On this Independence Day, let’s acknowledge a truly patriotic viewpoint. Yes, regardless of our political orientation or cultural viewpoint, we can all agree on one thing: most Americans are stupid.
People on the left think that of people on the right, people on the right think it of people on the left, and we all have disdain for the wimps in the middle. Because most people don’t agree with us on a given subject, they are stupid.
Of course, if we really think about it, it could not possibly be true that a majority of our fellow citizens are mouth-breathing neo-Neanderthals. But even the most kind-hearted among us has, at one point or another, bemoaned the inability of the thick-headed masses to comprehend our opinion.
The exception to this rule is when we find, to our surprise and joy and even alarm, that the majority concurs with us. Then we’re quick to say, “Hey, most people agree with me, so back off.”
The fact that we so easily fluctuate between praising and rejecting other people’s opinions should tell us something. But all it really does is entrench our positions. I’m as guilty of this as anyone.
The reason I bring all this up is because that infamous tool of totalitarianism – the public-opinion poll – shows that more Americans support Arizona’s new anti-immigration law than oppose it. In Arizona itself, the law is popular with an overwhelming 70 percent of the population.
Well, that should do it then. The law stands. The debate is over. We live in a country of majority rule, after all.
There’s just one problem: We don’t vote on rights.
Either Arizona’s law is unconstitutional or it’s not (frontrunners for its eventual overturning are the Fourth and Sixth Amendments). In either case, it’s not left to a popularity contest.
The truth is that America is more about minority rights than majority rule. I know I tread on dangerous ground when I invoke “the Founders,” but I will do so now. The framers of the Constitution were pretty damned touchy about the tyranny of the majority. That’s why they came up with that pesky Bill of Rights.
As such, we can’t just deny rights to groups we dislike, be they Latinos, gays, or Nickleback fans (actually, that last one may pass Constitutional muster). This concept seems difficult for Americans to understand. So let’s go with a historical example.
No doubt, in 1950, most Americans would have voted against letting black people enjoy the privileges that the majority culture enjoyed. Change came about not only because people got educated and the younger generation took control, but because of things like Brown vs. Board of Education. The Supreme Court, in what can only be called an activist decision, said that basic rights are not dependent upon the generosity of the majority.
Again, we don’t vote on rights.
But setting aside that basic concept, let’s look at the reliability and immutability of public opinion itself. Remember that on the eve of the Iraq War, polls showed that upwards of 80 percent of Americans supported George W. Bush’s policy of “regime change.” Somehow, I doubt that decision garners this kind of enthusiasm today.
That was way back in 2003. What will Americans of, say, 2017 think of our opinion?