The Monday Morning Teaser

Two events stood out for me this week: the Supreme Court’s decision on affirmative action that came out Tuesday, and then the surprising-to-some racist rant of Cliven Bundy on Wednesday. Trying to make sense of each took me back to the 19th century.

The conservative justices’ impatience with affirmative action reminded me of a paragraph from the Court’s Civil Rights Cases decision of 1883, which declared unconstitutional the Civil Rights Act of 1875:

When a man has emerged from slavery, and, by the aid of beneficent legislation, has shaken off the inseparable concomitants of that state, there must be some stage in the progress of his elevation when he takes the rank of a mere citizen and ceases to be the special favorite of the laws, and when his rights as a citizen or a man are to be protected in the ordinary modes by which other men’s rights are protected.

In the white mindset of 1883, that decision sounded so reasonable that only one justice dissented. But from a 21st-century perspective, the Court was naive to assume that the Southern states were going to act in good faith to protect the rights of their black citizens, and so the Civil Rights Cases became the opening bell for the Jim Crow era.

Similarly in this week’s decision, the 6-2 majority decided that there’s no need to make non-whites or women “the special favorite of the laws”, and that the ordinary political process can be trusted to defend their rights. We’ll see how it turns out this time.

With Cliven Bundy, conservative pundits were shocked by his racist outburst while liberals had been expecting it. The difference? Conservatives had been taking each individual Bundy pronouncement at face value, while liberals had noted all the points of congruence between Bundy’s views and those of the post-Civil-War defeated Southern aristocrats who founded the KKK. Having already seen so much of that package, we were expecting the rest of it to show up sooner or later.

Other stories worthy of note this week: The FCC seems ready to kill net neutrality. Now that the Deepwater Horizon public relations disaster has been dealt with, BP wants to welch on its deal to clean up the Gulf. The owner of the L. A. Clippers went on his own racist rant, alienating his coach, most of his players, and the rest of the NBA. And the surprising popularity of Thomas Piketty’s book of economic theory has conservatives panicking and yelling “Marxist!” As the Soviet Union recedes into history’s rear-view mirror, does the Red Scare technique still work?

The Bundy article “Cliven Bundy and the Klan Komplex” should be out within the hour. I haven’t titled the article on the affirmative action decision yet, but I’m picturing it coming out in the late morning, with the weekly summary “History Lesson” following around noon, Eastern time.

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