When any faction isn’t getting its way in Washington, it’s popular to quote (erroneously) Thomas Jefferson: “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.”
While it would be senseless for dissent to always be the most patriotic course, this popular concept points to something true: We have a solemn duty to advocate that the state conform itself to certain moral standards that are outside, or prior to, the state. The state is best—it fulfills its role, dare we say its nature, most perfectly—when it pursues objective standards of truth and justice.
Patriotism, then, is not about conforming oneself to the state, nor is it about encouraging the state to conform itself to the majority. It is rather about advocating tirelessly for the state to conform itself to the truth.
I thought about this in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, especially when a friend alerted me that the editors of The Patriot-News of Harrisburg, PA, had declared, within minutes of the announcement of the decision: “As a result of Friday’s ruling, PennLive/The Patriot-News will no longer accept, nor will it print, op-Eds and letters to the editor in opposition to same-sex marriage.”
In a tweet later in the morning, the paper’s Editorial and Opinions Editor John L. Micek (until recently a state capitol reporter—yikes!) explained himself curtly: “This is not hard: We would not print racist, sexist or anti-Semitic letters. To that, we add homophobic ones. Pretty simple.”
On the one hand, this move is yet another example of the false analogy between the Civil Rights Movement and the LGBT movement. Remarkably, in his dissent published just minutes before the Patriot-News editorial, Justice Samuel Alito predicted just this consequence to the Court’s use of the “Selma analogy”:
[The decision] will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy. In the course of its opinion, the majority compares traditional marriage laws to laws that denied equal treatment for African-Americans and women. The implications of this analogy will be exploited by those who are determined to stamp out every vestige of dissent.
And what better way to “stamp out every vestige of dissent” than for the gatekeepers of public information (despite the proliferation of the internet, legacy media still acts as a gatekeeper for a great many Americans) to filter it out? But rather than re-litigating the race analogy, I’d like to focus on a more subtle, but more important implication of the Patriot-News editorial: its deference to the state, and specifically the Supreme Court.
The decision to censor anti-same-sex marriage opinions is an incredible genuflection to The Nine of the Supreme Court. Note the opening clause of the censorship announcement: “As a result of Friday’s ruling…” Micek may have gone on say this was about giving no quarter to bigotry, but the direct working is clear: They are excluding certain opinions because those opinions conflict with the Supreme Court.
What stands out, then, is not how the paper’s censorship of racist and anti-same-sex marriage opinions are the same, but how they are different. Micek & co. don’t print racist, sexist, or anti-Semitic screeds because those opinions fail an objective standard: They are not true, and therefore they are harmful. However, they are censoring anti-same-sex marriage opinions not because of any extra-political standard of truth, but because the Supreme Court says those opinions are untrue. For The Patriot News, the Supreme Court is the ultimate arbiter of what is true and good, and therefore worthy of dissemination.
Of course this is entirely unprincipled. Micek will accept, and surely has penned, pieces criticizing the Court’s Second Amendment and campaign finance jurisprudence. But this is beside the point because in Micek’s mind, and I fear in the minds of a great many Americans, it is the Supreme Court’s duty to ratify social and political movements. And when it does so it is different than a regular decision; it is an irremovable signpost of progress.
This is why it was important for the LGBT movement that same-sex marriage be affirmed by the high court rather than piecemeal in the states: Statutes are contingent and temporary, dependent on shifting allegiances and majorities; the Supreme Court is permanent, accountable to no one. The people and our elected representatives are subjective and unreliable; the Supreme Court is objective and irrefutable.
The Patriot-News isn’t censoring bigotry. If it were, it would have been rejecting anti-same-sex marriage letters yesterday as well as today. It is censoring dissent—dissent from the new orthodoxy proclaimed by our secular Magisterium, dissent from the prevailing viewpoint of our oligarchs, dissent from the state. And we are to conform ourselves to this orthodoxy not because it is good, but because the state so ordains it.
“As a result of Friday’s ruling…” Six simple words to turn dissent into sedition. Six simple words to the apotheosis of nine men and women. Six simple words to justify anything in the name of the state.