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Monday, May 05, 2008

The Patriotism of Stupid White Men?: Lapel-Pin Patriotism vs. Responsible Citizenship

As a person of European-Mediterranean heritage, the insistently shameful stupidity of white media pundits over this past week and weekend in response to the Wright controversy has made me so sick of heart that I've been compelled to write out some basic notes (for my own sanity’s sake, if nothing else) about what distinguishes the true patriotism of democratic citizens from the false patriotism of those whom Michael Moore has so appropriately labeled "stupid white men"—who often happen to be the most privileged and powerful in our society and politics.

(This suggests a new formula for the production of stupidity: whiteness + power = stupidity; and the more power and privilege one has--especially when that power is in the media or politics--the more stupid many seem to get....)

And PLEASE NOTE: since "stupid white man" is a state of being rather than a skin color or gender, you do not need to be either light-skinned or in possession of an xy sex chromosome to fit the category of "stupid white men."

Inspiration for these notes on patriotism: The white media pundits and corporate media structure cannot seem to get enough of asking Obama about his relationship with Rev. Wright. Instead of focusing on the real problems and policy issues confronting this country, they would rather focus on white noise, repeating the same dumb questions over and over again:

Why don't you wear a flag pin, Mr. Obama?

Why would your wife ever suggest she had problems with the way this country has been run, Mr. Obama?

Why did you wait so long to renounce your pastor, Mr. Obama?

Why didn't you hold your hand over your heart that one time when saying the pledge of allegiance, Mr. Obama?

No matter how many times Mr. Obama calmly (and with a straight face I could never maintain if I were faced with such blatantly stupid questions) answers these questions, the white pundits just keep asking them over and over and over again. It's at times like these that anyone who hasn't already recognized how most of the network news shows are dominated by clueless white pundits--who seem oblivious to how ridiculously out of touch and stupid they sound to anyone who is not protected by the insular power of the corporate media hierarchy--must be either comatose or blind.

After all, you would never hear Tavis Smiley asking such stupid questions!!! To the contrary, Tavis Smiley and Bill Moyers (a couple of guys who are not stupid) were the only major media pundits I heard criticize the way this whole controversy was being presented. Over the past month, since the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. King, Tavis has had some of the most significant thinkers on race and politics in America appear on his show to offer critical commentary that has, without mentioning the Wright controversy, suggested the complete absurdity and vacuity of what goes for political commentary in the dominant white media.

It’s the intensity of the corporate media’s barrage of stupid questions that provides another overwhelming source of evidence--for anyone who still needs more evidence--of the fundamentally racialized power structure supported by our current media set-up.

Yesterday, for example, two major Sunday news magazines hosted by white men continued to devote a large percentage of their time on Obama to the Wright controversy, to the neglect of all the other real issues--including the need for a real conversation about racism in this country--that they could have been exploring with Obama.

Wolf Blitzer, on his two-hour Sunday program on CNN, spent almost 30 minutes on the Wright controversy. In his second segment on Wright--where his producers at least had the good sense to interview three black commentators--even after all three of his guests criticized the stupidity of the way the media has fixated on the Wright controversy, Blitzer kept right on pursuing the same line of questions on Wright, as if he had not comprehended one word of what his three guests has just told him.

I'm not a believer in conspiracies, but when you hear the same stupid questions repeated over and over again by every major media station and pundit, you begin to understand why it does not take a conspiracy theorist to emphasize the need for some kind of structural explanation of why so much of the media seems to be following the same stupid script.

And for Obama's "exclusive" Sunday interview appearance on Meet the Press, Tim Russert spent almost twenty of his 45 minutes of show time discussing the Wright controversy with Obama, asking the same questions we had heard twenty times over during the previous week. Obama stoically answered every question with more patience than many saints could summon, and this alone should serve as a major qualification for his presidential candidacy--since such patience and reserve will serve him well in negotiating with the toughest foreign and domestic dictators and bullies.

All of this media bullying by stupid white men compelled me to ask the patriotism question in a new way:

What distinguishes the patriotism of stupid white men from the patriotism of real democratic citizens who value the future of our beloved country?

