Wednesday, July 29, 2009

the madness of race and bloodlines, continued

Over at the Huffington Post, Harry Shearer (as always) makes a great point about the phenomenon about the so-called "birther" movement: rather than a sudden emergence of a lunatic fringe, it fits into the growing toolbox of what passes for political discourse in this country: want to stand in opposition of the current administration? Deny its very legitimacy!
Bill Clinton was reviled by Republicans, partly because he won and partly because he won with the aid of a third-party candidate (Ross Perot), meaning that he enjoyed a plurality, but not a majority of the popular vote. George W. Bush was reviled by Democrats because he didn't win the popular vote at all, and was handed the electoral vote by a 5-4 decision of a Supreme Court so unsure of its reasoning that it insisted its decision in Bush v. Gore not be used as precedent.
The opposition, in both cases, was fueled, energized, and supercharged to a point of near mania by the whiff of illegitimacy. Both the opposition to Clinton and the opposition to Bush drew power, endurance, and bile from the feeling that the incumbent was a rank usurper.
This obsession with illegitimacy reaches back even further. It is, perhaps a sign of our nation's "maturity," moving us in alignment with the older societies of Western Europe. The culture wars of the past centuries in American history involved more or less newly arrived tribes competing for real estate in the new world.

As these original tribes have sired offspring, the argument has shifted, and in a naked wrestling match for power, the ability to stake a true claim of origin has become a new tool.

This goes a long way in explaining the corner minority and multi-ethnic playwrights and performers find themselves in; legitimacy means claiming a bloodline, a community, to which one effortlessly belongs. Rather than seeing racial identities as invented, they are misidentified as organic -- to admit that your identity is created from scratch during your lifetime is to surrender hard-won cultural ground.

But as the political screeching of the past twenty years has shown, with everyone too terrified to move an inch from their hard-won square-foot-plot of turf, there is absolutely no chance of any collective movement.

So long as you argue that Obama isn't the rightful president, there's zero chance we'll be able to enter a substantive debate over his policies. And so long as we argue that there are mutually exclusive ethnic camps in this country, the stories we try to tell will sail over each other's heads.

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