John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to jemcintyre@gmail.com, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/ and now at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

We're not going back to a place that didn't actually exist

Some of the people I grew up among in Kentucky periodically post memes on Facebook about bringing prayer back into the public schools. I have a pretty good idea of what they want, because I remember what they had.

We began every day at Elizaville Elementary School by standing to recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag, followed by the Lord's Prayer, until the Supreme Court belatedly realized that it is not the job of the state to provide religious instruction.

It was, mind you, the Protestant version of the Lord's Prayer. What we were being made to understand between the flag and the Lord's Prayer, was that we were growing up in a country in being white (Elizavlle Elementary was segregated; I had no black classmates until the fifth grade) and Protestant was the norm, the template.

(If you think that is overstatement, recall that when I was in the fourth grade and John F. Kennedy was running for the presidency, there were open questions whether a Roman Catholic could be elected president.)

We see today a widespread synthetic nostalgia for a white Protestant America that never quite existed. You only have to keep in mind that there are black families in today whose seventeenth-century ancestors made them Americans a century before my Scots-Irish ancestors arrived.

That nostalgia feeds in to a cluster of concerns among older white people: economic insecurity (the result of three decades of Republican policies, abetted by Democrats, that privilege corporations and wealthy people over working-class and middle-class Americans), cultural anxieties (gay people getting married, mouthy women being elected to high office), and relentless demographic trends (the inexorable growth of a non-white population that will exceed the white one).

I responded today, perhaps unwisely, to a Facebook post that presented a confused melange of anxieties about Sharia law, immigrants and people who are being told to go back where they came from. (Hey, if you're not Native American, you're not from here.) Amid all the strident talk, it might be helpful to keep a few simple truths in mind.

Item: The United States is a secular republic. The Constitution is explicit that all people who adhere to any religion, or no religion, are on an equal footing.

Item: Sharia law is not replacing civil law in this country, any more than Torah law and Roman Catholic canon law are. Though it does seem to be Christians who appear to be most active in attempting to get religious doctrine written into the law books.

Item: The 3.5 million Muslims in the United States look unlikely to leave anytime soon, so it might be a good idea to learn how to live with them as fellow citizens.






2 comments:

  1. I commend you for still being willing to engage the folks who support Trump on this issue. But I didn't have any luck arguing with folks of this ilk in high school in TN--and however unlike Miss Stephanie Crawford in To Kill a Mockingbird I may be in other respects, I can't help feeling a twinge of her "if Atticus Finch wants to butt his head against a stone wall, it's his head."

    Nevertheless, you have described the situation with crystal clarity, as always. And, as always, you da man/you're a mensch/however you want to put it.

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  2. John, I love how you so eloquently put into words what I think but do not have the same ability to express.Thank you and God Bless.

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