The Peach State prepares for a political frenzy as a pair of January runoffs determine the balance of the Senate—and the shape of the presidency
As a doctor, Theodore Dalrymple worked for 15 years among the poor in a hospital and prison in a major city. Writing about the experience, Dalrymple noted the routine violence in the lives of his patients, “the fluidity of relations between the sexes,” and “the devastating effect of prevalent criminality” in the community.
Fatherlessness among children born in the urban hospital was almost universal, and in most homes any adult male was “generally a bird of passage” instead of a long-term resident. The people had a poor work ethic and a sense of entitlement to welfare. They also shared a belief that the consequences of their destructive choices were someone else’s fault. Dalrymple argues these traits contribute to “the worldview that makes the underclass.”
The underclass Dalrymple describes may sound familiar to American ears—but Dalrymple is English, the hospital and prison in which he worked were in Birmingham, England, and the underclass he served was almost entirely white.
That’s important, because Americans tend to think of the poverty and the social pathologies of urban areas in terms of race. But the reality of a white underclass in England—with behavior mirroring that of the black underclass in America—suggests that something other than race or racism is the problem.
If you ask someone on the left about urban poverty, he will likely blame systemic racism. And it’s certainly true that vicious racism has been common in American history. However, Census Bureau data on other nonwhite races (and, increasingly, black immigrants from Africa) don’t paint a picture of a systemically racist America in the 21st century, at least with regard to the economy.
Nonwhite persons from all over the world come to the United States and excel, in some cases spectacularly so. If the American economy were systemically racist, Indian Americans, Chinese Americans, Japanese Americans, and others wouldn’t have higher per-capita incomes than white Americans have. Their success is strong evidence that the American free-market system, in 2020, is wide open.
What do these immigrant groups have that the urban poor do not have? Engaged fathers in intact families that stress education, no sense of entitlement from the state, and a belief that achievement is possible. They didn’t grow up in the culture created by the sexual revolution and the welfare state, a culture that considers fathers unimportant in the lives of children and that treats lifelong welfare dependency as normal.
Larry Elder, in a video for Prager University, outlines how fatherlessness in particular is a crisis in America. He points to statistics showing that fatherless children are five times more likely to live in poverty, nine times more likely to drop out of school, and 20 times more likely to go to prison. These statistics constitute a crisis because so many children are born to unwed mothers now: In 2015, it was 41 percent of American children overall (compared with 5 percent in 1960, before the sexual revolution and Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty) and 73 percent of black children.
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Earlier this month, the big story in journalism was a staff revolt at The New York Times that led to the ouster of the paper’s opinion editor. His decision to publish an essay from a sitting U.S. senator—about an opinion that 58 percent of registered voters share—prompted the revolt.
James Bennet was naïve enough to believe that Sen. Tom Cotton’s argument for using military personnel to quell riots merited consideration. Some Times journalists disagreed. They took to Twitter to drum up outrage, posting, “Running this puts Black @nytimes staff in danger,” under a screenshot of Cotton’s column.
There was some confusion over whether Bennet resigned or was fired, but either way, his tenure at the Times was over.
One of the most notable aspects of the incident: Dozens of people, paid to write at length and in detail about often-complex matters, reiterating the same eight words to convey their objection to a specific proposal. (Seeing the posts scroll by called to mind nothing so much as childhood’s classic resistance tactic—putting your fingers in your ears, chanting “I can’t hear you.”) Also significant: The mutineers couched their disagreement in terms of personal safety.
Perhaps most noteworthy of all was the first act of Bennet’s replacement: She sent out a memo asking any staffer who “sees any piece of Opinion journalism, headlines, social posts, photos—you name it—that gives you the slightest pause” to contact her immediately.
Unfortunately, the news cycle left little time to consider the incident’s deeper implications. Before even the cable news panels had tired of tussling over it, another First Amendment controversy broke out. This time it wasn’t coworker against coworker but news outlet against news outlet.
NBC revealed last week that it collaborated with a United Kingdom watchdog group to report The Federalist to Google for violation of the tech giant’s policy against running ads alongside “dangerous or derogatory content.” This, NBC reported, resulted in Google banning the conservative site from its advertising platform.
Google maintains it gave The Federalist a warning and an opportunity to address the situation. And the violation concerned only comments to articles, not the articles themselves, as NBC implied. NBC amended its story but characterized Google as backtracking.
Either way, what’s not in dispute is that by its own admission, a division of NBC known as the Verification Unit brought the watchdog group and its complaint against The Federalist to Google’s attention. In an election year.
If these were two freak events that happened to come close together, they might raise less concern. But they follow fast on the heels of other clanging alarm bells.
