Saturday, December 18, 2010

John Lewis and Louis Gohmert on Discrimination in the Military: Who Owns the Future of American Democracy?

Another way to put the point about Archbishop Dolan and Bill Donohue: these battles about who owns central Christian symbols are really also about who will ultimately prevail as history moves along, and as a rich, multifaceted tradition like Catholicism moves along with the current of history.  And as the meaning of its central symbols unfolds under the impulse of historical development, as believers appropriate the symbols and apply them to their experience in ever-shifting cultural contexts.

And that's the same battle that's now occurring in American democracy, as Congress debates the eradication of discrimination in the military.  John Lewis's rejoinder to Louis Gohmert is a classic encapsulation of conflicting tendencies within our democracy.  One tendency, rooted in the experience of the founding fathers themselves, has been, from the inception of our democracy, to restrict rights and privileges to white, property-owning males.

Gohmert continues that tradition, which, throughout American history, continuously finds new minority groups to oppose and exclude, from freed slaves to women to immigrants and gays and lesbians. 

John Lewis stands within another tradition in American democracy, which calls on our nation to live according to its better angels, to open wide the door of freedom and opportunity to everyone, and, in particular, to those most in need of a helping hand.  

For my money, one of these tendencies represents the future of American democracy (if we want to have a viable future).  The other doesn't.  I'll leave it to you to decide which is which, and where the moral arc of the universe seems to be pointing.

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