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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Republicans, Xenophobia, and the 'Real America'

Button with racist slogan
Yesterday, I wrote a post I called "Inside the Republican Brain." In it, I explored the GOP's tendency toward cognitive dissonance. Republicans seem to have an ability (or disability) that allows them to hold two completely contradictory ideas in the same head and believe them both equally.

It's often the case that I come across a story that reminds me of a previous post. Normally, I just post a follow-up to my short-form blog, but occasionally, the subject is too long for that -- it requires a second full-length post. In this case, the point that needs to be made is that the love for logical inconsistency isn't the only problem with modern Republican thinking. There's also xenophobia. This xenophobia often manifests itself as racism or homophobia or sexism, but it's all from the same source -- fear of people who aren't exactly like you. We tend to think of this as hatred, since it usually comes across as irrationally angry, but it's clearly fear.

The story that caught my eye was a John Avlon article at The Daily Beast that involves Facebook, racism, and the Young Republicans -- a branch of the GOP that confusingly includes people as old as 40. It also involves another common Republican mistake -- the belief that Republicans are invisible to everyone else.

On Wednesday, [Audra Shay, vice chairman of the Young Republicans and the leading candidate to be elected its chairman] -- a 38-year-old Army veteran, mother, and event planner from Louisiana who has been endorsed by her governor, Bobby Jindal -- was holding court on her Facebook page, initiating a political conversation by posting that "WalMart just signed a death warrant" by "endorsing Obama's healthcare plan." At 1:52, a friend named listed as Eric S. Piker, but whose personal page says his actual name is Eric Pike, wrote "It's the government making us commies... can't even smoke in my damn car... whats next they going to issue toilet paper once a month... tell us how to wipe our asses..."

Two minutes later, Piker posted again saying "Obama Bin Lauden [sic] is the new terrorist... Muslim is on there side [sic]... need to take this country back from all of these mad coons... and illegals."

Eight minutes after that, at 2:02, Shay weighed in on Piker's comments: "You tell em Eric! lol."

Of course, the proper response to such a comment would be "WTF are you even talking about?" but it's really hard to go wrong with any response short of applause. Shay applauded.

She and Pike got called out for the comment, so she "de-friended" the people who complained. Pike was still listed as a friend, although she did post that the comments were "not okay." She deleted Pike's comments and thought everything was over. It wasn't. When another user commented that the whole thing was overblown, Pike came back and commented, "I agree with dale... this is still America... freedom of speech and thought is still allowed... for now any ways... and the last time i checked I was a good ole southern boy... and if yur ass is black don't let the sun set on it in a southern town..."

Yay for lynching! Black Republicans didn't think much of this and, as we speak, Shay simmers in hot water over the whole incident.

This is just another story to add to the long list of racist incidents on the right. Racist emails and blog posts, bigoted talk radio hosts and pundits, have become old news for the Party of Lincoln. "It seems like some of us Republicans are taking our conservative message, mixing it with personal prejudices and racist views, and calling it patriotism," Lenny McAllister, a black Republican activist, told Avlon. "You can cover cyanide with chocolate, but you still can't call it candy."

Nice sentiments, but you wonder how McAllister feels about gays. Or any of a long list of people that Republicans seem to believe aren't really American.

"I am just so fearful that this is not a man who sees America the way that you and I see America," Sarah Palin once said of Barack Obama on the campaign trail. This is the more subtle, the more acceptable form of xenophobia. The question posed by that statement was "Is Barack Obama American enough?" A Kenyan father, a white mom, a period of schooling in Indonesia, a weird name that includes "Hussein." Even the fact that he was raised in Hawaii became a question -- is Hawaii really America?

No one asked that about stand-alone Alaska between Russia and Canada, no one wondered about Panama-born John McCain's "American-ness." Barack Obama's story wasn't a Republican story. And, since we all know that only Republicans are truly American, it wasn't an American story. Where an amendment was once floated to allow Austrian Arnold Schwarzenegger to run for president, a man raised in Hawaii was too foreign and exotic to understand what it really meant to be an American. Austria is white-people-land, Hawaii is not and that Indonesia stuff just makes it all worse. In the minds of many Republicans (and here comes the cognitive dissonance again), Austria is more American than an American state.

As I said, it all comes down to a specific kind of fear -- xenophobia. It's not really about racism, that's just a symptom of the larger disorder. It's about being too different. Too foreign is one thing, too foreign and too "unwhite" is another. If you're not Christian enough or not straight enough, you'll find yourself in the same boat.

The Republican party developed a habit of exclusion a long time ago and it's killing them. By turning everything into an "us against them" issue, even to the point of politicizing religion, they're destroying themselves. In 1980, Ronald Reagan took 55% of the white vote and won easily. In 2000, Bush got 55% of the white vote and had to steal Florida to win. In 2008, John McCain won 57% of white men and 53% of white women and lost bad. Every election cycle, it's the Republicans who are becoming less and less "American enough," because every election cycle those "real Americans" they represent are a smaller and smaller slice of the American population.

Unless they're able to make a fundamental change in the way they think, not only will Republicans continue to find these racist scandals popping up monthly, but they'll find themselves a minority, growing progressively smaller every day.


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M said...

Oh man.


I wish I had the ability to do what you do every day.

To bring all that manic, lingering, American social baggage together and drive it home, presenting it in a way that seemed effortless and sincere, with enough humor to save a reader like me from crying, is why I depend on you for "the goods."

Wisco said...

Thanks! That means a lot.