Roy Moore Isn’t the Only One Who Thinks Dating Kids Is Fine

Just ask their parents first.

by Patricia J. Williams, published in The Nation Magazine, December 15, 2015

In an eyebrow-raising interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity, the soon-to-be-defeated Alabama senatorial candidate Roy Moore—accused of molesting a 14-year-old when he was in his 30s, and of pursuing and harassing at least eight other teenagers while a district attorney—stated that he couldn’t remember dating teenagers at all… but that if he had, he would certainly have asked their parents first.

The allegations were greeted with a collective ho-hum by many Alabamians. “It was different back then,” some have shrugged, as though that made it more acceptable. But this is patently not true: Let us not forget that in the 1950s, America and the world condemned Jerry Lee Lewis, then 22 and divorced twice, when he married his 13-year-old cousin. It was wrong then, and it is just as wrong today.

And so one must be concerned that there is a larger problem here than merely Roy Moore. Indeed, in one astonishing interview on MSNBC, Moore’s attorney, Trenton Garmon, appealed to some sort of broad, even global, social consensus, stating that “Culturally speaking, there are differences…. In other countries, there’s arrangements through parents for what we would refer to as consensual marriages.”

The sad truth is that the United States tolerates a surprisingly high rate of child marriage for an industrialized nation. Although the age of consent to marry is pretty uniformly 18 across most of the country, many states allow exceptions, such as in instances of pregnancy or parental consent. As a result, within the past 15 years, at least 207,000 children have gotten married in the United States. Of that number, 87 percent were girls, and only 14 percent were married to other minors. More than 1,000 of those children were 14 or under, including three 10-year-olds.

Committing a crime like statutory rape against a minor is, in the jurisprudence of most modern nations, a violation of public safety and community health. In denying children the capacity to consent, we collectively recognize the particular vulnerability of the very young. Their cognitive systems are not at the same level as adults’, and their executive function is not fully developed. We don’t let them sign contracts and are more forgiving of their follies.

We do this, or ought to, as a matter of human rights. The Declaration of the Rights of the Child, which mandates the protection of children against all forms of exploitation, was endorsed by the United Nations in 1959 and adopted as an international convention in 1989. Madeleine Albright, then our UN ambassador, signed it in 1995, but Congress never ratified the convention. The reason should be very familiar to Southerners like Moore: states’ rights, as well as a purported interference with parental rights over children.

The latter is no doubt why Moore’s first line of defense was that, if parents had given him “permission,” there couldn’t be a problem. This way of thinking is not unique. During a debate about requiring children to be vaccinated before entering public schools, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul asserted: “The state doesn’t own your children. Parents own the children, and it is an issue of freedom.”

One way of understanding parental “ownership” is that it privatizes a public or constitutional problem. Resolving matters that infringe upon the autonomy of another person, even one’s child, by private mechanisms vests a disproportionate, even whimsical amount of control in parents. That tension, between the public interest in protecting children and the freedom of parents to raise their families as they see fit, is often tested in both law and politics—for example, the “consent” given by some parents allowing their children to be paddled by schoolteachers; or withholding consent for a blood transfusion on religious grounds, risking a child’s health; or whatever interest is supposedly served when a parent grants permission for a 10-year-old girl to marry a 31-year-old man, as happened in Tennessee in 2001.

It’s a miscarriage of justice when parents are allowed to compromise the well-being of their children. And yet it is perhaps not surprising that such marriages of very young girls to older men are more likely to occur within contexts of economic distress. Says Dr. Nicholas Syrett, author of American Child Bride: A History of Minors and Marriage in the United States, “This is a rural phenomenon, and it is a phenomenon of poverty.”

In this sense, it is akin in structure to the nondisclosure agreements that have protected men, like Bill O’Reilly and Harvey Weinstein, who harass or rape their employees: a private contract used as a shield against the collective or public sanction of criminal law. But one shouldn’t be able to buy one’s way out of such public arrangements. Contract law must never be a cover for licentiousness. Such corruption essentially buys and sells—traffics, in other words—the larger obligations of civic regard and human dignity.

The day before the election, I thought of what Doug Jones—the next senator of Alabama—said: “Men who hurt little girls should go to jail and not the United States Senate.” It was a double-edged allusion to the fact that Jones was also the prosecutor who successfully convicted two Klan members of bombing the Birmingham church where four little black girls were killed in 1963.

