Peter Viereck a largely forgotten conservative intellectual, would have found this familiar. During the 1950s, he noted that anti-Communism -- whatever its other faults and excesses -- had the remarkable effect of lessoning inter-ethnic tensions among like-minded activists. Anti-Communist blacks were celebrated and welcomed by anti-Communist whites. Anti-Communist immigrants and Jews were welcomed to the supposedly nativist and anti-Semitic movement. Viereck, who disliked the phenomenon (he said it was akin to xenophobia practiced by a "xeno"), dubbed it "transtolerance."
I'm more upbeat about the dynamic. Of late there's been a lot of debate, largely in the context of the so-called ground zero mosque, about the evils of American identity. Will Wilkinson, an influential liberal-libertarian writer, sees opposition to the mosque as an entirely reprehensible expression of the "cult of American identity" and the "zaniness of right identity politics." The upshot of Wilkinson's argument is that it's absolutely preposterous for the American people to see themselves as a people.
New York Times columnist Ross Douthat recently argued that there are "two Americas." The first America is wholly secular, "where allegiance to the Constitution trumps ethnic differences, language barriers and religious divides. An America where the newest arrival to our shores is no less American than the ever-so-great granddaughter of the Pilgrims." The other America is culturally defined: "This America speaks English, not Spanish or Chinese or Arabic. It looks back to a particular religious heritage: Protestantism originally, and then a Judeo-Christian consensus that accommodated Jews and Catholics as well."
Douthat makes some good points, but he downplays the relationship between what are really the two faces of one America. It is the American conception of itself as a people that keeps it loyal to the Constitution. The Constitution, absent our cultural fidelity to it, might as well be the rules for a role-playing game.
I confess, if Beck wasn't a libertarian, I would find his populism worrisome. But his message, flaws and excesses notwithstanding, is that our constitutional heritage defines us as a people, regardless of race, religion or creed. Is that so insulting to Martin Luther King Jr.'s memory?
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