Political candidates continue to be pressed to declare fealty to reparations for the descendants of American slaves, which some experts project would cost $14 trillion. Calls have been raised to disqualify Mitch McConnell “from speaking on the issue” because two of his great-great-grandfathers owned slaves. To disenfranchise an American for the behavior of his ancestors oddly mirrors the disenfranchisement by those ancestors of their slaves. Which is to say, it oddly mirrors revenge.
Systemic socio-economic hardship against black Americans was indeed perpetuated in some areas after slavery was ended: most Americans continue to yearn for unity and healing. The vitally important questions about a “reparations policy” are equity, feasibility, and outcome. Even if an equitable and effective policy could be implemented, this would be drastically counterproductive if destructive racial divisions were unleashed. But of course, unleashing destructive racial divisions is precisely the desire of that anarchic progressivism which would vilify and disenfranchise politicians for the sins of their great-great-grandfathers.
The American experience is temporally distinct from South Africa, or Germany, who paid restitution to an identifiable group of people in a relatively close time proximity to the societal harm addressed. America’s lapse between Emancipation and today is a real problem because of the slippery slope of linking intergenerational sin with intergenerational responsibility — the two have become inextricably entwined in our collective DNA. Science now affirms that traumatic experiences such as rape, war, slavery or torture impact future generations by way of epigenetic changes — “heritable changes in gene expression.”
Twined in this mix are now other ancient sins that seek modern guilt or responsibility. Native Americans are another group among many subgroups who have suffered societal or individual offense — indeed, there is ongoing conflict over whether all black Americans should be recipients of reparation benefits, or only those whose ancestors were actually enslaved.
That distinction between societal versus individual victimhood/responsibility creates innumerable bizarre yet unavoidable situations, such as charging an individual in 2019 for the collective guilt of a great-great-ancestor. Are the historic harms collective, and the modern responsibility individual? Restricting reparations to those who establish slave ancestry seeks to address individual historic harms through modern collective responsibility.
Al Capone’s son, Alphonse Albert Francis Capone, Jr. (“Sonny”), was bequeathed congenital syphilis, requiring brain surgery that left him partially deaf. Yet, as the progeny of a killer and crook, he bore the blood of that past, did he not? And so too then did his four children: Veronica, Teresa, Barbara and Patricia. John Wayne Gacy murdered at least 30 young men: what of his children, Michael and Christine?
It would be obscene to visit the sins of the fathers upon their children in such fashion. However, if society did so, at least that would be a relatively current temporal connection — within a generation or two, rather than the several generations elapsed since American slavery.
Like the former slaves, the family members of those dismembered by Gracy, or gunned down by Capone, may have suffered epigenetic changes. Yet, the family members of those horrible killers doubtless suffered as well — just as the family members of union soldiers who were imprisoned or traumatized in the Civil War suffered epigenetic changes that passed down to their descendants.
The children of drug dealers suffer; as do the users’ kids. This is happening currently — not 150 years ago — and still it would be hard to figure out which group should pay reparations, or homage, to which.
If America is to retroactively account for past transgressions, the Abenaki and other Native Americans must be paid first — by blacks and whites alike. But if we stretch that far via our identity-seeking time capsule, we must consider compensation by “Anatomically Modern Humans” (AMHs), who overtook Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons by violent criminal action. (With tens of millions of years’ interest, payable to people who are as extinct as American slavery.)
In this post-modern milieu of victim-based virtue-signaling, those signals are growing fuzzy, if not macabre. Many now seek social recognition for their status as victims because they are ancestors not of those who suffered but of those who murdered and tortured. Martin Davidson states that his book (The Perfect Nazi: Uncovering My Grandfather’s Secret Past) was “intended to redress [his grandfather’s] well-insulated sense of non-accountability.” Jennifer Teege discovered at age 38 that her grandfather was Amon Goeth, Plaszow Concentration Camp commandant:
She had unearthed the ghastly family secret. … It was a moment that cut her life in two. There was the “before,” when she knew nothing of her family’s sinister past, and “after,” when she was forced to live with that truth.
Yet others do not feel victimized as individual heirs of sin, but guilt-laden. The family owners of Dr. Pepper recently learned their Nazi family history, paid $11 million to charity as penance, and declared “We were ashamed and white as sheets. There is nothing to gloss over. These crimes are disgusting.”
Kerri Rawson’s father was Dennis Rader, the demonlike BTK killer. Her recent memoir, “A Serial Killer’s Daughter,” “…bills itself as a ‘story of faith, love and overcoming’.” But noteworthy is that “the sudden renewed interest in BTK… is all inspired by the publication of Rawson’s book….” Is she not profiting financially? – will that heal his murders?
So too the “sudden renewed interest” in slavery reparations is being inspired by a partisan political agenda that divides Americans by weaponizing slavery, identity, and/or victimhood. As one liberal writerunintentionally let slip, “Reparations have not been listed as a priority by black Americans in recent polling, but the current debate could change that.”
Black activist Star Parker is more direct:
Their playbook was determined 50 years ago and they don’t move from it. They just bring it up when it’s the appropriate time to play the race card to divide America because it’s a political season. … So, they’re not serious — this is just a political ploy to racially divide us so that the black people … feeling the economic benefit of the policies of Donald Trump, [won’t slip away]. … [T]hat’s why we’re all of a sudden having hearings on reparations.
A leading proponent for reparations is Jackson Lee, who said it’s an effort to “help bring America together, to understand the hurts of other people and to find common ground.” Ms. Lee condemned Mitch McConnell for “bad behavior” because he does not support reparations. When asked about groups that are excluded, she grew defensive: “This is not an idea or a legislative initiative only for the African American community. That is insensitive and not reflective of the role that African Americans played in building this nation,” she argued.” Presidential hopeful Marrianne Williamson echoed the fantastical notion that employing government to impose this enlightened restitution will heal rather than divide Americans: “It will be a profound gift. It implies a mea culpa. … it implies a recognition of a debt owed and therefore, it carries not only economic power but spiritual force — whatever it costs, it’s time to do this.”
But the cost is not merely financial — this scheme is socially devastating. Aside from the sheer impossibility of equitably redressing 400-year-old grievances, there is the question of effectiveness. Throwing money at the inner city problem in the War on Poverty apparently was not regarded as reparative, but it clearly did not improve the plight of black Americans significantly. Inequitably spending trillions of dollars presents the most obvious failure of the reparations argument — the delusion that money will cure social problems. Those seeking reparations are opportunists who thirst for money and power at the expense of racial comity.
John Klar is an attorney and farmer residing in Brookfield. © Copyright True North Reports 2022. All rights reserved.