The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Hitler Was the Hunter?

Are you kidding me with this shit?

Nope. I guess not. Now, this guy gets handled with kid gloves while spouting this kind of garbage, while Jeremiah Wright gets … well, we all know what he got.

In a conversation with colleague of mine when the “Wright scandal” big news, I concluded that Jeremiah Wright simply said things you can’t say to most white folks, in a way you can’t say them to most white folks, especially if you’re a black man. But John Hagee can go on about how Hitler was part of “God’s plan” (What? God couldn’t find a way to get the Jews back to Israel without killing 6 million of them? Is he as psychotic as Hitler was?), and how great things are going to be when God kills off everyone they don’t like. (Except 144,00 Jews. Perhaps finishing what Hitler started, seeing as how Hitler was a part of the plan. By the way, what part of the plan involved the deaths of the rest of the people Hitler slaughtered?), and how violence in the Middle East is cause for celebration, and that war with Iran is necessary to bring on Armageddon

If you’re a white reverend with these beliefs, you get the ear of the White House on Middle East policy. But remind Americans of just a little bit of truth about their beloved nation?

Many black preachers I’ve known — scholarly, smart, and gentle in person — uncorked fire and brimstone in the pulpit. Of course, I’ve known many white preachers like that, too.

But where I grew up in the South, before the civil rights movement, the pulpit was a safe place for black men to express anger for which they would have been punished anywhere else. A safe place for the fierce thunder of dignity denied, justice delayed.

I think I would have been angry if my ancestors had been transported thousands of miles in the hellish hole of a slave ship, then sold at auction, humiliated, whipped, and lynched.

Or if my great-great-great grandfather had been but three-fifths of a person in a Constitution that proclaimed: “We, the people.”

Or if my own parents had been subjected to the racial vitriol of Jim Crow, Strom Thurmond, Bull Conner, and Jesse Helms.

Even so, the anger of black preachers I’ve known and heard and reported on was, for them, very personal and cathartic. That’s not how Jeremiah Wright came across in those sound bites or in his defiant performances since my interview.

But tell Americans just a bit of truth about their beloved country?

Okay, folks. It’s truth time.

Barack Obama has now weighed in on the Jeremiah Wright nontroversy in exactly the manner that I expected him to, I’ve got something to say about about the whole thing: Jeremiah Wright is right.

This country was founded by landowning (read: affluent) men of European descent for landowning men of European descent. I love Thomas Jefferson. He was a brilliant political philosopher. But when he wrote “All men are created equal” he didn’t mean it the way I take it. He wasn’t talking about the rights of all men. He certainly wasn’t talking about the rights of women. The man owned slaves.

This country was built on the backs of African slaves on land that was robbed in the slaughter of Native Americans. I’m sorry if this offends your bourgeois sensibilities as it isn’t the totally awesome, God-fearing, flag-waving, USA #1!!!1 narrative that we teach to school kids, but it is historical fact.

America is a work in progress. It took people like Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglas to read deeper into the philosophies that birthed this nation. They realized that the rich, white men so many of us proudly call our Founding Fathers had only scratched the surface. And so they joined what would become a larger tradition: the fine American tradition of dissent. One hundred years after the Emancipation Proclamation this country was still segregated. Restaurants, buses, schools, drinking fountains and bathrooms. Again, it took leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. to see that “separate, but equal” was a ruse and that it represented a reading of these ideas that sold them short entirely. And some of these people were told they were too bombastic, too loud and too angry. It took leaders like Bobby Kennedy to see that their anger was well justified and long overdue.

We’ve come a long way since 1776. In many ways, America still represents some of the best hopes of this dream of human liberty. But we are not perfect. We have not yet arrived at our destination. And this country is still largely controlled by rich, white men. You can say, if you wish, that Jeremiah Wright is too loud and too angry, but you cannot say that he is wrong. I’ve been astounded by all of the people on this so-called progressive forum that seem to be held aghast at these ideas. I thought that progressives knew that the Iraq War was predicated on lies. I thought that progressives knew that unilateral support for Israeli policies with respect for Palestine was a source of difficulties in our nation’s relationships in the Middle East at large. I thought that progressives knew that 9/11 didn’t happen because they hate us for our freedom, but because of a complex history of these relationships that go back at least 50 years if not back through the better part of the 20th century. I thought progressives knew that entering the halls of power isn’t easy if you’re not a white man.

If you are black, when white people ask what you think of America, they are really asking if you think like them.

Wright’s references to “Goddamn America,” “government lies” about 9/11, complicity in South African apartheid and “state-sponsored terrorism against Palestinians” are probably more troublesome to many than his comments about how the presidency has been “controlled by rich white people” (it has, hasn’t it?). For maximum effect, the foreign-policy linkages end with a statement once attributable to Malcolm X –“America’s chickens have come home to roost.”

That these remarks occurred in the setting of all-black churches apparently compounds the outrage, converting any loyalty to these words into an act of treason. The most virulent comments I saw repeated on websites usually invited Wright to “get the f*** out of this country.” That sentiment is probably only an extreme version of other suspicions.