In the end, I was reminded once again of a story that continually haunts me. In his book Race, the great Studs Terkel interviewed a white woman named June. As a child, she had been sexually assaulted repeatedly by her father and an uncle; June told her mother several times but was never believed. One day, she was with her family in a department store when her grandmother saw a black man going about his own business on the other side of the aisles. June’s grandmother and mother gathered the child close, worried that this man would accost her in a state of rapacious desire. June said that was when she realized something quite crazy was going on: Her family had projected all of their fears onto that dark and distant stranger, yet they couldn’t grasp that she was being molested right beneath their noses, in the supposed sanctity of home.


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Memory, Mask, Illusion

by Patricia J. Williams

Published in The Nation Magazine, October 26, 2017

It is a tribute to the strange unreality of our time that among the children’s Halloween outfits being sold online, there was this: an Anne Frank costume. “100% polyester,” read the product description. “Easy to put on and take off. Visits to the toilet made easy thanks to Velcro fastening.”

“All the kids love it,” another blurb promised. “This outfit can be worn for many different occasions such as World War times, Evacuee times and also as a street urchin.” Happily, the pushback was immediate, strong, and condemnatory enough that the costume’s name was changed. It is now being sold as a “World War II Evacuee…Fancy Dress Costume [for] Girls.”

The thought of children dressing “up” as Anne Frank to trick-or-treat as part of the Christian celebration of All Hallows Eve is surely bizarre enough. Yet I suppose it isn’t any more shocking than the proliferation of dead-Trayvon-Martin costumes that proliferated a few years back, or the recurring phenomenon of fraternity blackface parties, or the odd use of tiki torches to symbolize the white-hot flames of neo-Nazi power. To be fair, some of these masquerades are concocted for supposedly educational purposes, such as a Georgia middle school’s Civil War Dress-Up Day (guess who gets to be a plantation owner, who a slave), or the recent documentary on Britain’s Channel 4, My Week as a Muslim, in which a “frightened” white woman dons a hijab and brown makeup in order to “experience” racism and discover “why they live like that.”

There is a fiercely reiterated colonialism in these little morality plays, something habitual about this leaping out of our lives to become someone else. I wonder, too, if there isn’t a peculiar kind of trauma hiding in plain sight in these reenactments, this desire to “pass” as something we are not, to blend in even as we perform otherness, whether exoticizing or demonizing. It is curious the degree to which we so easily assume we can walk in the moccasins of another by literally buying the shirt off the back of that other (as well as those absolutely darling hand-stitched moccasins). I don’t wish to rain on anyone’s parade; I believe that the rituals of role reversal can serve important psychic and cultural functions. But when we have no consciousness of the narratives we are performing, then I worry that it becomes indistinguishable from living a lie.

I am not alone in worrying about the prevalence of public lying right now. Dissembling is so widespread that we seem ensnared by the proleptic expectation that nothing is ever as it seems. Consider the irresistibly surreal assertions of one Joe Vargas, a manufacturer of hemp syrup. In a tweet that went viral, he maintained that Melania Trump—as seen in a photo taken of the first couple touring a Secret Service training center in Maryland—was not really Melania Trump. The Twitterverse went wild, applying biometrics to measure her height, her nose, the jib of her jaw. Some even pointed to what appeared to be split ends on the alleged body double’s alleged wig: The real Melania would never have split ends! (If only that laser scope of surveillance were applied to the rest of our 
political world.)

Perhaps it was the very assertion that there is such a thing as hemp syrup that beguiled us down the fairy-tale path toward the lure of impersonation. I found myself yearning for the big reveal: Syrup Salesman Uncovers Body-Snatching Aliens Inhabiting the White House.

It would explain so much.

As we approach the one-year mark of the Trump presidency, I cannot shake the sense that we have well and truly entered Lewis Carroll’s alternative universe on the other side of the looking glass. With every 3 am tweet that may or may not be entered into the National Archives, it feels as though we are conversing about a United States that exists only as a figment of the Red King’s dreams. As Tweedledum explained it to Alice with such eloquence: “If that there King was to wake, you’d go out—bang!—like a candle!”

