There's Only One Thing You Can Say to Ken Paxton. But I Can't Say It. Yet.
You can't really argue with people like Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton about things like gay marriage. They never say what they really mean, anyway.
Listen. We could sit here and go on and on all day long about Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and his basically insane exhortation to county clerks not to issue marriage license applications to gay people. But somehow talking too much about people like Paxton just makes us feel sort of crazy after a while, too.
You know why? Because it's a trip to crazy land. Because the stuff they say they care about – the rebel flag, the right to go to church with a Glock on your hip, the right to break the law and be personally hurtful to gay people – none of that is what they care about. Really.
If you rounded up every single gay person in America, put them all on ships and sent them back to Gayfrica, the Ken Paxtons of the world would just start whipping up worse on the Mexicans. Or the Muslims. Or the somebody.
The only thing they say that can be taken seriously is their mantra: “I just want my country back.” And by taking that statement seriously, I mean it merits a follow-up question: Which country would that be?
No, no, don't duck and dodge. You said you wanted your country back. Tell us what country that is.
I can only think of one. Happens to be one I know well. Used to live there. In fact I was born into it. I believe we must be talking about mid-20th century America. And what a country that was, for some.
The generations of Americans born after World War II were handed the longest economic boom in recorded history, a peculiarity of a terrible war that made this country rich while it devastated everybody else in the industrialized West. We did nothing to deserve it. It was an inheritance. And in this country the post-war boom was married to white supremacy, another unearned bonus for those of us who were white.
For most of us, the history of our lives ever since has been the saga of the erosion of white supremacy and the redefinition of prosperity. As the playing field got flatter and more people were allowed to play, life did get more competitive. I really don't know white people personally who would elect to go back to the old regime, because the lesson of our lives has been that the old regime was based on lies, ignorance and brutality. It's harder to get a house with a swimming pool now than it was a half century ago. But is a swimming pool worth massive social injustice?
But sadly and apparently for some, the answer is yes. For someone Paxton's age, it's an America that's been long-gone most of his life, anyway. But, yes, it's worth it to some few to build prosperity for the few on the backs of bigotry and injustice for the many. Only they never quite put it that plainly. Instead what we get from them is this transparently crazy stuff like Paxton telling local officials to violate the law on gay marriage.
When I hear Ken Paxton and his political posse saying totally crazy stuff – almost as if they get a weird kick out of the crazy part – I think this: People tend to be crazy when they haven't come to grips with what's really eating them. And what's eating the Far Right is that they don't like the world the way it is.
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They want another world. The old one. They want to turn the back the clock. Theirs is a truly reactionary cause, and only the fantasy of time-travel could quell their roiling hearts.
That's why it's a mistake to engage them too closely in debate on their stated causes and issues. They're never going to play by the rules of logic. You'd do better arguing with a 2-year-old.
But not arguing doesn't mean we stop trying to reach them. We just give up on debate and move to the realm of the heart. The most
powerful and effective words spoken in public in recent memory were these: “You took something very precious from me. I will never talk to her again. I will never, ever hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.”
When Nadine Collier spoke those words at a bond hearing in North Charleston, South Carolina, for 21-year-old Dylann Roof, confessed murderer of her 70-year-old mother, Ethel Lance, she wasn't trying to debate him. She wasn't going to have an argument with him about the rebel flag. She stood on a higher ground and spoke right past and beyond all of that nonsense and addressed instead the deep and grand moral truth of the matter.
That's the only thing we can say to Paxton that makes any sense. You, sir, are insulting and injuring the hearts of honest decent Americans who only want to honor and preserve the institution you profess to care so much about. And we … and we …
And I am working really hard on that next part. I guess that's the hard part.