As it turns out, my pneumonia is in fact some kind of exotic spore-borne infection; I still have abscesses in my lungs even after weeks of antibiotics. Even so, I’ve managed to prop myself up at the computer and as of this afternoon, the first draft of my next book, The New Hate: Fear and Loathing on the Populist Right, is in the hands of my editor. May its passage to publication be smooth.
Here’s a preview of its closing pages, written just this afternoon:
On July 4, 2010, Ken Blackwell defined American Exceptionalism in his column in Townhall magazine as “the belief that America is something special. We are a shining beacon of light throughout the world and throughout the annals of history. We are the exception, not the rule.” What constitutes America’s specialness, he goes on to explain, is “our right to worship according to the dictates of our conscience,” “our right to bear arms,” “our right not to be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process,” and especially our “economic freedom.”
In April, 2009, at the G-20 summit in France, Obama proved to the world that he regarded Exceptionalism more as a psychological quirk than the Rock of Ages when a correspondent from the Financial Times asked him if he subscribed “to the school of American exceptionalism that sees America as uniquely qualified to lead the world.”
“I believe in American Exceptionalism,” Obama replied, “Just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism, and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.”
Never mind that Great Britain gave us the Magna Carta, habeus corpus, bi-cameral legislatures, John Locke, Adam Smith and Edmund Burke; forget that the Greeks endowed the world with its first great democracy. Disregard the salutary reflection that both Empires, for all the high opinion they held of themselves, for all the military, cultural, and economic power they once wielded, have long since come and gone. “President Obama’s reference to British or Greek exceptionalism suggests a belief that the United States doesn’t stand alone with a particular greatness but that every nation is great in its own way and America is simply one of many nations with something cool to offer,” Monica Crowley scolded in The Washington Times. “In Mr. Obama’s kaleidoscopic left-wing view, no nation is better than any other, no country can tell another country not to have nuclear weapons, and we’re all socialists now.”
Quoting Obama’s words in her book America by Heart, Sarah Palin could only conclude that Obama “doesn’t believe in exceptionalism at all. He seems to think it is just a kind of irrational prejudice in favor of our way of life. To me that is appalling.” “To deny American exceptionalism,” Mike Huckabee adds, “Is in essence to deny the heart and soul of this nation.” “America is exceptional,” Rick Santorum insists, “And Americans are concerned that there are a group of people in Washington who don’t believe that anymore.”
Writing in The Washington Post, Karen Tumulty noted that all these recent conservative disquisitions on Exceptionalism—and I have hardly scratched the surface of them—have “a more intellectual sheen than the false assertions that Obama is secretly a Muslim or that he was born in Kenya.” She quotes William Galston of the Brookings Institution, who said that writing about Exceptionalism provides “a respectable way of raising the question of whether Obama is one of us.”
And there you have it—the core proposition of the New Hatred: that there are those of us who are really “us” and those of us who are essentially “other”—aliens, interlopers, pretenders, and culture distorters, parasites and freeloaders, who bear the blame for the fact that being a white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant American no longer suffices to make one the cynosure of the world.
Back on November 19, 1955, in the Mission Statement he wrote for the first issue of The National Review, William F. Buckley derided the presiding liberal orthodoxy of his day, which, he said, had as much as ceded the field to “the jubilant single-mindedness of the practicing Communist, with his inside track to history.” The National Review, Buckley vowed, would stand “athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.” Patron saint of the conservatives as he might have been, in John Judis’s memorable phrase, Buckley was much more of a pragmatist than that. He knew that the wheels of history never do stop turning, no matter how devoutly one might wish they did; he knew that ideological purity (or any other kind of purity) was not to be found in this world. “No sense running Mona Lisa in a beauty contest,” he declared in a 1967 interview, when asked who he was supporting for president. “I’d be for the most right, viable candidate who could win.”
The New Hate has a bit of both impulses in it—the quixotic desire to turn the clock back to a mythical golden age and a cynical ploy to improve voter turnout—but mostly, it’s purely vindictive. And most of its proponents, even in the heat of the moment—dressed up in colonial costume, with powdered wigs on their heads and “Say no to Socialism” placards in their hands—know better, too.
No one in New England in 1798 really believed that Jefferson was plotting to bring Jacobinism to the United States, any more than Maria Monk’s readers thought that the convent down the street was a nest of debauchery. For all the prevalence of anti-Semitic stereotypes, even the most vicious of Jew-haters are more likely to deny that the Holocaust occurred than to defend it. Though millions of Americans claim to believe that Obama is a Muslim and a foreigner, most of them know that the real issue isn’t what Obama is, but what they fear they’re not.
And thus it has always been.