Thursday, November 18, 2021

11-18-2021 - Defining Our Nation's Heritage

Here's the culmination of some ideas which I have been kicking around for a while. 

Defining Our Nation’s Heritage 
With apologies to the Native Americans who were here before Europeans showed up in North America, defining our nation’s heritage requires that we recall the backgrounds from which Americans, all of whom are immigrants or the descendants of immigrants, came and what their motivation was. 

Religious discrimination is high on the list. Economics follows closely behind. Seventeenth century Europe reeked with discrimination between Catholics and Protestants, neither of whom were reluctant to persecute, or even execute, those who believed other than the way they believed once they attained power. The establishment church in England discriminated against the Puritans who, once in power, discriminated against those who had discriminated against them. Both groups discriminated against Roman Catholics. 

When asked what the longest word in the dictionary is, a common reply is 
“anti-disestablishmentarianism.” That might be defined as is a belief in cancelling the dominance of the Puritans, who ruled England for several decades in the Seventeenth century under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell, having taken over from the formerly established Anglican Church, thereby “disestablishing” it. This was part of the motivation which brought many across the Atlantic to North America, from both sides of this dispute. These were the bulk of the original settlers of what were a number of English colonies and who fathered the ‘founding fathers’ of this country. 

But it was not an entirely English emigration. The French Huguenots were similarly motivated to leave by the Roman Catholics there. Throughout Europe, continuing discrimination against Jews, which went all the way back to their refusing to accept Jesus as the Messiah, led many to leave over the years, particularly at the close of the Nineteenth century when their isolated way of life in ghettos and shtetls was no longer protective. And aside from famine, many Irish came to North America to flee the long simmering and bloody Protestant-Roman Catholic dichotomy on that island. Black slaves, imported unwillingly from Africa, were involuntary immigrants, but nonetheless immigrants who, once emancipated in 1865, had little or no recollection of their African background, but because of their skin color, were very conscious of it and of the continuing discrimination that it brought to them. 

These groups, whether here legally or illegally, brought their baggage with them to North America and form the basis of the population of the United States of America. Also, during the past half century, many Asians, Indians and Hispanics have added to the flow of immigrants to this country, mostly motivated by economic reasons and others simply seeking asylum from political repression, rather than by religious beliefs, and despite legal or quasi-legal efforts to keep them out, are now part of the population and they too, did come with a heritage, as did earlier immigrants. 

But let’s see what the original settlers brought with them. Their baggage included the English language and English surnames. That has stuck to this day. When an immigrant of Polish extraction with a name like Szoslowski decides to “Americanize” his name, he is likely to choose a new surname like “Smith,” of English origin, rather than a name coming from some other ethnic origin, like “Santorini” or “Suarez.” For a while, German was a competitor of English as our language, particularly away from the Atlantic coast, but ultimately, English came to dominate. 

More seriously, the fact that some of the English immigrants were fleeing the Anglican Church and others were fleeing the Puritans, has created lasting problems for us. Fortunately, both groups agreed that the new nation would have no established religion, resulting in the First Amendment to the Constitution clearly stating that, but that didn’t prevent social and economic differences from manifesting themselves. Oversimplifying greatly, those fleeing Puritanism and who had been the supporters of the executed monarch, Charles I, were called “cavaliers” and generally settled in the Southern colonies and often pursued agricultural pursuits on large estates. A larger number of settlers, those fleeing the Anglican Church, generally settled in the Northern colonies and favored living in towns, small farms and became tradespeople and craftsmen, continuing to be called Puritans. The economic pursuits of the “cavaliers” required extensive labor and that was why the Southern colonies, and eventually the States they became, favored slavery. Northern businessmen, though not requiring slave labor, did not object to doing business with the slavery-dependent Southerners. This was some of the baggage the English immigrants brought to these shores, and we are still dealing with it, even after a Civil War and amending our Constitution to try to cleanse it. 

