The suburb of Metairie, Louisiana, is a deeper red than Marylin Monroe’s lipstick. Bordering the 17th Street canal which divides the parishes of Orleans (New Orleans) and Jefferson, it is predominately white-upper middle class populated by scions of New Orleanians that were part of the “White Flight” from that urban center in 1960s. Mostly Catholic with mix of Jewish, Metairie is the home to Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett and Republican Congressman, Steve Scalise.
It is also where I grew up and went to school, first at St. Catherine of Siena, (same as Ms. Barrett) and then to a private school, Ridgewood Prep.
It is an idyllic setting, with “old” Metairie Road winding its way through its upscale residences and commercial districts until it connects with U.S Hwy 61.
More importantly, its denizens have no identity crisis and relish a bacchanalian culture that enjoys eating, drinking, enjoying friends, and any reason to party or parade. The Catholic faith is woven tightly with the fabric of New Orleans culture and dances in near-perfect step with the carnal.
It’s a good life — parochial and provincial — and it’s practitioners want to preserve it.
And who wouldn’t?
Discussions on abortion, immigration, critical race theory, Black Lives Matter, and LGBT, are non-starters as they have no room in the cultural space of Metairie. If someone is gay, its a personal issue and not a legislative one; Blacks and Hispanics are in a mix of friends, but they must assimilate to the native culture.
Here, Democrats are perceived as the party of change. Unfortunately for them, not everyone embraces change especially that which is mandated from the “outside” and the federal government.
If Democrats see themselves as the future, Metairie is quite satisfied with the present.
Metairie’s argument is similar to those of France’s Marine Le Pen. French traditions and culture must be preserved; immigrants must assimilate and not the reverse: France needs not accommodate to any cultural intrusion.
Democrats believe social evolution has proven no one class can benefit at the expense of another, and if it does it cannot last long before it is toppled by another. People must rise together.
But that cant be mandated through legislative fiat, nor patronizing ideology. Roger Cohen of the NYT, wrote: “In no other nation is tomorrow so vivid, yesterday so pale. Where you came from yields to American rebirth. There is no real America to take back because America’s many-hued reality is a ceaseless becoming.” As inspirational and, perhaps, inevitable his words may be at capturing the struggles of American democracy, it is also too abstract and impractical for most to adhere.
Every noble and well-meant democratic idea is turned into political poison by Republicans who have convinced their constituency that change and progress benefit no one. They use malignant racism in all its vestiges, including “replacement theory,” as a scare tactic to convince America it is fine right where it is. No amount of science and facts on the perils of environmental or racial degradation can move the Republican constituency off its mark of believing any progressive democratic ideas is nothing more than a threat to American values.
Democrats have been successfully portrayed as “Big Brother” who want to tell Americans what is best for them. Metairie and many conservative Americans will have none of it.
David Brooks’ recent NYT opinion piece articulated the foundations of conservatism as founded by David Hume. One of its basic principles is the belief that institutions and traditions are the best teachers, and that will lift society. So it is in the best interest of Democrats not to entirely discount the right’s resistance to its liberal ideas. Democrats have to create political space between the right’s defense of its status quo and vilification of any any progressive ideas that serve the greater good of society. If Democrats can find policies that serve as a surgical retractor to separate the right’s malignant reactionary thinking from its cherished values of maintaining cultural identity enough to let seep in the healing light of ideas that are universally beneficial, they might have a chance to be heard in Metairie.
Democrats may first try to do this by speaking to the shared common values among Americans which are inherently not exclusionary. The party’s leaders need to be deft enough to separate the bogus, white herring arguments of the right that seek to make minority inclusion and equality mutually exclusive. Democrats need to make the distinction that they are not seeking to dilute culture to adopt to the sum of its disparate parts, but rather seek to strengthen American values by making it a common denominator for everyone.