Faux Faithful Abuse Constitution

by James J. Zogby

Dr. James J. Zogby is the President of Arab American Institute

In a display of faux piety, the 112th Congress opened its first day of business by reading aloud the Constitution of the United States. Referring to it as "our sacred text", one-by-one, over 130 Members of Congress queued up to participate, each solemnly reading a few words before giving way to a colleague who would read a few more.

The entire affair was cloaked in the ritualism and reverence of a religious ceremony and might have been dismissed as harmless, though a bit blasphemous, were it not for its deeper purpose.

This tendency to make "idolatrous worship of the American nation", its rituals, artifacts, and places, is as old as the country itself. In times of war or social distress, such behavior has always been more pronounced. What is of concern is when this "idolatry" is not projected as a unifying force bringing Americans together to confront a common threat. In fact, more often than not, when we see this phenomenon emerge it is to elevate and consecrate a particular interpretation of "America" in order to use it as a club against opponents.

There were aspects of this in evidence in the chauvinism used to mobilize support for World War I. In the post war period, the intensity of these feelings morphed into an anti-foreign-born hysteria. Much the same was at work in the World War II era, spawning another bout of xenophobia, and again during the fractious civil rights/Viet Nam War era with "states rights"/ pro-war advocates claiming to be the true patriots, denouncing their fellow American civil rights/pro-peace advocates as "traitors"

Now with 9/11, two disastrous and unresolved wars, economic collapse, and the loss of confidence in the institutions of government, we are once again seeing the emergence of a movement bent on usurping "America" and its symbols to promote particular political goals. We saw this tendency begin to play out, in little though telling ways, during the Bush Administration. It became especially pronounced during the 2008 election as supporters of Republican candidates John McCain and Sarah Palin wrapped themselves in the American flag, claiming to be the true patriots, while casting doubt on Barack Obama's commitment to the nation (and even to his being an American citizen). Much was made of the fact that Obama didn't place his hand on his heart during the singing of the National Anthem or that he didn't wear a "flag pin" on his lapel, etc. This elevation of trivial and arbitrary practices into required rituals is more the work of a religious cult than politics. And the notion that only those who share a particular set of ideas and practices are adherents of the "true faith" is itself the hallmark of doctrinaire religion, not politics.

Now with the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and the "Tea Party" in the lead, this claim of being the "real American patriots" facing down opponents who threaten the country is full blown. They make much of collective displays of patriotism, casting themselves as latter day revolutionaries who are saving the Republic. In their minds, it is not that they "also" love America and want to defend its Constitution - rather it is "only" they who love America and they are fighting to "take our country back" - with the implication being that it was in "alien hands" not just an opposing party.

This is what brought us to this ritual reading of what they call "our sacred text" and their insistence that all new legislation cite the Constitutional authority granting Congress the right to consider such a measure. What this is about, of course, is the Tea Party's aversion to "big government" and their belief that the policies put in place by Democrats (whether health care reform, an economic stimulus, new regulations for the financial sector, etc) have violated some article of faith of the "American creed".

What is strange is that even while Congress is reading the Constitution, giving it near scriptural status as "sacred text" most Americans, from right to left, have no idea what it is or what's in it. In the first place it is not "sacred". It was written by men, and has been changed by men (although, one would not have learned this listening to this reading, since the Republican leadership only allowed a version to be read that omitted those embarrassing parts that had been amended over time - those, for example, dealing with slavery or women). In addition, Congress, under both parties, has repeatedly passed laws that have violated the Constitution's fundamental principles. Polls show that less than one half of Americans know what exactly the Constitution is (many confuse it with the Declaration of Independence) and a mere few percent can name a majority of the first 10 Amendments to the Constitution (known as the "Bill of Rights"). In fact, provisions put in place during the Bush Administration and maintained by the Obama White House have gutted fundamental rights guaranteed by more than one-half of the Bill of Rights - without the Tea Party and company raising a peep.

It is this that makes the entire situation so worrisome. This is not about reality or politics, it is something quite different. We are not seeing opponents of the President engage in rational debate. What they are doing is more akin to the "faithful" confronting the "infidels". In this scenario, the "believers" have made religious dogma of their views, transformed them, in their own minds, into the one and true interpretation of the "American faith" and they are ready to denounce those who disagree as enemies of the Republic. They are not yet in charge, and so the damage they may do is still limited. But the ritual this group foisted upon the Congress the other day shows they have influence and will use it to run roughshod over the institution, with too few of their colleagues willing to call them out.

