The war-hungry GOP's "patriotic" bullies: The truth about its obsession with American exceptionalism

Dick Cheney's ridiculous claims about Barack Obama this week fit into a longstanding right-wing tradition

Published April 10, 2015 4:35PM (EDT)

Dick Cheney                   (AP/Eric Gay)
Dick Cheney (AP/Eric Gay)

It is a well known fact that liberals hate America, or as the always rational Ann Coulter once said, “even fanatical Muslim terrorists don’t hate America like liberals do.” While I would estimate that Islamic terrorists probably hate America just a tad more than liberals, it is true that liberals tend to be less brazenly patriotic than god-fearing, flag-waving conservatives. According to Pew polls, 81 percent of “business conservatives” often feel U.S. pride, while only about 40 percent of “solid liberals” feel the same way. It seems like liberals are just not as infatuated with the idea of America as conservatives are.

And thats what it really is: An endless bout of infatuation (as evinced by the temper tantrums they tend to throw whenever someone questions America's righteousness). Liberals tend to be more circumspect about providing their heartfelt support, and look back on certain things -- like slavery, the genocide of Native Americans, systemic racism, pointless wars, the backing of brutal dictatorial regimes, etc. -- with dismay. Conservatives, on the other hand, would prefer to forget these things ever happened.

But while many Americans no doubt live in this bubble of blind patriotism, the masquerading exterior of patriotism we see from conservative politicians is simply a cover for what it really is -- plain old bullying. On the domestic front, questioning one's so-called patriotism is a tactic that the right uses when someone differs from them politically. It is a classic ad hominem attack, usually a result of losing an argument. The questioning of our president's patriotism has been endless, from his first campaign and up through former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s embarrassing attacksearlier this year. In 2008, Obama was forced to address it: “I will never question the patriotism of others in this campaign, and I will not stand idly by when I hear others question mind.”

On the international front, American patriotism is even more delusional. In the mind of most conservatives, American military operations are, and have always been, honorable endeavors based on spreading American freedom and democracy. For example, when Bernie Sanders appeared on Bill O’Reilly’s show last year, the two had a charged discussion about American interventions abroad. After explaining to the Fox News host that the U.S. spends nearly as much on military expenditures as the rest of the world combined, O’Reilly responded thusly: “Because we’re the ones that protect freedom!” It is a spectacular rationalization that has been told throughout our history, by those on both sides of the political aisles, but most recently (not to mention tragically) by hawkish Republicans.

It is, of course, simply untrue. The last war that had anything to do with “protecting freedom” or democracy was when we were fighting fascism. Since then, military and diplomatic ventures have been more about promoting the capitalistic interest of American industry, and, during the Cold War, fighting the spread of an ideological rival in communism. In many cases, the United States government supported the overthrow of democratically elected governments in favor of murderous dictatorships, on the condition that they opened up their markets for trade. This happened in Chile, where Secretary of State Henry Kissinger assisted Augusto Pinochet in overthrowing Salvador Allende, a democratically elected socialist. This was also the case in Iran, when the American and British governments helped overthrow the democratically elected Iranian government after it implemented a policy of oil nationalization. The list goes on. Most recently, of course, in Iraq, America did little to help the poor country form a strong democracy, but did open it up for American investment.

So, contrary to the patriotic fantasy that American imperialism is about spreading freedom, American imperialism is about opening up markets that can then be stripped for parts.

But spreading freedom sounds a whole lot better, doesn’t it? It makes a deeply opportunistic foreign policy sound noble. And many Americans are perfectly willing to believe that the United States governments actions are simply to protect the inalienable rights of man. So when we go to war in some far off country, our leaders say things like, “All Iraqis who take the side of freedom have taken the winning side,” and, “In this battle, we have fought for the cause of liberty and for peace of the world.” Questioning whether these kind of declarations are always true is not unpatriotic, it is common sense.

This bullying might have been most intense in the aftermath of 9/11, but it extends even into the present, in the words of people like Rudy Giuiliani, and also former Vice President Dick Cheney, who this week called Barack Obama the "worst president ever," while not-so-subtly suggesting that he might as well be a Manchurian candidate:

if you had somebody as president who wanted to take America down, who wanted to fundamentally weaken our position in the world and reduce our capacity to influence events, turn our back on our allies and encourage our adversaries, it would look exactly like what Barack Obama’s doing.

When the President of the United States is giving comfort to the enemy, what must Cheney think of those who actually do voice critical views of American foreign policy?

But here's the thing: Criticizing the actions of America seems to be a whole lot more patriotic than sitting back and buying into false talk of American exceptionalism, when reality tells a different story. One does not have to constantly feel pride about one's country to be a patriot, and carrying on that way can blind a person when their country is actually on the wrong side.

So, yes, conservatives do tend to feel more pride in America than liberals do. But what does this really tell us? Not that conservatives are any more or less patriotic than liberals, but that they are more likely to be fooled by nationalistic propaganda. A rational person looks at their own actions, or their country's actions dispassionately, and is able to admit when they are wrong. Blind patriotism is never able to make such an admission, and will resort to fairy tales in order to defend indefensible actions.

There are a lot of fairy tales in the United States. But true patriots live in the real world; when they see a problem with their country, they seek to expose and to change it -- not mask it with ardent deception.

By Conor Lynch

Conor Lynch is a writer and journalist living in New York City. His work has appeared on Salon, AlterNet, Counterpunch and openDemocracy. Follow him on Twitter: @dilgentbureauct.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

American Exceptionalism Bill O'reilly Dick Cheney Gop Iran Iraq Patriotism Republican Party Vietnam