Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Once again, America destroys Amurka

Reihan Salam's take on the recent Beck/Palin rally in D.C.:
Palin, like Beck, was talking about a spiritual restoration, a return to time-tested virtues that had been celebrated by the more homogeneous America of the past, in which non-traditional families were stigmatized and relatively rare, church attendance was far more common, and the dominance of Anglo-Protestant culture was unquestioned.

But as most of those who attended Beck’s rally understand in their bones, that world is gone. And President Obama, for all his efforts to expand the reach of the federal government, has had very little to do with this deep transformation. Rather, the country has long since been transformed by powerful demographic and economic forces that very much threaten what we might call Glenn Beck’s America.

Instead of accepting or embracing this transformation, a large and growing number of white Americans are, knowingly or otherwise, taking a page from minority protest movements of the past by asserting themselves and demanding recognition from political and cultural elites...

[I]t seems more plausible that Fox News is following its audience rather than leading it — that this anger and alienation has existed for years, and has only now found a decidedly unconventional tribune in the form of Glenn Beck.
I basically agree with this take. There's a bunch of white people out there who see their culture melting away, replaced with modernity and a mishmash of immigrant cultures. These traditionalist whites feel embattled, endangered, under threat, and as a result they're angry and afraid.

But here's the key: they don't know who or what is responsible for the death of their culture. Is it immigration? Is it secularism? Is it sex in movies and rap songs? Is it the first black president? Is it socialism? At various times, these have all been the targets of right-wing rural/suburban white ire, but none of them by itself represents a villain powerful enough to explain the rapidity with which the old white culture - call it "Amurka" - has been eroded. And so the right keeps switching its villains and switching its prophets; Glenn Beck has eclipsed Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson, but there will be another scare and another scaremonger.

Now here's the crucial thing to understand: the right has been going crazy like this for a hundred years. In the 20s, there was Charles Coughlin. In the 50s there was the John Birch society. Has the rural/sururban white lifestyle really been under dire threat for that long?

I think the answer to this question also contains the secret of the identity of the real villain who is destroying Amurka. The dark lord behind the erosion of traditional culture is none other than the American Constitution.

The Constitution was written in order to make America a very special kind of nation. It defends freedom of speech, which ensures that new ideas and new cultural memes will be able to spread as far as the media can take them. It protects freedom of religion, and explicitly forbids any religion from gaining special status in the law. It guarantees due process, which prevents local communities from persecuting residents who stand out. It ensures birthright citizenship, which ensures that America's ethnic mix will never stop changing. And, most importantly, it enshrines majority rule, which means that traditional culture will always find itself overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of the variegated rabble that wants something new. In combination, the Constitution's protections of speech, religion, due process, immigration, and majority rule ensure that the nation's entrenched culture will be smashed again and again and again.

If we look to history, we find that this is not the first Tea Party moment. As far back as the 1800s, the Know-Nothing Party was persecuting German and Irish immigrants, but the Germans and the Irish stayed and redefined the mainstream. Then Germans, Irish, and British Americans teamed up to fight the wave of Eastern Europeans at the turn of the 20th century, and again they lost. At the same time, Christian conservative hysteria failed to make Prohibition stick, failed to suppress the teaching of evolution, failed to suppress the First Wave of feminism, and failed to convince America that Roosevelt's New Deal was a socialist takeover. Amurka - the Amurka of the 20s - died, only to be reborn as a new Amurka when hippies and commies threatened in the 50s, etc. etc.

The point is that America, the nation defined by the values enshrined in the Constitution, is death to the kind of blood-and-soil-and-religion-and-community culture that has grown entrenched in most of the other nations of planet Earth. Glenn Beck's followers are merely failing to protect the kind of society that Japanese and French and Kenyan people have largely succeeded in protecting. That doesn't stop the Amurkans from trying, of course, but as long as conservatives fail to overhaul the Constitution (as they are clamoring to do), they are destined to lose. Amurka will fall...and in thirty or fifty years it'll be reincarnated, as Mexican-Americans join hands with whites to fight the new wave of Indian immigrants (or whoever), and rail against whatever moral and religious degeneracy and dangerous socialism threatens their "traditional" way of life.

The danger, of course, is if conservatives someday do find some way to slay their nemesis - a military coup, or a repeal of one or more Constitutional amendments. If Amurka finally rises up and strikes down America, all bets are off.


  1. Great post!

  2. Amurka? Is that where they drill for ahhhhl?

  3. Seriously,though, good post.

    Although I also think there is a very real fear of putting even more power in the hands of the Federal Government. This is largely independent of the cultural issue, even independent of basic liberal / conservative ideology. I support universal access to health care, for example, and am willing to pay taxes to support it -- but am wary of the Feds being the primary entity charged with ensuring that access (espescially without a public option which would give them an explicit mandate to cover everyone and keep costs down.)

    The same federal government that embodied the Enlightenment ideal of democracy in the 18th century, ended slavery in the 19th and saved Democracy from fascism in the 20th -- also perpetuated genocide against native Americans, overthrew the democratically-elected government of Iran in 1953, was involved in a couple dozen other coups in the next three decades, escalated Vietnam under false pretenses, etc. So there is plenty of cause for anxiety for every group... on top of which is piled the cultural panic of the Tea Partiers. (I would say Tea Baggers but I can never say that without chuckling...)

  4. In response to =RJR= - the problem is that the Feds are already the ones who ensure access to healthcare. However, this is costing is so much (primarily because we have so many unhealthy people without health insurance) that without a federal mandate, we wouldn't have any money left to pay for seniors and poor people, which would leave us worse off than we were last year before the health care bill had passed.

    And I agree, good post! Also - Noah you should check out this group, they are big among the tea partiers (like RJR I also can't bring myself to say Tea Baggers - Seriously, don't they know what that means!).

    Although they are probably as exterme as anyone else, I think their "ten commandments" are pretty darn good, especially if you are worried about a coup.