Anti-American: No We’re Not!

grantpark
Pictured: Obama supporters celebrating in Grant Park, IL.

Surely one of the most dull-witted and thoroughly obnoxious insults leveled at liberals (or anyone who disagrees with them, for that matter) by many arch-conservatives is that they’re “anti-American.” For some curious reason this irresistible need to impugn the patriotism of others when a political disagreement arises seems to be a trait that’s unique to the Right and was sadly very much in evidence during the heated “discourse” of the last election cycle.

Most notably (although many, many other examples could be provided), Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann stated the other week to Chris Matthews that she was concerned that Barack Obama “may have anti-American views,” and suggested other liberal members of Congress also may be anti-American and should be investigated in some kind of media witch-hunt. Sarah Palin was also no slouch when it came to playing the “anti-American” card, suggesting at a GOP fundraiser that she only liked to travel to “Pro-America parts of this great nation,” she said. Compounding this idiocy, she added that: “We believe that the best of America is in these small towns that we get to visit, and in these wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America, being here with all of you hard working very patriotic, um, very, um, pro-America areas of this great nation.”

Oh well. That awful nastiness is all behind us now, right?

Like many I suppose, it was striking to see the widespread outpouring of positive sentiment from various quarters and disparate locations around the world yesterday at the election of Barack Obama. The Huffington Post ran a wonderful slideshow on its front page yesterday illustrating this phenomenon that showed candid scenes of jubilant celebration from around the global community that was heartening to say the least. Cynically dismiss it as sentimental piffle or whatever if that attitude happens to float your boat, but I’d suggest that there was something highly significant and worthy of consideration in the world’s reaction to what happened in America the other day.

Closer to home, a cursory glance at various “liberal” and “progressive” blog postings all appeared to be strenuously expressing similar feelings of not only joyously welcoming America’s emergence from what had been the seemingly interminable gloom imposed by the willful ignorance, Medieval quackery, and insufferable arrogance of the Bush-Cheney regime, but also looking forward with optimism to energetic renewal of dialog and engagement on many fronts.

But back to the matter at hand: “Anti-Americanism”… So, what does it actually mean when one Canadian levels this charge against another because of their political views? In the Canadian context the charge of being “anti-American” obviously takes on a wholly different meaning than being “unpatriotic” as is the case south of the border, although the underlying motivational dynamic likely remains the same and it has to be seriously wondered whether the people casually flinging it around really even appreciate the distinctions involved.

I’ll leave the matter open-ended because after giving the subject some amount of thought I came to the conclusion that the onus here really should be placed on those making the charge to substantiate what exactly is meant by it. While I could ramble on and on at great length about the historical roots of “anti-Americanism” in some discursive, highly convoluted way tracing it back to the eighteenth century and following its subsequent branches hither and yon through various strains of political thought in Europe and Canada, it would be presumptuous of me to do so because it’s uncertain that’s related in any way to the particular rhetoric that we’re dealing with here.

So here’s the question to those who employ this term as an insult: What is it that you’re actually saying when you invoke this expression?

33 Replies to “Anti-American: No We’re Not!”

  1. Hmm… I don’t really use the term that often, and I don’t think I’ve ever called any individual anti-American. But I do think that there is a reflexive “anti-Americanism” that exists amongst some on the left (less so on the right beyond the more traditional Red Tories, few of which remain extant). Those who I consider “anti-American” genuinely believe that Americans are morally inferior as a group, and genuinely believe that all of the world’s problems can be blamed on the ignorant, racist, bloodthirsty, homophobes down south.

    It’s basically a prejudice (like Carolyn Bennett saying “damn Americans, I hate those bastards”), not terribly different from racism (eg. “damn Italians, I hate those bastards”) in its indescriminate use, except its based on national origin as opposed to ethnicity. That’s what I mean when I use the term, anyways.

  2. Speaking from here in the States, I can only give my impression of the anti-American slur. Ever since 2001 when Bush brought the sentiment back in to style; it’s been the right’s means of squashing debate and imposing their will upon the rest of us.

