The Arizona State Legislature is about to begin its Spring session. And being Arizona, it means it’s time for some serious political posturing. I suppose we learn by the example set at the moment by the national presidential discourse.
Two years ago Arizona passed Senate Bill 1070 (SB1070). It made being in Arizona without proper immigration documentation a State as opposed to a Federal crime. (The Federal Statutes still apply.) The passage was highly contested but never in doubt. The Republican majority in the State Legislature was pretty much uniformly in support of the measure and with a roughly 2/3rds majority there was nothing the minority party could do except complain in the press.
But the Feds took action after the law was passed and through the courts blocked most of the implementation portions. There have still been some economic repercussions (though mixed admittedly) and we’ve seen a lot of national attention (mostly bad).
The biggest consequence of the passage of SB1070 and the way it was passed was the awful effect it has had on the way people in Arizona talk to each other. The Democrats here have promised to do all in their power to repeal the law. The Republicans who still hold a majority, but have seen their primary sponsor of the bill, who was the President of the State Senate, recalled and defeated in a special election, are insisting fervently that they will defend the law and protect the state against the ILLEGALS. (Note that the rhetoric has reduced the families who were invited to come to the state decades ago to provide cheap non-unionized labor are no longer people or neighbors, they’re illegals.)
Yesterday there were a series of rallies at the State Capital. The Latino community joined by the Democratic caucus held a rally complaining about SB1070 and the way it has harmed the state and “poisoned” relationships. The Republicans promised to resist all efforts toward repeal. The new State Senate President is quoted as saying to effect, “Any bill that I receive to repeal SB1070 is going into a special drawer in my desk. And it’s not coming out.”
In other words, the minority can expect no hearing of their concerns by the legislature. They should not expect the government to act in their interest. It will only act in the interest of the majority.
And thus can die the belief in democratic government. Perhaps that’s why the Founders insisted we were a Republic.
That statement by the new Senate President encapsulates much of what I think is happening here now, and soon to happen across our country. The present majority is refusing to govern for the Common Good, to seek consensus, and instead is using their majority to dismiss voices they disagree with. It’s the learned behavior of the “Echo Chamber“- turing the dial away from a dissenting voice to one we agree with.
The problem for the present majority is that very soon, perhaps in less than a generation, they will cease to be the majority. They are going to become the minority, and I fear the new majority will want revenge. (Unless a saintly voice such as Arcbishop Tutu arises as he did in South Africa after the fall of Apartheid.) The people in the present majority here in this state know this, and I believe, fear it. That’s what leads us to the sort of rhetoric and inflammatory politics we’re hearing and seeing.
Don’t for a moment imagine this fear isn’t present in the Church as well. Much of the anguish felt within the various branches of Christendom here in the United States has to do with the passing of one majority voice for another. Sometimes it’s happening gracefully. Sometimes it’s not. And sometimes the new majority learns from the old majority how to use their new found power to oppress others the same way they were oppressed.
What’s the solution?
I don’t know. But I know that the sort of rhetoric and the unwillingness to seek consensus and broad Common Good is going to make the inevitable demographic transition worse for all. Worse for the new minority. Worse for the souls of the new majority.
I suppose the best we can do is to create small communities of reconciliation anywhere we can. Because knowing each other, recognizing each other’s common humanity is probably the only way to escape.
As one of the Hispanic children here at our Cathedral said unguardedly to his Anglo Sunday School teacher; “I hate white people. But you’re okay.” And then looked at his face with something close to wonderment.
What does Jesus say? “Make friends for yourself by means of unrighteous mammon…”