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More Reality

Commenting on this post, Julian Sanchez notes that the putatively "real" portions of America -- which, as another commenter pointed out, are less the South than the midwest -- also just happen to be the whitest portions of America. I'm quite sure that when people engage in this real America / fake America discourse they're not consciously trying to say that African-Americans and Latinos are less authentically American than are white folks, but at the same time it's clear that this notion is subconsciously informing their thinking. It's like Josh Marshall hobbyhorse about Democratic "dependence" on the black vote. Not a racist thing to say per se, but something whose logic seems to imply that it's cheating to rely on the votes of these pseudo-Americans. You hear similar things in other contexts where the point is clearly ethnic. Québec separatists, for example, are known to get upset that their last secession referendum failed narrowly enough that the federalist side was depending on the votes of Anglo-Quebeckers to win. The point being that, in their eyes at least, the issue was the sentiments of the real -- i.e., Francophone -- Québecois and not those of English-speakers and First Nations who just happen to live within Québec's borders. Similarly, the tradition in Israel is that things need to pass the Knesset not with a majority, but with a Jewish majority, i.e., without "dependence" on the votes of the Arab parties.

The "real America" sentiment is, I think, a similar one. Israel is a Jewish state, so only the Jewish portions of it are the real Israel. Québec may contain Anglophones, but it's the province of French-Canadians and so only Francophone Québec is the real Québec. America is a white Christian country (formerly white protestant) so only the white Christian parts are the real America. Indeed, the whole "real America" discourse pits the heartland against urban areas that are said to be composed of effete intellectuals and snot-nosed media times, thus conveniently obliterating the (largely working class) minority and immigrant groups who, in fact, form the majority of urban America.

September 27, 2004 | Permalink

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» Real and Ersatz Citizens from Foreign Dispatches
Matthew Yglesias raises a very important issue in his latest post: Julian Sanchez notes that the putatively "real" portions of America -- which, as another commenter pointed out, are less the South than the midwest -- also just happen to [Read More]

Tracked on Sep 27, 2004 3:36:49 PM

» Real and Ersatz Citizens from Foreign Dispatches
Matthew Yglesias raises a very important issue in his latest post: Julian Sanchez notes that the putatively "real" portions of America -- which, as another commenter pointed out, are less the South than the midwest -- also just happen to [Read More]

Tracked on Sep 27, 2004 3:52:47 PM

» The 'Heartland' from Left Oblique
Matt Yglesias has written a very insightful post about the rhetoric of the American "heartland" - i.e. "real" America vs. "fake" America. It turns out that, despite what some people would have you believe, a majority of... [Read More]

Tracked on Sep 28, 2004 2:34:21 AM

» Real America, Real World from The Cardinal Collective
Matthew Yglesias and Belle Waring make the same reasonable point about a Washington Post article about "Being Gay in the Real America". Oklahoma is neither more nor less "real America" than Greenwich Village. This is the same point as the... [Read More]

Tracked on Sep 28, 2004 3:56:11 AM

» Swingin' in Real America from Three Guys
While Yglesias and Waldman do a good job of not playing tit-for-tat with the Republicans' un-American regionalism, I think a lot of Dems see the South as... [Read More]

Tracked on Oct 31, 2004 3:27:02 PM

» Real America from Mountebank
Matthew Yglesias picks up on a comment from Julian Sanchez that the putatively real portions of America which, as another commenter pointed out, are less the South than the midwest also just happen to be the whitest porti... [Read More]

Tracked on Jan 4, 2006 9:10:49 PM

Comments

So are you saying that the perception of New England as not being the 'Real America' is informed subconsciously by the perception that New Englanders are black or Latino, and consciously by the perception of them as effete intellectuals? The top part of your post suggests the former while the bottom suggests the latter. This seems an odd mix of sentiments -- urban ethnic minorities and intellectuals are at opposite ends of the effeteness spectrum. My money is on the second part, for what it's worth.

Or maybe we judge the American-ness of a place by how salt-of-the-earthy its white inhabitants are?

Posted by: Neil Sinhababu | Sep 27, 2004 3:16:56 PM

Maybe people only see the white portions of America as "America" because of the white hoods in front of their eyes.

Posted by: scarshapedstar | Sep 27, 2004 3:18:14 PM

The interesting question, however, is why the Washington Post (not a part of the 'real America') indulges this silliness.

Or what politicians, including many from the coast, mean when they refer to the 'heartland'.

Posted by: Dan Ryan | Sep 27, 2004 3:31:58 PM

Just got back from the Notre Dame Latin Department, and Hewitt's "potestas democraticorum delenda est" may be more literally or accurately translated "The Dominion of the Democrats must be destroyed."

