Ross Douthat Thinks We Could All Learn Something Valuable From the Ku Klux Klan

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Aug. 16 2010 1:11 PM

Ross Douthat Thinks We Could All Learn Something Valuable From the Ku Klux Klan

Having spent a week explaining why it's OK to outlaw gay marriage (because straight marriage is better , duh), New York Times Reasonable Young Conservative™ Ross Douthat now turns his attention to the "Ground Zero Mosque." What people don't understand, when they defend the right of Muslims to worship, Douthat writes, is that there is an equally valid point of view that says Muslims do not have the right to worship:

[T]wo understandings of America, one constitutional and one cultural, have been in tension throughout our history. And they’re in tension again this summer, in the controversy over the Islamic mosque and cultural center scheduled to go up two blocks from ground zero. 

[...]

The first America tends to make the finer-sounding speeches, and the second America often strikes cruder, more xenophobic notes. 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.

But both understandings of this country have real wisdom to offer, and both have been necessary to the American experiment’s success. During the great waves of 19th-century immigration, the insistence that new arrivals adapt to Anglo-Saxon culture — and the threat of discrimination if they didn’t — was crucial to their swift assimilation. The post-1920s immigration restrictions were draconian in many ways, but they created time for persistent ethnic divisions to melt into a general unhyphenated Americanism.

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Is Ross Douthat a Know-Nothing , or just an ignoramus? Ethnic and religious tolerance is a "constitutional" abstraction, beloved by fancy pointyheads who like using words, while America owes its "cultural" vitality—"Anglo-Saxon" cultural vitality—to gut-level jingoism and foreigner-hating. Douthat's self-loathing fake populism has carried him all the way out to a Christian Identity bunker in Idaho. 

Culture? The Constitution is American culture—the result of nearly four centuries of deliberate, sometimes bloody struggle against idiot tribalism, racism, religious fanaticism, and mob rule. The Maryland Toleration Act of 1649 was not passed out of some utopian impulse by out-of-touch elites, wanting to celebrate diversity. It was written because the elites of the colony, being Catholic, were very much in touch with the impulses of the Protestant majority, and they wanted those impulses suppressed. (And the law still left room for the prosecution of blasphemers and Jews.)

Douthat's "second America" is not rude; it is anti-American. It did not "persecute" Mormons; it massacred them in Missouri. It did not "discriminate against" Catholics; it burned down the convent at Charlestown, Massachusetts. It slaughtered Chinese immigrants and forcibly evicted entire Chinatowns . Should we discuss what it did to African-Americans, in the name of Anglo-Saxon culture? It would take all day. Maybe that's why Douthat chose not to mention it at all.

Somehow, in Douthat's retelling, all this amounts to gentle hazing. Had he been practicing his Catholic faith 80 years ago, when the Ku Klux Klan was busily sharing its vision of American values , maybe he wouldn't find so much to admire in the wisdom of mobs.

Tom Scocca is the managing editor of Deadspin and the author of Beijing Welcomes You: Unveiling the Capital City of the Future.

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