Refreshingly, the conservative Douthat uses some appropriate terminology in explaining the second America, the opponents of the mosque. He uses words like “crude,” “xenophobic,” and “darker suspicion.” He seems to see clearly the lineage from which the current crop of knee-jerk bigots arise:
The first America welcomed the poor, the tired, the huddled masses; the second America demanded that they change their names and drop their native languages, and often threw up hurdles to stop them coming altogether. The first America celebrated religious liberty; the second America persecuted Mormons and discriminated against Catholics.
Way to call a spade a spade, sir! Oh, wait.
But both understandings of this country have real wisdom to offer…
Douthat is a serious thinker, and I appreciate that. But he also does what many right-of-center thinkers often do when made uncomfortable by their neaderthal conservative brethren: he makes excuses for them. In this case, Douthat tries to argue that our ugly history of xenophobia, bigotry, anti-immigrant bias, and religious discrimination has been, in part, a good thing! Why? Because enduring discrimination and demonization helped outsiders “assimilate more quickly.” Well, thank goodness for that.
It’s an awkward thing to behold, and it’s hard to believe that he could take this line of thought seriously. (I mean, he can’t be all that right-wing, I’ve seen him shopping at both a Harris Teeter and an organic market in town!) The ever-shrinking not-quite-lunatic sphere of conservative thought must be thinking that there won’t be a conservative America without the knuckle-draggers, that they are a necessary evil. To allow for William Cohens and Dick Lugars, one must allow for the Michele Bachmanns and Louie Gohmerts, so the logic (I presume) goes. And what a twisting dance they must do to make sense of it all!
But this is a ridiculous, and I think damaging position: Those who are enlightened, those of higher principle, those who make the effort to understand and bridge differences (Douthat’s “first America”) must supposedly make more room for the persecutions of the willfully ignorant and vindictive (Douthat’s “second America”). For without this kind of suffering inflicted on out-groups, they will never become “American.”
I look forward to the day when Mr. Douthat decides which America he really wants to live in.