On June 6, a similar situation forced out The Philadelphia Inquirer’s executive editor for running a story with the tone-deaf headline, “Buildings Matter, Too.” The same week, left-wing reporter Lee Fang’s Intercept colleagues accused him of racism for sharing an interview with an African American man who asked, “Why does a black life only matter when a white man takes it?” Again, it was the man who posed the question, not Fang. To keep his job, Fang issued a public apology.
Even famed commentators who built their reputations on iconoclastic views aren’t immune to suppression these days. Earlier this month, Andrew Sullivan tweeted that his popular column for New York Magazine would not appear that week. He offered no explanation, but The Spectator did. It alleged Sullivan’s editors didn’t want to publish his perspective on rioting and looting. Neither Sullivan nor New York Magazine denied it. Sullivan’s next column was titled, “Is There Still Room for Debate?”
This all is just the snapshot of a fortnight. Anyone familiar with the Wizard of Oz–inspired musical Wicked will start to hear strains of the big number from Act 1: “Something bad is happening in Oz.”
National Review correspondent Kevin Williamson saw that “something bad” coming years ago—even before he fell victim to it.
In March 2018, Williamson was already working on his book, The Smallest Minority: Independent Thinking in the Age of Mob Politics, when one of the oldest and most prestigious publications in the country came calling.
The Atlantic Editor Jeffrey Goldberg knew Williamson’s right-wing politics wouldn’t align with his staff’s. He considered this a feature, not a bug. He was interested in Williamson, he said, not because he agreed with him, but because of the “power, contrariness, wit, and smart construction” of the work Williamson had done for National Review.
Williamson, who jokingly refers to himself as a redneck and grew up as the adopted son of a poor family in West Texas, was eager to try his hand outside the conservative ghetto. But it was more than that. Other outlets may have larger audiences, but almost none have been home to the likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mark Twain, and Martin Luther King Jr.
Still, Williamson tried to hold his enthusiasm in check. “You know,” he told Goldberg, “the campaign to have me fired will begin 11 seconds after you announce you’ve hired me.” Goldberg brushed the warning off. And when the grumbling around the watercooler commenced, he sent out a bright but firm memo reaffirming his commitment to ideological diversity.
That’s when the now all-too-familiar torpedo mission began, complete with a hashtag offensive (#firekevin). Someone uncovered an anti-abortion joke Williamson tweeted in bad taste. Then surfaced a podcast in which Williamson earnestly explained his belief that if abortion is murder (and he believes it is), the law should treat it as homicide. Cool kid webzines like Slate, Splinter, and Paste ran scathing hit pieces with headlines like, “We Need to Talk About Kevin Williamson.”
Best-selling feminist author and columnist Jessica Valenti wrote a piece tying Goldberg’s decision to violence against women: “By hiring Williamson, The Atlantic is sending a clear message: That the worst kind of harassment and intimidation women face—extremism that has been linked to real-life violence—is acceptable.”
Williamson published exactly one piece with his new employer, then Goldberg fired him. The tone of the entire episode might best be summed up with The Daily Beast’s self-serious headline: “The Atlantic Finally Fires Kevin Williamson.” "Finally" apparently meaning after a couple of weeks.
Williamson told me the real issue wasn’t his views on abortion. Those were well-known and well-documented (most of all by Williamson himself) before he took the job. The issue was, “a junior staff of hysterical millennial drama queens.” As he says in his book, his bosses were happy to tolerate unpopular political views, but they couldn’t tolerate someone whose views meant “his presence was disrupting to the Organization.”
Today, while Williamson doesn’t seem to respect Goldberg much, he did express sympathy for the position the editor was in. “It can’t be easy trying to do journalism in partnership with people who hold the work and its values in contempt,” he told me.
Williamson says he was never the real target of the ire. The Atlantic and august institutions like it are: “The New York Times, the universities, the professional associations, and companies such as Google and Facebook. The scalp-hunters take some pathetic satisfaction in inflicting a loss on someone they hate, but the real point is to make an example and by doing so terrorize others into quietism.”
Mobs want to make speech compulsory for the same reason ancient Romans made emperor-worship compulsory: “It’s Totalitarianism 101: the abolition of private life and the individual conscience. Nothing is outside of politics, and there is no sphere of life which belongs to the individual.”
The conduct unbecoming a free people grows graver by the day—a coach offers a hapless mea culpa for wearing a T-shirt with the wrong news logo; one of the largest papers in the world devotes 3,000 words to an anonymous woman’s poor choice of Halloween costume two years ago; a data scientist loses his job for sharing unwelcome data.
We’re cowering under the sick mutation of Andy Warhol’s famed prediction—soon everyone will be canceled for 15 minutes. It’s one thing for cowardly corporations to choose the path of least resistance. But it’s a fresh horror when members of the only profession the Bill of Rights mentions shuck off their solemn responsibility to champion free speech and instead serve silence.
