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An African-American professor on the case for black patriotism

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An African-American professor on the case for black patriotism

There is a fashionable standoffishness characteristic of much elite thinking about blacks’ relationship to America — as exemplified, for instance, by The New York Times’s 1619 Project. Does this posture serve the interests, rightly understood, of black Americans? I think that it does not.

Indeed, a case can be made that the correct narrative to adopt today is one of unabashed black patriotism — a forthright embrace of American nationalism by black people. Black Americans’ birthright citizenship in what is arguably history’s greatest republic is an inheritance of immense value. My answer for black Americans to Frederick Douglass’ famous question — “Whose Fourth of July?” — is, “Ours!”

Is this a venal, immoral, and rapacious bandit-society of plundering white supremacists, founded in genocide and slavery and propelled by capitalist greed, or a good country that affords boundless opportunity to all fortunate enough to enjoy the privileges and bear the responsibilities of citizenship? Of course, there is some warrant in the historical record for both sentiments, but the weight of the evidence overwhelmingly favors the latter.

The founding of the United States of America was a world-historic event by means of which Enlightenment ideals about the rights of individual persons and the legitimacy of state power were instantiated for the first time in real ­institutions.

African slavery flourished at the time of the Founding, true enough. And yet, within a century of the Founding, slavery was gone and people who had been chattel became citizens of the United States of America. Not equal citizens, not at first. That took another century. But African-descended Americans became, in the fullness of time, equal citizens of this republic.

Our democracy, flawed as it most surely is, nevertheless became a beacon to billions of people throughout what came to be known as the “free world.” We fought fascism in the Pacific and in Europe and thereby helped to save the world. We faced down, under the threat of nuclear annihilation, the horror that was the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Moreover, we have witnessed here in America, since the end of the Civil War, the greatest transformation in the status of a serfdom people (which is, in effect, what blacks became after emancipation) to be found anywhere in world history.

This narrative of human liberty begins in the incredible trauma of the Civil War, with more than 600,000 dead in a country of 30 million. Some say that the war wasn’t fought to end slavery; it was fought to preserve the union. Lincoln, they say, would have been happy to see the union preserved even if slavery had persisted. I expect that this is correct, though he surely abhorred slavery. But the fact remains that the consequence of that war was, together with the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth amendments, to make the chattel — the African slaves and their descendants — into citizens.

It shouldn’t have taken 100 years; they shouldn’t have been slaves in the first place. True enough. But slavery had been a commonplace human experience since antiquity. Emancipation — the freeing of slaves en masse, the movement for abolition — that was a new idea. A Western idea. The fruit of Enlightenment. An idea that was brought to fruition over a century and a half ago here, in the United States of America, liberating millions of people and creating the world we now inhabit.

This great and historic achievement surely would not have been possible without philosophical insights and moral commitments cultivated in the 17th and 18th centuries in the West — ideas about the essential dignity of human persons and about what makes a government’s exercise of power over its people legitimate. But something new was created here in America at the end of the 18th century. Slavery was a holocaust out of which emerged something that actually advanced the morality and the dignity of humankind — namely, emancipation. The abolition of slavery and the incorporation of Africa-descended people into the body politic of the United States of America was an unprecedented ­achievement.

To those, like the influential writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, who dismiss the American dream as irrelevant to blacks or worse, I would ask, “Have you noticed what has happened here in the United States in the last century?”

The Swedish economist Gunnar Myrdal came to the United States in the late 1930s, with backing from the Carnegie Corporation, to survey the condition of “the Negro” in American society. In 1944, when he published his study, “An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy,” the modal occupation for African-American men was farm laborer, and the typical occupation of African-American women was domestic servant. The median family income of blacks relative to whites was about 50 percent. The status of African-American education, voting rights and citizenship, and access to the professions was abysmal. This is within my lifetime.

In the last 75 years, a vast black middle class has developed. There are black billionaires. The influence of black people on the culture of America is stunning and has global resonance. Some 40 million strong, black Americans are the richest and most powerful population of African descent on the planet.

There are 200 million Nigerians, and the gross national product of Nigeria is just about $1 trillion per year. America’s GNP is over $20 trillion a year, and we 40 million African-Americans have claim to roughly 10 percent of it. We have access to 10 times the income of a typical Nigerian.

What is more, the very fact that the cultural barons and elites of America — who run The New York Times and the Washington Post, who give out Pulitzer Prizes and National Book Awards, who make the grants at the MacArthur Foundation and run the human resources departments of corporate America — have bought in to the new woke racial sensibility hook, line and sinker gives the lie to the pessimism that the American dream doesn’t apply to blacks. It most certainly and emphatically does apply, and it is coming to fruition daily.