    Fortunately since then most Americans have seen it for the McCarthyism that it is and are generally dismissive of it or even denounce it’s invocation (see Bachmann’s rival’s campaign funding post her Hardball appearance). The only ones left that seem to embrace the notion still are those that I’d call the “25%ers” — the ones that still think Bush is a great president and doing a great job. That Bush’s only mistake was not invading Iran while he still had the chance. The ones who truly believe that Obama is some sort of Manchurian candidate and in league with terrorists.

    The most striking moment during the campaign for me was right here in MN when, at McCain’s rally, that woman stated how she was “afraid of Obama” and thought aloud that “he’s an Arab”. I could almost see the cognitive dissonance on McCain’s face as he grabbed the microphone from the woman and went on to praise Obama as a Christian and a good man. I like to think that at that moment McCain was realizing the harvest he was about to reap from his campaign of fear mongering and hatred. That maybe he truly was playing with fire by impugning one’s patriotism and breeding contempt, but alas, it was not to be and McCain slogged on to the bitter end. I think that McCain literally sold his soul for that one last chance at becoming POTUS and there’s not much left for him in as far as redemption is concerned.

    As to his counterpart, Palin, she seems more than comfortable stoking the hatred among her 25%ers and dabbling with the more extreme element within her party. She’s always struck me as a political opportunist who would stab whomever was necessary in order to gain power. Again, fortunately, I think the American populace has moved on from such obvious jingoism and her political ambitions will be shunted in the end.

  3. Olaf — Interesting the way you immediately turned my proposition on its head to level the charge against liberals.

    “Well, I don’t do that, but here… let me tell you about the anti-Americanism of liberals…”

  4. RT,

    Interesting the way you immediately turned my proposition on its head to level the charge against liberals.

    That was hardly my intention, and I think it was quite clear that I was referring to “some on the left”, certainly not “liberals” in general. I also allowed for it on the right, although largely amongst the Red Tory faction.

  5. I always look at calling ideas/people “pro-American” or “anti-American” as an attempt to get people to identify with these things in the same way they support their home team. It might not be a great hockey club, but it’s a part of us, and therefore people feel a lot of pride and love for it (ex. Toronto Maple Leafs). If you love you’re country, you’re suppose to do X, Y, and Z, just as a person living in a so-called “red-state” is suppose to vote Republican, and a person in a “blue-state” is a Democrat.

    I don’t doubt that there are people who probably are prejudiced against Americans, but I wouldn’t label any group in Canada as anti-American or pro-American. It really depends on what group is in power south of the border on whether this “anti-American” sentiment develops. For example, Conservatives in the US have for the most part praised America in the last eight years. Now, after last Tuesday’s elections, we get this

    From SDA (link on Red’s “The Right Reacts”):

    “Have the Americans lost the will to live free?”

    “Is the majority of the US population even really “Americans” anymore?”

    “Watching the results with stomach churning disgust, here’s hoping the losers that threw their lot with the socialist Empty Suit… you are screwed and too dumb to know it.” (I don’t know if Penny is a US citizen or a Canadian.)

    “America is now finished.”

    And this classic (from Red’s post)

    “I really hope our Prime Minister is watching all this closely. We don’t want the Amero which the DNC will try to force on us, We do not want to be part of the USSA. We can sell our oil to another. We can put our auto plants to better use by building our own planes, jeeps, tanks etc. and protect ourselves like we did during WW11, and put Southern Ont. back to work. Course we will have to get rid of that little Napolionic Premier that the majority seemed to want so much. When will they ever learn. ”

    Is this anti-Americanism, or just anti-Democratic party sentiment? I’ll be kind and say that it leans towards the later.

    And to end this post, Jon Swift had an amusing take on the idea of Pro-American and Anti-American things. (Very funny.)

  6. Olaf — It can’t be denied that there are certain people who consider America the locus of all manner of nefarious evil in the world and seem to despise them as a people straight across the board, almost without exception, with a vehement passion and visceral loathing that might politely be described as somewhat irrational. Heck, I used to be married to such a person. Although my expression was rather less polite — clinically insane might have better fit the bill.

  7. Thanks Sharon for the Swift link. As usual, succinct and spot-on.

    I like how Soccer Moms are pro-American, and yet soccer is anti-American.

