I kiss you because I don’t believe too much in individuals.

Yesterday I wrote, posted, and unposted a vitriol-filled screed about the current Republican response to the health care bill.  (To be fair, in the screed I called it a TEMPER-TANTRUM.  I used a lot of capital letters à la Kanye in my screed. If you are really curious I’m sure you can read it as Google caches everything, making unposting an unflattering entry a decidedly illusory fantasy.)  I was really angry yesterday about a lot of things, not the least of which was my own egotistical desire to not have my American-ness wrested away from me by people who wish to define a “real American” within rather narrow terms.  While I’m sure that many people would regard my way of living and my politics as not-American-enough, living in France has consistently made me feel all-too-American, as though I am tagged indelibly with my nationality.  The idea that there is something like a national character, and it does shape how people approach others, feels more real to me now than it ever has in the past.  I feel like I’ve been coming to inhabit my American-ness more comfortably than I ever have before and it makes me more sensitive to what I perceive as assaults to my sense of national identity and pride.

At the same time, I don’t feel good about what I wrote.  I titled it something awful, like “Stupidity is not a pre-existing condition” and complained a lot about the current culture of mudslinging, hate speech at full volume, and rampant anti-intellectualism.  When I stepped back from my anger, however, I realized that behind these insane protests must be an extreme level of fear.  I suspect that anyone this defensive of a horrible status quo must be accustomed to the status quo only becoming worse when anyone decides to change it.  I really hope that some of these legislative changes, and the ones that come about in their wake, will help make the lives of “everyday Americans” better in terms that they can feel tangibly in their wallets, in their sense of physical well-being, and in their ability to take care of those people that they love.  I write a lot in my academic work about how people become attached to their state of subjection and to the vision of themselves as victims.  Unfortunately, many of the people who are most vocally opposed to health care reform do not just envision themselves as victims of a broken system, they are victims of a broken system.  A powerful minority has instrumentalized their voices, but that minority offers no plan of action, only mindless antagonism.  I hope that this legislation can lessen the everyday victimization that people feel when they get sick and seek out assistance from the collective. That will be a much more effective response than screaming back.

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4 comments

  1. BJG

    I guess it’s inevitable that we relate these things to our research interests, because throughout this debate I’ve been amazed at how much it resembles the vitriol of the antebellum years in America: culture wars, fundamentalist Christians using apocalyptic rhetoric, progressives looking to great orators for miracles, incivility in Congress, and of course anti-intellectualism, which has been an American staple since the colonial era. I think you can draw a straight line from Southern secession to George Wallace standing in the schoolhouse door to the current dust-up. In each case you have an elite ruling class convincing a vast underclass (poor white people in each case) with whom they relate tangentially that this other elite class is out to destroy their way of life. For evidence they point to tangible events, like lost elections, and paint them with the apocalypse brush. So the positive I see in this is that, historically, these sorts of things have been the death throes of dying ideologies–the Michelle Bachmanns and John Boehners feel their power slipping and have to rally the troops with the wildest hyperbole they can muster. When society doesn’t crumble people usually discard those jokers and reach a compromise that pushes us forward. On the scary side, though, this change doesn’t usually take place without some major upheaval, and the heightened rhetoric of conservatives is already inspiring death threats, “survivalist” gatherings, etc. So yeah. Crazy times we’re living in. Let’s hope the bill delivers. Ok, here I go ranting again. Something about this topic. Before I shut up, though, I offer this most cogent argument against our position: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ok1EllhHgoU&feature=player_embedded

  2. B

    I think BJG has hit the nail on the head here. What we are witnessing is nothing other than the Right dismantling itself on public television. I was saying to S and Br the other night that I think as the rhetoric gets more and more radicalized, we are going to see the Republican Party refracted into something similar to what the Democratic party is now: a sort of empty category unable to achieve consensus because no one really agrees on anything. Because when you have people get on the air and rant that Obama is the Antichrist, naturally you will have conservatives who agree, but the majority are going to say, “You know what, that’s a little bit off the deep end.”
    See, the right and the left have very different political narratives they tell themselves to feel better. For some reason, conservatives see politics as a kind of war, and liberals are enemy combatants who have to be conquered before America can be safe. You can see the ramifications of this particular bedtime story on FoxNews right now. On the other hand, liberals see politics as a kind of medical science, and we are constantly pathologizing conservatives, calling them crazy, mentally inferior, or just downright sick. This is probably why Republicans are seen as better at foreign policy, and Democrats at domestic affairs. Of course, neither is actually true, and both are just as divisive. Some of the smartest, sanest people I know are conservatives, and as a liberal, I (like you) am unable to understand how I could be called un-American, and I take great offense at it. As far as I am concerned, creating a more perfect union means criticizing the status quo, and that is what America is all about.
    So over the course of the Bush years, years of unremitting foreign wars, as well as of viruses introduced into our own body politic, our stories have become mutually unintelligible. The general populace of America is faced with a choice of which side to get on… which one is easier, and less likely to complicate their own self-identification as Americans? You can see the plight of the Democratic party and the rise of the Tea Party movement in the answer to this question.
    I do think there is going to be a civil war. But I don’t think it is going to be between the right and the left, or between the city and the country. It’s going to be between Republican party and the coalition it has somehow cobbled together over the last thirty years. It’s neither easy nor ideologically cheap to pass off religion, laissez-faire economics, and Libertarianism as the same thing, and what we are seeing now is the devil calling to collect.
    So, I think our question moving forward is what story are we going to tell the survivors of this war? Will we continue to label them misfits in order to feel better about our own brand of elitism? Or can we go back to a more human and humanizing form of discussion?

  3. Pingback: In isolation, he would examine himself in the Crowd-mood « Keeping the Bear-Garden in the Background

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