It was generally lost between in the pandemic resurgence, the post-election controversies and the holidays, but in the final month of the generally awful year of 2020, a single Senator had the integrity and principle to at least delay one more effort to transform the United States of America into a Balkanized culture of competing identity groups.
Hispanics and their allies in Congress, and feminists and their allies have been trying to get approval for the creation of a National Museum of the American Latino and A National Women’s History Museum in Washington D.C. since around the beginning of the century. Last year, after the obligatory studies, commissions and reports, bipartisan bills authorizing the creation of the two proposed museums passed in the House. After all, it’s not as if the year’s budget deficit had blown the national debt up to dangerous levels or anything. Why not spend millions more on new structures honoring only segments of what was conceived as a single nation?
More specifically, why not suck up to two powerful voting blocs in an election year?
Because the Senate is similarly driven by political pandering and is almost as irresponsible as the House, it was assumed that the bills would pass by unanimous consent, a practice reserved for noncontroversial measures. Senators John Cornyn, Republican from Texas (lots of Hispanic-Americans there, coincidentally), and Bob Menendez, the Democrat from New Jersey who is himself Hispanic-American, introduced the legislation setting up the latest hyphenated American museum on the National Mall, and lauded the history and contributions of 60 million Americans, blattety-blah diversity, blattety-blah recognition. But Senator Lee, the Republican from Utah (where, also coincidentally, there are not so many Latinos), stopped the proposed new museums dead (though they will rise again) , as a single vote can do when unanimous consent is needed.
Lee said in part,
“I understand what my colleagues are trying to do and why. I respect what they’re trying to do. I even share their interests in ensuring that these stories are told. But the last thing we need is to further divide an already divided nation with an array of segregated, separate-but-equal museums for hyphenated identity groups….My objection to the creation of a new Smithsonian museum or series of museums based on group identity — what Theodore Roosevelt called hyphenated Americanism — is not a matter of budgetary or legislative technicalities. It’s a matter of national unity and cultural inclusion.The so-called critical theory undergirding this movement does not celebrate diversity; it weaponizes diversity. It sharpens all those hyphens into so many knives and daggers. It has turned our college campuses into grievance pageants and loose[d] Orwellian mobs to cancel anyone daring to express an original thought.”
Exactly. What has transpired since his principled objection, with almost every Biden appointment being made on the basis of one group membership or another, has only sharpened Lee’s point, but it had already been depressingly evident throughout the election cycle. To cite just one nauseating example, the fact that a politician was female and had the right skin shade was deemed sufficient to make her first in line for the Presidency should an over-aged and mentally declining White House occupant do what all indications suggest he is likely to do, despite her being an inexperienced fool.
There are no legitimate arguments against Lee’s position, as the humina-humina-ing of Sen. Menendez and others quickly proved. The best Menendez could come up with was, “Sixty million Latinos in this country are watching tonight because this is a much-expected moment. Univision, Telemundo, affiliates across the country, national organizations and others have been waiting for this moment — a moment that everybody in the Congress of the United States agrees to, except for one colleague.” That’s not an argument at all, is it? Lots of people are watching this on TV, the advocates for the museum really, really want it, and the rest of us are willing to do it, so why can’t you?
Then Menendez argued that Latinos were just as entitled to their own cultural institution as African-Americans and Native Americans, to whom Smithsonian museums have been dedicated in recent years. First of all, no group is entitled to a museum. Second, that argument supports Lee’s objection. I’d say Irish-Americans, Italian-Americans, German-Americans, American Jews (and what about Catholics? Atheists?) and Asian-Americans have just as strong claims to having their contributions to the national history and culture celebrated with a special museum. As for the women’s museum, you know that an LGBTQ museum will be the inevitable follow-up, and probably a disabled Americans museum too. Whose to say they all aren’t equally deserving, requiring “separate but equal” museums? Diversity!
The best the Los Angeles Times could do in an op-ed by a Latina author titled “Here’s what Sen. Mike Lee got wrong about a Smithsonian Latino museum” was to argue that 1) the Smithsonian had issued a report that said that the history of Hispanic-Americans had been “neglected” (Hey! My aunt wants to know where the exhibits about Greek-Americans are. What are we, chopped spanakopita?) and 2) the author doesn’t think the number of exhibits about Latinos in Smithsonian museums in recent years has been “enough,” and this has left her “despondent.”
No, Lee is right on the facts, right on philosophy, and right on principle. His objection is still futile, because neither party has the inclination to do anything but pander to these groups since our society has already allowed diversity madness and the grievance racket to distort and undermine the values that are crucial to the American idea.
At least one Senator had the courage to speak the truth.
Sources: LA Times, New York Times
16 thoughts on “Ethics Hero: Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah)”
Perhaps on the next vote, a senator can offer an amendment to the proposal that renames the Smithsonian museum as the “European-American” or “Real-American” to see how well that goes over…
I would prefer them to tell me that they were confiscating all existing exhibit space for special identity exhibits for the next 2 decades in order to give them their proper well earned attention than to continue to bifurcate our nation. But in all seriousness, I get the idea that when you go to a museum, you have separate wings & exhibits dedicated to a specific subject matter; and this proposal is probably just recognition of too little space in existing facilities to keep a permanent installation and rotating in and out exhibits all of the time messes with people’s schedules and ability to travel and make plans, so having a permanent attraction would solve a lot of issues with programming, etc.
I don’t know the answer. Are museums “antiquated” ideas about how we learn in a digital world? Probably not. We like to keep artifacts and important information organized beyond the whims of the internet. I would probably eventually come around to voting for this under advisement from the Smithsonian that they need additional space and these collections are the largest that could support their own installations. (Is this all happening because the Newseum went out of business and there’s prime real estate available?)
