WE JOURNALISTS have never been known for our courage. That’s why Murray Kempton said of us that in history’s great conflicts we are the ones who ride down from the hills after the battle to shoot the wounded.
It is even more true today in news organizations where the individual journalist cannot count on his corporate managers to back him up should he run afoul of the popular will.
Thus there should be sympathy for writers who imagine they have found a safe issue in the President’s recent tweets, especially the ones regarding an outspoken Somali immigrant, now a Democrat politician. If she dislikes America, the President suggests, she can leave.
Suzette Hackney of the Indianapolis Star and Brian Francisco of the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette see this as a no-brainer, that the President said something racist, or something that can be reasonably confused with racism. For in our dorm room-level public discussion, it is analogous, perfectly in some minds, to 1960s Black activists being told to go back to Africa. Indeed, Hackney and Francisco would make it a litmus test for all Indiana politicians.
Before we do that, though, could we think about it a little longer — longer than the typical journalists has time to commit? Perhaps an old friend here, Rep. Jim Banks, whom Hackney labels a “wimpy sycophant” for holding his tongue, may be mulling thoughts deeper than a name-caller can grasp.
There is context, for example, historical and otherwise. And there is distinction.
It is one thing to tell a person whose ancestors came here involuntarily to go back to where he has never been. It is another to tell that to a person who came here voluntarily but has realized that this country, in her freely expressed opinion, was founded on evil principles that she can no longer abide.
That is a distinction about America — that we are free to leave. It was the entire point of the Berlin Wall. Try it in China, North Korea or practically anywhere outside the Anglosphere. And while we are on the point, it is one thing to set up camps as humanely as circumstances permit to hold persons flooding into your country illegally, and it is another thing to set up camps to work to death the socially or politically deplorable among the current citizenry.
Which brings me to a question I have been asking myself lately: Is this the way it’s going to be? Have we lost the ability to think?
In my time, there has been plenty of evidence. We began by confusing segregation with neighborhood schools and continued by confusing precise numerical racial balance with civil rights and then Al Sharpton with Martin Luther King. It was predictable that we would confuse South African socialists with Selma freedom marchers and, most recently, fascist with anti-fascists. We put our battle flag on the heels of tennis shoes and then take it off again lest it offend, one must suppose, those from whom we flee.
We have confused the rights of an innocent child with those of the eugenically inclined or even the merely self-centered. We don’t differentiate between marriage divinely inspired and marriage civically licensed. Even more confusing, it has become unfashionable to point out the difference between a woman with a penis and one without.
Finally, we cannot distinguish our foreign-policy interests from those of practically any spot on the globe. As a result, we don’t exactly know when we are at war and when we are not or where.
Now we are intent on confusing racism with patriotism. That should just about finish us, journalists and all.