by Greg Moses
When President Barack Obama spoke up for the right of Moslems to build a mosque and community center near Ground Zero, he pitched the summer’s third strike against mob rule in America and a timely reminder of the power of Constitutional values.
Pitching the first strike was the federal ruling against the Arizona anti-immigrant law. The second strike was thrown by a federal court against California’s anti-gay marriage Prop 8. In all three cases Constitutional values have turned back majority swings of pure intolerance.
Progressives may disagree about the overall value of this strike-out in a long game of endless extra innings, but it counts for something worth cheering in this cheerless summer. The majority’s failure to rule in these three cases reminds us that progress in America is something that happens despite the mainstream mob.
The mainstream mob in America is still fighting a so-called war on terrorism that is little more than a visceral crusade against Moslem populations. In order to reinforce a so-called Christian identity, the mainstream mob clings to an institution of marriage defined as one man married to at least one woman. And then in defiance of anything deeper that the story of Jesus might imply, the mainstream mob gangs up on Maria y Jose to dispossess them of their last scratched-out home.
When redemption happens to this kind of American history it’s because the mainstream mob comes to its senses and disperses back to the everyday chores that make a real life prosper. Which is why the mob today keeps hanging around so long, since the economy of everyday chores is in shambles.
As the mainstream mob clings to idols of Church, Family, and State, the federal Constitution is functioning well enough this summer to protect peaceable social transformations within all three institutions. While none of these transformations may be counted as radical, they have exposed the mainstream mob as reactionary by comparison.
How radical is it to build up a third Abrahamic church in a nation pretty much dominated by two others? How radical is it to redefine gender qualifications for partnership possession while marriage keeps dissolving under the pressures of Capital valuation? Or how radical is it to protect the rights of people to be harassed only a little less after they have been squeezed from their home economies like toothpaste from a tube?
It’s not the radical nature of these issues that redeems them, only their relative decency of intent when compared to the intentions that would block them. The Constitution gives minorities a right to distinguish between majorities and mobs. We love the story “To Kill a Mockingbird” because we need to feel that it is possible to have enough moral authority to cause a mob to stand back.
With apologies to the Nobel committee, Obama has not proven himself to be anything like an Atticus Finch, but when he stands up for Moslems in Manhattan, we catch a glimmer of an Atticus Finch moment. It would be gratifying in the case of all three issues if on the big-screen projection of American history, we now cut to shots of mobs standing back.