"potestas -atis f. [power , ability, control]. Esp. [political supremacy, dominion; the authority of a magistrate, office, command]; concr. [an officer, magistrate]."

Now maybe you gave an idiomatic translation I am unaware of, or maybe Hewitt has an out in that he can say not the party, just the Democrat's power over us everyday real American's lives.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Sep 27, 2004 3:33:51 PM

I really, really think this is one huge strawman.

When John Madden waxes poetic about "real football," defensive struggles in the rain and mud and snow, do you really think he's making a rational objective judgement about what it takes to win a superbowl?

It's just a throwback to the perceived roots of the nation -- pioneering insular communities.

It's NOT a value judgement, it's not a blueprint for the new conservofascist dominion, it's just a throwaway statement. And should be treated as such.

John Madden can pine away all he wants. The Superbowl will be won by teams that can throw the ball on astroturf under a dome.

Posted by: Jim | Sep 27, 2004 3:50:45 PM

Hmmm.... doesn't the South, as a whole, have a greater proportion of black Americans than any other part of the U.S.?

Overall, it is a bit puzzling. Here's my guess on how it works: generally, the Southern and mountain (and, to a lesser extent, midwestern) states are generally, in spite of their political clout, poorer, less well educated, more violent, etc, than coastal states, due to a variety of factors, from the fact that shipping is just plain easier over seas than over land, giving coastal regions all over the world, from Africa to the U.S., an economic boost, to cultural and historical factors to state governmental policy.

Conservatives are attracted to places like Alabama for its culture, and feel free to heap scorn and prejudice on the coasts ("What would you expect from a senator from Massachusetts?") because of their view that it is multicultural and value-less, and their desire for authenticity and tradition drives them to the poorer and more tradition-oriented regions of the U.S.

Meanwhile, liberals, while they may feel more at home in Berkley than in rural Mississippi, are wary (and rightly, IMHO) of attacking the latter, because talking about the inadequacies of comparatively poor, underprivileged people is blaming the victim. A lot of the people in Mississippi didn't CHOOSE to be born there, after all, and while they'd rather enlightenment, prosperity, and cultural freedom uplift Missourians and Kansans, they don't want to be judgmental about the status quo which they currently embrace. Nor do liberals want to be excessive boosters of Massachusetts and California: they may like living there, but praising the richest, best educated, and most priveleged (on average) parts of the U.S. seems unnecessary: those who really need advocacy are the poor and oppressed, after all. What liberal in his/her right mind praises the male sex for their ability to earn 35% (or however much) more than women, and 15% more than the average? What liberal praises rich white people for their low rate of violent crime?

So, the end result is that, because of cultural factors, conservatives priase what is commonly called the heartland, and attack the coasts, while liberals feel a distrust for the well-to-do and privileged that prevents them from praising the coasts and a sympathy for the poor that prevents them from attacking the heartland, so overall the impression one gets is that the heartland is a place of special moral value relative to the rest of the U.S.

Posted by: Julian Elson | Sep 27, 2004 3:51:22 PM

"Now maybe you gave an idiomatic translation I am unaware of"

How's this: "The power of the Democrats must be destroyed." (I finally get a chance to use my newfound knowledge of Latin!)

Posted by: Abiola Lapite | Sep 27, 2004 3:55:46 PM

Bob's referring to something Matthew posted on Tapped.

When Hugh Hewitt writes "potestas democraticorum delenda est" he's clearly imitating Cato the Elder, who used to end all of his Senate speeches by saying "Carthago delenda est" (Carthage must be destroyed). Carthage was a rival city, and the only serious threat to Rome's power in the western Mediterranean. When the Romans finally did get around to following Cato's advice (in 146 BC), they burned down the city, took it apart, and prevented the site from being rebuilt for a century.

(There's a popular notion that the Romans sowed Carthage with salt so nothing would grow there anymore, but that's false: there's no ancient testimony for it, and the idea first shows up in the 1400's or so. Julius Caesar established a colony there about 100 years after the city was destroyed, which certainly suggests that the site was able to support a sizable population.)

Hewitt may have his tongue in his cheek a bit, but his motto calls for the complete destruction of the Democratic party. It's a bit silly, though--"democratic" isn't a Latin word, it's Greek. If you're going to make up a pretentious motto in a dead language, you should at least make it authentic--but American politics is so different from classical Roman and Greek politics I don't really see the point.

Posted by: Bob Violence | Sep 27, 2004 4:00:40 PM

Hmmm.... doesn't the South, as a whole, have a greater proportion of black Americans than any other part of the U.S.?

I think this is true, and its why in my first comment to the earlier post, I guessed that maybe it had to do with immigrants. But that doesn't quite hold either, as states from Arizona to Florida have many, many immigrants.

