunday, July 1, 2018

"I Do Not Remember It," Said O'Brien

For those who are too young to remember the Reagan/Bush years or those who are old enough but  have mercifully/conveniently forgotten them, an easy, enjoyable way to brush up is to read Molly Ivins's collections of her journalism and commentary from those days.  I recently reread Molly Ivins Can't Say That, Can She? (Random House, 1991), and today I'm halfway through You Got to Dance With Them That Brung You (Random House, 1998).  As you can see, I'm out of sequence, but it's okay because of these passages I found.

Describing Berkeley, where she'd taught a journalism class, she wrote:
Diversity is such a political buzzword these days that you can forget what it actually means until you spend time in Berkeley. A stroll across campus or along a Berkeley street is like some PC lesson in multiethnic, multicultural diversity. Black, brown, Japanese, white, Chinese; ashrams, sari shops, Tina Turner Buddhists chanting ram-rom-om, bagel shops run by Pakistanis, croissant shops run by Vietnamese, the Black Muslim Bakery; gay and lesbian knitting classes, Little League teams that look like a junior division of the United Nations, Saint Joseph-the-Worker Elementary School featuring Roman Catholics of every nation, skaters with turquoise hair and rings in their noses; God Hill, where all the theological seminaries are clustered.
This was originally published in 1997, but it should sound familiar today.  I realized after I'd read it that, while it sounds like a pleasant environment to me, conservatives would find it revolting. This passage could almost be used as a diagnostic for what Corey Robin calls "the reactionary mind." To be sure, not all conservatives would be repulsed, and some liberals would feel at least a twinge of repugnance; some others might say delicately that they understand why some people might feel that way.  But it is surely a litmus test for the GOP base.

To be fair, though, those who desire cultural purity would also object to mongrel Berkeley as Ivins described it, and they aren't all white Republicans.  They turn up among American Indians, for example, and I wince whenever my Mexican friends claim to be 100% hecho en Mexico, especially since a 100% Mexican is most likely a mongrel, just like a 100% American. You find it among LGBTQ people, like the gay men's baseball team that wanted to exclude bisexual men.  These are people who might not think of themselves as conservative in the same sense as Donald Trump or William F. Buckley, but they have a very important trait in common with them.

Someone on Twitter asked me if I wanted to see America become "darker."  Yes, I said without hesitation.  He (or someone else -- there was a chorus of them and I didn't bother to try to tell them apart) asked if I didn't agree that a "browner" America was at odds with freedom.  I replied that I didn't think so, but that history seems to show that a whiter America is at odds with freedom.

Next passage from Ivins, following directly on the first:
The right wing, ever behind the cultural curve, is now accusing the left of fostering “identity politics,” which means a pernicious harping on one’s ethnic heritage. Berkeley is well beyond identity politics. For one thing, everyone seems to have more than one affiliation. Japanese Hispanics, gay Lubavitchers, Finnish acupuncturists, Irish-African-Americans (that’s quite a Saint Paddy’s Day party). I am told by administrators at UC-Berkeley that the student body is 60 percent “other.” Mostly you have to guess. Samoan? Goan? Aztec? At faculty parties I brag that I have a student from Nebraska whose mother makes casseroles with Cheez Whiz.
Conservative?  Even more so!  This sort of blurring boundaries bothers the Right a great deal. (Though not, as I noted above, only the hard core GOP base; panic over porous boundaries turns up in groups that would ordinarily be counted as anti-conservative, even Left.)  Race-mixing, confusing genders, the failure to maintain and protect borders or boundaries is according to them the kind of degeneracy that brought down the Roman Empire.  If you want to believe that differences are "natural," whether because a deity laid them down or because they're in our DNA, it's unnerving to find people prancing insouciantly past the boundaries you thought were immutable and impenetrable.  Unnerving, but not any kind of natural law that needs to be respected.