My old friend* Ned Ryun wrote a spectacularly arrogant and misguided piece for The Hill on Sunday, the day after the Senate rammed through Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination, titled “We’re lucky to have men like Kavanaugh who are willing to face down the mob.” I usually restrain myself from responding, because 1) I do consider him a friend, and 2) I understand that this is his job as a hard-right lobbyist.
But then, after reading a couple of things in particular, I got to thinking about how stupid a reason for giving him a pass that second one is. The first was a Facebook post by my cousin Leslie, who has been fighting for international women’s rights at the United Nations:
“This is not mob rule. This is women’s voices finally being heard.”
The second is from “The Price of the Ticket,” one of James Baldwin’s last essays, written in 1985:
“A mob is not autonomous: it executes the real will of the people who rule the State…A mob cannot afford to doubt: that the Jews killed Christ or that niggers want to rape their sisters or that anyone who fails to make it in the land of the free and the home of the brave deserves to be wretched. But these ideas do not come from the mob. They come from the State, which creates and manipulates the mob. The idea of black persons as property, for example, does not come from the mob. It is not a spontaneous idea. It does not come from the people, who knew better, who thought nothing of intermarriage until they were penalized for it: this idea comes from the architects of the American State. These architects decided that the concept of Property was more important - more real - than the possibilities of a human being.”
Most if not all civil rights issues in the United States revolve around the notion of property and who controls it. The personhood of women and people of color has always been especially enmeshed with the white male notion of property upon which our government was founded. Any “constitutional originalist” - like Ned, like Brett Kavanaugh and every other conservative Supreme Court Justice - subscribes to this original notion of property-over-people, and it directs their thought. This is what separates the mass protests we’ve seen in response to Kavanaugh’s forced confirmation from, say, the mobs of angry white supremacists in Charlottesville: one is resisting a property-obsessed, white nationalist State, and the other is enforcing it.
This is not a subtle distinction. Any pundit, Ned Ryun or otherwise, who conflates the two doing it intentionally. He may be just doing his job, but if that’s where the jobs are, then maybe we need to be seriously questioning what we want our jobs to be: consolidating property and the power it entails, or distributing it?
* I ran track with Ned and his brother Drew, and his family was very kind and welcoming to me during my brief stint as a fundamentalist Christian my senior year of high school and freshman year of college. We keep in touch via social media, but haven’t seen each other in decades.