Here are some basic answers I’ve casually noted (and I would encourage everyone to come up with a similar list, so we can all provide the corporate media and politicians some desperately needed aid in discriminating real patriotism from the easy patriotism of stupid white men throughout the remaining months of this political campaign season, and beyond--since whoever gets elected will need the strong support of real citizens to make sure our government begins to enforce policies that strengthen rather than weaken democracy. The last eight years of rule by faux patriots of both parties has terribly weakened our democracy, and four more years of such lapel-pin patriotism may do it in for good):

1) Real patriotism understands the fundamental value of criticism and critical thought, for the preservation of democratic government and policies, since without criticism of prevailing policies, we would never have seen the Revolution against the British that founded this country; we would still have slavery; and we would never have gained the semblance of democracy that we have today-- we would have fallen into dictatorship eras ago.

Faux patriotism insists that criticism is unpatriotic; thus Michelle Obama is considered unpatriotic by stupid white men because she clearly has the ability to think critically about the previous history of this country, and even dared to voice a critical opinion in public.

2) Faux patriotism believes the most important sign of patriotism is to wear an easily recognizable symbol of patriotism on one's sleeve or lapel or car--and therefore the easiest way to identify the unpatriotic is to simply note whether or not a person is conspicuously sporting a symbol like a flag, a red-white-and blue ribbon, or an "In God We Trust" license plate, etc.

Indeed, this is why the Nazis insisted that every good German sport a swastika--since this made it easy to distinguish those with loyalty to the Fuhrer from those bold or stupid enough to suggest they lacked this kind of patriotism. The easier patriotism is to sum up in a symbol, the easier it is for demagogues and tyrants to manipulate patriotism in ways that destroy democracy.

Real patriotism values the substance of how one puts into practice one's love of country and democratic citizenship, rather than the symbols one wears on one's sleeve. Real patriotism cannot be worn on one's sleeve, or demonstrated by pinning a flag to one's lapel pin. Of course, those who would prefer to rely on symbols over substance would love to make wearing a lapel pin the substance of patriotism, since this would allow them to cover up a host of actions that betray the opposite truth. And wouldn’t patriotism be oh so much easier if all it required were a shiny flag pinned obediently to the lapel every day? Then one could just ignore the difficulties of having to actually put into practice the values of democratic citizenship.

3) Faux patriotism believes it is entirely proper to mix religion and politics, in spite of some troublesome principles contained in the U.S. constitution, which attempts to draw a wall of separation between religion and politics precisely because of a long bloody history of tyrannical manipulation of religion and political power, which the founders of this country had the wisdom to reject.

But never mind the wisdom of the founders! On this issue faux patriots of the twenty-first century believe they are much wiser than the founders. These patriots seem to believe we should return to some of the grand old practices of yesteryear: If you’re going to run for political office these days, you’d better be ready to submit to religious truth tests. Not only must you be ready to submit to probes of your own religious beliefs and associations, but now you should also prepare to be held responsible for the words and beliefs of your pastors, priests, rabbis, and imams. Perhaps the next step in this progress toward religious tests will be to begin requiring the FBI to conduct background checks on every member of one’s religious congregation… (or, excuse me, are we already doing this?)

Real patriotism understands the reasons current trends toward bringing religious tests back into politics are fundamentally threatening to the future of democracy, especially when these religious tests are combined with all the other trends that indicate we are losing hold of fundamental principles of democratic liberty (such as freedom from surveillance in private spaces--What’s wrong, after all, with abolishing privacy altogether?! Now that the Soviet Union and communism are dead, why should we worry about abolishing privacy or creating a gulag system, since surely our own system of government could never fall into forms of tyranny similar to those of the Soviet system! After all, we’re all good red-blooded Americans, and we would never let that happen! Historical note: The Germans continued to believe that something like National Socialism could never take over their country, even as that very takeover was occurring in the 1930s.)

So, in sum, if you believe that patriotism can be reduced to pinning a flag to your lapel, denying the validity of any criticism of past or present problems in our country, and insisting on your right to interrogate the religious background of your political representatives, along with the beliefs of their religious leaders (and while you’re at it, of any other associations with suspect persons they might know)—you win the right to sport the stupid white man patriotism label to your heart’s content. Wear it with pride!

As for the rest of us, well, we’ll just have to settle for the harder and less conspicuous work of creating a more democratic and just Republic—the signs of which we cannot wear on our lapels or sleeves. As for me and my kin, may this latter kind of patriotism, along with great suspicion of all flag-pin wearers, flourish!

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