30 April 2008

The Wright stuff

I want to point out this article by Salon.com editor Joan Walsh because it's such a textbook illustration of how liberals will cling to the doughy underbelly of American Exceptionalism as a sop to the Serious Establishment even as they try to keep from choking on the steady warm gusher of truth that's pouring out onto their faces. Walsh's piece analyzing Wright's appearance on Bill Moyers is littered with false equivalence, concern trollery, and flat-out lack of comprehension all in the service of singing "God Bless America" and waiting for a pony to arrive.

Let's start from the beginning. Walsh says about the now-infamous "God Damn America" sound bite:

Talking to Moyers, Wright argued that the famous "God damn America" sermon was a) only condemning bad American government actions, and b) using "damn" in a singular religious sense referring to how God treats those who've sinned horrendously (he went into hermeneutics to explain why most Americans can't understand him). But his explanation was unconvincing. Wright could probably have gotten away with "God damn Bush" for the bloody Iraq war if he wanted to, or "God damn Truman" for bombing the Japanese at the end of World War II, or even "God damn the American government!" for its many mistakes. But "God damn America" -- that's sweeping. It sounds like it's the idea of America, its fundamental principles, that he's rejecting.
It's helpful if you're going to analyze Wright's sermon which culminated in that remark to have actually seen or read most of it. Wright talked about it in more detail with Moyers, and the program aired some extended clips (you can hear the whole thing at the Anderson Cooper 360 blog.). In that sermon, Wright contrasts the nature of man. -made governments with the Christian God, and how the former will chronically lie, change, and fail. Had Walsh actually watched the sermon, she would know that "God damn the American government" is Wright's rather apparent meaning.

The second thing Walsh gets badly wrong is claiming Wright is somehow damning America's "fundamental principles." In fact, Wright's condemnation is clearly conditional. Hell, it's right there in the clip everyone has seen: "God damn America," Wright says, "for killing innocent people," "for treating her citizens as less than human," and "as long as she thinks she is supreme."

And Wright doesn't single out the American government for condemnation. He rolls out a long, though still incomplete, list of governments throughout history who failed and oppressed their citizens, from the ancient Romans, to the imperial British and Japanese among others. But this is, in many ways, a worse slight to the liberal exceptionalists, who believe in America as the transcendent apotheosis of the Enlightenment, able to surpass the petty prejudices of the dusty past.

And I'm on the left. I know huge chunks of it are true. But Wright casts his critique in such an extreme way that the possibility of redemption, the evidence that America can and has and will change for the better, is never considered.
Here comes the predictable Sensible concern trolling. Why don't you mean hippies ever talk about the good news in Iraq America? St. Barack has even said America is the last best hope for the planet; I suppose we need to listen to his message of change so we can become even more perfect!

This is why the liberal flavor of exceptionalism is often more dangerous than the conservative variety. At least the right-wingers will admit the true calling of America is to be a patriarchal white supremacist Christian empire. Liberals think America is just an abusive husband who's always sorry afterward, and they just can't wait to forgive him.

Walsh predictably plays the vapid righty "blame America first" card, then goes on to say.

The long excerpt from Wright's Sept. 16, 2001, sermon was maybe the most disturbing. He compared al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden to African slaves who led slave rebellions in the U.S. He linked the 9/11 hijackers with every decent kind of global freedom-fighter. He linked the killing of American civilians on 9/11 to Americans killing civilians from the Indians to Hiroshima to Bill Clinton's bombing of Sudan to retaliate against al-Qaida in 1998. I deplore all of those civilian killings as well, but 9/11 was indefensible. And to the extent that American foreign policy has played a role in the rise of al-Qaida, and it certainly has, anyone who wasn't a tone-deaf, tin-eared lefty opportunist looking for any chance to push their "analysis" of American evil knew that 9/16 wasn't the time to talk about it persuasively.
I'll give Walsh a little bit of credit here. At least she is reasonable enough not to buy the idea that 9/11 was a bolt out of the blue which no one could have predicted, instigated by fanatics who "hate us for our freedom." And she acknowledges that, before and since, the United States has been dealing out plenty of senseless civilian casualties which far eclipse the numbers of 9/11. But she waves them away with nary an explanation, suggesting that they are somehow "defensible," though she offers none.

Also, Walsh deserves some credit for dealing with some of Wright's most pointed analysis and not zeroed in solely on his beliefs about HIV/AIDS as most of her media colleagues have done. In Wright's sermon in which he claims the AIDS virus was a government conspiracy to commit genocide on black people, he includes it as just one of a number of other government conspiracies, including the Gulf of Tonkin, Iran/Contra, the Tuskogee experiments, phony Iraq intelligence and others, virtually all of which are now a matter of undisputed public record. Yet the press apparently believes the enormity of Wright's mistaken views about HIV envelopes and erases all of his other, correct, opinions we would rather not talk about. He isn't batting 1.000, but he's got a far better record than the press and the Decents would have you believe.

I haven't seen and thus can't comment on any of Wright's appearances since Friday night's interview, but I have noticed a rash of liberals now calling him a narcissist and egomanical, the typical reaction of anyone who challenges them from the left.