Tuesday, May 12, 2009


From AlterNet:

The GOP Clings to Guns, Gays, God, and "Go-Home"

They are up against the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Lou Dobbs, Dick Cheney and other extreme right-wing forces who fear that the nation -- not simply the GOP -- is in danger of losing its national narrative, the myths and legends that have been part of the national psyche and character since its founding.

Arguably, the more conservative wing of the American political spectrum is correct: the old America they cling to no longer exists. And yet, the narrative that the more moderate council longs for -- one that views America as the beacon of the world, as the land of truth, freedom and liberty and justice for all -- is also a myth.

That narrative has always downplayed genocide, land theft and removal, slavery, segregation and legalized discrimination. Nowadays, it downplays border walls, racial profiling and an ever-expanding racialized prison system. The narrative has also downplayed the notion of empire and militarism, instead converting these imperial projects with the notion of a God-given right to "civilize" or dominate the world. This is the idea of Manifest Destiny. It is what drove our recent president, George W. Bush in his war against the Arab and Islamic world; he was on a mission from God. This is why U.S. and international laws were easily ignored or discarded; he was answering to a higher authority.

In this sense, both wings of the Republican Party are similar; both want to promote great American mythologies.

More here.

What's a liberal to do when a conservative uses as support for his pro-war arguments that America is "the greatest country in the world" and that we're simply bringing "freedom" to the nations we invade and occupy? Generally, before launching into an infinite number of possible responses, which are usually good counterarguments, said liberal will give lip service to our "greatest country" status, and concede that "freedom" is a wonderful thing: immediately, before he can even get to the meat of the discussion, our hypothetical liberal has already diluted his rebuttal, from a rhetorical if not substantive perspective.

That is, the liberal may be right in such a debate, but he just doesn't feel right. This is along the lines of Stephen Colbert's notion of "truthiness." I mean, you know, America is not the greatest country in the world. Indeed, there are many things about our nation that are great - for instance, we're definitely the most free society on the planet - but how is it even possible to determine that we're the greatest? Right. We can't possibly determine such a thing; it's entirely subjective. But we've had that notion drilled into our heads since before we were even in kindergarten. Even though it's not true, we believe it in our hearts.

In some ways, there's nothing wrong with this. It's good to have some pride in your culture, in your heritage, in who you are. But when such pride stands in the way of understanding reality, you have an enormous problem. As the proverb goes, pride comes before a fall, and the US has been falling down a lot lately.

Liberals, who tend to question authority and conventional wisdom, understand that America is not the greatest country in the world. But we also tend to feel guilty about embracing that truth. Consequently, we're almost always vulnerable to the "greatest country" rhetorical device. Things are so bad at the moment that American-mythology-as-argument doesn't play so well, but it's only a matter of time before some Reaganesqe "morning in America" figure steps up with the right wording to make such rhetoric once again devastating to common sense liberal positions.

How will liberals deal with this? "Peace is patriotic" failed miserably during the runup to the Iraq invasion: it seems extraordinarily difficult to twist American exceptionalism to meet liberal ends. Likewise, it seems nearly impossible to unravel lifelong mythology indoctrination during a single debate--indeed, even taking such an argumentative slant leaves a liberal open to the harsh "antiAmerican" attack.

Really, the only solution is long term: teach US history differently; show the good and the bad. Hopefully, and eventually, most Americans would end up having a more realistic understanding of what we are and what we're capable of. But there is fierce resistance to teaching real history--there are many who embrace the mythology over the reality, and they will go to great lengths to prevent such a thing.

This is a big problem. How do we reconcile love of country with practical self-analysis? It's not easy to look at yourself in the mirror. But the stakes are high. It's not simply national survival that's on the line. We're talking about the future of the world here.