Bigotry is bad but not for the reason people assume — or not just for that reason. It isn’t bad merely because innocent people are harmed by the irrational hatreds carried around by the prejudiced and by the random cruelties those hatreds inspire.
Bigotry also harms the bigot, since it is a form of ignorance, a misapprehension of the world. They see not what is in front of them, but what is in front of them filtered through the distorting lens of the disdain they grew up with or slid into. Their world is colored not by what’s before their eyes but by the jumbled mess behind them.
So they make mistakes.
For instance: eliminating the DREAM Act, which President-elect Donald Trump has vowed to do on his first day as president — Jan. 21, for those keeping track. That would keep up to 5 million young Americans off the path to success, in school and employment, for a very Third Reich reason: because their papers aren’t in order. It will, of course, hurt them, making their lives harder, more complicated, more anxious. It would also hurt the country. A country which, contrary to the bigot’s skewed perspective, is not burdened by foreigners but benefits from them. A country that needs every capable person it can get its hands on. Otherwise we end up like Japan, in a demographic death spiral.
Cutting off your nose to spite your face is a hallmark of bigots. The classic example is after courts ordered public pools integrated in the 1960s, Southern towns closed their pools, even filling them in with dirt rather than risk whatever horror was supposed to come from letting blacks into the pool — interracial dating, I suppose.
That’s the bad news. The good news, if any news can be considered good in this perilous moment of our national saga, is that, because of their myopia, bigots screw up and overlook important considerations.
For example: When he takes office, our Vice President-elect Michael Pence can be expected to push a national version of Indiana’s “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” designed to protect businessmen who cite their sincere religious faith when refusing to serve gays. The fact that it significantly hurt Indiana’s economy, all so a few bakers and florists could be spared the agony of facilitating a gay wedding, is lost to Pence.
What Pence is blind to is this: the law could backfire. The Indiana act reads, “a governmental entity may not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion.” Religion is a big tent. Lots of faiths, lots of stuff in each, more than enough to justify almost anything. So if a small-town Indiana baker can quote Scripture to avoid making that cake with two plastic men atop it, you or I can do the same. We can cite the Bible when refusing to help the government deport Hispanics or register Muslims, which violates our sincere religious beliefs.
For instance, Exodus 22:23. “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt,” God instructs us, adding, later, “You yourselves know the feelings of a stranger.”
I think God gives us too much credit here. Many folks seem to have forgot, so focused are they on their own bruised feelings.
I’ll let you in on a secret: religion doesn’t compel people to do anything; rather, it justifies their doing the things they are inclined to do.
I’m inclined to resist bigotry. And whenever people write with a Nelson Muntz bray of “Ha ha, we won!” I’ll answer with my new favorite Bible passage, Exodus 23:2, “You shall not follow the masses in doing evil.” It’s only one line in the Bible, but it’s a good line, and I plan on clinging to it for the next four years.
So while Trump is busy revving up the federal government to harass and punish our most vulnerable communities, Pence will be pushing a new law that, unbeknownst to him, might allow decent, patriotic Americans to resist those efforts, pointing not just to common sense and morality but to our sincere, deeply held, legally protected religious faith. God bless America.Tweets by @neilsteinberg