Posted on February 20th, 2015
I know it hardly deserves a response, but there are a few things I have to say in reaction to Rudy Giuliani’s speech to a group of conservative business leaders recently. “I do not believe,” Giuliani said, “and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America.”
His contention is patently ridiculous if you’ve been paying even the slightest attention (“in no other country on earth is my story even possible,” candidate Obama said back in 2008, and continues to say). But Rudy’s outburst doesn’t surprise me, considering the source. Giuliani is known for his cab-driver-out-the-window moments of verbal indiscretion. What hasn’t been focused on is what he said next: “He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.”
And who is this “you, and me?” in his audience? If he’s speaking to a gathering of conservative business leaders and media moguls, you can bet that it’s pure WMW: white, male, and wealthy. That’s the America that’s under threat, in Rudy’s mind.
Of course there’s a long, ugly history of accusing those on the other side of the political aisle of not loving their country. And the racial implications behind Mr. Giuliani’s words are screaming loud for anyone who’s willing to listen. Those who’ve criticized the actions of their country and tried to make it more inclusive have been repeatedly accused of not loving it.
I suppose Rudy would think my love was insufficient as well: I left America (albeit temporarily). Having lived overseas for six years, I realize there’s a lot I love and crave about my country: its music, its funky culture, the friends and family there, the brash, rebellious creativity of the US, its experimental, entrepreneurial spirit, and not to mention its gorgeous scenery. But do I love it less because I also recognize it has a painful history? Can one love America and also recognize the stain of slavery, the one million killed in that act of hubris called the Vietnam War, or the more recent tragic miscalculation in Iraq? It’s an old saw, but we criticize it because we love it and hope to make it better.
If Giuliani had been thinking more clearly (not something he often demonstrates) he might have made his point in a more specific way: “Obama doesn’t love America above everything else.”
This, I think, is the real divide between conservatives and progressives. Every election season, politicians are called upon to pledge their allegiance to the idea of American Exceptionalism. All are required to play. America’s Number One! Nobody can touch us! (And they’re not referring to gun-related deaths.) It’s boosterism, rooting for the team. It is no coincidence that Fox’s other television empire, in addition to “news,” is sports. We can criticize the coach’s decisions, but we must always voice affection for the blue and green (or pick your color).
I’m always reminded of a quote of E.M. Forester’s quote when the dreary exceptionalism debate rears its head: “If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.”
Living overseas as a American expat, gives you a fresh frame of reference on the idea of patriotism and the United States’ place in the world–and it’s a position that many Americans refuse to look beyond. I’ve since come to believe in something that no American politician is allowed to say:
I consider myself human before I consider myself American.
If Obama said these words, there’d be impeachment hearings called at the snap of a finger. But I suspect, like many progressives, he also believes it, though I know he’d never say it. And I think it is a very healthy attitude to have. Obama knows he’s the leader of the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world, and with this comes certain obligations to people other than those who live in your own country. Yes, that’s radical notion, but if you live outside the United States for any length of time, it becomes blindingly obvious.
That’s why Obama has been threading the needle so carefully about how to phrase U.S. actions against terrorists; it’s why he’s trying to address the 1.5 billion people in the world who practice the Muslim faith in a way that the might convince them to remain allies in his fight against radical Islamists or whatever you want to call them. That’s called diplomacy. It’s an approach that looks for long-term solutions rather than an endless series of invasions and retreats, bombing campaigns and cycles of retribution.
Giuliani suggests the latter is the better alternative. It’s a tired story: what we need are endless invasions and re-invasions of Iraq and Iran to avenge our honor, keep the defense industry happy, and who gives a fuck if we piss off the rest of the world? Whatayagonnado? That tactic didn’t turn out so well in Iraq and now we’re stuck with ISIS, the Middle East’s version of the Khmer Rouge, which rose from the ashes of yet another failed state we’ve left in our wake.
Conservatives, who used to speak up so strongly for dissidents in the Soviet Union, now deny there is anything worthy of our attention unless it involves dead white Americans dressed in orange jumpsuits. This is why you will hear no conservative speak about the need for action in Nigeria against Boko Haram, or an initiative to stop the endless bloodshed–six million victims and counting–in the Democratic Republic of Congo, or even a campaign to unseat the psychotic dictator of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, who chuckles as 200,000 of his citizens lie dead.
Giuliani believes we need only pay attention to that privileged audience of his: the powerful American white guys. And someone like Obama can’t possibly fill those shoes–really, they believe, he should be shining them. You’d be surprised by how many of these old white Republicans still cling to the fantasy of Obama’s birth certificate. Because they just can’t believe that someone like that could be president of the United States. The frothing of the conservative commentariat on Obama’s “failure” to call US action against ISIS a war against Islam is just another example of their belief in the president’s illegitimacy. He sympathizes with Muslims. And you know what they say about his religion.. Wink, wink.
Yes, it was horrible, the things Rudy said. But what’s even worse is that people like him believe those things.