Saturday, March 29, 2008

Wright versus the Right: It's the Nationalism, Stupid

It's a bit late to be weighing in to the Jeremiah Wright controversy, but I will make one comment on the subject. Various liberal bloggers have asked why what Wright said is any more shocking than what various right-wing ministers have said. Why is it acceptable to blame the 9/11 attacks on the United States condoning homosexuals or pressuring Israel to give away part of the West Bank, but unacceptable to blame the attacks on imperialist US foreign policy. Why is blaming Hurricane Katrina on a schedule gay rights march in New Orleans more shocking than saying that the aftermath shows how little the US cares about black people? Why is Wright's utterly false claim that the US government created the AIDS virus more scandalous than accusing the US of a second Holocaust for condoning abortion. Why is Wright's "God damn America" for racist sins worse than right-wing ministers' warning that we incur God's wrath by not allowing prayer in school?

Naturally their conclusion is that it is a double standard -- the right-wing ministers can get away with it because they are white, but Wright is shocking because he is black. Any there may be some truth in that. But there is another really obvious difference between Wright and the right. Their anger at America never goes so far as opposing American nationalism; his does.

If Wright had limited himself to talking about Hurricane Katrina, his remarks would have been less controversial. Katrina was a purely domestic matter. Invoking God, including God's wrath, in domestic politics, is all fine and good. Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell were even willing to blame 9/11 on our domestic policies. But to blame 9/11 on our imperialist foreign policy or, indeed, to criticize our foreign policy as imperialist in the first place, is something different. It suggests that God would side with Them against Us. It calls into question the assumption that, whatever our disagreements at home, all loyal US citizens, including minister and God, should recognize that politics stop at the water's edge. It makes God look like some sort of traitorous Dixie Chick, criticizing the US President while in a foreign country.

Lest anyone doubt this interpretation, consider the one right-wing minister who took God's anger at us for condoning homosexuality to its logical conclusion. To be fair to anti-gay ministers in general, they never condoned Fred Phelps' more extreme and offensive anti-gay hysteria. But Phelps' truly unforgiveable sin was taking the belief that God was angry at America for condoning homosexuality to its logical conclusion -- that God no longer supported American nationalism and would no longer root for us in wars. It was that, more than anything else, that earned Phelps the undying hatred of conservatives everywhere. Phelps has even received the ultimate insult -- his Westboro Baptist Church has been accused of being liberal.

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