American Exceptionalism is the Prussian Nationalism of the 21st century. It is difficult to believe anyone would want to emulate the Prussians; modern Germans certainly do not.
But one thing you can say for the Prussians: they at least built a statue to a national hero, Hermann (known to the Romans as Arminius), who, if mythical, was at least a German.
American Exceptionalists on the other hand like to erect statues to a Jewish peasant who was executed on charges of sedition more than 2,000 years ago and in another country entirely. It is towards a mythology built up around that man that Republican patriotism increasingly revolves. And I am not talking about the Bible; I am talking about Mythic America.
When did patriotism become identical to religion? When did every war have to be a holy war?
For the ancient Greeks, though city states shared a common religion, it was not. Even identification with the polis, or city state, was not the end all for the Greek patriot, who recognized a greater concept of “Greekness” and the common good. And even foreigners could become Greeks. The European Enlightenment had more in common with Socrates, who saw himself as a citizen of the world, than with Moses, who saw everyone outside his little tent as less than human, let alone fellow citizens.
According to the Republican worldview, of course, the true Enlightenment was the Christian Middle Ages and the Enlightenment the rest of us recognize inaugurated the Age of Satan. In this topsy-turvy world, foreigners are only the tip of the iceberg of who cannot be Americans.
The Republican worldview is home to many oddities. Consider that the First Amendment of the Constitution, what is known as the “free exercise clause” presumes that the United States will consist of more than simply Christians when it says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The Constitution also forbids (Article VI, section 3) religious tests to hold office, meaning, of course, that a person’s religion is irrelevant to politics and by extension, citizenship and patriotism. You can believe anything you want or nothing at all and be a patriotic American.
Not so fast, say conservatives, who argue that the Free Exercise clause does not apply to Muslims, and that only Christians are fit to hold public office and that atheists aren’t really citizens at all. They even argue that Old Testament law should be legislated, so we can all enjoy its anti-constitutional clauses.
Conservatives act on the assumption that the Constitution, which they claim is based on the Ten Commandments, demands a religious test.
Sarah Palin argues that our inalienable rights come from God, but in the Ten Commandments God does not bestow rights. He bestows restrictions. There are no rights in the Old Testament. Put them side by side and you will see the Decalogue and the Constitution have nothing in common.
Never mind the contradictions. We are assured by them that America was founded by Christians and for Christians.
No one else need apply.
This is how it works: only Christians (and the presumption is that these Christians are white) can be citizens – and patriotic. Everyone else is lumped together under the heading “other” – a group that is considered anti-American, terrorists, or terrorist-friendly, and is presumed to have as a goal the destruction of America.
A true patriot, according to Ann Coulter, wants to “invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.” Anyone who disagrees is simply an appeaser, a traitor or an idiot.
The lesson couldn’t be any clearer: If you don’t want to invade foreign countries and force them to believe what you believe, you’re a terrorist and a traitor.
Of course it helps to be a “real” American, that is, from the country or from a small town and not from a big foreigner-infested city. And it stands to reason you can’t be gay or lesbian, or a secular humanist or a liberal or a progressive or a pagan or a feminist or an environmentalist – and no Muslim can possibly be a patriot because every mosque out there is a dagger aimed at the heart of America.
Evil Sharia Law! Never mind that there is no difference between the Old Testament Law these people want to force down our throats and Sharia Law.
Everyone who isn’t a Christian American wants to destroy America – Islam, the Homosexual Agenda, feminists and pagans and others who all hatch plots daily to bring down America.
The problem is that none of this is true; none of the Republican mythology has any basis in fact. And the comparison is impossible to ignore: the little Nazi bund gathering in their beer halls plotting to take back “their” country, a Germany which had no similarity to any previous Germany, one that existed only in their minds, just as our Republicans want to take back a country that has no similarity to any previous America.
Republicans accuse everyone else of being traitors, but you can’t be guilty of treason against something that exists only in another’s imagination; you can’t be a traitor to an America that has never and does not now exist.
It is to that Mythic America their own patriotism is directed.
But is it even possible to speak of patriotism under such circumstances? If treason is impossible, can you be patriotic towards something that has never actually existed except in fevered imaginings?
Can patriotism be directed against the Constitution by denying people free expression and equal rights? Can patriotism be for secession from the Union? Can patriotism be for ignoring federal laws and regulations whenever you like? Do patriots fly Confederate flags instead of American flags?
The answer is no. We have another word for that: treason.