The Role of the Scapegoat
When society cannot fathom that 16 youths were shot and another six killed last weekend in Chicago, it seeks symbolic relief. As I followed stories of the mayhem in the inner city of Chicago, I noted periodic news about the case of Trayvon Martin and the national outrage at George Zimmerman, who in a world of liberal jurisprudence has nonetheless mostly been tried and convicted in the court of public opinion. But because the Congressional Black Caucus cannot fathom what to do about the epidemic of black-on-black murder and even Rahm Emanuel was not successful after calling in Louis Farrakhan to keep the peace (and neither wishes to make even a rough connection between the violence and Great Society paternalism, the destruction of the black family, and a generation of youths raised without fathers on state assistance), they must seek a token — or rather, in anthropological terms, a scapegoat, some symbolic target to beat when crops fail and pestilence arrives. What is the alternative — lectures about flash-mobbing and sermons about the waste of buying $300 Lebron James signature sneakers?
The angrier we can become about Trayvon Martin, and the more our furor at George Zimmerman, the more we can square the circle of dealing with the Chicago killings (one murder occurred this week just three blocks from the Obama Chicago mansion. [I doubt Barack Obama will be returning to his home after his tenure ends in Washington]). If California has no clue what to do about its schools being reduced to near last in math and English test scores, its epidemic of uninsured drivers, its nearly 40% drop-out rates of Hispanic males in Central Valley high schools, and its 50%-plus rates of remediation of incoming freshmen in the state college system, then its needs a token solution. So it deals with the very real long-term consequences of illegal immigration by pushing for the Dream Act.
But tokenism is not the only reaction when postmodern liberal dreaming ends up in concrete premodern catastrophe. Escapism is a related response. I don’t think Dream Act supporters in Santa Monica or Atherton wish to live in, or visit much, Parlier or Orange Cove. When CSU presidents retire from Central Valley campuses, they usually frown and head to Palm Springs or Monterey. Doctrinaire liberalism is predicated on the notion of escapism, that one has the means and know-how to ensure that children do not go to the schools whose curriculum and policies follow your own utopian thinking. Or that you make sure your “wind and solar and millions of green jobs” windmills are obstructing someone else’s view. Or that the first high-speed rail link connects Fresno with Charles Manson’s prison in Corcoran rather than cutting a wide swath through Bay Area suburbs.
Medieval exemption is yet another response to liberalism. As I wrote in 2008, I watched with curiosity as tony Palo Alto neighborhoods sprouted bigger Obama campaign signs on their lawns, even though the owners were by definition one-percenter segregationists (East Palo Alto and Redwood City are a mile — and a solar system — away). The mansions of an Al Gore, John Kerry, and John Edwards are expiated by their owners’ always louder liberal outrage. No one really wishes to live in a world governed by the laws of contemporary liberalism. So the architects escape it and justify their flight by finding a suitable token, a convenient scapegoat, a secular priest like Obama to offer them penance for their sins of enjoying elite privilege.