Dignity and Humanity

It isn’t often that a few lines in a dissent written by an associate justice on the Supreme Court becomes a big story. But when the American political left has a chance to attack Clarence Thomas, they’ll do just that, and it will become a story.

Liberals have felt threatened by Thomas for years. A son of the South, who suffered terribly from segregation and racism during his formative years, his being against the left’s policies of forced equality is something the left cannot abide. Thomas has said many times that the Constitution is “color blind” and that any preference conferred on one race over another is unconstitutional. This, to them, is the highest form of perfidy. And so, when he was nominated for his position on the Court by George H. W. Bush, he was confirmed by the narrowest margin of any justice.

In a strongly written dissent at the end of the term, Thomas argued that there is no Constitutional “right” to governmental benefits. “Since well before 1787,” Thomas wrote, “liberty has been understood as freedom from government action, not entitlement to government benefits.” Therefore, he says, one cannot argue that people are being denied “liberty” because they can’t get government benefits, for whatever reason. People have rights which are inherent, and a governing body can only serve to curtail some of those rights. The Constitution was intended to limit the ability of a government to trample on individual rights. As such, it can’t be something that “grants” anything.

But what really got liberals angry was what he wrote a little bit later. “Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved. Those held in internment camps did not lose their dignity because the government confined them. And those denied governmental benefits certainly do not lose their dignity because the government denies them those benefits. The government cannot bestow dignity, and it cannot take it away.”

Almost immediately, “progressives” began attacking Thomas. How dare he, or anyone, say that slaves did not lose their dignity due to slavery? Surely that showed a lack of empathy, and a lack of understanding as to what the slaves in America went through.

Of course, if they had actually read what he wrote, they wouldn’t have anything to be upset about. But that never stopped liberals from expressing faux outrage — especially when they can make it something racial.

It is interesting how there are many on the left who see everything as racially motivated. You know, the people who think that unless you are a racist, you would never criticize President Obama. I never understood why they see every criticism, even legitimate ones, through that prism, until now. You see, they were unable to call Thomas, who is black, a racist for what he wrote, no matter how they misrepresented it. So some high-profile leftists lashed out at him using despicable racist epithets — and for the most part, they weren’t condemned at all. Apparently they understand racial motivation quite well; so well, in fact, that they see it in everything.

The important thing to understand here is that Thomas happens to be 100 percent correct in his assertion. Government cannot take away anybody’s dignity. As a matter of fact, nobody could. If those calling Thomas vile names would have read a paragraph earlier, they would see his point.

Human dignity has long been understood in this country to be innate. When the Framers proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence that ‘all men are created equal’ and ‘endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,’ they referred to a vision of mankind in which all humans are created in the image of G-d and therefore of inherent worth. That vision is the foundation upon which this Nation was built. The corollary of that principle is that human dignity cannot be taken away by the government.”

But perhaps they did read it. Maybe that is what they found so threatening. The idea that one’s worth is tied to there being a Higher Power runs counter to progressive “values.” No wonder his words upset them so.

But we know it is true. Those who suffered through the Holocaust told stories of how, despite the Nazis’ best efforts, they could never strip the dignity from those who went through the gehinnom of the camps. My grandfather, z”l, after seeing his wife and children slaughtered in front of him, managed to smuggle one item with him into the concentration camps — a pocket Chumash with a complete year-round siddur in one volume. They could take his family from him, but they could never take his dignity.

When Rav Mendel of Pabianenze, Hy”d, the son of the Sfas Emes, zt”l, arrived in Treblinka, he called out, “Halb mein Olam Haba fahr ah glezel vasser — I’ll give half my share in the World to Come for a glass of water.” With so many people perishing on the way from thirst and exhaustion, someone hurriedly scooped up some water from a puddle with a broken piece of a cup he had brought along, and passed it to the Rebbe so he could lessen his suffering. The Rebbe poured the water over his hands, and loudly recited the brachah,Asher kiddishanu b’mitzvosav v’tzivanu l’kadesh Shemo b’rabbim!”

The Kedoshim kept their connection with Hakadosh Baruch Hu — the only true source of dignity and humanity.