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Added 24.06.2018
State terrorism comes in many forms, but one of its most cruel and revolting expressions is when it is aimed at children. Even though U.S. President Donald Trump backed down in the face of a scathing political and public outcry and ended his administration’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents, make no mistake: His actions were and remain a form of terrorism.
Added 22.06.2018
It is now clear that the twenty-first century is ushering in a new world order. As uncertainty and instability associated with that process spread around the globe, the West has responded with either timidity or nostalgia for older forms of nationalism that failed in the past and certainly will not work now. Even to the most inveterate optimist, the G7 summit in Quebec earlier this month was proof that the geopolitical West is breaking up and losing its global significance, and that the great destroyer of that American-created and American-led order is none other than the US president. To be sure, Donald Trump is more a symptom than a cause of the West’s disintegration. But he is accelerating the process dramatically.
Added 20.06.2018
Sessions quoted a line written by the apostle Paul to a small community of Christians living in Rome around 55AD to defend the Department of Justice’s approach. He said: "I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order." Sessions used the Bible because one of the most vocal opponents of the crackdown on asylum cases has been the Catholic Church. It’s no surprise that Sessions appealed to Romans chapter 13 verse 1 in response: not only did he hope to undermine Catholic authority by using the Bible against them, he cited a statement so broad that one might use it to defend anything a government does, good or bad. Picture below St Paul writing his epistles, by Valentin de Boulogne, via Wikimedia Commons.
Added 19.06.2018
 

I find it exceptionally irritating when I hear liberals worry about whether Israel will be able to remain a "Jewish and Democratic State" if it retains control of occupied Palestinian lands.

Added 18.06.2018
Daniel Wagner: "My prediction Korean War will be formally ended, the peninsula will be denuclearised, and a lasting peace will be the result."
Added 14.06.2018
Extract: PiS [ the ruling Law and Justice party] has established the most significant addition to the Polish social safety net since 1989: the Family 500+ program. Launched in 2016, Family 500+ embodies the nationalism, traditional family values, and social consciousness that the PiS seeks to promote. The program pays families 500 złoty ($144) per month to provide care for a second or subsequent child...........The program has been enormously popular. Some 2.4 million families took advantage of it in the first two years. The benefit, equivalent to 40% of the minimum wage, has almost wiped out extreme poverty for children in Poland, reducing it by an estimated 70-80%........... Liberal pro-European politicians and policymakers are not convinced. They complain that such a generous family benefit will weaken work incentives and blow up the government budget. But initial evidence suggests that Family 500+ has actually increased economic activity. It has also reversed the post-communist decline in fertility, increased wages (particularly for women), and enabled families to buy school materials, take vacations, buy more clothes for their kids, and rely less on high-priced credit for basic household needs. And, thanks to rapid economic growth, the government deficit has steadily fallen, not grown.
Added 12.06.2018
The depths of hypocrisy of the Republican Party in supporting Trump’s meeting with the North Korean dictator in Singapore are hard to plumb. This is a party whose leading members adopted the Ostrich Foreign Policy Principle for decades. If you don’t like a country’s government or political and economic system, pretend it does not exist.
Added 12.06.2018
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has spoken out against China’s strategy of “intimidation and coercion” in the South China Sea, including the deployment of anti-ship missiles, surface-to-air missiles, and electronic jammers, and, more recently, the landing of nuclear-capable bomber aircraft at Woody Island. There are, Mattis warned, “consequences to China ignoring the international community.” But what consequences?
Added 12.06.2018
With a general election approaching in September, Swedish voters are being warned that now it’s their turn to be targeted by Russian interference in the democratic process. According to Sweden’s Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB), which is leading the country’s efforts to counter foreign-influence operations, such interference is very likely, and citizens should be on the lookout for disinformation and fake news.
Added 11.06.2018
Extract: "While the presidency has grown stronger over the years, during the Trump administration Congress has been timid and subordinate. That is because the leaders of the Republican Party – which controls both the House of Representatives and the Senate – are frightened of Trump’s base. They cannot afford to alienate the roughly 30-35% of Americans who passionately back him, ignore his personal transgressions, tolerate his degradation of the country’s civil discourse, favor his brutal treatment of immigrant families, and don’t mind that he is leaving the US almost friendless in the world."
Added 08.06.2018
Has North Korea’s ruler, Kim Jong-un, made a strategic decision to trade away his nuclear program, or is he just engaged in another round of deceptive diplomacy, pretending that he will denuclearize in exchange for material benefits for his impoverished country? This is, perhaps, the key question in the run-up to the summit between Kim and US President Donald Trump in Singapore on June 12. Until then, no one will know the answer, perhaps not even Kim himself.
Added 07.06.2018
Some analysts even project that, before long, Facebook will hold more data on its users than any government. Meanwhile, it makes a lot of money from this data. Its advertising revenues came up to around US$40 billion in 2017 (up 50% from 2016). With Google, it holds an 84% market share in online advertising.
Added 05.06.2018
Roseanne Barr is an American comedian whose fictional TV character of the same name is a working-class Trump supporter. For those who remember the show “All in the Family,” she might be usefully compared to Archie Bunker, the crude proletarian patriarch from Queens, New York. Barr’s show was swiftly canceled late last month by the television network ABC, not for anything her “character” said in her show, but for a tweet in which she described Valerie Jarrett, an African-American former adviser to Barack Obama, as the offspring of the Muslim Brotherhood and “Planet of the Apes.”
Added 04.06.2018
 

