America The Lost


(Crossposted from the Huffington Post)

After last year’s summer of discontent, I looked back on America’s response to September 11:

A flood of post-September 11 articles asked how the attacks happened, what we would do next, and why terrorists hate us. One savvy pundit asked, Would America keep its head?

We invaded Iraq on trumped-up intelligence. We conducted illegal surveillance on our own citizens. We imprisoned people without charge, here and abroad. We rendered prisoners for torture and tortured others ourselves in violation of international law. All the while, millions of staunch, law-and-order conservatives supported and defended it, and still do. Vigorously.

Did America keep its head? Uh, no.

After an earlier national tragedy, the 1986 Challenger disaster, the broadcast networks filled air time by bringing on psychologists. How absurd it seemed to have TV psychologists telling us how we should feel about it and explain it to the kids. Today, of course, absurd is the new normal. Today we have the conservative Mighty Wurlitzer going all E. Power Biggs on America, telling us 24/7 not how we should feel but whom we should fear. And week by week it is becoming increasingly hard to keep up with whom the home of the brave is supposed to fear.

Which brings us to Barack Obama and Cordoba House, the proposed Islamic cultural center planned for lower Manhattan. In the face of a CNN poll showing that nearly 70 percent of Americans oppose construction of a “mosque” a couple of blocks from Ground Zero, Obama defended religious freedom in a speech last week:

As a citizen, and as President, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America. And our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country and that they will not be treated differently by their government is essential to who we are. The writ of the Founders must endure.

Nearly seventy percent of Americans disagree, and that makes us a lot less exceptional than we think we are. It also cuts clean across the left-right divide. Since the election of Barack Obama and the onset of the Great Recession, the post-September 11 madness has simply intensified and spread.

So this fall, look for a new reality TV series where each week contestants (and the audience at home) choose new scapegoats and the country where they’ll be deported. Contestants will be chosen from a melting pot of skin tones and ethnicities to prove to ourselves the game has nothing to do with fear and prejudice. Something like The Running Man with more Latinos.

In a pre-Cordoba House post at Campaign for America’s Future, I likened the Tea Party to the newly “born again” — their faith as unshakable as their insecurity — only with copies of the U.S. Constitution substituting for the Bible. But with nearly 70 percent of Americans now willing to restrict the free exercise of religion over a mosque in lower Manhattan (and Murfreesboro, Tenn.; Temecula, Calif.; and Sheboygan, Wisconsin?), that critique now extends beyond the far right. How much, really, do we believe in American principles?:

Christian fundamentalists adamantly insist their faith in the unseen is unshakable. But how strong is it, really, when the faith of their fathers is so easily threatened by a fossil? And how strong, really, is the Tea Party’s faith in American democracy if it is so easily threatened by losing an election?

The answers lie not in what principles people espouse — even loudly — in good times, but in what principles they refuse to cut and run from when tested.

And how did the far right flank perform post-September 11? Or in the wake of the 2006 and 2008 elections?

Innocent until proven guilty went out the window. Speedy trials? Out the window. The right to confront your accusers, freedom from unreasonable searches, habeas corpus, the Geneva Conventions, the rule of law, one-man-one-vote, majority rule? All went out the window…

For all the public piety, “Don’t Tread On Me” banners, hands-over-hearts patriotism and conspicuous flag waving, the far right’s faith in America’s founding constitutional and democratic principles is a mile wide and an inch deep.

If CNN’s 70 percent polling figure is accurate, the rest of us are just as lost and in need of some soul searching.

We now return you to our regularly scheduled immigrant bashing.

Categories : Economy, Immigration, News, Obama


  1. Diogenes says:

    A curious factor in this controversy is the silence of leaders of other religions. A radio report this week claimed Cordoba House was patterned after the 92 St. Y (YMCA as it used to be known). So, I wonder why Christian, who often complain of persecution and intolerance, and Jewish leaders have failed to speak out for tolerance, acceptance and neighborly co-existence.

  2. Tom Sullivan says:

    They have spoken out, but in this environment who hears anyone who’s not screaming? But some of the opinion cuts both ways.

