News and Commentary

‘Slate’ Says Houston DOES NOT Showcase ‘America At Its Best’

Everyone should immediately stop saying that Americans setting aside race, creed, and economic differences to help each other survive in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey represent the “best of America,” because it offends Slate for not being nuanced enough.

The Left can never let anything just BE. People sacrificing themselves for others can never just BE heroes. Terrorists can never just BE the bad guys. A dedicated husband and wife can never just BE a loving marriage. Everything must always have some social dimension or a darkness dwelling beneath the facade.

Case in point: Katy Waldman’s piece at Slate that calls it “Misleading to Say That Houston Showcases ‘America at Its Best’.”

“The flood, the animals: It all felt so mythic,” she writes. “The Washington Times [highlighted] the many Clark Kents and Diana Princes vaulting into action: “Hurricane Harvey Brings Out the Best in America.” There is an adage that “adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it.”

“But does catastrophe illustrate, or does it transform?” she goes on to ask. “What if America is less a glorious nation of do-gooders awaiting the chance to exercise their altruism than a moral junior varsity team elevated by circumstance?”

Waldman then cites a book from Rebecca Solnit, titled A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster, which argued that emergencies provoke from us a conditional virtue that “create provisional utopias,” communities in which the usual — selfish, capitalistic — rules don’t apply.

Sonlit writes in her book, “Imagine a society where the fate that faces [people], no matter how grim, is far less so for being shared, where much once considered impossible, both good and bad, is now possible or present, and where the moment is so pressing that old complaints and worries fall away, where people feel important, purposeful, at the center of the world.”

Waldman maintains that this does not diminish the contributions of brave men and women in aiding others, but only that it’s “misleading to characterize Houston as an exhibition of the ‘best of America’ when what it represents is a contingent America, a ‘paradise’ specific to the ‘hell’ around it.”

“These waterlogged suburbs have become zones of exemption, where norms hang suspended and something lovelier and more communal has been allowed to flourish in their place,” she exclaims. “It is a beautiful anomaly, a liquid note of silver momentarily liberated from its sheath of rust.”

The inverse of such a phenomenon is the bystander effect, by which individuals might walk past someone prone in the street without offering aid. We rarely feel responsible for a stranger’s suffering if others around us seem unmoved or if we can comfortably assume that some nearby person will step in to help instead. Humans may possess inherent goodness, but that goodness needs to be activated. Some signal has to disperse the cloud of moral Novocain around us. Some person, or fire, or flood, has got to say: now.

That might be true in some cases, but not always. As Slate pointed out on its own site, some people in the United States have refused to donate money to aid Houston for fear of helping Trump voters.