ShareThis Page
George Will: Might the Democratic push for reparations benefit Trump? | TribLIVE.com
George F. Will, Columnist

George Will: Might the Democratic push for reparations benefit Trump?

George Will
837632_web1_732780-a5f9e50d92864a008e4b81e4f568be23
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks in Des Moines, Iowa, Jan. 5.

WASHINGTON

Tiptoeing along the edge of caricature, Sen. Elizabeth Warren says: Native Americans should be “at the table” with African-Americans for a “robust discussion” about making some Americans pay reparations to other Americans to atone for misdeeds by still other Americans. The enumeration of the misdeeds, and the assignment of guilt for them, will presumably come later. What is, however, already clear is that the Massachusetts Democrat is going to need a large table.

If reparations are owed to the descendants of all members of minority groups that experienced protracted discrimination, the Irish can apply, citing the widespread practice of employers posting admonitions that “Irish need not apply.” Italians, too: An 1895 advertisement seeking labor to build a New York reservoir said whites would be paid $1.30 to $1.50 per day, “colored” workers $1.25 to $1.40 and Italians $1.15 to $1.25. Asians on the West Coast were subject to severe discrimination and violence. And Jews were restricted from acquiring the momentum that elite universities impart on the path to wealth.

Native Americans and African-Americans experienced uniquely severe injustices. However, there must be some statute of limitations to close the books on attempts to assign guilt across many generations to many categories of offenders (racial, ethnic, class). How does one compute the compensation that can justly be extracted from persons who, although they participate today in the national prosperity to which slaves involuntarily made substantial contributions, had no participation in the injustices inflicted?

It is also true that the nation as a whole was injured by the exclusion of African-Americans’ talents from American dynamism, both before and after hundreds of thousands of white Union soldiers were killed or maimed — should their descendants be exempted from paying reparations? — in the Civil War that ended slavery. But, then, semi-slavery survived for almost a century in Jim Crow laws after the end of Reconstruction.

If, however, you doubt that American discord can become much worse, try launching a scramble among racial and ethnic constituencies to assign varying degrees of guilt to others for varying degrees of injuries. Should reparations be means-tested, making affluent African-Americans ineligible? To avoid using moral micrometers to measure guilt and injuries, should lump sums (taken from whom? by what mechanism?) be awarded to groups? Does it matter that 3.1 million African-Americans identify themselves as of mixed race? Or that in the 2010 census, 1.8 million people self-identified as both white and black? Who would administer reparations? And at what cost to social harmony? Racial preferences (“affirmative action”) remain broadly unpopular after more than 50 years (the Philadelphia Plan to integrate building-construction unions began in 1967).

Today’s flippant talk about reparations illustrates a worsening pattern of behavior among congressional Democrats, including presidential candidates. (California Sen. Kamala Harris and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro also express vague openness to reparations.) A quarter-baked idea (reparations, a Green New Deal, Medicare for all) is floated. There is a stampede to endorse it before thinking about the idea’s dependence on enormous revenues of unknown origin and/or unavailable technologies. Then, when details, or the lack thereof, reveal the idea’s wild impracticality, the stampeders breezily say: Nevertheless, the idea is virtuous because it is “aspirational.” Which means that the Democratic Party is again assisting, as in 2016, Donald Trump’s electoral aspirations.

George Will is a columnist for The Washington Post and can be reached via email.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.