Even as I write, the news is heavy with mourning and confusion, vengeance and ventriloquism; nothing is what it purports to be. Facebook and Twitter are said to have provided a platform for the Russian government to create an unholy host of “fake Americans” whose viral messaging, it was hoped, would influence our elections. According to The New York Times, the “phony promoters” of one of those sites, DCLeaks, “were in the vanguard of a cyberarmy of counterfeit Facebook and Twitter accounts, a legion of Russian-controlled impostors whose operations are still being unraveled.”

Phoniness defines us now; all is smoke and mirrors and very bad magic. For proof, we have only to consider the stream of nonsense, misrepresentation, and outright lies that issues daily from the president of the United States: Prior presidents never called the relatives of dead service members. The Chinese created the concept of global warming. Barack Obama’s birth certificate is a forgery. Inoculation causes autism. No one has done more for people with disabilities than Donald Trump. No one has more respect for women than Donald Trump.

And the moon is made of green cheese.

I believe that we are experiencing a concerted and intentional assault upon our collective memory. If “Never again” was the phrase that until recently conveyed our refusal to forget the horrors of the Holocaust, we have now entered an age guided by a new imperative: “Never remember.” Beneath the weight of such corruption, someone passing as Melania Trump (bewigged with split ends or not) frankly seems less peculiar than her husband’s dressing up as president. And as for Anne Frank? Her memory has been diminished to a “blue dress with peter pan collar. Brown saddle bag and green beret complete the look. Ideal for indoor events.”

Tweedledee put it best: “Contrariwise, if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn’t, it ain’t. That’s logic.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Mourning in America: Protest, Prayer, Treason…

by Patricia J. Williams

Published in The Nation Magazine, October 6, 2017,

President Trump has been busily tweeting that there oughta be a rule: “The NFL has all sorts of rules and regulations. The only way out for them is to set a rule that you can’t kneel during our National Anthem!”

This was, of course, just one of his many forays in response to the recent league-wide protest begun by Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling during the anthem to protest inequitable and excessive instances of state force. Yet it seems not to matter what those who are kneeling say their action meant: “We chose to kneel because it’s a respectful gesture,” wrote San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid in The New York Times of his and Kaepernick’s decision. “I remember thinking our posture was like a flag flown at half-mast to mark a tragedy.”

No matter: To Donald Trump, kneeling in sorrow is both a sign of disrespect for the rules of the game and a desecration of the American flag. If Trump were just some random armchair grouch, that wouldn’t be so worrisome. But he is not a private citizen; he’s our president, and everything he says carries the weight of that office.

There are at least two grave legal implications to what the president has been urging—one of private law, the other constitutional.

The first concern is that executive power is being used to interfere in contract relations between private parties. Yes, rich owners and their rich celebrity employees, but still: private parties. Trump’s tweeted injunction, moreover, was deployed by a head of state against citizens whose political views he doesn’t like. This resembles the sort of pressure applied by the House Un-American Activities Committee and its Senate counterpart, the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which was chaired by Senator Joseph McCarthy (and whose lead counsel, let it not be forgotten, was Trump’s mentor, Roy Cohn). At least 300 members of the motion-picture industry were blacklisted as a result of that politically motivated purge. Few ever recovered their careers.

Such heavy-handed state influence has a long history of legitimizing discrimination. After all, one shouldn’t have to give up basic civil rights in deference to a service or employment contract. A contractor who fires someone simply for being a Democrat or a Republican, for being gay or a woman—these are all situations that may trigger judicial scrutiny. By the same token, contractors who discriminate unfairly among their customers may trigger the same kind of scrutiny. This latter point will be adjudicated by the Supreme Court in its current term, in a complaint brought before the Court by Jack Phillips, a Colorado baker. Backed by Trump’s Justice Department, Phillips maintains that his religious beliefs prevent him from making wedding cakes for gay couples. Yet permitting him to opt out of antidiscrimination laws would ultimately undermine their application everywhere—department stores, hotels, restaurants, florists, planes, trains, and buses. The long-standing norm of fair and equitable public accommodation would be rolled back to the era of Jim and Jane Crow. As Louise Melling of the ACLU argues, “No bakery has to sell wedding cakes. But if it chooses to sell wedding cakes it can’t turn away some customers because of who they are.” Similarly, terminating the employment of professional athletes for expressing a view that has nothing to do with their job may be construed as a form of discrimination against “who they are.”

