That totally captures it, Kate: a zillion explanations and none that makes a lot of sense or grabs the soul.
I was talking with a smart guy today about the relative advantages/disadvantages of being a prosecutor. The context was: How do you take an appropriately strong stand against jihadism and avoid being labeled as a bigot (or, as our British friends would have it, as guilty of felony Islamophobia)? I responded that with respect to the interest group grievance industry, there is simply no way to avoid it. But with respect to the still (I hope) far greater majority of people, even in this age of political correctness, it is a great advantage to have been a prosecutor.
Why? Well, having some familiarity with the worlds of politics, journalism and litigation, I must say that in the first two, there is a great tendency to pretend the world is better than it actually is and to see our PC aspirations as reality. After all, you just need to assert; you don’t need to prove. Prosecutors, on the other hand, are required to prove their cases beyond a reasonable doubt. Success or failure hinges on dealing with actual facts in the actual world.
In journalism or politics, you may be able, for example, to say, “Islamic ideology has nothing to do with terrorism; it’s really about poverty, or U.S. foreign policy, or whatever; but it’s simply noxious to hang this barbarity on someone’s religion.” On the other hand, in a courtroom, with a jury which has heard weeks of of evidence that defendants were convinced that their religion commanded them to commit acts of terrorism, it would be insane for a prosecutor to pretend that Islam had nothing to do with it. The jury is going to be told that they have to acquit unless they believe what the government is alleging. If you’re the government, you can’t allege something you wish were true; you’ve got to go with what is plainly true — even if it’s not very attractive. Proving cases is a real-world exercise, and you simply can’t do it without being able to look 12 people in the eye and say, “As you could tell from all the evidence we introduced, this is how the world really is, and this is what really happened.”
When I look at immigration, and I look at the rationalizations for comprehensive reform that Kate catalogues, I can’t help but say to myself: How would you, as a prosecutor having to prove the case, take at least one of those rationalizations and convince 12 stable, open-minded people that it was something not that we wanted to believe was true but something that was actually true? I don’t see it.