Despite the social and religious segregation that must be the precondition to such revelations about how black folks talk, many white voters seemed appalled that over in black churches “they” are not thinking the same American thoughts that I am.

They are really asking what you think of them and the America they identify with.

Other significant features of the pantheon of civil religion are the philosophical tenets (sacred cows) that keep its adherents from peeping behind the throne. When Dr. Wright criticized the role of “rich white folks” or the ruling rich for making many of our lives and folks in the rest of the world miserable he challenged the long-held myth that “you can get rich if you work hard enough.”

Poor white folks and working-class white folks wanted badly to identify with the people who bear their skin color but who are really wealthy and run this country. They badly want to believe that they too can be rich and take their place in the front of the line and be exploiter rather than exploited, boss rather than bossed. Unfortunately, the Horatio Alger tale was a cruel exaggeration, and while a few actually rise above their class status, the rest are stuck. And while working-class whites may look like their richer cousins, the truth is, they are “their color but not their kind.”

Because what you think of them is what you think of America.

No. When they ask you — if they ask you — what you think of America, that’s not what they’re really asking you.

Main thought. Hillary Clinton is not Barack Obama’s problem. America is Mr. Obama’s problem. He has been tagged as a snooty lefty, as the glamorous, ambivalent candidate from Men’s Vogue, the candidate who loves America because of the great progress it has made in terms of racial fairness. Fine, good. But has he ever gotten misty-eyed over . . . the Wright Brothers and what kind of country allowed them to go off on their own and change everything? How about D-Day, or George Washington, or Henry Ford, or the losers and brigands who flocked to Sutter’s Mill, who pushed their way west because there was gold in them thar hills? There’s gold in that history.

John McCain carries it in his bones. Mr. McCain learned it in school, in the Naval Academy, and, literally, at grandpa’s knee. Mrs. Clinton learned at least its importance in her long slog through Arkansas, circa 1977-92.

Mr. Obama? What does he think about all that history? Which is another way of saying: What does he think of America? That’s why people talk about the flag pin absent from the lapel. They wonder if it means something. Not that the presence of the pin proves love of country—any cynic can wear a pin, and many cynics do. But what about Obama and America? Who would have taught him to love it, and what did he learn was loveable, and what does he think about it all?

Another challenge. Snooty lefties get angry when you ask them to talk about these things. They get resentful. Who are you to question my patriotism? But no one is questioning his patriotism, they’re questioning its content, its fullness. Gate 14 has a right to hear this. They’d lean forward to hear.

This is an opportunity, for Mr. Obama needs an Act II. Act II is hard. Act II is where the promise of Act I is deepened, the plot thickens, and all is teed up for resolution and meaning. Mr. Obama’s Act I was: I’m Obama. He enters the scene. Act III will be the convention and acceptance speech. After that a whole new drama begins. But for now he needs Act II. He should make his subject America.

The above, and more, is the content of Jeremiah Wright’s patriotism. It was the content of Frederick Douglas’ patriotism and Susan B. Anthony’s patriotism. and the patriotism of anyone whose ever had the temerity to demand that this country live up to all it promises to be on paper, to all its potential points to as possible. It is the content of anyone’s patriotism whose history lays bare the times and places where America has fallen short. But what Americans, like Noonan, prefer is what Michael Bérubé termed a contentless patriotism.

And needless to say, I think the song is odious almost beyond measure. That’s not because I’m a paid-up member of the latté-drinking liberal cultural elite who sneers at my fellow citizens’ simple, heartfelt expressions of patriotism; it’s because the song’s version of patriotism is completely contentless. Two verses and three choruses, and Mr. Greenwood couldn’t find a single reason to love the U.S.A.? Yeah, yeah, I know, pride, pride, freedom, freedom: “I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.” But free to do what? To fire employees without cause, thanks to the at-will employment doctrine? To abolish the estate tax? To hold up a sign saying that Matthew Shepherd got what he deserved? Or to protest foolish wars, march for civil rights, and support the right of kids with Down syndrome to be educated in regular classrooms where they can go to visit Fort Robideau with their nondisabled peers? “God Bless the U.S.A.” doesn’t say, and that’s what makes it such a perfect emblem of a certain kind of right-wing contentless patriotism, the kind of patriotism that supports the troops by flying flags from cars while supporting a President who leads the troops off to needless slaughter and then cuts their veterans’ benefits. Had Greenwood said anything about that freedom — “I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free of all taxes on my estate of $36 million,” or “I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free to fight for the right to register Mississippi’s black voters in the face of murderous right-wing opposition” — one imagines that his song would be a good deal less popular.

Perhaps that’s the difference, one of many, between Hagee and Wright. In all of Hagee’s inane, insane rantings he doesn’t challenge American exceptionalism so much as he reinforces it, in many ways, among the “white Americans,” we’ve heard so much about lately

Hagee pretends to prophesy about some far off future. Wright’s mode of prophesying also involved signifying on the past to speak the truth about our past and our present, in the hope of a better future. Telling the truth. Black Americans of a certain age know the pitfalls of that route.

Of course, if you get angry enough, you just don’t care.

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