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It was only a matter of time before the get-furthest-left-fastest dynamic would lead Democratic presidential candidates to where they have now gone, to reparations for slavery.

Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, with that keen ability to stay one step ahead of the mob that comes so naturally to leftist demagogues, have both signaled their support for the idea. The others will soon follow because no one will want to be the one who doesn't, or even the last one to.

Nancy Pelosi, otherwise trying her best these days to restrain the crazies in her midst, has already endorsed a bill proposing the establishment of a reparations commission.

That the reparations idea is problematic should be obvious for anyone willing to consider the moral, legal and political implications.

In moral terms, there is the problem of proposing to take money from people who weren't slave owners and give it to people who weren't slaves, purely because of the color of their skin. There is also the matter of those nearly 400,000 soldiers, overwhelmingly white, who died fighting for the union at places like Vicksburg and Gettysburg to make the abolition of slavery possible.

What might be owed them, or, more precisely, their ancestors in the cosmic scales of moral justice?

In a legal sense, it would almost certainly be unconstitutional to establish any government program from which benefits are received purely on the basis of pigmentation.

Although the federal government can compensate members of groups that have suffered direct injury as the result of capricious governmental action or policies, there is no constitutional basis for compensating entire ethnic or racial groups for suffering that occurred when none of the members of those groups were alive. To quote the applicable Supreme Court ruling in Richmond v. J.A. Croson (1989), the government cannot employ racial "remedies that are ageless in their reach into the past, and timeless in their ability to affect the future."

The political difficulties flowing from the reparations idea might, however, be even more daunting than the moral and legal, due to the very "intersectionality" logic upon which the idea is constructed.

Precisely because intersectionality theory posits a hierarchy of victimization with white heterosexual males (the patriarchy) at the apex and all other identity groups below them and suffering varying degrees of oppression at their hands, many more groups than just blacks could conceivably lodge a claim for compensation for past (and present) injustices, to be redressed in similar fashion.

Given the leftist interpretation of America history as one consisting of little more than injustice and oppression, the number of groups who could potentially seek such compensation would be a large one indeed -- Jews, Catholics, Chinese, Japanese, gays, Hispanics, etc. Native Americans might have a particularly powerful claim, perhaps second only to blacks, and even white women could mount an argument based on centuries of sexual harassment and discrimination.

In short, if the injustice is so immense and so historically pervasive and the remedy some form of wealth redistribution, why stop with just blacks and slavery? With just one victimized group but no others? And if others are also to be granted redress in such a manner, why not still more?

The adjudication process for all this would grow exceedingly complex, as the various claims would have to somehow be weighed and consistent decision rules developed to fairly divvy up the ill-gotten pie. Within such a context, incentives would even exist to claim that your group got less than it should have, heaping a new injustice upon those of the distant past.

It would be a process that, once begun, could conceivably continue forever, with no inherent stopping point short of sheer insanity and societal collapse. With the principles of "collective guilt" and "collective victimization" firmly entrenched, there would be no end to the number of groups filing claims and no limits as to how far back in the past could be reached to identify injustices serving as the basis for such claims.

The patriarchy, in its supreme cunning, could even, given the potential for group competition and conflict within such victimology sweepstakes, begin to play groups off against each other in order to retain its dominant status.

Given the absurdities lurking beneath the surface, it would thus be easy to dismiss the reparations idea as just another case of campaign pandering, meant only for symbolic effect and to corral a black vote likely to be decisive in coming Democratic primaries; that Pelosi's idea of a commission to study the issue is, given the usual results flowing from such things, simply a cynical way of killing it off before it does real electoral damage.

But that is also where the danger for Democrats begins -- when, after having started down this path and having agreed that reparations for slavery are needed, one of the more desperate Democratic contenders at the first debate decides to up the pandering ante and proposes reparations for additional groups.

And it will be off to the reparations races we will go. With still more lost white working-class votes in places like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania waiting at the finish line.

And Donald Trump president until 2025.

Freelance columnist Bradley R. Gitz, who lives and teaches in Batesville, received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Illinois.

Editorial on 03/11/2019

Print Headline: The reparations trap

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