History suggests that now is the time to start speaking up in Rhode Island.

A broad review of history suggests that the time to stop a dangerous social or political trend is when the changes being implemented are relatively minor and the concerns are arguably still hypothetical.  At that stage, the general value of cooperation can overcome the preferences of this or that faction.  As the factions disregard the concerns of others, the avalanche begins to build.

Two recent stories from the State House make me think that now is the time Rhode Islanders should start speaking up, even if they agree with the underlying intentions.  The first comes via Edward Fitzpatrick in the Boston Globe:

The Rhode Island Legislative Black and Latino Caucus has changed its name to reflect greater diversity in the General Assembly.

The group is now called the Rhode Island Black, Latino, Indigenous, and Asian American and Pacific Islander Caucus (BLIAC).

Maybe this seems like a small, obvious, thing, but and my critique is intended as merely as encouragement that people should give these things a little more thought.  As I’ve mentioned before, regarding new iterations of the Pride Flag, these efforts claiming to be “inclusive” are moving through the looking glass and becoming most definitionally exclusive.  A Black Caucus or an Hispanic Caucus is defined by the shared race or ethnicity of its members.  Once a group can no longer define itself by the single quality that they share (e.g., BLIAC), it is implicitly defined by whom they exclude.  In this case, that is obviously white people.

The responses to this concern on Twitter are easy to imagine.  So what if groups that are not the majority combine forces to be a more substantial counterbalance?  Well, for one thing, consider your certain reaction if someone were to suggest a Legislative White Caucus.  The well-inculcated aversion to such an idea illustrates that a “minority caucus” is not simply acknowledging racial differences and balancing them out, but is forbidding (i.e., explicitly excluding) identification with the majority.

For a sense of the creeping risk, turn to Katherine Gregg in the Providence Journal:

A little more than two years after the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, a group of Democratic lawmakers in Rhode Island is seeking to bar convicted insurrectionists from holding office. …

… it would permanently ban “any person convicted of sedition, insurrection, rebellion, or a [related] felony … [from] being a candidate for or holding public office in the state” and also “from being employed by the state or any political subdivision thereof.”

The calls for Republican state representative Justin Price to resign for having participated in the rally earlier that day illustrate the danger.  This is textbook stuff straight out of the history of dictatorships’ coming into being.  A politically motivated political majority moves to prosecute people for increasingly general opposition to their rule, and whatever else they may suffer, those people would be permanently barred one in six jobs in the state and all Rhode Islanders would be forbidden from choosing them as their representatives.  (This disenfranchises not just those people, but all those who might seek to elect them.)

Moreover, the politically motivated, one-sided intent is already clear.  Notice that Gregg’s article doesn’t mention riots across the country to overthrow the government police force, even taking over swaths of cities for varying degrees of time.

Supporters of both of the legislative initiatives described above should take note that they can go bad in two ways.  They can go too far, with the initial intent, but they can also flip.  If the implied “systemic racism” really exists, do progressives want to give white people a model for racial caucuses and a powerful weapon to label and exclude from office people who oppose them?


Featured image by Maick Maciel on Unsplash.

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1 year ago

I’m ready to go! Thanks for the article, good work.

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