Exile on Jones Street: Things falling apart*

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kirk rossby Kirk Ross

It’s like hiring people who don’t believe in pavement to build highways.

I don’t know if the past seven days was officially declared Government Dysfunction Week, but it sure lived up to the concept.

We saw it on all levels — from an awkward international moment in the US House of Representatives, to Congress as it funded/not-funded the Department of Homeland Security, to the state as a mostly absent legislature fumbled through early actions. And then there was Charlotte, the Queen City, showing how to break it on down at the local level.

Let’s start there.

The four hours spent by the Charlotte City Council hearing out a cascade of comments on a proposed anti-discrimination ordinance that would include the LGBT community for the first time, was a microcosm of dysfunction. Charlotte is one of the largest cities in the country not to offer these protections.

Naturally, the meeting, which saw more than 100 speakers, featured not just passionate appeals for tolerance and the extension of protections, but ample amounts of hateful rhetoric and other prime examples of why they are needed. That included the harassment and physical confrontation of a trans teen for using a bathroom that was not sanctioned by someone with a rigid concept of God.

In the end council tried to split the baby and failed by pushing a so-called compromise that offered only a civil half-right. The watered down ordinance lost the support of its most ardent proponents and it failed 6-5.

There were echoes in the cries of persecution by the hard right Christians in Charlotte from the debate earlier last week over Senate Bill 2, aka Straight-Magistrate Act.

At that debate the scary idea wasn’t bathroom horror, but that the gay agenda was driving good Christians out of public service. There’s no real evidence of this, but that doesn’t stop anyone from wearing a sacred heart on their sleeve in a legislative chamber that is roughly 75 percent white, male and Christian.

The logic of the persecution industrial complex at the state, local and national level is this: We can’t offer new protections or grant civil rights to any more groups because it discriminates against other groups’ right to continue to discriminate against them.

Wrap your head around that, civil rights fans.

Outside of social issues, the workings of government are just as much upside down.

The jousting over Department of Homeland Security funding over the weekend is a good example that to some now serving in Congress, the optics of these incidents are much more important than any of the various missions of government, including even defense.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that that’s the case among the people who ride a wave of anti-government sentiment into office. Their only allegiance is to the philosophy that government should get out of the way. But unlike the selling point that what they are clearing the lane for is freedom, the real game is to get out the way of polluters, pocket-liners, parochial powerbrokers and self-righteous bigots.

We started this democratic experiment and built in checks and balances to do just the opposite — to work together to do what we can’t do by ourselves and to prevent the majority and the powerful from rolling over whatever and whomever it wishes.

If the people sent to represent us don’t want to govern even after they are elected to do so, then that whole construct breaks down.

And one day we’ll be left to stand around these ancestral shrines waiting in vain for worship and sacrifice and finding nothing but ashes of bygone days.

*with apologies to Chinua Achebe