I agree, enough with these group-identity museums. Ever notice though, that they’re all pitched at “of color” groups? At the same time, European groups are getting shoved into the background. If you proposed a museum of Italian-American history or Irish-American history, the politicians at all levels would laugh at you. Both groups certainly have stories to tell, including how poorly they were treated initially, but no one wants to hear those stories now, because BLACK LIVES MATTER, and there is only room for one aggrieved narrative at a time. Besides, both of those groups eventually, through hard work, achievement, and learning to fit in, broke through the bonds of oppression and were accepted as full members of American society. Their story is actually successful and could be phrased as uplifting.
At the Holocaust Museum you receive a tag with the name of someone who experienced it, and at each “station” you plug it into the system and it tells you a story of this person. At the end, as you are about to exit it, you plug in for the final time and it reveals that person’s final (inevitably depressing) fate, before you walk out past a wall that reminds you what happens when people look the other way on injustice and warns you not to let this happen again. I don’t doubt that before you walk out of the African-American Museum there are some inscriptions from MLK and other black leaders spelling out the many injustices and your part in them, maybe some flattering photographs of the usual victims and a big-ass reminder to “say their names,” and probably a HUGE Black Lives Matter banner. Not sure if they’ve completed the exhibition on the George Floyd riots, but it’s coming, I’m sure. I am sure before you leave the Museum of the American Indian you are well-reminded that you rise, eat, work, and sleep on stolen land and challenged as to what you are going to do about it.
Compared to that, what message could the Irish-American or Italian-American museums send? Work hard, bear adversity, persevere, try to fit in, and one day you’ll be accepted? What kind of message is that? It might actually make people believe there IS a way to success. It might actually encourage people to fight through adversity rather than complain about it. God forbid, it might actually make them believe that, although the system might not be fair initially, you might be able to make it fairer through your own success. The same might actually be true of museums devoted to other European groups, and also of Asian groups, although there is a generous amount of oppression to dwell on there as well.
The thing is, there’s a very uncomfortable truth behind the joke that “what’s the difference between slavery/the Holocaust/some other pet oppression issue and a cow? You can’t milk a cow forever.” Guilt and shame are cash cows for the interests behind museums like these. There’s always the feeling that you need to atone for something you feel guilt for, and the easiest way to do it is with a donation, a good chunk of which usually goes right to the pockets of those interests. It’s just not easy to shrug off guilt and tell yourself the family-unfriendly truth that “I did not take part in any of these historic injustices and I don’t owe anything to the descendants of those who actually suffered them.”
BTW, you realize that the NYPD once had a fairly large museum at 100 Old Slip that chronicled the NYPD’s history, although it wasn’t quite as big as the FDNY’s museum in the village. Because of its waterfront location it was badly damaged in Hurricane Sandy, and moved to 45 Wall Street, until that location closed in 2014. Since then there have been plans to move it to Pershing Hall on Governors’ Island, but they never really got off the ground, and I’d bet you dollars to doughnuts that now those plans will be permanently shelved.
This nation does not need any more monuments to victimhood to lay guilt on non-victims. Kudos to Senator Lee for making the point, at least temporarily.
Here is something interesting.
“Irish, Italians, Jewish, and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up; blacks should do the same without special favors”
When the General Social Survey asked this question in 1994, about 43% of black Americans disagreed. Current events do influence opinion, and in 1994 the Good Ol’ Boys Roundup was still in the news, and both the L.A. riots and the beating of Rodney King was still recent history.
In 2016, that percentage went down to a third.
San Antonio, Texas has a museum called the Texas Institute of Cultures which I visited once. It was a celebration of the contributions of all the diverse cultures and where they settled in Texas. It was built before people lost their minds, but it was done right. It included Germans, Irish, Russians, Asians, Hispanics, etc. If they want a US institute of cultures with the Irish, Greeks, Italians, Germans, Hispanics, Asians, Indians, Jamaicans, Russians, Egyptians, etc and their contributions and where they concentrate geographically that would be something.
Thank you for sharing this post!
It’s actually named The Institute Of Texas Cultures. But you are right on all other counts. It also houses special exhibits from time and hosts the Texas Folklife Festival yearly.
I apologize for the transpose of names. Thanks for the correction!
Had to buddy…I live here.
When did America become a zero sum game? Why is my flourishing always at the expense of someone who is not?
Because systemic racism, that’s why. You stand on stolen land working in a biased system, with wealth acquired on the back of the black man. This country owes those people, and now they’ve decided yours is the generation that’s going to pay up. Boy, the interest has added up since 1619, however, all your accumulated wealth and one-half your income going forward might cover it.
Pretty amazing all these people of and not of color keep coming here to such a terrible place from really nice countries.
The lies we tell ourselves. It isn’t a zero sum game. We benefit from the exchange of ideas from diverse cultures and always have. Why it’s no longer celebrated in the media is beyond me. It should be. Diversity and tolerance of ideas from the “melting pot” is what made this country interesting. Cancel culture and public censorship stagnates and it’s a loss for all. The US tends to share ideas and everyone across the globe benefits.
“Then Menendez argued that Latinos were just as entitled to their own cultural institution as African-Americans and Native Americans, to whom Smithsonian museums have been dedicated in recent years.”
I hate to say it, but Menendez is right, even though he doesn’t understand how wrong the policy is: once one group was elevated for celebration by government fiat, it opens the door for other groups to demand, “where is our museum? When is our month? When do we get recognized for our special place in the world?”
The recent fights over Columbus Day vs. Indigenous People’s Day have also raised the question of when does special status get taken away in favor of someone else?
Menendez and his ilk don’t understand that favoring one group inherently disfavors another. “Diversity” is not all it’s cracked up to be.