As the Christian journalist understands, Scripture is not indifferent to this subject. Proverbs 18:17 says: “The first to speak seems right until someone comes forward and cross-examines him.”
But what if no one comes forward? What if there’s no Paul willing to risk the enmity of even his fellow apostle to challenge an influential sect heaping legalistic burdens on God’s people? What if there’s no Luther willing to suffer ostracism to show how far we’ve wandered from the text?
The principle of open debate is grounded in a Biblical understanding of fallible human nature. It’s predicated on enough humility to consider we might be wrong. It creates a path for course correction when emotions overrule facts and when we misrepresent facts. As we’re seeing now, when the conversation stops, cruelty and mass delusion rule the day.
Williamson returned to National Review and continues turning out his contrarian ideas, but he thinks educating a new generation (and re-educating an old generation) on the value of free speech is a lost cause: “I do not think that there is much value in trying to educate the majority of the American people about the principles of free speech or religious liberty or anything else, because most of the evidence suggests that they are not educable.”
Christians who care about truth should pray he’s not right.
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When I was a young teen, my mother tried to strangle me on a Hawaiian beach where we were homeless and living in tents. I had spent much of my childhood in the islands. I was in the minority, a “haole” (white) girl growing up in a liberal (if violent and dysfunctional) family and raised to appreciate the diversity of races amid the predominantly Asian and Pacific Islander culture. When I ran away to escape my mother, my grandmother took me in. She lived in Alabama.
I landed in the Heart of Dixie in March 1977 at the age of 14, and the culture shock was mind-blowing. I was accustomed to a vibrant blend of races, but in this new town there were, quite literally, opposite sides of the tracks. Blacks lived in rundown homes on one side of the railroad tracks, many in actual shotgun shacks. Whites lived wherever they wished. The first time I heard someone call a black kid the derogatory word we all know, I actually became nauseous. I couldn’t imagine a more vicious and demeaning word. When I was a senior in high school, a pair of Iranian brothers moved to town and began attending my school. A small group of us befriended Mohammed and Hussein. Much of the rest of the school called them names.
My experiences with racism and homelessness prepared me to write Same Kind of Different as Me, a book about a homeless Southern black man who grew up in slave conditions in the 20th century. When I first undertook that project, I knew little about institutional racism. But studying Jim Crow and the sharecropper era gave me a new perspective on the whole “slavery ended 150 years ago, get over it” mentality.
It is easy for white Americans to dismiss the fallout of slavery since the Civil War ended it so long ago. But during the Jim Crow era, Southern Democrats cruelly and systematically subverted the gains black Americans could have and should have made after the war. Blacks suffered for decades, a separate class, an un-people. Even after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, racism permeated much of America, especially the South.
So, yes, slavery ended 150 years ago. Street-level and institutional racism did not.
And still we are grappling with it. Police officer Derek Chauvin, a member of what should be a trusted American institution, killed George Floyd. I hope he will pay for his crime. But as America burns today, I suspect that most Americans, police officers or otherwise, are not racists. I therefore grieve for the victims of the current violence. Innocent people are being beaten and killed, paying for sins not their own. Business owners of all colors are losing their livelihoods and life savings. I do not endorse this violence.
And yet, it is completely understandable that we have arrived at this moment—and not just because of racial unrest.
Instead, America is on fire because we have systematically rejected our shared moral underpinnings. We have rejected the transracial bond of humanity the abolitionists fought for. We have rejected civility and the common good. In recent years, we have rejected the nature of creation itself, spurning science and common sense. Finally, we have rejected the gospel of peace in favor of a savage Lord of the Flies counterfeit that separates human beings into two classes: the cultural elites and their foot soldiers ... and everyone else.
These elites, having made a name for themselves, are the loudest voices that divide us. They sit astride their 21st-century Towers of Babel—Twitter, Facebook, the airwaves—and look down on God and the common people. They bear false witness for profit. Their tongues are fires, as James the brother of Jesus wrote. They have set our streets aflame. Now, with their own power and privilege unthreatened, they sip lattes and provide color commentary as Americans die and cities burn, mere collateral damage on the road to utopia.
They imagine themselves “progressive,” but the chaos raging on our television screens is a rerun of an ancient story:
“Why are the nations in an uproar and the peoples devising a vain thing?” King David wrote 3,000 years ago. “The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and his Anointed, saying, ‘Let us tear their fetters apart and cast their cords away!’”
Cultural elites (and their followers) have for millennia rejected God’s precepts for civil society, including moral restraint. And God’s response has always been the same: “He who sits in the heavens laughs.”
Not at those who are suffering, but at the futile thinking of those who believe that they, and not Christ, are the ones who can save us.
God judges individual souls, but he also judges nations. This nation has sown to the wind and is reaping the whirlwind: hatred, plague, war, and death.
This is what judgment looks like.