The second concern is a matter of constitutional rights. Trump has repeatedly equated “taking a knee” with desecration of the American flag. This is quite a conceptual leap, but it seems to be one that many of his supporters have also made. Trump has further warned that desecrating the flag must have “consequences—perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!” Of course, the Supreme Court has ruled more than once that disrespecting or outright destroying the flag isn’t a punishable offense—and expatriation has been deemed “cruel and unusual punishment” even for wartime desertion. It is very settled jurisprudence that, under the First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments, a citizen cannot be alienated without his or her clear and voluntary renunciation of that citizenship. Period.

And yet… President Trump has suggested all sorts of wild things that once seemed unimaginable but that have now or might one day come to pass. So it’s worth thinking about this notion of revoking citizenship for peaceful political protest. After all, the concept of birthright citizenship has been present since the founding of the Republic. Slavery presented a conspicuous exception, and the Supreme Court’s infamous 1857 decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford denied citizenship to any African American, whether slave or free. The 14th Amendment was passed after the Civil War to remedy that constitutional lacuna, and since then American jurisprudence has resisted all efforts to deny certain groups of people citizenship rights if they were born here. Recently, however, Republicans have moved to rewrite or revoke the 14th Amendment in order to deny birthright citizenship to so-called “anchor babies.”

I worry that Trump has even linked taking a knee to the threat of physical danger, speculating that many team owners joined in the league-wide manifestations of dissent because they were “afraid of their players.” Moreover, I cannot easily disaggregate Trump’s unfounded sense of a threatened ownership class from the far right’s conviction that Black Lives Matter should be classified as a “terrorist” organization. It would be ironic if protests against the use of excessive force by police were used to justify expatriating people or banning political movements for being “violent.”

If Trump is right that “most people agree” with him that NFL owners are cowering and kowtowing to the bullying of big black men, then, dear reader, we need to ponder that insinuation with more apprehension and less complacency than that with which the very possibility of Trump’s election was so laughingly dismissed.


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Bidding for Health

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Burning Down The House

Published June 15, 2017 at

“As the weather gets warmer…” That’s the throwaway description I heard on a recent radio report about increased migration to Europe from countries in Africa and along the eastern Mediterranean. “As the weather gets warmer,” there are spikes in the number of people willing to climb into rickety rafts and risk their lives crossing perilous seas. The story went on to describe the rescue efforts, the babies saved, and the hundreds of lives lost in a single day. The weather, however, was left hanging, naturalized like a rite of spring, buried in the kind of casual syntax used to signify the annual migration of birds, or of a wave of pensioners, after wintering in Florida or the South of France. The implication that the vagaries of weather had anything to do with flight, political asylum, or war melted quietly into the background.

But “warmer” doesn’t begin to describe the brutal, record-breaking heat that has afflicted certain parts of the world. For the last several summers, cities in nations throughout the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea region rarely saw temperatures below 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and in some places they soared as high as 127 degrees.

I recently heard former vice president Al Gore speak at the Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. He made clear the ominous link between climate change and the current global diaspora. One of the underlying causes of the conflict in Syria, Gore noted, was “the worst drought ever measured in the eastern Mediterranean,” which lasted from 2006 until 2010. “That drought, long before the Syrian civil war started, destroyed 60 percent of their farms, killed 80 percent of their livestock, drove one and a half million climate refugees into their cities, where they collided with another one and a half million refugees from the Iraq war…. The wave of refugees from the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East and North Africa began to grow…and we’ve seen the European Union become destabilized.”

(As if to underscore that point, the National Academy of Sciences has explicitly connected the war in Syria to man-made climate change and the region’s savage drought.)

Gore’s speech was the antipode to Donald Trump’s recent announcement that he would withdraw the country from the Paris climate accord. Trump spoke using the monetized terms of exchange value: “economic burdens,” “industrial edge,” “trade policy.” He was consumed by competitiveness to the point of silliness: If India can burn coal, then we should do it too. Trump’s stated commitment to put “Pittsburgh…before Paris” was a narrow, exclusive, go-it-alone view of American interests in the face of impending and shared global disaster.

Gore speaks from a broader model of the human as enmeshed in a biome whose ability to recover from the traumatic insults of pollution and species extinction has an absolute limit. Gore’s attention is trained upon the long-term (if unintended) consequences of our technological revolution and the myriad externalities that market measures exclude.

Consider the case of Gene Cranick, an elderly, wheelchair-bound man who lived in one of the largely rural counties of Tennessee, where people have to subscribe to the services of the fire department on an individual basis—so-called “pay to spray.” Cranick forgot to pay the $75 annual fee. His house caught on fire; the fire department came but only hosed down the house and field of a neighbor, who had paid the $75. The firefighters watched Cranick’s farm burn to the ground, killing his pets and destroying his field and all of his other possessions. Cranick offered to pay the actual cost of putting out the fire, but the fire chief/department declined to accept his offer, because to do so would incentivize others to become “free riders” and not pay the annual fee.

From the narrow moral framework of the private market, this outcome makes “sense.” Much like Trump’s image of the climate, fire is imagined as a consequence that can be contained to a single rational actor, and payment is foregrounded as the central moral value. But in a larger moral framework like Gore’s—that of public health and environmental interest—fire is a shared threat, a public harm, whose potential for ignoring human boundaries poses risks that we must address by pooling our resources for the collective good. Community health and safety become the central moral values here.

This system of signification can be tracked as a form of knowledge production, an ideological lens through which we learn to see the world and ourselves—either as radical individualists, or as the cohabitants of a common home. Consider how the water supply of Flint, Michigan, was treated like Gene Cranick’s fire: The state’s adherence to “for-profit” governance dictated an agenda in which the long-term public costs were written out of a short-term, “value-added” metric for budgetary (but not human) health. Consider how Trump frames coal production only in terms of wealth production rather than disease production. Or how drought and flood and species extinction and food-chain collapse are framed less as holes in the planetary boat in which we’re all sinking, and more as winnable wars over unlimited resources. But that kind of wealth—whether Trump Inc.’s or Pittsburgh’s or Paris’s or China’s—is not what’s at stake in this battle. Instead, what’s at stake is our planet’s gorgeously resonant ecosystem, sustained by very fragile interconnections upon which all future life is inextricably interdependent.

If you wish to contribute to the effort to raise awareness about climate change and its very real and present dangers, you can make a donation to the Climate Reality Project or to the Center for Earth Ethics at Union Theological Seminary. Al Gore’s new film about climate change, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, will be released in theaters on July 28 (when, as Wikipedia so helpfully notes, it will open against Atomic Blonde and The Emoji Movie).

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Panel Discussion: Earth Ethics in the Time of Climate Change

Conversation at Union Theological Seminary, June 6, 2017, under the auspices of the Center for Earth Ethics:

Panel discussion on fossil fuels, climate change and economic development, featuring former vice president Al Gore.  Perspectives from law, moral philosophy, and religion explore the ethical and ecological implications of continuing to invest in and develop fossil fuel infrastructure despite knowing the repercussions for planet and people alike. Karenna Gore, Director of Union’s Center for Earth Ethics and Rev. Derrick Harkins, Union’s Senior Vice President for Innovation in Public Programs, will lead Mr. Gore, Azza Karam, Chair of the U.N. Interagency Task Force on Religion and Development, Rabbi Burt Visotzky, Director of the Milstein Center for Interreligious Dialogue at Jewish Theological Seminary, and Patricia Williams, the James L. Dohr Professor of Law at Columbia University Law School, in a conversation that helps us build a moral, historical, and legal framework around this issue to help better understand and engage the problem.




Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

How Donald Trump’s Words Create Emergencies

A Linguistic Political Analysis

by Patricia J. Williams

published in The Nation Magazine, May 18, 2017

Like many people, I don’t understand the tenacious fealty that Donald Trump, for all his feckless inconsistency, inspires among his core followers. Undoubtedly, there are tangled layers of identity politics that underwrite his ability to command such loyalty while committing the political equivalent of shooting someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue, as he once joked about doing—axing the head of the FBI, sharing state secrets with Russia. Nevertheless, I remain intrigued by one aspect of that power: the subtleties of rhetoric into which he has been able to tap, using little more than a 200-word vocabulary. I am intrigued by the social life of Trump’s nouns and verbs.

Let me begin with an easy example of what I mean: Aside from the pronouns “he” and “him” and “she” and “her,” the English language doesn’t have gendered or raced nouns. Yet it seems we do invest certain words and ideas with that kind of linguistic 
exclusivity—“nurse,” “fireman,” “CEO,” even the very notion of “success” itself.

I wrote an essay when President Obama was first elected, worrying that at a deep lexical level, the very word “president” was raced and gendered as white and male. I don’t mean the narrative or historical precedents; I wonder if just the word “president” doesn’t have an invisibly raced masculinity as part of its reference that taps into something beyond what we think of as intentional prejudice. A black and/or woman president is more ineffably unsettling, almost as a grammatical matter. It’s like a verb that doesn’t agree with its subject—one wants to keep adjusting the form until it sounds or looks right.

During his campaign and before, Trump exploited that sense with interrogations of Obama’s birthright and disparagements about whether Hillary Clinton looked presidential. It was racist and sexist, but it exploited this undercover meaning of “president,” against which even the most pants-wearing cartoon renderings of Clinton—to say nothing of Obama and his lovely little family—stood in contrast. Backlash 
seemed inevitable.

If Trump is to some degree a beneficiary of our concept of the “presidential,” I think there are yet more interesting examples of how he makes his actions seem inevitable and good to his base. I suspect that telling FBI director James Comey “You’re fired!” was, to Trump’s devotees, the mere semantic residue of a months-long discourse that made the final coup feel necessary, logical, and just-in-time.

The notorious tweet by Trump’s son Donald Jr. during the campaign illustrates the operative grammar of what I mean: “If I had a bowl of Skittles and I told you just three would kill you. Would you take a handful? That’s our Syrian refugee problem.” The “if” clause sets up an alt-fact hypothetical, followed by an immediate shift to the present tense: “That is” our problem. This effectively snatches a fictional conditional from the realm of the contingent future possible and makes it present, factual, here 
and now.

Similarly, President Trump has used the phrase “law-abiding” in a very exclusive way. In a speech to the NRA in April, he promised: “No longer will federal agencies be coming after law-abiding gun owners.” In Trump’s English, “law-abiding” doesn’t simply denote a citizen abiding within the law. “Law” has a perimeter, in this instance walled even against agents of the federal government. “Law” becomes an abode, a geography distinct from the dystopic realm of the nation-state.

I wonder if this isn’t exactly what Trump was gesturing toward when he sent his longtime head of personal security (not even a Secret Service agent) to deliver the termination letter to James Comey. Comey, officially the nation’s top “law man,” was sacked for his purported failure to abide within the narrower law of unquestioned loyalty to Trump.

Trump sometimes seems to revel in what he frames as an embattled status of constant persecution, against which he must perform constant acts of resistance. If some see this as paranoid and pugilistic, I think it appeals to his base by transforming a passive sense of political disaffection into an active charge: intercepting “carnage” before it happens. He becomes a “preemptive” self-defender holding at bay the subjunctive mood of probable, pending, or 
likely victimization.

Trump’s language drives a sense of the necessary with constructions that imply action, such as “immigration must be controlled.” This creates a grammatical neediness that must be fed—a challenge to be met, a mountain to be climbed, an America to be regained, a message to be spread, a wall that must be built, an enemy that must be annihilated, as well as the always reflexively terrifying terrorist who must be stopped.

These embodied horrors demand perpetual action, the obligations of quarantining, segregating, expelling, or exterminating. Donald Trump speaks this language fluently, though hardly exclusively: It can be traced throughout American political diction, the necessity for reacting to an ill-defined passive object. Comey needed firing… The hidden semantics operate as progressive, lurking, and active, provoking foreboding through moody tenses and tense moods, requiring resolution. It is a discourse that very efficiently layers a global sense of emergency with domestic fears of crime.

Ultimately, this kind of catastrophized thinking makes due process seem like a luxury we cannot afford. It nullifies statistics. It is the “eucatastrophe” of Greek theater, the deus ex machina that rises up out of the backdrop to save the day and end the story. It is the release, and the relief, the “of course”–ness of that cathartic catastrophe suspended in the middle of Fifth Avenue: “I could…shoot somebody” is reformed by the syntactical expectation that “somebody needed shooting.” Law is thus subsumed by the grammatical imperative of order—an executive, self-executing, executionary order-above-all.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized