The Tuesday

Culture

The American Alloy

(Pixabay)

“Beyond parody” is a tedious cliché, but I admit I would find it very difficult to parody this report from Slate on judicial appointments in Washington State.

While the federal bench grows more homogeneous by the day, Democratic governors are diversifying their state judiciaries to an unprecedented degree. On Monday, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, elevated Grace Helen Whitener to the state Supreme Court. Whitener is a disabled black lesbian who immigrated from Trinidad. She joins Inslee’s two other appointees: Raquel Montoya-Lewis, a Jewish Native American who previously served on tribal courts, and Mary Yu, an Asian-American Latina lesbian who officiated the first same-sex marriages in the state.

(If you were attempting parody, you’d be tempted to give the name “Whitener” to one of her evil conservative opponents.)

I have no reason to doubt that each of the jurists above is competent and highly qualified; Justice Whitener is, after all, a graduate of the 122nd-best law school in the country.

(If you are around my age, you may remember a good deal of organized sneering at Vice President Dan Quayle for his “night-school law degree,” at Sarah Palin for her modest educational attainments, etc. Justice Yu went a more elite route — well done, Notre Dame.)

Progressives have hated the idea of the United States as a metaphorical melting pot for a very long time. I was in high school, in an American-history class taught by a very left-wing teacher (we get those in Lubbock, Texas, too), the first time I heard about the “salad bowl” vs. the melting pot. You know this one: The melting pot implies that immigrants come to the United States and eventually lose their distinctiveness, becoming fully incorporated into the great American amalgam. The “salad bowl” model, on the other hand, insists that immigrants come and retain their distinctiveness — all in the same dish, but everything separate. Fondue vs. salad — that’s a pretty American way of looking at things.

And fondue wins. Fondue always wins.

In the United States, we mix it up and mix it good.

We have people with names like Maureen McNally Singh. Here, “Eddie and Sally Obermueller” can be a Korean-American man and a Vietnamese-American woman. Marriage drives much of this amalgamation: Raquel Montoya-Lewis was born in Spain to an American father (serving in the Air Force at the time) and an Australian-born Jewish mother, who presumably is not the parent who provided Montoya-Lewis her membership in the Pueblo of Isleta, a federally recognized Native American tribe. Mary Yu of Chicago has a mother born in Mexico and a father from China, and hence boasts of being the “first Asian, the first Latina, and the first member of the LGBTQ community to serve on the Washington State Supreme Court.” Kamala Harris, had she been elected president, would have been, as the Washington Post noted, “the first woman, the first African American woman, the first Indian American, and the first Asian American” in that role.

From the Post:

She calls herself simply “an American,” and said she has been fully comfortable with her identity from an early age. She credits that largely to a Hindu immigrant single mom who adopted black culture and immersed her daughters in it. Harris grew up embracing her Indian culture, but living a proudly African American life.

Two of the four sentences in Harris’s biography on her Senate web page are about her being the first African American or first woman in some role. Politico noted that she was the Senate’s first biracial woman and its first Indian-American woman.

This is not entirely new, of course. Many Catholics were gratified to see Roger B. Taney elevated to the position of chief justice of the Supreme Court in 1836. Catholics had been the targets of serious discrimination: During the ratification debate in North Carolina, delegate William Lancaster worried that there was nothing in the charter ensuring that “papists” and “Mahometans” would be excluded from positions of high authority. The “Truth of the Protestant Religion” was written into the North Carolina state constitution, and established churches at the state level were an accepted part of American life. Massachusetts maintained an established church (Congregationalist) until 1833, only a few years before Taney became chief justice. Catholics, and Americans of all faiths, soon had reason to regret Taney’s appointment and to be embarrassed by it: He was the author of Dred Scott, one of the ugliest misadventures in judicial activism in the Court’s history. Taney the tribal mascot may have given American Catholics a sense that they had finally been accepted, at least by the Democratic Party; Taney the Supreme Court chief justice was a catastrophe.

I have no idea whether any of the Washington State justices mentioned in the Slate writeup will be any good. (My instinctive guess would be: No.) That is, in fact, my complaint with the piece: Surely there are a great many more disabled black lesbian immigrants who are utterly unsuited for a role on a state supreme court than those who are suited. But from a certain identity-politics point of view, those qualities are to be understood as self-recommending.

(Such considerations immediately are reversed for political nonconformists: Joe Biden sought to destroy Clarence Thomas because Justice Thomas is black, not in spite of the fact or with indifference to the fact; Democrats take an especial interest in eliminating Republicans who are black, female, gay, etc., because of those qualities, which challenge their self-declared monopoly on speaking for those groups.)

There is no sense denying that some people, especially those who have been excluded in some way, get a real sense of belonging and justice, and maybe even a bigger sense of their own possibilities, when they see someone who shares certain qualities with them elevated to a position of prominence. Barack Obama’s election was a Very Big Deal indeed for black Americans, and not without good reason. But his health-care program was still a mess from the get-go, and he still relentlessly abused the Constitution and aggrandized the powers of the presidency that he handed off to Donald Trump, still assassinated American citizens abroad and insisted that he had the power to do so on American soil, etc.

That matters, too.

