By Sikivu Hutchinson
In an effort to clarify his racist comments about backward Palestinians and prosperous Israel Romney let loose with more exceptionalist flatulence at the National Review: “But what exactly accounts for prosperity if not culture? In the case of the United States, it is a particular kind of culture that has made us the greatest economic power in the history of the earth. Many significant features come to mind: our work ethic, our appreciation for education, our willingness to take risks, our commitment to honor and oath, our family orientation, our devotion to a purpose greater than ourselves, our patriotism. But one feature of our culture that propels the American economy stands out above all others: freedom.”
The American dream, and the manifest destiny notion—held by believers and non-believers alike—that the U.S. is the greatest, most just, most civilized, exceptional, culturally and technologically advanced nation on the planet, has always been the genius milk of Magnesia myth in the midst of terrorism. Suckle the masses on the belief that having a choice of one hundred pair of Nike shoes is democracy and you’ll have them for a penny or a trashy reality show. Snooker them with the bootstraps ethos that anybody—not just privileged white male Harvard dropouts blessed with the advantage of generations of discriminatory entitlement programs—can be Mark Zuckerberg and you’ve manufactured a nation of blissful historical amnesiacs. Since the election of Barack Obama the robotic bleat of American exceptionalism has become legion amongst white conservatives for whom Israel’s apartheid regime is sweet freedom. Opining on Israel’s cultural superiority Romney also declared that, “America’s culture enabled the nation to become the most powerful and beneficent country in the history of humankind.” In the white imagination this coupling of power and beneficence is critically important. First, it obscures the tradition of European American social welfare, principally, how whites have systematically benefited from affirmative action policies that built white wealth, institutionalized segregated residential patterns that stubbornly persist today, and rendered black and Latino capital a virtual oxymoron. Second, it suggests that the pursuit of power at the expense of the Other is not just good for the powerful but is good for the Other as well. So what if the taxes of people of color fund sub-standard schools and housing and breaks for robber barons like Romney and the Koch brothers?
Central to Romney’s message is that American power is fundamentally moral. There was a moral reason why white progress and upward mobility were brokered through New Deal entitlement institutions like the FHA, GI Bill, and Social Security; entities which excluded African Americans for decades and are now savaged as evil big government by the white nationalist right. In Romney’s world the Darwinian influence of American culture fueled suburban manifest destiny for whites, enabling them safe passage and escape from urban ghettoes. People of color who were able to assimilate to Anglo American values took advantage of equal opportunity and prospered; those that weren’t were simply mired in backward ancestral traditions. As Glen Ford notes in his piece “Romney and the Culture of White Supremacy”:
“White U.S. southerners also insisted, during slavery and Jim Crow, that “their” Negroes were the best off in the world because of their exposure to white folks’ religion and way of life. Left to their own devices, however, Black folks’ innate cultural inferiority – i.e., depravity – would do them in…White liberals also believed in the Culture Demon. In the 1950s and early 60s, it was considered politically correct to describe African Americans as “culturally deprived” – meaning, Blacks are disadvantaged by lack of exposure to white culture. Power has nothing to do with it.”
Comparing African American wealth to that of the Palestinians Ford argues, “The 20 to 1 disparity between Israeli and Palestinian per capita income matches the wealth gap between American Blacks and whites (app. $5,000 vs. $100,000 for median Black and white households). The fact that such numbers do not provoke general shock and calls for reparations is proof enough that most whites view the disparity as more a natural phenomenon than evidence of cumulative injustice. Daniel Patrick Moynihan spoke for white folks of the past, present and future when he posited, in 1965, that a Black ‘culture of poverty’ is what keeps Black people poor – not pervasive white racism.” Moynihan, author of the infamous 1965 Johnson administration report “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” is a fitting reference given the blizzard of exceptionalist propaganda fueling the 2012 election. With his nod to manifest destiny and cultural imperialism Romney is set to party like its 1965, or 1865.