Saying “no” to the Real America

President Obama bowed before the Japanese emperor Akihito at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on Nov. 14.Wesley Pruden (and practically every other conservative pundit) thinks Barack Obama is a wimp for bowing to Japanese emperor Akihito.   The world is supposed to grovel before the American Imperium; real Americans bow to no one. 

Pruden, the editor emeritus of the conservative Washington Times, is being excoriated by liberal bloggers as an arch-racist.  I doubt he minds.  Pruden has made a career out of pushing the racial envelope.  His readers (real Americans all) cheer wildly each time Pruden oversteps the bounds of civility.  Even better, when liberals rant and rage about racism, the value of the Pruden brand name grows.

Here’s the quote that’s got everybody in Leftyland stirred up:

It’s no fault of the president that he has no natural instinct or blood impulse for what the America of “the 57 states” is about. He was sired by a Kenyan father, born to a mother attracted to men of the Third World and reared by grandparents in Hawaii, a paradise far from the American mainstream.

He no doubt wants to “do the right thing” by his lights, but the lights that illumine the Obama path are not necessarily the lights that illuminate the way for most of the rest of us. This is good news only for Jimmy Carter, who may yet have to give up his distinction as our most ineffective and embarrassing president.

Photo of Wesley PrudenWho does Pruden mean by “most of the rest of us”? 

White people, of course.  You know, “real Americans”. 

If Wes Pruden lived in Middle America he would keep his sentimental hankering for the halcyon days of white supremacy to himself.  But when you live with both feet firmly planted in the world of American conservatism you can pretty much say whatever you like without embarrassment.  Birthers, tea baggers and Fox News devotees are not embarrassed by crude racism; they find it exhilarating.

American conservatism has not always been overtly racist.  The folks who like small governments, fiscal responsibility and traditional values like honesty and hard work haven’t always understood the non-white world.  Old school conservatives could be insensitive and patronizing; but they weren’t mad or mean-spirited about it.

The conservative movement that took shape in the late 1960s was driven by civil rights resentment.  Men like Wesley Pruden want the world to bow and scrape before America in precisely the way black southerners once deferred to white folks.   And for much the same reason.  This is a political philosophy driven by racial resentment.  I’m not suggesting that everybody associated with the conservative movement is bigoted.  It’s not that simple.  But politicians like Richard Nixon (cautiously) and Ronald Reagan (enthusiastically) embraced the sworn enemies of the civil rights movement as natural allies.  Not everyone in the conservative camp was happy with this development, but they all learned to live with it.  You couldn’t survive as a white son or daughter of Mississippi in the early 1960s unless you backed segregation; and you can’t survive within the conservative movement today without embracing white supremacy.  You don’t have to be gross about it, but you must never criticize those who are.

Republican strategy in the South is predicated on the conviction that you can alienate non-white voters and still win elections.  You can’t win every election this way because white voters don’t predominate in every precinct.  But civil rights resentment is so prevalent in the South that an unapologetically pro-white political agenda, even if it comes wrapped in the confederate flag, will push you over the top when it matters. 

Sometimes you have to subtle; often you don’t.

Which brings me back (yet again) to Lydia Chassaniol, the Mississippi Senator who freelyacknowledges her ties to a white supremacy organization.  Were people outraged?  Two or three.  But civil rights resentment runs so deep in Mississippi that not a single mainstream voice was raised in protest.  What good would it have done?  Racism is only racism when it appeals to a small lunatic fringe, right?  If most people are nodding along in agreement you can’t be a racist no matter how egregious your opinions.  The Council of Conservative Citizens is so mainstream in rural Mississippi it is practically invisible.   

Contemporary southern racists are generally nice people.  They go to church, they pay their taxes, they tuck their kids in at night and they vote.  When they see their neighbors on the street they give a great big wave.  They have no beef with black people because blacks and whites rarely interact.  African American adults have the vote but they can’t win (or even influence) the big political races.  African American children attend public schools–in fact, they often have the schools all to themselves. 

Things aren’t ideal outside the South either, of course.  But you can’t win elections in urban America without tossing a bone or two to moderate white and minority voters.  The South is the only region where you can build a career by banging the drum of civil rights resentment. 

How many white southerners feel any real remorse when they reflect on the tragic history of Jim Crow?  Or is this kind of reflection even an option?  Suppose a white southerner were to suddenly “come under conviction” (as we Baptists like to put it).  To whom would he confess?  Who would be willing to listen?  And who would hold her feet to the fires of history in the first place?  It isn’t unusual for white people who renounce white supremacy in clear and unambiguous terms to find themselves disowned by their families.  I can’t imagine a public school teacher or a Sunday school teacher broaching the subject in most white southern settings.  Even in Arlington, Texas the subject is largely taboo in white churches.  White children growing up in segregation academies (now called “Christian schools”) learn nothing about the civil rights movement or the social sins that made it necessary.

Lou Dobbs continued his misinformed rant against the undocumented for years before CNN finally pulled the plug.  But if Mr. Dobbs schleps over to Fox News he will have carte blanche.  The folks at Fox can’t say, “I hate niggers” or “only white folks are real Americans”.  But they are free to speak of an America that only white conservatives could relate to or would want to live in.  That kind of discourse is considered acceptable.

Wesley Pruden doesn’t care if American presidents bow to foreign dignitaries, but he will take any opportunity to take a cheap shot at president Obama.  In the real America presidents have the good sense to be white.  African Americans, Asians and Hispanics are allowed to occupy the occasional place of honor so long as the position is ceremonial or several giant steps from the real corridors of power.  But the big cheese is supposed to a white male.  By being black and having a foreign dad Mr. Obama’s shows he just doesn’t get what the real America is all about.

I repeat, there is no necessary connection between conservatism and bigotry.  Therefore, I am waiting patiently for the first principled conservative to say ‘yes’ to the civil rights tradition and a resounding ‘no’ to the monochrome Real America extolled by pundits like Wes Pruden.

One thought on “Saying “no” to the Real America

  1. Thanks Alan. The Sojourners blogsite “God’s Politics” has a recent blog regarding Obama’s bow to the emperor, interpreted simply as Obama showing proper respect. But many of the comments on the piece think it shows Obama as a wimp. Jim Wallis I suppose (along with Tony Campolo, Lydia Bean, and a few others) prove that “progressive evangelical” is not quite an oxymoron, but it is a rare breed. Perhaps “progressive southern white evangelical” might almost fall into the category of oxymoronic.

Comments are closed.