Thursday, October 20, 2011

Robert Scheer on Bill Keller and OWS: "Arrogance of Disoriented Royal Privilege"

Robert Scheer's characterization of New York Times executive editor Bill Keller at Truthdig today contains a fine phrase: he lambasts Keller's "arrogance of disoriented royal privilege."  Scheer focuses on Keller's recent snarky observation that the Occupy Wall Street protesters are warmed-over hippie anarchist types conducting soggy sleep-ins.  He notes that, given how badly wrong the Times has turned out to be in its cheerleading for the deregulation of Wall Street (cheerleading that occurred on Keller's watch as managing editor), you'd expect a little humble understanding from this crowd now, re: the protesters huddled in the rain in New York.

And some accountability.  As Scheer notes, though, "But such accountability has hardly been a hallmark of those in the media or in business and political circles, who with few exceptions got it so wrong."

 And as I read this analysis, I cannot help thinking of the leaders of my Catholic church, who exhibit similar signs of the "arrogance of disoriented royal privilege," and the inability to admit they're wrong when they've made wildly wrong decisions.  And whose operating lexicon seems never to contain the words "humility" and "accountability," so that the criminally indicted bishop of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Robert Finn, not only will not resign now, but tells us he intends to fight the legal actions against him manfully, with the cadre of expensive lawyers who are always at the disposal of those who enjoy wealth and power.

Arrogance and disoriented delusions that one should be accorded royal privilege often set one up for a hard fall, as (swift change of subject, but please bear with me: there is a connection) the people of Alabama are now discovering, having enacted their draconian law targeting immigrants.  As this New York Times editorial today notes, frightened immigrants are now leaving the state in droves--precisely as the law was designed to make them do.  The legislation was crafted by the Kansas secretary of state Kris Kobach, who promotes a policy of "attrition through enforcement" vis-a-vis immigrants, a policy Alabama legislators gleefully adopted in accepting Kobach's template for its new immigration law.

In other words, Kobach and those designing these laws targeting immigrants want to make immigrants, both legal and undocumented, unwelcome in the places that pass such legislation.  They want to drive immigrants from their communities.  Like Pat Buchanan, who, as Joan Walsh reminds us at Salon today, helped Nixon seed racist fear and loathing among working-class white citizens in order to drive those citizens into the Republican fold, these anti-immigrant activists actively fear the browning of America.

Which is demographically inevitable, and which will change the political map of the nation ineluctably, no matter how hard those using racial animosity and targeting immigrants to try to clutch at power work to consolidate the last scraps of their waning political privilege . . . .

What the arrogant, disoriented delusion of royal privilege never quite succeeds in taking into account is, very simply, that Things Change.  Those on top end up on the bottom.  Demographic forces beyond the control of ruling elites inevitably reshape cultural and political landscapes.  Money comes, money goes.  The person we've shunned and scorned ends up being the person who gives us our last drink of water in the hospital, when our meanness has driven everyone else except that one merciful, forgiving soul from our presence . . . .

And those who target a vulnerable group in order to score political points and aggrandize themselves end up hurting themselves in the process.  As the Times editorial about the Alabama situation notes, Alabama farmers are now worrying about who's going to pick those crops that immigrant workers have picked for decades--and which no one else is willing to harvest.

People--we the people--just don't seem to learn some basic moral lessons interwoven into the fabric of the moral universe.  Pride goes before the fall.  Thrones crumble.  Crowns topple.  When we set out maliciously to harm and demean others, we set ourselves up for similar treatment.  Those we need the most to make our lives fully human are often those we treat most inhumanely.  Arrogance and conceit blind.  Humility and compassion broaden our scope of vision. 

These are perduring lessons handed down generation after generation by all the great religious and wisdom traditions of the world.  We forget them at our peril, whether the "we" who's the subject of that clause is a church ruler who imagines that possessing a crozier and miter exempts him from the obligation to obey the civil laws of his community, or a group of people who imagine that they can mean-spiritedly single out a hard-working, vulnerable minority group for political gain, and not pay a price for their meanness.

Footnote: Kris Kobach is a crony of Kansas governor and ardent right-wing Catholic Sam Brownback.  The U.S. Catholic Bishops have repeatedly gone on record opposing attempts to turn immigrants into second-class citizens, since Jesus tells us we'll be judged according to whether we've made the stranger in our midst welcome.  I wonder what they might have to say about the political tactics of good Catholic Brownback's good friend Kobach, who, for my money, well deserves a niche in one of Keith Olbermann's "Worst Person in the World" segments.

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