BUT WE PRIDE OURSELVES ON OUR INABILITY TO PAY
I haven't read Ta-Nehisi Coates's "The Case for Reparations" yet, but it's hard to imagine a positive response in America to a call for new payments to any group when we now routinely default on payments we've already promised to make, such as legally required payouts to former city and state workers who are now pensioners.
But that's just an extension of what's been our national state of mind for some time -- at least since George H.W. Bush, in his 1989 inaugural address, said, "We have more will than wallet." Since then -- or, more likely, since Reagan -- we've prided ourselves on the notion that we're broke, that we can't afford to fix the roads and bridges, that we need a Simpson-Bowles commission to free us from our future Medicare and Social Security obligations, that our private businesses can't afford an increase in the minimum wage and our billionaires can't endure a tax hike.
This is now part of the American zeitgeist. Call it "national weakness conservatism" -- although it's not limited to conservatives, especially the Simpson-Bowles part.
Yes, we find money for wars and bank bailouts. Yes, we agreed to compensate the survivors of the 9/11 dead -- though a bill to compensate sick 9/11 first responders passed only because Republicans were shamed into the ending their opposition. And yes, we do compensate victims of natural disasters -- although that's often a battle, too, and I wonder what we'd do if tornadoes and hurricanes were largely a problem in blue states.
There are a lot of obvious reasons why we can't possibly have an adult conversation about reparations for African-Americans -- but our recent tendency to wallow in America's alleged poverty is a less obvious reason. We like thinking we're broke. It explains away our empathy fatigue.