The central issue, then, is a question of narrative. Are we going to look through the dark lens of the United States as a racist, genocidal, white supremacist, illegitimate force? Or are we going to see it for what it has become over the course of the last three centuries: the greatest force for human liberty on the planet?

This conflict of narratives is worth arguing about — with Ta-Nehisi Coates; with Colin Kaepernick; with the Black Lives Matter activists; with the officials who will exercise power in the Biden administration; and with the editorial staff of The New York Times. The narrative we blacks settle upon about the American project is fundamentally important to our nation’s future.

Glenn C. Loury is a professor of economics at Brown University and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. This essay was adapted from City Journal’s Spring 2021 issue.

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Opinion

President Joe Biden failing US when it comes to COVID leadership

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Bidenomics is already starting to slam the US economy

President Joe Biden entered the White House with a huge gift from his predecessor: COVID vaccines produced in record time and being administered to Americans at the rate of nearly a million shots a day. But rather than getting the nation over the finish line, the new president’s leadership has proved a drag on progress by feeding vaccine resistance.

In particular, the feds’ sudden, evidence-ignoring 10-day suspension of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine did serious damage in terms of vaccine hesitancy. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll just found that 20 percent of unvaccinated adults changed their minds about getting jabbed because of the pause. Doubt was even stronger in some demographics: 39 percent of Hispanic women said the suspension changed their views.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration put the pause on J&J after learning of just six cases of serious blood clots among the 7 million Americans who’d gotten the jab.

This wasn’t science but extremely risk-averse bureaucrats ignoring the overwhelming benefits to the public for the remote fear that they might be criticized.

President Donald Trump’s critics said the approval of even a single vaccine by the end of 2020 would be a miracle, but Operation Warp Speed delivered two jabs with a third on the way — in good part because Team Trump sat on the bureaucrats to prevent such deadly foolishness.

But Biden has other priorities; he couldn’t even be bothered to try undoing the damage from the J&J pause. The day it was announced, April 13, he gave two public addresses: one at a congressional tribute to a slain Capitol Police officer and one in the Oval Office before his meeting with Congressional Black Caucus members — on a favorite subject, “equity.”

“When we took office,” he said, “I signed the executive order — every single aspect of our government, including every agency, has, as a primary focus, dealing with equity. Not a joke.”

During his campaign, Biden said his top priority would be the COVID crisis. Instead, it’s turned out to be a dangerous game of trying to institute equality of outcome.

Heck, if he really cared about equity, he’d focus on boosting confidence in and distribution of the vaccines — African Americans have been getting jabbed at far lower rates than whites.

After Biden’s remarks, a reporter asked him about the J&J pause — giving him a chance to show leadership and calm the nation’s nerves over the vax.

That’s what UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson did when the European Union panicked over a similar blood-clot issue with AstraZeneca’s vaccine, urging all to heed the advice of the UK regulator, which rightly said the shot’s benefits far outweighed the risks. “The best thing of all is to vaccinate our population, get everybody out getting the jab, that’s the key thing, and that’s what I would advocate, number one,” he declared.

In grim contrast, Biden punted: “My message to the American people on the vaccine is — I told you all: I made sure we have 600 million doses of the MR — not of either Johnson & Johnson and/or AstraZeneca. So there’s enough vaccine that is basically 100 percent unquestionable for every single, solitary American.”

The nation’s top leader actually suggested one of the FDA-approved vaccines was “questionable.” No wonder confidence in all the shots has dropped.

But Biden fails on a larger scale, with behavior that says, “This crisis will last forever.”

Why? Well, a forever crisis justifies his bid to expand government permanently and lock in Democratic dominance. Sadly, that seems to matter more to this president than the health of the nation.

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Beware would-be Manhattan DAs who think job is about protecting criminals

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Beware would-be Manhattan DAs who think job is about protecting criminals

We’ve slammed Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance many times for decisions such as refusing to prosecute fare-beating and other crimes whose cost to society is far more than monetary. But most of the Democratic candidates to succeed him make Vance look like Judge Dredd.

Last week’s NY1 debate featured a clean divide: Candidates Liz Crotty, Tali Farhadian Weinstein and Diana Florence want to protect the public by putting the bad guys on ice, but the rest seem to think the DA’s job is to keep criminals walking free.

