It’s time we had a courageous conversation about the left’s incoherent stance on big government and race.
This muddled mindset was on full display last week as two progressive Supreme Court justices, Sonia Sotomayor and Ketanji Brown Jackson, attacked the majority’s decision rejecting affirmative action in higher education by crediting such race-based policies for progress while also claiming that nothing much has changed in our supposedly racist country.
“Today,” Sotomayor declares in the second paragraph of her dissent, “this court stands in the way and rolls back decades of precedent and momentous progress.” Despite that grand advancement, she asserts just one sentence later that the majority was cementing “a superficial rule of colorblindness as a constitutional principle in an endemically segregated society where race has always mattered and continues to matter.”
Momentous progress in an endemically segregated nation?
Both Sotomayor and Jackson try to show how race continues to matter by drawing on the pessimistic historical determinism of critical race theory to argue that African Americans are still shackled by the original sin of slavery.
“Three hundred and fifty years ago,” Jackson writes, “the Negro was dragged to this country in chains to be sold into slavery. Uprooted from his homeland and thrust into bondage for forced labor, the slave was deprived of all legal rights.” She continues, “After emancipation, white Americans imposed a series of racist customs and laws, including Jim Crow and redlining, to limit black advancement.”
Jackson asserts that this past shapes the present and future condition of African Americans through the disparities regarding wealth, health, and education that exist between the races. She writes:
Today, as was true 50 years ago, Black home ownership trails White home ownership by approximately 25 percentage points. … Black Americans in their late twenties are about half as likely as their White counterparts to have college degrees. … As for postsecondary professional arenas, despite being about 13% of the population, Black people make up only about 5% of lawyers. Such disparity also appears in the business realm: Of the roughly 1,800 chief executive officers to have appeared on the well-known Fortune 500 list, fewer than 25 have been Black (as of 2022, only six are Black). … Black men are twice as likely to die from prostate cancer as White men and have lower 5-year cancer survival rates. Uterine cancer has spiked in recent years among all women Ã¢?? but has spiked highest for Black women, who die of uterine cancer at nearly twice the rate of “any other racial or ethnic group.” Black mothers are up to four times more likely than White mothers to die as a result of childbirth. And COVID killed Black Americans at higher rates than White Americans.
Those numbers are clearly dispiriting. They obviously demand attention. But Jackson’s analysis, which simply asserts a facile causality between past injustice and current disparities, does nothing to explain and address the behaviors that drive them. Her dissent makes no mention of the breakdown of the black family, the rise of obesity and other co-morbidities among African Americans, and the failure of inner-city schools since the civil rights movement. Nor does she address the fact that many of these same problems also plague white people – the vast majority of whom are not CEOs, and most of whom have little wealth.
Mysteriously, she also ignores the reams of economic data showing that the true crisis is among black men. The Brookings Institution, for example, reports:
Black women and white women raised byÃ¢?Â¯low-incomeÃ¢?Â¯parents (those in the bottom 20% of the income distribution) have similar rates of upward intergenerational mobility, measured in terms of their individual income as adults. … The data shows that Black men raised by low-income parents face twice the risk of remaining stuck in intergenerational poverty (38%) as Black women (20%) in terms of their individual income.
Jackson ignores such inconvenient facts to ascribe all disparities to racism. Rather than identify the mechanisms and barriers at work today that are at the root of the problem, she invokes a gauzy view of history to issue a moral indictment. This is more guilt trip than serious argument.
More importantly, neither she nor Sotomayor detail how affirmative action and other race-based policies they support have improved the lives of African Americans. Isn’t that the key question? It is hard to believe that they have provided no benefit. But are they worth the cost of racializing and tribalizing our politics, culture, and law?
Returning to Sotomayor’s claim, one wonders: How “momentous” could our progress be if, six decades after the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965 that dismantled Jim Crow, America is still “endemically segregated”? If the government policies enforced since then, backed by trillions of dollars in spending, haven’t achieved the desired result, why do we believe they ever will?
Liberals they will not, which explains the rising calls for trillions of dollars of reparations for African Americans – affirmative action on steroids. Instead of addressing the complex root causes of the troubling disparities, they are pushing another big government give-away. More is always their answer. What guarantee do we have that an even larger check will keep black boys and men in school and out of prison? What we can be sure of is that a massive windfall to one small group of Americans will only stoke the fires of racial division.
Progressives continue to double down on failed policies because of ideology. Their key conceit is that they should run the show because of their self-proclaimed expertise: There is no problem they can’t solve through their top-down interventions. “We know what works” is their mantra. As it infantilizes the populace – especially the racial minorities they claim to represent, who are afforded little personal agency to change their lives – this hubristic mindset can never admit defeat because that would strike at the heart of progressive authority.
If their programs fail, it is only because they were not fully implemented or funded – and because of emotional opposition from the ignorant masses and the conniving of monied interests. Reality is not the facts on the ground, but the vision they embrace. Conveniently, that vision depends on giving them ever greater power: Since the people are incapable of improving their own lot, they must be granted ever more authority.
One definition of insanity is expecting a different result from the same action. Both Jackson and Sotomayor argue that we must keep the policies and approaches they say have failed. This illogic is the logic of progressivism.