Joseph Sabino Mistick: Mean streets in America
Some things just need saying. And last week, in its opinion in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, the U.S. Supreme Court said some things that have been on many Americans' minds.
There was no new law made, even though a baker's refusal to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple had the ingredients for a blockbuster ruling. Both sides in the culture wars awaited vindication, but the court sidestepped the big issue issues of civil rights and freedom of speech and religious freedom.
Instead, an unlikely combination of conservative and liberal justices joined in a majority opinion that essentially said this: We are just too damn mean to each other.
As Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority, when the baker first defended his refusal to bake the cake before the Colorado Civil Rights Commission, some commissioners “disparaged Phillips' faith as despicable … and compared his invocation of his sincerely held religious beliefs to defenses of slavery and the Holocaust.”
Kennedy went on to say, “… these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.”
It was “a plague on both your houses” scolding. And we deserve it, because we are too mean.
As a result of the latest Trump administration policy to get tough on asylum seekers on our southern border, young children have been wrenched from their parents and placed in holding centers. The Trump plan is to be so inhumane to desperate people who are escaping violence that no one will even think of heading our way for protection.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently said, “If you don't want your child separated, then don't bring them across the border illegally. It's not our fault that somebody does that.”
But it is not the child's fault, either. And it is no wonder that administration officials have tried to hide the impact of this abomination from the public.
When U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, tried to visit a children's detention center in Brownsville, Texas, police were called and he was asked to leave.
“America has never done this before,” Merkley said. “The intention is to hurt the children, cause the children trauma and discourage people from seeking asylum in the United States of America.”
And, while this may be the meanest policy so far, it is just the latest in a consistently mean streak. Every time we turn around, some administration official is talking about cuts to Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security and SNAP, the food stamp program that feeds one in four American children.
Meanwhile, the so-called Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, a bragging point for the Trump administration, will provide the richest 1 percent of Americans with a total tax cut of $84 billion in 2019. That kind of money could help put food on the tables of one in eight families for a year and a half.
Hopefully, the next time the Supreme Court gets a chance to examine how mean we are to each other, it will give us more than a scolding. We need help.
Joseph Sabino Mistick is a Pittsburgh lawyer (joemistick.com).