Naïve ideologues Dan Quart, Alvin Bragg, Eliza Orlins, Tahanie Aboushi and Lucy Lang want to scale back prosecutions and accelerate decarceration of jails and prisons — reserving prosecution for those they disagree with.

Bragg, an ex-federal prosecutor, bragged that he had ever only prosecuted one misdemeanor — against men who blocked people from going into a Planned Parenthood clinic. Orlins, a public defender, would decriminalize almost all misdemeanors and defund the DA’s office.

Hmm: This week, authorities charged alleged Hoolies street gang member Dashawn Austin in connection with the fatal stray-bullet shooting of 1-year-old Davell Gardner in Brooklyn last summer. Cops didn’t have to go far to find Austin, as he was already at Rikers thanks to charges on an earlier murder, in March 2020.

Look: The Legislature is already rushing to empty the jails, from its still-insane “no bail” law (which even Mayor Bill de Blasio says remains critically flawed) to its recent move to decriminalize prostitution. That madness isn’t the only reason crime is surging, but it’s clearly part of it.

With shootings soaring, the last thing the city needs is a Manhattan DA who wants to accelerate the “no consequences for crime” trend. Yet most of the candidates are trying to win votes by vowing to protect accused criminals, not the public.

Yes, they claim their approach will somehow increase public safety (someday), but that magical thinking only suggests they’ve been taking advantage of pot legalization.

New Yorkers must vote for candidates who prioritize getting crime and disorder back under control or the “city that never sleeps” will be sleeping with the fishes.

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Opinion

Letters to the Editor — May 9, 2021

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Letters to the Editor — May 9, 2021

COVID uncertainty
The Post editorial about herd immunity makes several good points, albeit within the context of general uncertainty about the virus (“We’re Still Beating COVID,” May 4).

We have reason to be optimistic, but we have more work to do and still need to grasp the uncertainty of the virus.

The assumption that future mutations will be less dangerous is not scientific; mutation is random. Reducing the opportunities for the virus to mutate is good science and common sense.

Accordingly, a missing piece in your article is the damage done to public health by right-wing politicians and pundits who have discouraged vaccinations at a time when we need to work together.

The Post article blithely assumes that the many Republicans who are opposed to getting vaccinated will come around. I hope you are right, as that is what our country needs, but I worry you overestimate both the public spirit and the scientific intelligence of these people.

Chip Boyd
Cheshire, Conn.

Distrust in big biz
I agree with the broad thrust of Josh Hammer’s article about the disaffectedness of new conservatives toward big business, but I think that he slightly misunderstands the cause (“There’s No Stopping GOP-Big Biz Divorce,” PostOpinion, May 3).

Withdrawing support from big business does not necessarily mean that we are embracing government control. The pro-liberty, anti-government principles of conservatism are still consistent.

It’s just that we’ve realized that big business, at a certain scale, is indistinguishable from the government. A monopolistic corporation that uses its wealth coercively instead of engendering a free market— with the nodding approval of certain politicians who regularly lunch with the executives — is nationalized in all but name.

Robert Frazer
Lancashire, UK

Misleading mask
Miranda Devine’s column about President Biden’s meeting with former President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalyn hits the mark (“Masking science,” May 6).

In his indoor meeting with the elder Carters, Biden is seen not wearing a mask. As soon as he leaves and goes out into the open air, he places a mask on his face. He refuses to show the nation any optimism that the COVID epidemic is winding down.

Biden is turning out to be the most masked man since the Lone Ranger. At a recent virtual climate summit with other world leaders, and with no one else in sight, Biden continued to cover his face with his mask. I guess he was afraid he might give his computer a virus.

Warren Goldfein
Mount Arlington, NJ

Court hypocrisy
The United States is worried because El Salvador has removed the magistrates of its Supreme Court’s constitutional chamber (“Salvador worries US,” May 3).

Secretary of State Antony Blinken claims an “independent judiciary is essential to democratic governance.” Is he hallucinatory or just in heavy denial?

What does he think will happen if his party succeeds in adding justices to the US Supreme Court? El Salvador is being more upfront with its actions than the United States.

Ellen Minaker
Queens

Celebrating moms
It wouldn’t be Mother’s Day without Cindy Adams’ beautiful salute to her mother (“In memory of dear mom,” May 6).

It bring tears to my eyes every time. Happy Mother’s Day to all those hardworking moms past and present, especially my momma, Nora Quinlan.

Margaret Clabby
Queens

Want to weigh in on today’s stories? Send your thoughts (along with your full name and city of residence) to [email protected]. Letters are subject to editing for clarity, length, accuracy and style.

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