The point of departure for my reflection today is a quote from Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio. Anderson is a little obscure in our time, and perhaps rightfully so. His best book, by far, was Winesburg, Ohio. His other writings, with a few exceptions, are pitiful companions in comparison. If there’s anything we cannot stand, except amongst our friends, it is failure. It is not enough to simply succeed.
I’ll quote the passage in full.
That in the beginning when the world was young there was a great many thoughts but no such thing as a truth. Man made the truths himself and each truth was a composite of a great many vague thoughts. All about in the world were the truths and they were all beautiful.
The old man had listed hundreds of the truths in his book. I will not try to tell you of all of them. There was the truth of virginity and the truth of passion, the truth of wealth and of poverty, of thrift and of profligacy, of carelsssness and abandon. Hundreds and hundreds were the truths and they were all beautiful.
And then the people cam along. Each as he appeared snatched up one of the truths and some who were quite strong snatched up a dozen of them.
It was the tuths that made the people grotesques. The old man had quite an elaborate theory concerning the matter. It was his notion that the moment one of thee people took one of the truths to himself, called it his truth, and tried to live his life by it, he became a grotesque and the truth he embraced became a falsehood.”
The sad reality is that our country’s moral, law-abiding citizens left the streets and the ballot boxes to the mob. Neither straight nor queer citizens felt it their duty to advocate their position persuasively. Ultimately, the country decided that the enforcement of the law against mob rule and intractable evangelical movements was none of their business. The Supreme Court would ‘get the job done.’
The court was asked to step into the gap–that is, something neither our absent President nor the equally inconspicious represenatatives of the American body politic felt called upon to be. The Supreme Court, in a curious mix of coincidence and design, were given the opportunity to do what should have been done a long time ago. In no small way, my hat goes off to them. The majority, and the equally prominent minority dissent, performed up the standards that the nation holds them to.
Now if only the nation would itself to those same standards! For what strikes me the most about the decision is the impressive futility and needles embitterment of all parties concerned. Going into the decision they all seemed to know very well that nothing was being achieved under the auspices that something was being done. The Court bailed them out, literally and figuratively. The court also bailed out the country as a whole because America has failed. But that the Supreme Court had to, finally, step in and decide the issue is an unpleasant situation. “I tremble,” Thomas Jefferson remarked, “when I think God is just.”
I understand that the issue that confronted the court was not an easy one. Speaking from first principles. discrimination is a requirement of society. Without it our society, and all societies, would discontinue. The possibility of free association and group conglomeration would end. The question is not how to abolish discrimination, but how to keep it confined within the social sphere, where it is legitimate, and prevent its trespassing on the political and the personal sphere, where it is destructive. From the standpoint of the daily grind, there were two embittered political sides that were slowly waging a war of unsightly attrition at each other. It was a race to the bottom and once there those who had lived on the bottom–the worst of democracy’s excess–rose to prominence on the back of their experience there.
As Arendt summarized, “Liberals fail to understand that the nature of power is such that the power potential of the Union as a whole will suffer if the regional foundation on which this power rests are undermined… If the various sources from which power springs are dried up, the whole structure becomes impotent. And states’ rights in this country are among the most authentic sources of power… for the Republic as a whole.” I think we do. She nails it. In an effort to spread the truth of equality, this truth was lost. The court became a grotesque. Instead of allowing the United States to confront its demons it has dragged out the battle. A hollow, legalistic victory has won out over one of true change.
When the Supreme Court accepted the mantle and perogative of doing something the states themselves should have been attempting a long time ago, much less the people that inhabit them, it accepted a corrupted role. A role that I do not agree with. Social change is not a top down affair, but a bottom up one. In that vein I find the dissent proposed by Scalia to be especially worthy of mentioning. I’ll look at it in fuller detail at a latter time. For now, however, I want to throw some ashes on the majority opinion, the Americans who made it necessary and even myself–I certainly was not out there in the streets fighting for equal rights.