Trouble In Bakersfield

It’s a myth that prevailing culture respects difference and diversity, that if we behave decently we earn its respect and favor. Not so, it will crush those who don’t conform.

Confident pluralism assumes either a balance of power or a basic common decency between the various sides in any of the cultural debates. The balance and the decency no longer exist. Nor does it matter that there might be a democratic majority supporting the dissenter in whatever public-square conflict occurs. Power is not a function of numbers any more, if it ever was. It is a function of organization and of having one’s hands on the levers of cultural and legal power. Expect no quarter in the conflicts that are already upon us, however many of your neighbors may initially express sympathy with you.


Yesterday, Chad Vegas, a good friend of mine and the Reformed Baptist pastor in Bakersfield, California emailed me as follows:

As you know, CA has mandated this [school transgender policy] for the whole state. I have served on the largest high school board in CA, and the nation, for 12 years. I basically lead that board. Our board voted to adopt the new law into policy. I voted against it. I was breaking the law for doing so. I could be personally sued and our attorney tells me the board insurance won’t cover me because I am breaking the law and I am a bigot. Anyway, I announced I would not seek reelection. The community came unhinged when I announced that. I remain the most popularly elected official in the history of our school board. Thousands of parents filled our board room in protest of the law. Thousands are pleading with me to reconsider and keep fighting. My elders are still considering what to have me do…. [T]he board and administration, and even some leaders in the liberal teacher’s union, are asking me to reconsider.

Today, he announced that he would not seek re-election in a letter to his congregation.

There you have it: A popular, longstanding, and effective member of a schoolboard has had to stand down—not because he does not enjoy the confidence of the community, but simply because he does not accept the latest demands that every knee must bow to whatever the political taste of the moment has decided is non-negotiable.

It reminded me of my review of John Inazu’s new book on confident pluralism and his response. Essentially, I argued that confident pluralism depended upon a balance of cultural and political power. As that balance no longer existed, pluralism was effectively dead. John responded that I was too pessimistic and that my own tone in my review was not entirely conducive to promoting pluralism.

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