  8. And how many folks in Texas can relate to “Hockey Moms”? Or are they just supposed to sub in whatever extracurricular activity they’re involved with there?

    e.g., “[insert name of sport] Mom”

  9. Probably.

    It’s the act of dragging your child to some sort of sports event that’s the bonding concept, not the sport. Or that’s my take on it.

  10. “And how many folks in Texas can relate to “Hockey Moms”?”

    Ohh…sore subject here in MN after our beloved North Stars left and went to Dallas.

    But to the larger point, it doesn’t matter what sport it is. It’s just more of the right’s pandering to those whom they couldn’t give a shit about in order to pretend that they’re “just like them”. Thomas Frank put an extremely fine point in his book “What’s the Matter With Kansas” about how the right’s been able to convince people that voting against their own economic interests is a good thing.

  11. Olaf did exactly what Red explained. Anti-Americanism for a lot of people is first and foremost, a nebulous charge of bigotry lobbed at liberals to imply some sort of intellectual sloth or moral bankruptcy.

    Note the example brought forth…Carolyn Parrish, in an unguarded moment, saying something intemperate that the media refused to suppress (not that they had any obligation to do so).

    Compare that with Ann Coulter being paraded on American public airwaves asserting that we should be grateful the US allows this country to exist, or Tucker Carlson calling the entire country America’s retarded sibling, or The National Review with a cover showing the RCMP’s musical ride overlaid with the headline “Wimps!”

    Curious double-standard here.

  12. C-C: Oops! Sorry about that. (Actually, it did cross my mind, but… well, too early in the day for diplomacy. What can I say?)

    I hate the whole slicing and dicing of the electorate up into identifiable demographics that can then be individually pandered to. I’ll blame Clinton in large part for that as the team around him perfected this kind of “small-bore” approach to governance that involved endless polling to discover how they could best deliver messages to narrow segments of the electoral market.

  13. Ti-guy,

    Just to clarify, AGAIN, I didn’t lob the charge at “liberals” in general. I did attribute anti-Americanist tendencies to “some on the left”, which I remain convinced is accurate. RT seems to confirm he’s come accross the rare breed himself. The term is horrendously overused, both in the US and here, but that doesn’t mean it applies in no cases.

    Carolyn Parrish, in an unguarded moment, saying something intemperate that the media refused to suppress

    Aren’t all slurs usually conveyed in an unguarded moment? It’s the fact that some people need to guard themselves in the first place that is the problem, I suppose.

  14. Just to clarify, AGAIN, I didn’t lob the charge at “liberals” in general. I did attribute anti-Americanist tendencies to “some on the left”, which I remain convinced is accurate. RT seems to confirm he’s come accross the rare breed himself. The term is horrendously overused, both in the US and here, but that doesn’t mean it applies in no cases.

    True, just as there are “some on the left” who could be considered anti-American, we should also note that there are “some on the right” (especially going from the comments on SDA) that would be considered quite anti-American right now.

    Anti-Americanism isn’t something that goes by any party line. Past conservatives as Diefenbaker and Sir John A. Macdonald would be considered anti-American.

  15. Sharon —That’s indeed true, but more often than not, the expression is thrown out by “conservatives” against “liberals”… that’s more what I’m concerned with here and I don’t know that Olaf’s muddying of the waters is all that helpful in this regard given the point of the exercise is narrow down what exactly is meant by this expression when used in its most quotidian form, rather than opening it up to all possibilities.

  16. RT,

    Didn’t mean to muddy things. All I can do is give an explanation of what I mean when I use the term – I can’t rightly say what it means in its most quotidian form. I thought I gave a rather clean definition, which you put more eloquently at 8:08.

  17. Sharon,

    Past conservatives as Diefenbaker and Sir John A. Macdonald would be considered anti-American.

    Yes, Red Tories. I included them.

  18. Let’s put the Carolyn Parrish moment in context.

    Her comment was as much anti-American as anti-Bush or anti-rightwing neo-con wingnuttery.

