Do recent press reports that racial harmony has increased in New York since 9/11 point to a temporary phenomenon, sure to evaporate when the Islamist attack on Gotham fades from immediate memory, or is the good feeling something deeper than a grabbing for your neighbor in an instant of fear? This issue’s two cover stories suggest that race relations are truly improving, not just in Gotham but across the nation. Beneath the static of racial contention that the press loves to report, a profoundly positive transformation of American society is already almost complete.
Lots of the static we hear concerns alleged police racism and racial profiling. Well, black cops now make up a significant portion of most urban forces: but no one, until Heather Mac Donald’s remarkable “The Black Cops You Never Hear About,” had thought to ask these officers, ideal commentators on such contentious issues, for their views. What is so reassuring about Mac Donald’s interviews in eight departments across the country is not just that these admirable lawmen forcefully reject the racism and racial profiling charges—leveled against them as well as against their white colleagues—but also that they are solid, commonsensical, middle-class Americans, who take for granted that they are the protectors of a black community of law-abiding good people against the depradations of a minority of thugs. The press may look to the opinions of dissident, alienated black cop organizations like “100 Black Men in Law Enforcement Who Care,” but—putting aside the question of whether such groups really have the 100 members they claim and really do “care” beyond any other cops—the upbeat, can-do, no-nonsense officers Mac Donald interviewed seem much more likely to represent mainstream African-American police sentiment.
Even noisier static comes from such self-appointed black leaders as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. But, as John H. McWhorter argues in “Why Blacks don’t Need Leaders,” such characters have no function, since the civil rights movement they claim to lead ended in total victory long ago. Now blacks just need to walk through the doors that are open to them, as so many have done, like the black cops Mac Donald interviewed. With no real use, people like Reverends Jackson and Sharpton are puny caricatures of the Reverends King and Abernathy, devoted only to their disreputable self-aggrandizement. True, a minority of inner-city black Americans unable to grasp the opportunity that the civil rights movement opened do need some guidance, McWhorter shows, not to change the larger society but to change themselves and their immediate communities. And McWhorter introduces us to some of the admirable guides already on the job.
Victor Davis Hanson argues in his moving “The Civic Education America Needs” that our nation’s capacity to correct its flaws and bring its social reality into line with its ideals—as is clearly happening with respect to race—is one of the features that make it so exceptional in world history. That uniqueness, and those ideals, our schools used to teach our children, until PC made it gauche to assert American exceptionalism: but in a time of war, Hanson makes clear, kids need to learn what we are fighting to preserve. Not that our society is perfect, of course: and two other stories in this issue point out flaws in our democracy that our continual process of amelioration needs to correct. As Brian C. Anderson points out in “Why the Battle for the Court Will Be Nasty,” for half a century and more the Supreme Court has gone beyond its constitutional function, making, rather than merely interpreting, the law. Such legislation from the bench once gave us conservative outcomes; but because for a long time the outcomes have been liberal, the Left resists any return to a more limited (and constitutional) judicial role. But as Anderson points out, judicial activism could move Rightward at any time, showing the Left why the Founders were wise to establish a judicial restraint acceptable to all. And as Steven Malanga observes in “Gotham’s Unrepresentative Representatives,” the strange, undemocratic current state of New York City politics, with a feckless GOP and a Democratic party in the grip of the public employee unions, has yielded a crop of congressmen who almost always vote against their constituents’ economic interest.
Finally, don’t miss Theodore Dalrymple’s and Stefan Kanfer’s exhilaratingly irreverent critiques of Virginia Woolf and Noam Chomsky—two influential intellectuals whose foolish and squalid ideas have helped blind so many to the unique blessings Western—and especially American—civilization has heaped upon them.