The Republicans long ago signaled their intention to decline governing unless they controlled the government. They won’t cooperate, they won’t compromise, and they won’t meet Democrats half-way. They have categorized liberals as vermin, as beneath contempt, and as traitors – as not only un-American but ANTI-American. They can’t very well be expected to compromise with criminals, can they? And so they haven’t.
For two years now they have sat on their hands and watched the United States take a nosedive. Wars have raged (wars they started), the economy has crumbled (an economy they destroyed) and they have tried to blame all this on a man who was himself only a Congressman when these events took place.
They have the strange idea that the minority should govern the country. Not the party which won the election, but the party that lost. This is a unique and rather puzzling viewpoint. After all, in what way is a defeat a mandate from the people?
And they haven’t even bothered to disguise the racism and xenophobia. They accused liberals and progressives of thinking of Obama in messianic terms but they call him a “Magic Negro” anti-colonialist Kenyan Muslim usurper living in a White House surrounded by Watermelon patches who has a “deep-seated hatred of white people.”
They don’t have time to govern. They don’t have time to ratify a much-needed START treaty President Obama negotiated with Russia in April of this year.
And now they don’t have time to meet with President Obama for a bipartisan summit at the White House.
I think in many ways liberals and progressives are shell-shocked; unable to deal with the enormity of the change that has taken place over the past few years, the reckless and unreasoning hate of a group that says nobody has the right to disagree with them; doesn’t even have the right to ask questions, let alone expect answers. How could anyone have been prepared for this?
Ideological certainty and religious certainty have a lot in common, and modern Republicanism combines the worst of both. We can argue about when and where the politics of fear originated in the American political landscape. We can point at Nixon or we can point elsewhere. But what we have seen over the past two years is something of a degree so extreme that it was difficult to grasp its full extent. It is a new order of hatred.
There is a great deal of Old Testament feeling (and I say feeling and not thinking intentionally) in modern Republicanism. German scholar Jan Assmann (Moses the Egyptian, 1997:1-2) has said that monotheism put the “true” and “false” in religion; I would argue that the Republicans have put the “true” and “false” in politics. I mean by this more than simple agreement or disagreement, or even an ideologically motivated “I’m right and you’re wrong.” True and False (capitalized) have deeper, religious connotations as in ultimate truths and their opposites.
We all remember what happened to those in the Bible who turned away from God. Regina Schwartz (The Curse of Cain, 1997:18, 63) notes the manner in which the biblical narrative paints “inclinations toward polytheism” as “sexual infidelity” and how Israel itself “is castigated for ‘whoring after’ other gods, thereby imperiling her ‘purity.’” The land itself must be kept clean “or its inhabitants will be ejected, ‘vomited’ out of the land…when Israel is not monotheistic, it is filthy and it pollutes the land” (Lev 20.22-25). When Israel worships a foreign deity, she is a harlot, the land is made barren, and she is ejected from the land” (Jer 3.2-3).
This should all sound familiar to you, because it has been put to us again since the rise of the Religious Right, and ever more fervently since, even to the extent that even a president has said atheists are not really citizens. The narrative that America is a New Rome, chosen by God to advance his religion has gained new currency. God is even choosing our presidents and telling individual Republicans to run for office. The Ten Commandments should be preached on every street corner. If you’re not a Christian you aren’t a Republican and if you’re not a Republican you’re not an American. And other religions aren’t really religions at all, but cults. American exceptionalism wears the face of Christian exceptionalism. It isn’t religious freedom they want but religious privilege. The Constitution says all religions are equal. Christianity says the opposite: all religions are inferior to Christianity.
The Pope and Protestant Fundamentalists are in agreement on this much, at least.
Why am I going on about all this? About religion? Because the American political landscape looks an awful lot like that of post-exilic Israel. Because the report spoken of above shows that “58% agree that God has granted America a special role in human history.”
Think back to what Regina Schwartz said. It is not polytheism that is the enemy here (thought it is still an enemy of the American Taliban). The enemy is liberalism, a term that combines atheists and secularists and feminists (and polytheists), gays and lesbians, and any other group included in and by the European Enlightenment. These were all groups rejected by the Old Testament. If you put “liberal” in place of “polytheist” you have the gist of it. Ann Coulter asserts that liberalism is a religion. Liberalism is turning away from God and liberalism is infidelity; it makes America impure and pollutes the land. And God punishes when he is rejected. Look what he did to New Orleans.
“Yeah, you’re hearing me,” God said.
All this being the case, how can any God-fearing Republican have any time at all for any liberal? It’s like inviting a Canaanite to dinner, or for the Republicans in this case, agreeing to meet with the high priest of Baal in his house.
There is a lot more going on here than simply declining to meet with the President of the United States. It is a rejection of Old Testament proportions. The degree of concern over President Obama’s religion is truly astounding. It’s not even that Obama is being portrayed as a Muslim. It’s that his religion is “different.” And the fruits of this attitude are shown in the fact that eight out of ten of those who see Obama’s religion as “different” from their own have a very (51%) or mostly (27%) unfavorable view of him (See the Public Religion Research Institute report on its 2010 Post-Election American Values Survey).
Differences are essential to modern liberal democracy. Plurality and tolerance are its pillars. But the Old Testament doesn’t teach plurality and inclusion; it likes sameness and exclusion. As Regina Schwartz remarks, “In the myth of monotheism, pluralism is betrayal, punishable with every kind of exile: loss of home, loss of land, even alienation from the earth itself. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” The Constitution is a list of rights; the Ten Commandments are a list of “Shall not’s.” The New York Times categorizes the Republican act of ignoring Obama’s invitation thusly:
Beyond the practical implications of this rudeness, there is an increasingly obvious lack of respect for the president and the presidency, with Republicans interpreting their electoral victory as a mandate to act with hubris.
But it is more than that; more than arrogance, more than hubris, as I have shown here. This is the gulf that separates Republicans and Democrats today, a gulf of religious intolerance and rejection, a delegitimizing of the Other. It is not just fear; it is not just paranoia. It is fear and paranoia fueled by apocalyptic religious intolerance and certitude that they are speaking God’s will and that Obama is not.
We liberals need to realize that this is no simple disagreement on policies. This is a disagreement that goes much deeper than that. We need to understand this because it is a hate and a fear that allows no compromise, and we can reach our hands across the aisle until our arms fall off. They won’t accept them because we have no legitimacy. And until we understand that, we cannot begin to fight back.