Saturday, May 1, 2010

Our Virulently Divided Nation

As if our nation were not already divided enough over the values embedded in our legislation, along comes the Arizona Immigration Bill to emphasize just how irreconcilable the different worldviews that dominate our political discourse have become. In his post today to The Notion, the collective blog maintained by The Nation, Dave Zirin baldy refers to the new law as "the racist Arizona anti-immigrant bill, SB 1070" before citing a panoply of opposition statements from Major League Baseball's Latino players. Far more interesting, however was the statement from Michael Weiner, Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Players Association (better known as the players' union):

The recent passage by Arizona of a new immigration law could have a negative impact on hundreds of major league players who are citizens of countries other than the United States. These international players are very much a part of our national pastime and are important members of our Association. Their contributions to our sport have been invaluable, and their exploits have been witnessed, enjoyed and applauded by millions of Americans. All of them, as well as the clubs for whom they play, have gone to great lengths to ensure full compliance with federal immigration law.

The impact of the bill signed into law in Arizona last Friday is not limited to the players on one team. The international players on the [Arizona] Diamondbacks work and, with their families, reside in Arizona from April through September or October. In addition, during the season, hundreds of international players on opposing major league teams travel to Arizona to play the Diamondbacks. And, the spring training homes of half of the 30 major league teams are now in Arizona. All of these players, as well as their families, could be adversely affected, even though their presence in the United States is legal. Each of them must be ready to prove, at any time, his identity and the legality of his being in Arizona to any state or local official with suspicion of his immigration status. This law also may affect players who are US citizens but are suspected by law enforcement of being of foreign descent. The Major League Baseball Players Association opposes this law as written. We hope that the law is repealed or modified promptly. If the current law goes into effect, the MLBPA will consider additional steps necessary to protect the rights and interests of our members.

This is clearly strong stuff, but it is a perfect example of how the many of a union can line up behind some few members facing the prospect of serious affliction.

One would think that our general population would be all too happy to lend their support to those who make the daily celebration of our national pastime possible, but this is not the case. Yesterday, C-SPAN's Washington Report invited Carlos Gutierrez to participate in one of their fifty-minute segments. Gutierrez was selected by former President George W. Bush to serve as Secretary of Commerce from 2005 through 2009, and those credentials should be sufficient to establish that he was there as an advocate of the new Arizona law. There was, of course, nothing wrong with his making an appearance. He actually did a reasonably good job of explaining what the law actually said, responding to all questions from the program's host without indulging in excessive ideological pronouncements. I was less disturbed by his participation than I was from the telephone calls he fielded. I did not listen to the entire segment; but, during the portion I did hear, all the calls he received supported the bill. I almost thought that I was stuck in a good-cop-bad-cop routine: Gutierrez could eschew inflammatory declarations because he could let the callers do it for him.

Is that what was really happening? C-SPAN usually does a pretty good job of letting callers from both sides of an issue speak; but if all of their lines were jammed with representatives of only one of those sides, there is not much they could have done, other than shut down the switchboard. So if their lines were so jammed, was it a mass spontaneous reaction; or had some supervising authority coordinated the whole affair prior to the broadcast?

I am less interested in the answer to this question than I am with the case it makes that our current culture is one that encourages divisiveness. Whether it is a question of immigration or of race within our own borders, there are those who passionately embrace discrimination as a fundamental value of "genuine" American culture. Furthermore, in the language of one of the spirituals that inspired the Civil Rights Movement of the Sixties, those who believe in discrimination will "not be moved." If we are lucky, we shall be able to confine the conflict over these irreconcilable differences to a war of words; but such moderation rarely lasts for long periods of time. What could happen if that moderation fails is too dreadful to consider.

No comments: