Shame peaked when Nathaniel Hawthorne slapped Hester Prynne with that scarlet A a couple hundred years ago, and it’s been going out of fashion ever since. To a certain extent, good riddance; for most of the last few thousand years of Judeo-Christian morality, public shame has been more oppressive than moral, the judgment of a tyranny of collectively held values rather than an expression of values worth being held.
Next month my 15-year-old son, Miles, starts Calabasas High, which lies wedged between the palaces of the community for which the school is named and Topanga Canyon where we live, with its erstwhile bohemians and aging hippies of whom I would probably be regarded as one or both. My niece went to the same high school and I remember some years ago driving her to the fiefdom of an 11th-grade classmate who had to himself the guest house which adjoined his parents’ mansion and was bigger than any home I’ve lived in. One of the Menendez Brothers went to Calabasas High. Sometimes I worry Miles will wonder what the hell he’s doing at this school and other times I dread he’ll fit right in.
If justice is a conspiracy between moral logic and the law, then the revelation of the 36 hours following the George Zimmerman verdict is just how complete justice’s failure has been. The shambling closing statement at the trial last Thursday by attorney Bernie de la Rionda was a testament to how fully the state was seduced—with only occasional bulletins from some larger perspective by fellow prosecutor John Guy—into allowing the terms of the contest to be defined by Zimmerman’s counsel, Second City-wannabe Don West and Mark O’Mara, who was his own greatest competition in the sweepstakes for who could make the proceedings’ most flabbergasting comment. After telling the apparently beguiled jury that his client wasn’t accountable for a single moment of the events of February 26, 2012, that led to the death of teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, O’Mara declared at Saturday night’s press conference that had the ethnicities of defendant and victim been reversed, there would have been no trial at all.
The Supreme Court decision yesterday that gutted the Voting Rights Act is potentially the most profound since Brown v. Board of Education. It’s more important than Roe v. Wade,Bush v. Gore, or the judgment last year that upheld the Affordable Care Act, because it denies the federal government the power, and state governments the obligation, to enforce democracy in any sense that anyone understands the word. In particular yesterday’s decision overturns nearly half a century’s guarantee of democracy for those Americans who had been denied that guarantee since the Republic’s founding.
What are we going to do about Barack Obama? More than any president in memory he has seeped into every aspect of the nation’s collective political consciousness—not the influence or charisma or persona of Obama but the fact of him. We’ve become so vested in him one way or another that no one is capable of dispassion about anything that has to do with him even indirectly. This includes those who have supported him and find themselves rationalizing, emotionally if not intellectually, how a former constitutional lawyer can have a record on civil liberties that’s occasionally confounding when it isn’t dismaying. It also includes those to the left of Obama who have never trusted him and have been predisposed from the outset to finding him compromised and wanting.