On September 21, 2005, during a political discussion on the Miles Davis Discussion Listserv, a European participant wondered at the “unquestioning dedication” many Americans seem to feel toward their president.An American participant, Patrick Gaffey, replied:
Terry, I sympathize with your difficulty in understanding America today.
A bizarre movement is sweeping America, based on a wildly exaggerated version of Romanticism: individualism idealized to the extreme. The Americans who are part of this movement tend to believe themselves America's most patriotic yet can trace most of their ideals back to the Confederacy and its attempt to destroy the US. Their beliefs frequently include a view of Christianity distorted as violently as the "Islamists" distort Islam, a view of Christianity which also traces back to the old South and attempts to justify slavery. A smaller, closely related, strain proclaim their rebel love for American freedom by displaying the icons of Nazi Germany on their motorcycles or pickup trucks.
Obviously the movement is as volatile as it could be. It brings together Fundamentalist Christians with atheists and Satanists. It brings the religion of Jesus cheek to cheek with a fanatical belief in the most soulless, hollow-eyed form of capitalism. It draws its unity and its strength from the reaction against the Civil Rights Movement and against the attempts in the Sixties to ameliorate some of the damage a century of Jim Crow did to Black America. As Richard Nixon wrenched the Republican Party out of its traditional alignment to take over the constituency of George Wallace by nominating first Clement F. Haynesworth, then G. Harrold Carswell to the Supreme Court, theorists following in the wake of Barry Goldwater were completing a tower of bullshit, explaining why the Confederacy was justified in wanting to leave the US, why the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which finally made it possible for blacks in the South to vote, was unconstitutional, and why, as Ronald Reagan was soon to proclaim, the Federal Government is the problem, which placed him in the footsteps of the Confederates, along with a line of individualists from John Wilkes Booth to Jesse James to Tim McVeigh and Eric Robert Rudolph.
Think about the fact that Reagan is now one of the most popular of former presidents. Ronald Reagan. To find another American president to rate with Reagan, one must step outside the traditional line of the presidency and look at Jefferson Davis. When Reagan kicked off his winning presidential campaign, he thought long and hard about the symbolic importance of his first campaign speech, the one that would set the tone for everything to come. Where would he give the speech? What would he say, that would crystalize for all time the ideals for which he stood? He decided to kick off his campaign in Philadelphia. No, not Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, cradle of American liberty. No. Philadelphia, Mississippi, known to all American for one event. It was the home of the cretins who tortured and murdered three civil rights workers and buried them in a dam in the summer of 1964.
And what did Ronald Reagan say in Philadelphia in 1980, 16 years after the murders? Did he express his regret and sadness for the tragedy and the loss? Did he denounce the killings of three men who were working to advance the all-American right to vote? Did he denounce murderers? Lawbreakers? Mobs? Vigilantes? Disturbers of the peace?
Despite traveling to an obscure town known for only one event, in his speech he never mentioned that event. He never mentioned its victims. The point of his speech was that the people of Philadelphia, Mississippi, did not need the Federal Government sending its voting registrars and investigators to their town to disturb their way of life. He went to Philadelphia to stand up for freedom--for the freedom of the white people of Philadelphia to go on living as they always had.
I don't hate George Bush, but I always will hate Ronald Reagan, if only for that one speech. And today Ronald Reagan is the president held up by millions as the greatest American president. And Ronald Reagan is the spiritual father of the movement which put George Bush, via the Supreme Court, into the White House.
But why, you ask, would Americans defend any president so passionately as some defend Bush, in a postmodern world in which we see so clearly the flaws in everyone? The answer lies in the brilliant little book The True Believer by Eric Hoffer, written in the wake of WWII to consider the twin phenomena of Communism and Fascism. He also spends a good deal of space on religious fanaticism, notably Christian and Islamic. He notes that most assume that a follower who would die for his faith must indeed be a true believer. But then he proceeds to explain that eagerness to die for one's beliefs indicates exactly the opposite: that the "true believer" is filled with doubts. He can only quell his doubts and prove to himself that he really believes--which, of course, he doesn't--by going to the farthest extreme. When you see a fanatical adherent who responds to challenges by becoming more fanatical, whose voice rises to the pitch of hysteria, you know you are seeing someone with deep questions about their position. Followers of the mishmash of "conservative" philosophies represented by George Bush are willing to defend him to a point beyond logic because they don't know how else to quash their own painful doubts.
By Patrick Gaffey
I found this response to the European's bewilderment to be both eloquent and right on point. I have published it with Mr. Gaffey's express permission.
Professor John H. Armwood