I wonder why they hate America so
No, I am not talking about Muslim fundamentalists. I think I know why some of them hate America. We are a secular society that has embraced values contrary to theirs, and like the imperial powers of history, we have troops garrisoned among them.
Rather, I wonder why so many Americans appear to hate America—not because we have expanded our military reach around the globe, but because we are a secular society that allows people to embrace values they don’t like: multiculturalism, gay rights, feminism, science. It’s odd that they should dislike and fear Muslim fundamentalists, with whom they seem to have a good deal in common.
I briefly tuned in to a radio interview with Patrick Buchanan the other day. He has a new book out, Suicide of a Superpower, and he was talking in that reasonable-sounding light tenor about his alarm that white Christian people are losing control.* And though I am not using him as a template for conservatives or suggesting that anyone who is not a liberal Democrat is racist (I’m talking to you, Gary Kirchherr**), I see that he is tapping into a widespread anxiety.
For demographic reasons, America is becoming more multicultural. It won’t be long before African-Americans and Americans of Hispanic descent will outnumber white Americans. Younger Americans are more tolerant of homosexuality than older Americans, as reflecting in polling that shows gradually increasing support for gay marriage. Add economic anxiety as people lose jobs or their houses or their retirement funds or all three because of forces over which individual have no control, and you have people feeling threatened and nervous.
This, Karen Armstrong argues in The Battle for God: Fundamentalism in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, is a common thread among fundamentalists in all three of the great monotheistic traditions. Modern scientific, secular society is difficult for them to accommodate into more traditional beliefs, and their reaction is to embrace extreme forms of those beliefs. Tolerance, like multiculturalism, becomes a fighting word.
I would like to see some ground for optimism in things like the changing attitudes toward homosexuality. If more people could see, as I have seen, gay couples in long-term committed relationships—some that have lasted longer than my marriage—they might cease feeling threatened. Or in the profound disgust the public has developed for the current Congress—both posturing, ineffective parties in it. And there are those demographic trends, so deplored by Patrick Buchanan, and so promising.
My sister found my grandmother’s recipe for corn pone (not the corn pone of Mississippi or Tennessee, I think, but a denser, sweeter cornbread that she baked in a bundt pan), and I plan to taste it again soon. The Hamilton Tavern recently introduced a pork belly banh mi (itself a multicultural artifact, blending French and Vietnamese traditions) of which I am inordinately fond. I love and honor the foods my grandmother cooked in Kentucky in my childhood, but I’m not prepared to forgo the delights I’ve discovered as an adult.
This humble example should help to explain to you why I would not care to live in Patrick Buchanan’s whitebread Elysium.
*In his own weird way, Mr. Buchanan is an Originalist. The Founders, after all, were almost exclusively white male Protestant property owners, and they thought that the country ought to be run by white male Protestant property owners. But the White Protestant Ascendancy eventually came around to admitting Catholics, and even some Jews, to the club. May we hope for further expansion?
**Mr. Kirchherr is a fellow editor, and we share many views on editing but differ politically. I write this librul pap, and he makes sharp retorts. I doubt that we will ever agree politically, but when I write here I have to think more carefully about what I say and its implications, so that I write more precisely. Awareness of the gravitational pull of opposing views is one of the things that help to pull people into balance.