    I was living in Dallas, TX when that got airplay in the states. When several American friends read her words and saw her actions they nodded in agreement and understanding of her sentiments. (At that point I was getting marriage proposals (most tongue-in-cheek, some not so much) from frustrated Americans who wanted to move to Canada and realized it wasn’t as easy as moving to another state.)

  19. anti-American, we should also note that there are “some on the right” (especially going from the comments on SDA) that would be considered quite anti-American right now.

    And it’s significant that my own first instinct is not to think of those comments as anti-American, but simply more of the sour grapes that come from ignorant, bitter, unhappy people. But when you think about it, they’re more anti-American than anything we’ve seen in a long time, in that they call into question the very legitimacy of that sovereign nation to order itself and organise itself in a way its people see fit.anti-American, we should also note that there are “some on the right” (especially going from the comments on SDA) that would be considered quite anti-American right now.

    In any case, these charges have to be made with more care, or they simply become meaningless. I know they have for me. I only get exercised now when I hear them coming from our perpetually-colonial elite.

  20. Olaf — Sorry, don’t get me wrong. I appreciate you’re telling me how you feel about this subject, but allow me to suggest that you’re perhaps more the exception than the rule in this regard. I hear (well, see actually…) this term thrown around all the time even when it has little connection to factual reality. Quite surprisingly, I get accused of it on a fairly regular basis even though I’m clearly and demonstrably, most definitely not anything of the sort. So it fascinates me why this should be so and what it is that prompts such criticism.

    It would have been nice to have some people who level the charge provide an explanation of what it is they perceive as being “anti-American” and what compels them to employ the term, but then I suppose that may have been too much to hope for. After all, such people tend not to be the sharpest knives in the drawer in the first place, quite aside from being spineless recreants, generally speaking. So, perhaps we’ll have to leave it at that then: they’re idiots. End of story. Not terribly illuminating, but there you have it, I guess.

    Maybe the next time one of them plays that card, I’ll just refer them back to this post and demand that they offer up some kind of explanation or justification, as I’m just sick and tired of hearing it. It’s so completely feeble and plain dumb in my opinion, not to mention unwarranted.

  21. RT,

    I follow. And agree, that if you asked most people who use the term frequently and haphazardly, you wouldn’t find their response terribly illuminating.

    It’s too often used as a catch-all response to any liberal criticism of a Republican governed US, and there’s not really sense to be made in that.

    As a side note, I find it quite similar to the use of “anti-semitism” charges to deflect criticism of Israel.

  22. Olaf — That’s quite true… Actually, on some level the two things share another common thread in being a convenient form of shorthand for expressing cultural insecurity.

  23. Anti-Americanism has always been around in Canada — after all, otherwise we’d be part of the U.S today.

    As Olaf (comment #1) notes, the attitude that is best described as anti-American is mostly seen among those on the far and radical left. For them, it’s a deep-seated, emotional affair, and they think, as Olaf said, that Americans are all evil capitalists and therefore inferior.

    But we must distinguish the anti-Americanism of the radical left from the negative views expressed over the last eight years — as a result of Bush. This is not anti-Americanism per se, but “anti-Bushism” (and that is a perfectly valid view to take, with the facts speaking for themselves).

    Anti-Bushism will now disappear, no doubt.

    As for the charges being levelled against political opponents of being anti-American, well, we should also ask about the same moronic accusations tossed at Conservatives in Canada as being “pro-American”. Both accusations are moronic and devoid of factual content.

  24. And it’s significant that my own first instinct is not to think of those comments as anti-American, but simply more of the sour grapes that come from ignorant, bitter, unhappy people.

    The funny thing is that probably a few years ago, some of the same people would have been uld have been praising the US and Bush.

    It’s funny how these things swing back and forth — from love to hate. Instead of anti-Americanism, maybe it would be more on target to accuse someone of having a twisted love affair with the country.

  25. The funny thing is that probably a few years ago, some of the same people would have been uld have been praising the US and Bush.

    Excuse. That should have been “The funny thins is that probably a few years ago, some of the same people would probably have been praising the US and Bush.”

    where’s the thread for us anti-canadian yanks?

    Is there a message board for Fox News?

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