If recent headlines over the last few weeks can tell us anything, it is that America needs to get serious, and quickly, about E pluribus unum.
America has always been a multiracial and multiethnic country, and it is becoming dramatically more so. For a society like ours to work, our laws and institutions cannot treat Americans differently according to skin color and what country people’s ancestors came from. We cannot view ourselves and each other as something other than Americans first and foremost.
Of course, America has had a sad history of ignoring this principle, and whenever it has, it has been disastrous. Slavery and Jim Crow were great evils, we all now recognize.
And, more recently, identity politics and political correctness are disasters, too. The Left’s racial nostrums are divisive and unfair, and embrace false stereotypes and discrimination, just as the politically incorrect racism did.
The arguments then and now for such discrimination are no good, and even if there were something to them, the costs of the discrimination and its sheer unworkability in a country like ours — where not only the demographics but individual Americans are more and more multiethnic and multiracial — overwhelm any possible justifications for treating one another differently on the basis of color and national origin.
So let’s turn to those recent headlines.
The Justice Department says it is going to investigate admissions discrimination against Asian Americans at Harvard, and the Left becomes hysterical. That is, the Left is upset because the Justice Department is investigating racial discrimination against a racial minority group.
The Trump administration hurried to set the record straight that this is only one investigation; well, nothing wrong with correcting fake news, but here’s hoping that this doesn’t mean that the administration would have second thoughts about investigating other cases involving politically correct discrimination, even if — horrors! –the victims were indeed white. Will those Rust Belt voters be happy if those returning jobs, and their children’s college opportunities, are divvyed up by skin color?
We are all Americans, are we not? The text and intent and ideal of the civil-rights laws are to protect all Americans from racial discrimination.
Next, a Google employee is fired for suggesting that his company’s efforts to meet gender quotas are bad law and bad policy. Well, if Google were to discriminate against women, that would be a bad thing (and illegal), but likewise if there are anti-male quotas that is also a bad thing (and illegal).
And what about the argument whether women and men might, in the aggregate, have different interests and talents when it comes to certain jobs? That’s an interesting topic for discussion, but of an intricacy disproportionate to its interest if a company follows the law and treats people as individuals. Such nondiscriminatory, merit-based decision-making might result in more men than women being hired, but the failure to achieve proportionate representation is not the same thing as discrimination — unless, of course, you have embraced identity politics and put equal results over equal opportunity. (President Trump, by the way, included a bad nod to such numbers-driven political correctness in a speech on Friday.)
And now there is Charlottesville. Lots of chickens coming home to roost here. It was big mistake for the Trump campaign and its hangers-on to play footsie with the alt-right. It was a big mistake for the Left to think it could advance minority-identity-politics without there eventually being a reaction advancing white-identity-politics. Race and racial appeals should have no place in our politics.
An immediate problem is that the extremes of Left and Right are only too happy to have one, two, many Charlottesvilles. It does not serve their interests to have a unified society. They want racial violence, and it is of only mild interest to the extremists whether the dead bodies are on their side or the others’. It is tempting to leave them to a cage fight, but that would advance their agendas, not the country’s.
I happen to like and admire Robert E. Lee, by the way, but it is not crazy to think that official commemoration of him is divisive, and I’m happy to remove his statue in return for, say, race-neutral admissions at the University of Virginia.
Which brings me back to where I started. I have no doubt that the overwhelming majority of Americans want E pluribus unum. They want nondiscrimination, and they want more emphasis on what unites us and less celebration of our differences. They want patriotic assimilation, for immigrants and also for non-immigrants.
But our elites and our non-elite pols need to get serious about this, and quick.