Obama is a textbook example of the melting pot at work, gloriously: white hippie goofball mother from Kansas, economist father from Kenya, defenselessly abandoned to the ravages of a country so convulsed by race hatred that it made him, a nobody senator without even a full term under his belt, president for no obvious reason, choosing him over a deeply experienced, independent-minded war hero. (In fairness, Abe Lincoln himself could have come back from the dead and lost in 2008, which just wasn’t the year to be a Republican.) That’s one of the perversities of American life: The bitterest critics of American culture and American institutions often are those who most dramatically embody the virtues of the American way of life — and, at the same time, some of the most unyielding defenders of the American way are comfortable mediocrities who embody the worst of its shortcomings.

So, yes, disabled black lesbian immigrant — but is she any good?

Words About Words

A reader asks for a refresher on two different words that sound alike: “affect” and “effect.”

Effect is a funny word because it looks like it means the same thing as the word we often use as its opposite: “cause.” “Effect” as a verb means to cause something. “Effect” as a noun means a result that was caused by something else, e.g.: “The effects of the war were disastrous and incalculable.”

So, as verbs, “cause” and “effect” mean the same thing, but as nouns they mean opposite things, as in “cause and effect.” This is kind of irritating, but that’s the way it is. I am reminded of the word “cleave,” which sometimes means to stick to something (like “cling”) or to divide something from something else, which is what a cleaver does. The two senses of “cleave” apparently come from two different proto-Indo-European roots that eventually converged onto what looks like a single English word, in which two English words are hiding.

You could, in principle, “effect an effect,” and perhaps even do so effectively, but I do not recommend it. Wouldn’t be efficacious.

“Affect” means to influence something or someone, especially in the sense of touching someone emotionally: “The soldiers who liberated the camps in Germany were deeply affected by the brutality of what they saw.”

“Affect” also means to adopt some mannerism or style pretentiously, as in “an affected accent” or “an affected literary style,” something we know absolutely nothing about here at The Tuesday. 

Rampant Prescriptivism

“None” is singular. It is a contraction of “not one.” E.g., “None of us knows what the future holds,” not “None of us know what the future holds”; and “None of us is ready for it,” not “None of us are ready for it.” Just substitute “not one” in there, and it will make sense.

Send your language questions to TheTuesday@nationalreview.com.

Home and Away

I have a new book coming in October, available for pre-order now. It is called Big White Ghetto: Dead Broke, Stone-Cold Stupid, and High on Rage in the Dank Woolly Wilds of the “Real America.” It is a collection of reporting and essays for National Review dealing with poverty, addiction, and other troubles. I’d like to do something to incentivize pre-orders. What would you like? Send your suggestions to TheTuesday@nationalreview.com.

The book includes expanded versions of some well-known pieces with new material, and some pieces that may have escaped your attention. Stormy Daniels makes an appearance, as do eviction courts, lottery scratchers, Colorado marijuana entrepreneurs, Bernie Sanders, Texas separatists, California separatists, West Texas oilfield roughnecks, der Apfelstrudelführers, and much more, though I suspect there may still be a little bit of shuffling around what makes it into the final text. I hope there is room for the Flat Earthers.

My report on casino gambling begins in Atlantic City and opens:

We are the Silver Horde, and we are descending — on chartered buses, on Chinatown buses, and on the Greyhound “Lucky Streak” express bus we come, on crutches and canes, lapping obesely over the seats of mobility scooters, adjusting oxygen tubes, discreetly nursing Big Gulp cups full of tequila and Pepsi through bendy straws at three in the afternoon, doing serious damage to complimentary troughs of Cheez-Its and Famous Amos cookies. We are getting comped. Free passes to the all-you-can-eat buffet? Whatever: We have our own dedicated train, Amtrak’s Atlantic City Express Service (read: ACES), and we come rolling and thundering down the tracks bearing our Social Security checks, our welfare checks, and quite possibly our rent checks. We are the blue-rinsed, unhinged, diabetic American id on walkers, and we are scratching off lottery tickets the whole way there as we converge from all points on the crime capital of New Jersey — because we are feeling lucky.

Funny thing about Atlantic City: Nobody feels really obviously lucky to live there. Its population is declining (it has lost 40 percent since its peak), and among the foot soldiers of the gambling industry — blackjack dealers, scantily clad cocktail waitresses, cab drivers — it is difficult to find anybody who actually lives in it. One lightly clothed entertainer working at a particularly gamey establishment along a row of empty commercial buildings, video stores, and the occasional storefront mosque, all within a couple minutes’ walk of the casino district, snorted derisively at the notion of living in the city. “Oh, hell no. Too dangerous.” That’s AC: It’s a great place for a visiting go-go dancer, but she wouldn’t want to live there. Touring the local landscape of decay and disorder, it is hard to imagine why a whole range of American politicians — from such likely suspects as Ed Rendell and Andrew Cuomo to lots of otherwise conservative Republicans who really ought to know better — look at the city’s depressed and depressing precincts, its sad coat of glitz (Sinbad! At the Tropicana!) and say to themselves: “My state needs to get some of that action!”

I’ll have more book news coming.

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In Closing

In this difficult time, please keep in mind the sick and the grieving — and also, especially, the unemployed, for whom much can be done without any specialized training or medical equipment.

To subscribe to “The Tuesday,” follow this link.

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