America - the Default Setting

June 12, 2011
Posted by Jay Livingston

From the loop, I took the CTA Red Line up to Lawrence, 4800 North. (I’m in Chicago for a wedding.) Late Friday afternoon. My fellow passengers were the same multi-ethnic, multi-racial mix I’m used to in New York - the U.N. on casual Friday.

I don’t think Gov. Perry of Texas spends much time on the subway. Earlier this week, he proclaimed August 6 as a Day of Prayer and Fasting
As a nation, we must come together, call upon Jesus to guide us through unprecedented struggles . . . The humility of the truly great men of history was revealed in their recognition of the power and might of Jesus to save all who call on His great name.
Look at those first ten words. Gov. Perry seems to assume that everyone in America is Christian. Or should be. As in America, so too in history – all the greats worth noting are Christian men.*

It’s the same view of the US that Justice Scalia would write into the Constitution. The government putting crosses on the graves of Jewish soldiers does not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. In fact, says Scalia, the Jews and their families should feel honored. (See earlier posts here and here.)
For Gov. Perry and the others, the default setting for America is white, male, Christian. Other exotic types that they might know about are like strange mathematical systems – base 2 or logarithms. They exist, of course, but the real way of thinking about numbers is good old base 10.

Gov. Perry has asked other governors to join him in this August effort. That way, our entire nation will come together by praying to Jesus. The logical inference is that if you don’t pray to Jesus, you’re not part of the nation. Just as Gov. Perry’s nation doesn't include those who don’t pray to Jesus, his history book has no page for Einstein or Confucius or Gandhi (and certainly not Anne Frank). His calendar for August has no indication of Hiroshima.

Maybe this is a view of America you get from the Governor’s mansion in Texas and no doubt from many other places. But it’s not the picture you get when you ride the bus or subway.

* Mark Kleiman and his commenters compiled a long list of great men of history, from Abraham Aristotle to Zheng He, who did not recognize Jesus’s power to save.


PCM said...

Jay, I pretty much came of age around Lawrence St. in Chicago! And then I would take the Red Line (back when it was called the Howard Line). Oh, many a cold nights I spent drunk and shivering at Howard Street, waiting for the Evanston L (which then ran all night, too) to take me home.

I miss Chicago, but less so the L. One big difference is that the NYC Subway is normal and diverse at all hours. In Chicago, late at night, the L becomes an all-male and virtually all minority transit system. It's a shame. Many people in Chicago aren't even aware that it even runs all night.

More on subject, it's good to call out those who casually imply Christianity is this country's only path. It's not acceptable. And it's not the country I want to live in.

brandsinger said...

On this point, Rick Perry sounds like an idiot -- very narrow-minded and unstatesmanlike -- (sorry unstatespersonlike).

Your overall indictment (including Scalia et al) is, as usual, a stretch. Southern politicians (including Jimma Carter and Bubba Clinton) make no bones about their Christianity as is customary in their region.

As for PCM and his "not the country I want to live in," that sounds like the perfect mantra for the typical opinions on this blog. Considering all the terrible injustices of our horrible society so often itemized here, I guess the only thing keeping many of you guys in the country is tenure, right?

PCM said...

Tenure is part of it. So is a decent income, health insurance, public safety, and the wonderful immigrant diversity that makes up New York City.

From my perspective, America is pretty damn good.

It should stay that way, as long as paternalistic ideologues who somehow think Jesus was an intolerant love-the-rich right-winger don't mess things up.

There's nothing wrong with Christianity. Or Christians (some of my best friends are Christians). There is something wrong with Old-Testament thumping idiots who claim to act in Jesus's name. And then tell me to do likewise.

Andrew Gelman said...


I see what you're saying . . . but it seems a bit silly to cite "Abraham" as a great non-Christian. You might as well cite Batman and Spiderman as great modern New Yorkers or Athena as an accomplished Greek woman of history. I assume the Abraham line was a joke but it still seems to diminish the argument a bit . . .