  3. Diogenes says:

    Tnx. Missed it. Perhaps I should read more widely. Or Google before I comment.

  4. Tom Sullivan says:

    bluegal declares the Tweet of the week:

    In fairness, we’ve been building ‘ground zeros’ near Iraqi mosques since March 2003.

  5. Tom Sullivan says:

    Bill O’Reilly is worried about people’s feelings. How dare “far left loons” suggest, says Bill O., that those who think building the proposed Islamic center is “inappropriate” are intolerant and are conflating all Muslims (including American ones) with terrorists.

    Wherever would they get such an outlandish idea? Limbaugh Dubs NYC Islamic Center “The Hamasque”

    The left, Karl Rove suggests, is undermining its own credibility. He then opens mouth and inserts foot. In this case, like another 1st Amendment freedom, freedom of speech, the “free expression of religion would be best exercised by not building it here.”

    Who believes that, say, skinheads should show up at a black sorority convention and scream bigoted remarks? Who believes that there is a right of freedom of assembly? Who believes, you know, that neo-Nazis should show up at the B’nai B’rith hotel and have their meeting in the same, you know, the next meeting room?

    Exercise your right to sit anywhere you like, just not in the front of the bus.

  6. shadmarsh says:

    There’s this story too. Regardless of your politics I would think that you wouldn’t want to fall for such an obvious ruse. However, people love to have their fears and prejudices confirmed by authority (in this case the right-wing blather machine)it takes less thought/time. But as they say it’s all shit fer the flowers anyhow because Jesus is gonna be here soon.

  7. Thanks Tom for a really thoughtful post. I agree. The Beck-Limbaugh nexus would have everybody think that only conservatives understand the Rule of Law. But as soon as the liberal principles embedded in the Constitution begin to protect things they don’t agree with, their capriciousness kicks into high gear. Witness this, gay marriage, abortion, the post 9/11 security state, Arizona SB 1070, birthright citizenship, and the list goes on.

  8. Tom Sullivan says:

    FBI interrogator, Ali Soufan, writes in Forbes that the anti-mosque demagogues have just written bin Laden’s next video for him.

    Some kind of strategery, Newt. Fit for the next president?

    The Nation’s Chris Hayes places Stop Islamization of America’s, Pam Geller, in the same fringe pantheon with birther queen, Orly Taitz.

    They must all be from the same planet as Barney Frank’s town-hall antagonist (last August), the same planet on which, as Jon Stewart said, “a mixed-race president and a gay Jew qualify as Nazis.”

  9. Diogenes says:

    Speaking of Newt, 31 percent of Republicans believe Obama is a Muslim according to a Pew poll. I find it hard to believe that many Republicans are that stupid. They would like to govern! So, do they really believe it, or do they answer the poll that way because they don’t like him for other reasons? I have to think the pollsters correct somehow for misleading answers and the results are valid. Republicans!! (There are a few here I think). Stupidity or guile?

  10. This whole debate has just made me sad. Why do so many of my fellow Americans want to disregard the 1st Amendment and equate this group of Muslims with terrorists? I wish our political leaders would stand up for what is right instead of what is popular. Isn’t that one of the advantages of a representative democracy?

    I thought President Obama was going to stand up for it but he revised his statement to make it more politically neutral by not commenting on the “wisdom” of building it. This is of course a purely political wedge issue. If there weren’t elections in November I don’t think we would be talking about this.

  11. Tom Sullivan says:

    Do yourselves a favor. Read.

  12. Jim Reeves says:

    What better diversion to keep the idiots’ (Rep,Dem) attention away from an economy unraveling, looming Iran war, and massive environmental devastation in the gulf, where toxic dispersant spraying continues to sink the oil, under cover of darkness, taking oil slick footage off the news, while limiting BP’s liability to fines based on recovered oil…

  13. Jim Reeves says:

    On a related note Buncombe County is #8 state-wide in foreclosure…,0,325620.story

  14. randallt says:

    Thanks everyone for the thoughtful, informative thread.