Wednesday, December 10, 2014

What is the trajectory of the moral arc of the universe?

One of the things President Obama said is necessary for us to solve our current challenges is that we have to recognize that we've made progress - because it gives us hope that we can make more. But there is a strain of liberalism that - either due to psychological or strategic preference - seems to be wedded to the idea that things are getting worse. Exhibit A: Chris Hayes.


At about 1:45:
"Equal Justice Under Law," as it reads above the Supreme Court. And I've gotta say that for a long time I believed the U.S. is such a place. Sure, its flawed and sure, there are places where justice is miscarried. But fundamentally I have long thought that the U.S. really is a nation of laws. I have to say...it is getting harder and harder to hold on to that faith.
When I saw Hayes tweet a link with that video, I had a question for him.

I haven't heard back from him. But the only way a statement like that makes any sense is if he was commenting on his own growing awareness of white male privilege, which has shielded him from seeing our history as a country.

As Bryan Stevenson often says, we have a justice system that "treats you better if you are rich and guilty than if you are poor and innocent. Wealth - not culpability - shapes outcomes."

But does anyone else remember that there were days when black people were lynched instead of tried in a court of law - while public officials either participated or simply looked the other way? Or how about the days when neither women nor people of color were allowed to sit on juries? Better yet...where is the accountability for slavery...or Native American genocide? And when have any public officials been held accountable for torture?

The most generous take on what Hayes had to say is that he is awakening to his own sense of privilege. Because the only other alternative is to see it as a narcissistic statement devoid of any historical awareness.

I am reminded of why President Obama focused his 2008 speech about race in America on the opening statement in our constitution: "We the people, in order to form a more perfect union..."
Of course, the answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution — a Constitution that had at is very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time.

And yet words on a parchment would not be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights and obligations as citizens of the United States. What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part — through protests and struggle, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience and always at great risk — to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time.
It is the sacrifice of those "Americans in successive generations" to perfect our union that is negated by those who cannot/will not see the progress that has been made. Honoring them in no way diminishes the difficult challenges we still face. But it does allow us to see that the trajectory of the moral arc of the universe is long, but its bending towards justice. And that's where hope comes from.

2 comments:

  1. A little tangential but Whenever I see someone all gloom and doom about climate change I'd like to point out the progress we've made. We're not going to hit the magic 2C target but the pace of improvement means we will turn it around.

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  2. What are these young white so called "liberal" elites learning in college? It's a pretty straight line from before the signing of the Constitution to the Senate report on torture. From slavery to wholesale massacre of Native Americans to Jim Crow and so called law enforcement terrorizing, brutalizing, torturing and lynching African Americans to School of the Americas and Abu Gharib. American history - what is it good for? Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

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