At the beginning of this month, I wrote what I called a “swan song” for the old New Republic. I was wary of the direction the magazine would take: was I wrong, too pessimistic? The current issue of the magazine gave me hope that perhaps I was. Its cover story was written by the always intelligent and perceptive Paul Berman, a man who has emerged as one of the best critics of radical Islam in our day. Titled “The Thought Police,” Berman’s article reviews the important new book by Paul Marshall and Nina Shea addressing how extremist governments in the Muslim world are using terms like “blasphemy” and “apostasy” to advance a very dangerous move to power.
Just as I was having second thoughts, I looked at TNR’s website today and found a column by a writer named Rochelle Gurstein. The magazine identifies her as a new regular monthly columnist and author of a book titled The Repeal of Reticence, which the description on Amazon shows to be a serious cultural history. I will get to her analysis after pointing to commentaries that correctly point to what is going on.
To begin, let us look at some intelligent commentary about the issues surrounding Treyvon Martin’s sad death. Roger L. Simon perceptively addresses them in his latest column, and Victor Davis Hanson addresses them with his usual brilliant prose in a column called “Obama’s Demagoguery” posted at NRO. The real point about the Trayvon Martin case — which David Horowitz also points out with a first-rate comment — is this:
If the demonstrators were merely calling for an investigation, that would be proper. But the cries for retribution, and the accusations of racism which dominate the public demonstrations are not. And that goes for the statement of the president as well. Not willing to be separated from his racial constituency, even when they are behaving badly, Obama has lent his prestige to the insinuation that the crime was inspired by the victim’s race. Otherwise there would be no reason to mention the fact that “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon.” Everyone who has a son should be concerned by the loss of this life. By making it racial, the president is establishing guilt without evidence, and indicting non-black America as well.
Victor Davis Hanson calls attention to the following clear demagoguery that our president is now engaging in which has the effect of calling out the racial lynch mobs:
The dispute went national and was soon further sensationalized along racial lines. Others, mostly non–African Americans, countered that the facts were still in dispute and information was incomplete, while noting that just a few days earlier in Chicago ten youths were murdered and at least 40 others shot. Most of those victims and shooters were African Americans, but the carnage did not earn commensurate national attention from black leaders. President Obama himself, who had been silent about the slaughter in his adopted hometown, weighed in on the Martin case and, unfortunately, highlighted the racial undertones — lamenting that the murdered Martin looked just the way his own boy might, had he a son. The latter statement was true but also, of course, true of some of those murdered in Chicago. And given that the black minority currently commits violent crimes against the white majority more frequently than do the nation’s 70 percent whites against its 12 percent blacks, the president’s evocation of race in the Martin case seemed inappropriate to many.
As we all know, Geraldo Rivera caught hell for advising African American and Latino young men not to wear hoodies. Rivera, says Thomas Sowell, is right. He points out that the hoodie is for many young African American men worn as a symbol of identification with neighborhood gangsters. As Sowell writes:
There is no point in dressing like a hoodlum when you are not a hoodlum, even though that has become a fashion for some minority youths, including the teenager who was shot and killed in a confrontation in Florida. I don’t know the whole story of that tragedy any more than those who are making loud noises in the media do, but that is something that we have trials for.
So what we know so far is that the death of Trayvon Martin is not a simple matter in which we all can agree that a white racist murdered him because he was black. Last night I saw his friend, an African American named Joe Oliver, appear on Sean Hannity’s television program to point out that George Zimmerman is not a racist and in fact regularly tutored African American youngsters over weekends at his home. And the gated community in which he lives may not even be overwhelmingly white, and has many minority residents.
Yet the mob has rushed to judgment, and unfortunately the president has encouraged them without even waiting for the legal system to investigate what happened and to act accordingly with its findings. Now, the old line race hustlers and demagogues — led by the hack Al Sharpton and joined by the New Black Panther Party, the Reverend Jesse Jackson and others — are inciting the African American community to action as if this were a 1940s-style Southern lynching.