Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

03 October 2017

The Missing Element in a Progressive Revival: White Outrage


My hero for fall 2017 is a military man. What made me admire him was not his warrior prowess or his exploits on the battlefield: he’s an educator. But what an educator! And what an American!

His name is Lieutenant General Jay B. Silveria. He’s the commanding officer of the United States Air Force Academy, USAFA, in Colorado Springs. A few days ago he gave vent, brilliantly and succinctly, to what had been missing in our agonizing national debate over race: white outrage at the racism and bigotry that are metastasizing throughout our nation.

Up to now, the outrage has been mostly on the side of bigots and racists. They rant and rave—and parade with weapons—to demonstrate their outrage at the brutally slow dissolution of white privilege. They protest our nation’s sporadic and inconsistent approach to actually realizing the values enshrined in our Declaration of Independence, our Bill of Rights, and our Civil War Amendments (Thirteenth through Fifteenth).

Up to now, the white voices on the other side have all been calm, reasoned and a bit feckless. But not Lt. Gen. Silveria’s. With his tone and manner, as well as his words, he gave voice to outrage at the growing assualt on our most sacred and fundamental values, coming from places as high as the White House.

I won’t presume to summarize Silveria’s short speech. Few things made of words are such gems that they must be perceived directly, in whole, like a rare diamond. That speech is one of them. Every American should take the five-minutes-plus needed to watch it and internalize what Silveria said and the way he said it.

What sparked the speech was the appearance of racial slurs against African-Americans’ on bulletins outside black students’ quarters at USAFA’s preparatory school. In response, Silveria brought together everyone at USAFA who wasn’t out of town, from the top-ranked like himself to the lowest staff member—over five thousand people. Then he gave them his speech, short, direct, plain and simple. At the end, he asked listeners to take out their cell phones and record his outraged and indignant peroration. Cicero or Caesar could not have done more.

Many whites have noted abstractly the chief evil of racism and bigotry, besides their lack of humanity and decency: they divide us and makes us weaker. Even Hillary did, with her campaign slogan “Stronger Together.” More recently, Gary Cohn and Rex Tillerson did when they impliedly criticized the President for his coddling of racism, bigotry and white supremacy in Charlottesville.

But to my knowledge, no Caucasian high figure in politics has come close to expressing the outrage and indignation that the recent explosion of racism and bigotry in our nation deserves. Not Hillary. Not Bernie. Not Elizabeth Warren, who is now my preferred candidate for president in 2020.

What have they got to lose? Racists and bigots are clannish. They are only going to vote and march for their own, or for those, like the president, who blow their dog whistles. White pols who express outrage at what is putrefying out nation aren’t going to lose many bigots’ votes. And whites like me will stand up and cheer.

The victims of racism and bigotry are often too cautious to show their outrage. The higher they rise in the hierarchy of public visibility and power, the more cautious and measured they must be, in order not the offend the many whites who might be sympathetic to their cause but might be frightened or put off by outrage among oppressed minorities. And so we had our first black president—an admirable man in all respects—ever cautious and measured in his condemnation of pure evil.

The outrage that racism and bigotry demand must come from us whites. And it must come from those at our highest levels, those who work at or aspire to the very top. There must be powerful white voices sounding the tocsin against our nation, the world’s jewel of liberty and equality, slip-sliding into something like Turkey, Russia, or China.

Maybe if all of our Democratic leaders were as forthright and open in their outrage as Silveria, they could make better traction in their quest to restore our country’s basic values. Maybe more people from oppressed minorities would register to vote. Maybe their most powerful motivator—hope—which rocketed Barack Obama into the White House in 2009—would rise up again and pull us from the depths into which our nation has sunk.

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