Jay Livingston said...

Andrew, I see your point (although Rick Perry would not). I should have used Aristotle.

Jay Livingston said...

Peter, About that "not the country I want to live in" line: You have to get more with the TeaParty way of thinking and say "We need to take our country back" -- i.e., take it back from the Taliban-like theocrats who would impose their religion on the whole nation.

PCM said...

Indeed. When I say it's not the country I want to live in, *I'm* unpatriotic. When I say I need to take my country back from intolerant people who don't share my values of freedom, *they're* unpatriotic.

Of course, that would be somewhat disingenuous, but not for the obvious reasons. Intolerant theocratic racists did control this country for a long time. So they could actually take the country "back." Moments of true liberal dominance have been fleeting.

I think Native American Indians should usurp anti-immigrant "take back America" language. Let's see how that flies with the tea-party.

brandsinger said...

These comments are flabby -- though some can't even be understood.

PCM: "Of course, that would be somewhat disingenuous, but not for the obvious reasons."

What????!!! "of course..." "somewhat..." "but not for obvious..." What language is this? Kinda tangled up here, aren't you?

Perhaps take time off to examine the roots of your fears and glaring political prejudices -- then tackle these issues in written words.

PCM said...

I'm sorry my ability to write isn't up to your standard. It's a shame, because I do consider myself to be a decent writer. Or at least a good enough writer so that I can usually relate my thoughts to other people through the written word.

Perhaps I should have been clearer.

The "obvious" reason would be that I think we're all patriotic Americans. So to label someone as unpatriotic because they don't agree with one's political beliefs would be, on my part, disingenuous.

If that point was unclear to you, I apologize for lack of clarity in my writing. Generally I strive to be as clear as possible.

brandsinger said...

Good response - you seem like a nice person. I don't understand why you sling around hackneyed political views. Well, that's not true. I do understand. You live within an insulated tribe of liberal Northeast academics who rarely meet intelligent, engaging conservatives. Rather than an open mind to politics, you bring a very narrow set of prejudices -- unrecognized and unexamined by you, in my view.

By the way, the "Take Back America" theme was very prominent in the Obama camp circa 2007-2008.
This from the Daily Kos of the summer of 2007: "Take Back America Conference brings thousands of progressive activists, thinkers and leaders together to discuss vision, unite our groups and train our campaign organizers. Obama gave a rousing speech."

It's a dumb line now coming from the right just as it was a dumb line coming from leftists as they aspired to power in 2007.

PCM said...

I'm glad I could clarify. But rather than saying, "Now I understand," you make more personal attacks. I do not dislike your views. I do dislike your you-know-all-about-me attitude.

You have no idea who I am or who my friends are. We've never met. All you really know is where I live and where I'm from. Congratulations, Sherlock.

You don't understand what I'm about. I suspect you haven't read my books. I know you don't know my friends (because many of my friends are intelligent, engaging conservatives).

Until you know me better, I suggest you limit your comments to what I write and not what you presume to know about me.

To me, right or wrong, you simply seem like a bully. Perhaps that is your intention. But if it is not, I urge you to consider your tone if you wish to facilitate further intellectual engagement.

brandsinger said...

How can I possibly know anything about you other than your posts here under "PCM"? Your books? Your tastes, your friends? How should I know? I infer all I know of you from your posts -- which strike me as predictably liberal academic. And that's as it should be. The dialogue here is the point, not our bios. The fact is, Jay's blog is a provocative "gotcha" forum -- finding clever ways to take pot-shots at conservative views. You chime in in kind. I'm a fool for being provoked -- and keep swearing off. This time I mean it. You can keep your books and bio. To me, you comment from the stance of a clubby herd of intolerant liberals who have closed minds. Whether you are a nice person who authored thick books and have conservative friends is of no relevance if you keep making pompous pronouncements about "the country I want to live in."