Half Past the Month

January 16, 2020

THE REPUBLICANS on my city council are starting to scare me. Accused of prejudice by a new group of Alyinsky Democrats, they folded, at least to the degree they were left mumbling apologies into their shoes.

That, of course, is not unusual. What struck some of us, though, was the absurdity of the Democrat demands, i.e., that the GOP majority give the minority a preference in committee assignments and council offices.

Two of the new Alynskyites happened to have high melanin counts and two x chromosomes and were therefore designated on the spot as historic personages. “I think it’s important to celebrate this momentous event and what it symbolizes,” pronounced one GOP councilman with a nod to the new members. “I’m honored to be here sitting with you, to be a part of it.”

But the Democrat focus was not on sexual or racial prejudice or even historic firsts. It was on political prejudice — they want more of it. Their argument is that because the recent municipal elections left them without a majority, without the desired authority, it should be granted them as a matter of fairness, or, as they prefer to put it, of “balance.”

The local newspaper, which has been scaring me for some time now, joined in to express its disappointment that this interpretation had not ruled the day. It presented as evidence the not-too-shocking fact that a GOP majority had never selected the two senior Democrats to serve as council president. Nor had the Republicans chosen one of the Democrats to chair the powerful finance committee. Unfair.

Now, fairness is a serious principle for a council to address, but it should be addressed seriously. For that job we recommend Dan Hannan, a political historian who has been speaking and writing on the topic.

Fairness has become an obsession, Hannan says, He notes that a Google graph of the word’s use is flat until 1965, after which it heads for the moon.

The problems is that “fair” these days does not mean “justice” or “equity” or anything specific. Rather, it has become a statement of moral superiority — a superiority, Hannan notes, that paradoxically includes victimhood.

We are reminded that “fairness” has an exact meaning in certain contexts, as in playing a game or when parents set rules for their children. The first meaning in my adult dictionary has it “in accordance with the rules or standards.”

As we get a few years older, the word becomes more of a whine, Hannan notes. When a teenager says something isn’t fair it can mean simply, “You won’t let me do something I want.”

“In recent years something odd has happened,” Hannan concludes. “Adults have started using the word in much the same way that teenagers do. More than in any previous generation, people today retain their teenage sense of self-centeredness. They use ‘it’s not fair’ as a catch-all complaint, as an assertion of wounded entitlement.”

I once joked that the council needed some adult supervision. I won’t be joking about that anymore.

— Craig Ladwig


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