When Donald Trump was elected, I, like many others feared what his presidency might do to the country. A year and a half into his term in office, our concerns have been justified. 

Added 01.06.2018
Extract from the article: "While the West’s relative decline is almost inevitable, its economic dysfunction is not. Yet pessimism can be self-fulfilling. Why undertake difficult reforms if a dark future seems preordained? As a result, accepting and anxious pessimists tend to elect governments that duck difficult decisions (witness Germany’s grand coalition), while angry pessimists make matters worse (by voting for Donald Trump’s “America First” agenda or for Brexit, for example). It doesn’t have to be this way. As French President Emmanuel Macron has demonstrated, bold leaders can succeed with a message of hope, openness, and inclusion, and by promoting a vision of progress based on credible reforms."
Added 30.05.2018
It has been nearly two years since the United Kingdom narrowly voted in favor of leaving the European Union. As the march toward Brexit – formally set for the end of next March – proceeds, fundamental questions about the nature of the future UK-EU relationship remain unanswered. Instead, every time a tough decision must be made in the negotiations in Brussels, British ministers kick the can down the road, or even into the long grass. This is somewhat surprising. Apparently, none of the politicians and newspaper editors who plotted for years to get the UK out of the EU thought much about what would happen if their machinations succeeded.
Added 30.05.2018
Discussions are now underway to establish a system of joint deposit insurance for eurozone banks. Proponents of the scheme, with the European Commission and the European Central Bank (ECB) taking the lead, point out that deposit insurance would avert the danger of a run on banks in times of crisis. While this argument is true, critics emphasize the disparity in risks, owing to the high share of bad loans on the balance sheets of banks in some countries. To address this risk disparity and move ahead with the plan, balance sheets will need to be cleaned up before considering the next step. While the share of bad loans for banks in the stable eurozone countries is just 2%, the most recently published International Monetary Fund statistics, from last April, show a share of 11% for Ireland, 16% for Italy, 40% for Cyprus, and 46% for Greece.
Added 29.05.2018
Trump’s decision cannot be justified by any breach of the agreement on Iran’s part. It is, rather, a return to the old, largely unsuccessful US policy of confrontation with Iran. The only difference this time is that the Trump administration seems determined to go to the brink of war – or even beyond – to get its way. If the administration has any plans for keeping Iran’s nuclear program in check in the absence of the nuclear deal, then it is keeping them a secret. Judging by some of the administration’s rhetoric, it would appear that airstrikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities are on the table. But bombing would only delay Iran’s nuclear program, not stop it. Would Trump then consider a massive ground war to occupy the country and topple the regime? We know all too well how that strategy worked the last time it was tried.
Added 28.05.2018
US President Donald Trump’s abrupt decision to cancel his planned June 12 summit with Kim Jong-un represents a diplomatic coup for the North Korean leader, and an even bigger victory for China. In the space of just a few months, Kim’s image has gone from that of international pariah to that of thwarted peacemaker.
Added 23.05.2018
The good news is that the United States and China appear to have backed away from the precipice of a trade war. While vague in detail, a May 19 agreement defuses tension and commits to further negotiation. The bad news is that the framework of negotiations is flawed: A deal with any one country will do little to resolve America’s fundamental economic imbalances that have arisen in an interconnected world.