This is a story that’s been kicking around a few days, but I thought it was worth mentioning after Erik at Lawyers Guns and Money took a crack at it. Dana Perino threw a fit because the American Humanist Association in Massachusetts is suing to remove “under God” from the mandatory Pledge of Allegiance recited in public schools. There is no doubt in my mind that “under God” is there as Christian indoctrination, which is why conservatives are so damn defensive about it. The point is to have schoolchildren feel like outsiders if they don’t believe in the Christian god, because what other other value could it really have?
Anyway, Dana Perino’s defense of the phrase exposed that yes, the entire point of this is to define some Americans as better than others because of their belief in a mythical being: “If these people don’t like it, they don’t have to live here.” It’s a particularly laughable bit of tantrum-throwing, because atheists and other pro-secular people—a group that includes many believers!—are actually much more accurate in our understanding of the Constitution, which forbids exactly this sort of government endorsement of one religious belief over another.
This “just leave” sentiment trips off the tongues of so many conservatives for a very good reason: In their heart of hearts, many to most conservatives clearly believe the country belongs to them, and that the rest of us are interlopers. That’s why there’s so much resistance to the Medicaid expansion, for instance. Excluding people that aren’t “real Americans” from the health care system matters more than saving money. That’s why the election of Barack Obama has created such a meltdown, with the specific focus on gerrymandering and voter ID laws to reduce the amount of representation of people who aren’t older white conservatives. That’s why they’ll never, ever let go of the hardline anti-immigration bullshit. It’s all about reinforcing the idea that only a certain kind of American is a real American.
Of course, the irony of this is that when you add all the categories of people who don’t count, in conservative eyes, as “real Americans”, you have a strong majority. Consider the list:
- Most people of color
- Poor people
- Muslims and anyone who isn’t in a Christian faith
- Liberal Christians, if you want to be honest about it
- Women deemed suspiciously independent.
- People under 40 who dress like it’s 2013 instead of like it’s suburban American circa 1994
- Anyone who thinks that stop-and-frisk is just as appalling—or more appalling—than the security theater at airports
- Union workers
- Single mothers
- People who judge the crime rates of a city by actual crime statistics, not by wild and often racist assumptions about what goes down in large cities
- People who don’t think jokes about Rachel Maddow’s haircut are funny
- Anyone who thought this video was funny instead of a reason to call child protective services
- Anyone who could name a single song by the halftime act of every Super Bowl since The Who played
- Supporters of the subway kittens
This is hardly an exhaustive list and there’s a lot of overlap, but you get the general gist of it. What’s funny is that the exclusion of most Americans from the “real America”—and the “just leave” sentiments that go with it—is something that’s actually kind of happening to an extent. No, we’re not leaving the country, but the implicit distrust of not just kindness and tolerance but of creativity and culture that’s inherent in the “just leave” sentiment is driving a whole lot of non-“real” Americans to choose to live in communities that respect diversity. That’s one reason you see more geographic polarization on issues like abortion rights.
But this “just leave” attitude is really not working out very well for red states. For instance, blue states are benefiting more than red states by the decline in teen birth rates. Teen birth rates are going up in Texas, but plummeting in California. That’s just one example of the various ways that the lack of a welcome mat for forward-thinking people benefits blue states while hurting red.