Friday, September 07, 2012

Jingoism in politics

An observation about the Democratic convention, and about U.S. politics in general:

As the commentariat stressed, the Democrats were incredibly "muscular" yesterday. Romney didn't bother to thank America's men and women serving in the military in his speech in Tampa last week, but both Biden and Obama did, both committing to support the troops, not least when they come home, but also to ensure that the U.S. retains its military dominance. There was a lot of tough talk. Yes, the Iraq War is over; yes, the Afghan War is coming to an end; but the U.S. under Obama and Biden will not shy away from wielding its military might.

I understand this, and the need for it, if only to overcome the ridiculous stereotype that Republicans are tough and Democrats are soft. And of course you need to do this sort of thing when you have all that Republican propaganda about how Democrats, and Obama in particular, are un-American. But I tend to recoil from militarism, and particularly from the sort of jingoistic militarism that is so much a part of U.S. politics and that was on display last night in Charlotte.

And it's not just the militarism. The usual "America is the greatest country in the world" rhetoric was flying all over the place yesterday, just as it did all week, just as it did last week with the Republicans in Tampa. It's the flag-waving jingoism that is de rigueur if you want to make it in American politics, if you want to avoid the un-American label. This is unfortunate, stunting debate and blinding Americans to the reality both of their own country and of the world beyond, blocking the sort of meaningful change that is needed in a constantly changing world. No one doubts America's power, but is it really the greatest country in the world? Is no other country even close? Can America just decide to lead the 21st century and have the rest of the world cower in the shadow of its awesomeness? I'm not so sure.

I love America a great deal. I'm not American in the sense that I'm a citizen (though everyone else who writes here is), but I'm an American in spirit, an American in almost every way (though I am mostly, I must stress, Canadian). My grandfather was in the U.S. Army and fought on the beaches in France, receiving a purple heart and becoming a radio broadcaster in occupied Germany and then back home doing baseball. I can trace my American heritage back, by marriage, to Davy Crockett. I have a lot of family, family I don't see nearly enough of, down in Alabama. I went to high school in New Jersey and college in Massachusetts. I have this blog dedicated to U.S. politics and culture. Yes, I love America, whatever mixed feelings I may have, and when I am critical it is only because I expect more, because I demand more, from a country that, yes, I do think can and should be great.

But so great as to reduce everything else, every other country, every other people, to relative oblivion, as if Americans are just better people than everyone else? That may play well on the stump, but it's the sort of mindless rhetoric that makes the rest of the world recoil in disgust.

For me, particularly when it comes from Democrats, it's just a huge disappointment (again, even if I understand why they're doing it and occasionally encourage it myself). I expect better of them, just as I expect better of America.

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