October 20, 2016


Trump Targets the Essence of America : To be American means to believe in the Constitution: This narrative, despite its obvious flaws, has kept the country together over the centuries. Now, though, Donald Trump is presenting an altogether different identity for the United States. And the consequences are potentially horrific. (Charles Hawley, October 19, 2016, Der Spiegel)

Every country has a founding myth, a narrative that serves as the foundation of its national identity. Often, such stories don't hold up to historical scrutiny, but that is beside the point. Such stories help nations determine who belongs -- and who does not.

For many countries around the world, particularly in Europe, such narratives are based at some level on race, ethnicity, tribe or some other attribute allegedly inherent in the population in question. In Germany, for example, it is the battle in 9 B.C. in the Teutoberger Forest, where Germanic tribes led by Arminius joined together to defeat the Romans, securing both their independence and territorial ownership. In Romania, it is the notion that they are somehow descendants of the Romans and settled the area before any of the other present-day minorities appeared on the scene. Nineteenth century Irish nationalists sought to trace the country's origins back to the Celts.

The US has always been an outlier. In America, the founding myth does not focus on a particular ethnic attribute, rather it centers on a single document: the Constitution. All it takes to be an American is to believe in the democracy outlined in the Constitution, no matter where you come from. Race, religion, ethnicity: All of that is, according to the narrative, unimportant.

American history, of course, very clearly shows that identitarianism runs deep in the country, particularly when it comes to the racial divide. But American Exceptionalism, flag-waving, overt patriotism, the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance in schools and the peaceful transition of power: All are very clear expressions of the belief that America, the world's oldest democracy, has figured something out that the rest of the world isn't quite enlightened enough to understand. And it's all rooted in what the oft-invoked Founding Fathers wrote in the Constitution.

One of the great shocks of our current election cycle has been the discovery that the American national myth -- that American democracy -- isn't as robust as we thought. Donald Trump is threatening to destroy both.

To be sure, he is merely the extremely grotesque manifestation of the growing disdain for democracy that has developed in recent years on the American right wing, fostered by a Republican Party that never truly recognized Barack Obama as the rightfully elected president of the United States. (Indeed, at a campaign appearance on Saturday, Trump referred to Obama as the "quote 'president.'") He is the product of government shutdowns, of radio talk show hosts who have spent years spouting conspiracy theory after conspiracy theory, of Tea Party Republicans who rejected the notion of democratic consensus and of the opportunistic anti-intellectualism that has become so entrenched in the Republican Party that anyone with any kind of expertise, particularly journalists, is automatically viewed with suspicion and outright hostility.

...was patriotism, not Obama Derangement Syndrome.

Posted by at October 20, 2016 2:13 PM