Other immigrant groups brought different things to this country. Economic considerations directed their skills in different directions. While there are many exceptions to generalizations, it would appear that was why many Greeks became restauranteurs, why the garment trades were initially Jewish, why many Italians went into the building trades and why police and fire departments attracted the Irish. They did what they could do most easily and do well. Blacks, once freed, took whatever laboring jobs they could find. Put simply, immigrants and their descendants did what they had to do to survive. 

One common trait that they all possessed and still possess to this day is a connection with, if not a memory of, from where they, their parents or even earlier ancestors came. This was strengthened by their tendency to live in neighborhoods populated by their own kind, at least in early generations here, and the lack of a welcoming in other neighborhoods. 

I recall that during the Second World War, some neighbors insisted that many Americans of Italian extraction actually supported Benito Mussolini. In fact, until his alliance with Adolf Hitler, many possibly did and that was understandable since aside from the bad things he did, he famously "made the trains run on time." I personally know of those with Irish backgrounds who were raising money and providing weapons to support the Catholics in their struggles in Protestant Northern Ireland. And of course, most Jews feel a connection with the State of Israel. More recently, many Blacks have come to recognize their African heritage and are starting to honor it, reflected by choosing African names, clothing styles and cuisine, the latter being a common connection that many groups have with the place from which they or their ancestors emigrated. Without their alien origins, we wouldn’t have such “American” foods as pizza, frankfurters, spaghetti, tacos, sushi, kebabs, chow mein, beer, whisky, ice cream and an endless assortment of pastries. Despite Uncle Sam’s adoption of foreign cuisines, however, it is difficult not to recognize the heritage they represent and to disconnect from it. 

Which brings me to what started me on this train of thought in the first place. In his 2018 book, “The Corrosion of Conservatism,” arch-conservative Max Boot makes an interesting point. Nourished in his conservatism starting in his teens by the writings of William Buckley, one couldn’t get much further to the right than did Boot. He even wrote for Buckley’s National Review for a while. But later, he drifted over to writing for Commentary, another conservative magazine. Although Boot was not counted among them, many of the Commentary writers were ‘neo-cons,” former disenchanted liberals who switched and became conservatives. Boot said in his book that he was more comfortable with the people at Commentary, many of whose contributors were Jewish, than with the crowd at the National Review, who were mostly Roman Catholic. Though neither was a ‘religious’ publication, this came through in some manner in the two magazines’ political positions which, while not identical, were similar. Why was Boot more comfortable at Commentary, you may ask? Well, Boot is Jewish, having emigrated from Russia with his parents when he was a child. As I said earlier, it is difficult to disconnect from one’s heritage. 

When someone reads the “Letters to the Editor” in any newspaper, don’t they glance at the writer’s name to get a hint as to their ethnicity, which might be a clue as to where they’re coming from? Again I say, it is difficult to disconnect from one’s heritage. 

Ideally, the United States of America is developing into a nation where everyone has a loyalty to the same principles and where there exists equality regardless of from where else on the planet that person, or their ancestors, came. But accomplishing that is hard. The difficulty disconnecting from one’s heritage, as described above, is aided by the visible physical differences we display. A person’s skin color and or facial characteristics are labels of one’s heritage which are difficult for that person and others to disregard. But that is what we must do. We are not there yet. 

There’s a new production of the musical “Annie” in the works at NBC. It appears that except for Harry Connick, Jr., the cast is Black. The Broadway show’s original cast was White, and the 2014 film version had a racially mixed cast which included an Annie of color. From the marketing I’ve seen for the forthcoming NBC effort, they are “playing the race card,” seeking a Black audience which they hope will be attracted and pleased to see an almost entirely Black cast. This is not a step ahead for America. 

Operatic productions from the Metropolitan Opera on down to local companies do better by assigning roles based on the singers’ voices, disregarding skin color or ethnic background. This is good and should be commended and emulated by other groups. It might be a bit confusing, however, in a theatrical or operatic production of something like Othello, in which race plays an important part, but there are always skilled make-up people available to help. 

