Sunday, March 23, 2008
Are White Conservatives Loyal Americans?
I'm struck this week by the double standard that exists in American political discourse between whites and blacks. I mentioned it in the last post but that was a few days ago and the issue has conspicuously not gone away. I'm talking about the insinuation that Barack Obama's pastor, and by association Obama himself, are not loyal because they criticize America. The language used by Rev. Wright is indeed incendiary: Don't say God bless America when you should say God damn America. America's crimes are coming back to hurt us and we shouldn't be surprised. And so on. I'm not interested today in registering my own support or disapproval for this kind of rhetoric (not that it's a secret: I think rigorous self-criticism is essential for any society, a truism since Socrates). What I want to point out (and I wish more people in Big Media would point it out) is that exactly this rhetoric is standard issue stuff in white conservative pulpits every single Sunday and has been since before the Civil War. How is it that white conservatives can rail at America as possessed by Satan, doing the Devil's work, suffering calamity as payback from a righteous Lord, and yet no Republican, conservative politicians are ever called on the carpet to explain their associations with such explicitly anti-American statements? Part of the answer is that white voters have enough power that they cannot be subjected to loyalty tests by others, but they can presume to administer such tests themselves: raw power. Part of the answer is that there continues to exist an essentially racist assumption that the paradigmatic "true American" is a white man, despite the fact that most African-American families can trace their ancestors back in the United States to earlier times than most white families can. And part of the answer is that those essential features of the great American experiment against which the right rails - secularism, tolerance, religious pluralism, individual liberty for all - are either taken for granted today, or undervalued to the point where we don't see conservative rhetoric for the anti-Americanism that it is. People lost their lives fighting to preserve a nation where someone can burn the flag and not be carried off by the police, for example. If you don't understand that, you don't understand what makes the US different from other countries. John McCain is anti-American in this sense, Jeremiah Wright is not.