“Immediately after the [9/11] attack, seeing the [American] flag all over the place was moving, endearing. So when the newspaper I subscribe to published a full-page, full-color flag to clip out and hang in the window, how come I couldn’t? It took me a while to figure out why I guiltily slid the flag into the recycling bin instead of taping it up. The meaning had changed; or let’s say it changed back. In the first day or two the flags were plastered everywhere, seeing them was heartening because they indicated that we’re all in this sorrow together. The flags were purely emotional. Once we went to war, once the president announced that we were going to retaliate against the “evildoers,” then the flag again represented what it usually represents, the government. I think that’s when the flags started making me nervous.”
— Sarah Vowell, The Partly Cloudy Patriot, p.158
A few days ago I finished listening to Sarah Vowell’s Unfamiliar Fishes, an account of the American annexation of Hawaii in 1898. As a public radio listening, I’ve had the biggest crush on her voice since being introduced to This American Life and hearing her work on that show.
In case you’re not familiar with the story, the annexation of Hawaii came about through the deliberate intervention of the grandsons of American Christian missionaries. The Kingdom of Hawaii occurred five years previously in 1893, led mainly by anti-imperialist American citizens. Basically, it’s another chapter in the all-too-real horror story of imperialist manifest destiny and American exceptionalism; this notion that America has been called by God to “Christianize” other countries and bring their peoples under the authority of Christ—i.e., rich white men armed with the certainty that their theology is the right one, and that their cause is the only just one.
In other words, “Might makes right” (i.e., the Bush doctrine).
The same belief that led the United States to invade and occupy Iraq for 8 years, 8 months and 3 weeks, and Afghanistan since 7 October 2001, is the same one that led nineteenth century American columnist John L. O’Sullivan to remark of Oregon: “That claim is by the right of our manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federated self-government entrusted to us.”
Stand there with a straight face and tell me that the current American foreign wars (i.e., occupations) aren’t experiments in American democracy.
A nineteenth century cartoon of a schoolhouse overseen by a glowering Uncle Sam scowling at childlike representations of rebellious Philippines, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and Cuba has this written on the chalkboard:
The consent of the governed is a good thing in theory, but very rare in fact.
England has governed her colonies whether they consented or not. By not waiting for their consent she has greatly advanced the world’s civilization.
The U.S. must govern its new territories with or without their consent until they can govern themselves.
And when I hear Mitt Romney saying things like, “God did not create this country to be a nation of followers. America is not destined to be one of several equally balanced global powers,” I hear the boats being readied again, as they were in 1820 when the first Protestant Christian missionaries arrived in Hawaii, to dispatch his manifest destiny theology like a virus to foreign shores.
I am becoming increasingly ashamed to be an American. Not only are our students some of the least educated in the Western world, but we’re also the most strongly religious Western country. Every time a Republican opens their mouth to say that women can’t get pregnant from rape, or that homosexuals are the cause of hurricanes, I feel as though the country I was born and raised in is being pulled from my hands just a little bit more.
In 2006, Grace Church Roseville, the church I grew up in got a new pastor. He was young, with fresh, new ideas about how to engage the community and “grow the flock.” At first things were okay. Like any new relationship, we knew it would take time to get to know him and adjust to the change in leadership. But then things started to change in a not-so-exciting direction. Sermons were watered down to appeal to a wider demographic. (The senior pastor now apparently delivers talks from an iPad.) Thousands of dollars were spent refurbishing the sanctuary, with special attention paid to lights in order to “enhance the worship experience” (i.e., put on a flashier show). The point at which I checked out was when they wanted to buy a professional barista machine. I remember sitting in church one Sunday, and as though I’d just woken up, I thought: “This isn’t my home anymore.” The physical room was the same, but it had changed to the point where it was unrecognizable as the place I’d known.
So now conservative Christians are trying to force their anti-gay agenda on this country, attempting to overturn the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and derail efforts to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. They claim to not hate gays, and perhaps they truly don’t—which makes their work all the more hideous for throwing LGBT Americans under the bus in order to further their political agenda and pander to an ultra-conservative voter base. Because the truth is that there’s a lot of money to be had from evangelical Christians—money that isn’t going to feed the hungry, help the poor and sick, or relieve global suffering.
Apparently stopping those godless faggots from not hurting anyone is more important than being like their Christ.
Regardless 0f what happens in this election, this country is less of a home to me now thanks to conservative bastards like Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, Tony Perkins and Maggie Gallagher. The fact that they’re still being taken seriously makes me wonder if there’s anything left to fight for here.
Sic transit gloria mundi.