Let’s get to another area, the reporting of news on television. Supposedly, the voices and faces seen there have disconnected from their heritage and claim to be working from an objective standpoint. The few who manifest a sign of their heritage such as the conspicuous wearing of a cross or by the foreign sound of their name, however objective their words might be, may not be believed as readily as they might be if these hints as to their background were not present. An example might be Fox’s Laura Ingraham. From the size of the cross she wears, a viewer knows in advance what her views will be on issues such as abortion. Similarly, MSNBC’s Ari Melber’s first name might give the viewer a clue as to his heritage. 

The Palestinian-Israeli dispute is another area where the speakers’ heritage ought to be known if it is not apparent. There are Israelis who want the Palestinians gone and out of their country and others who are more than ready for a two State solution. Similarly, there are Palestinians who support Hamas’ terrorism and those who accept Israeli citizenship and who even are members of the Knesset. The same dichotomies exist for American speakers on this subject as well. One has to know to whom they are listening or watching. 

The same holds true when there is a panel discussing race-related issues. One would suspect what the position of persons of color would be before they even speak. The rare instances, which you occasionally can see on Fox News, where a person of color attacks progressive legislation, always leaves me in disbelief. 

Would it be good if a speaker on TV wore a tee-shirt stating his orientation: Progressive, Middle-of-the-Roader, Neo-Con, Conservative, Racist, etc.? Sometimes we are left to make the determination of where he or she is coming from by their hairstyle or clothing, either of which might be misleading. 

But not being able to entirely disconnect from one’s heritage might not be totally undesirable since America is a mélange of these heritages. They won’t go away. That would be fine once we recognize that their heritages do influence the speakers we listen to, the books and articles they write, the music they compose and perform, and the films and TV programs they create. We should recognize that they aren't trying to put something over on anyone.  They just are what they are.  Their heritage made them so.

There is a time and place to disconnect from one’s heritage and a time and place to hang onto it. When Americans discern where the line between these two positions is, we will be on our way toward better defining our nation’s heritage and reaching the point where the United States of America develops into a nation where everyone has a loyalty to the same principles and where there exists equality regardless of from where else on the planet that person, or their ancestors, came.

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My Prescription for Democratic Victory in 2022 

It is time for Democrats and any other Americans interested in preserving democracy in our country to concentrate on maintaining control of Congress in 2022 and also diminishing Republican power in State Houses. 

Debating with those whose arguments are illogical and based on lies only serves to play their game, depleting the energy and resources of those dedicated to the preservation of democracy. The only important issue is the fact that legislation beneficial to women and to persons of color is always opposed, with rare exceptions, by Republicans. It is that simple. Because of this alone, Republicans must be defeated by mobilizing the voting power of these two groups. 

This is where the efforts of all Democrats and any other Americans interested in preserving democracy should be directed in 2022. Individual issues, however important, must take a back seat to mobilizing these voters. Passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Bill in both Houses of Congress is an important, but not the only, step which must be taken. This approach is the way, and possibly the only way, to win in 2022.

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Fire the Coach - Hire the Doctor

Sports sections of many newspapers are reporting the almost wholesale firing of college football coaches, ones whose teams don't win enough games or fill the stadiums to capacity.  Could it be that college sports, particularly football and basketball at large universities, have strayed far from the purposes such educational institutions are intended to serve? Are the schools in it only for the money?  The ability of student-athletes to switch schools through a “portal” and the spread of legal online wagering reinforce such thoughts. 

Once a university “sells out” in regard to its athletic programs, it is a small step toward “selling out” in other areas, such as politically-motivated appointments to its faculty.  Recently at the University of Florida (whose football coach may soon be canned) an otherwise unqualified doctor who supported the Governor's views regarding Covid19 was quickly added to the medical school's faculty.  That same governor also tried, unsuccessfully it turned out, to silence professors scheduled to voice opinions contrary to his own at a hearing.  Fifteen yard penalty for that one, Ron!

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