Matt's comment about "white Christian America" seems to hold. It may be crass to say, but "real America" could be just as easily defined as the areas that have a relatively small Jewish presence. Of course "effete intellectuals and snot-nosed media times" are often euphemisms for just this sort of claim.

Posted by: right | Sep 27, 2004 4:02:06 PM

Jim -- Sorry, but it's not just a straw man. It's a very effective political tool for marginalizing certain political viewpoints by dismissing the people who hold them as less than "real" Americans.

Julian -- As a liberal Californian, I can't deny that some liberal Californians do, in fact, heap scorn on people in the economically depressed south. I remember, at about age 12, realizing that one of the few acceptable prejudices in my community was the belief that anybody with a southern (especially "hick" southern) accent was stupid -- though, of course, if you'd called people on it, they would have admitted that this attitude was bigoted. I wish it were otherwise, but we're all, in some sense, provincials. Still, living in a diverse community does at least plant the seeds of the understanding that "different" doesn't necessarily mean "bad" or "wrong."

Posted by: janet | Sep 27, 2004 4:05:31 PM

Ugh... this sentence was a mess, as far as pronouns go: "A lot of the people in Mississippi didn't CHOOSE to be born there, after all, and while they'd rather enlightenment, prosperity, and cultural freedom uplift Missourians and Kansans, they don't want to be judgmental about the status quo which they currently embrace."

the "they" in "they'd rather enlightenment, prosperity" etc, refers to liberals, as does the "they" in "they don't want to be judgmental," while the "they" in "status quo which they currently embrace" refers to traditionally-minded heartlanders.

Posted by: Julian Elson | Sep 27, 2004 4:10:01 PM

Seems to me one of the problems is the word "American." Are there enough definitions in the dictionary to cover the many ways the word is used?

For example, I can tell a race baiter that his remarks are "un-American," and that's true, in the sense that they don't comport with the American ideals of equality and tolerance. On the other hand, racism has a long and continuing history here in America, so race baiting is indeed "American," looking at it in a different, matter-of-fact sense.

People who claim, or imply, that blacks, Latinos, and other minorities (or liberals, for that matter) are not "real" Americans are saying that these people don't fit their narrow, idealized version of what makes an American: of European heritage, English-speaking, white, with "traditional values."

Like the word "values," the word "American" has been hijacked by those on the right and defined to meet their own purposes. When you take on their mythology, it's hard to argue with facts. You need a mythology of your own. The idea of "the melting pot" is a good place to start, an all-embracing, inclusive concept, and one of the great ways to describe our experience. That's not to say, though, it is universally accepted.


Posted by: JJF | Sep 27, 2004 4:13:32 PM

John Madden can pine away all he wants. The Superbowl will be won by teams that can throw the ball on astroturf under a dome.

The funny and ironic thing here is that there is a clear racial subtext to these kinds of statements as well. I'm not pinning this on you, but on those sports commentators who pine for three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust football or baseball players who "do the little things" or basketball games with no dunking.

Posted by: JP | Sep 27, 2004 4:16:41 PM

I still hold that it's a strawman, because it's drawing sweeping, generalised conclusions from a very narrow (and negative) interpretation of what people mean when they might say "real America."

Janet, yes it's true it can be (and is) used to crude political effect. But I don't believe that is its sole (or even majority) usage.

Just as poverty and racism and any number of liberal issues can be pandered to by politicians. Just because the pandering is noticed under some circumstances does not mean that poverty and racism do not exist.

Posted by: Jim | Sep 27, 2004 4:17:41 PM

"America is a white Christian country (formerly white protestant) so only the white Christian parts are the real America."

Anybody got a demographic breakdown of the RNC? It was really bad 75 years ago, when Republicans overtly attacked Catholics, Italian, Polish;it was better 30 years ago; with the resurgence of the South I am kinda interested in the ethnicity of the people in the audience in New York.

Saying the base of the Republican Party has finally come to terms with Catholicism is like saying they have overcome racism because than can find an Alan Keyes.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Sep 27, 2004 4:25:06 PM

Janet -- you're certainly right about some liberals heaping scorn on Southerners, Midwesterners, etc. Hell, I'm a midwesterner from an academically-oriented, liberal St. Louis family, and they do it. Generally, politicians are more careful about what they say than their constituents. You'll find very little overt racism in the Senate (look at the reaction to Lott and Dodd, who didn't even make "real" racist remarks (at least not then and there), but merely praised people with racist histories), but there's prolly lots more around dinner tables throughout the U.S. (sometimes in my family -- good liberal all -- there's a tendency for conversations about crime to mysteriously segue into conversations about the racial composition of various neighborhoods. If I bring up the point, they'll realize that they're doing it but just goes to show how ingrained this is.) Similarly, while many average liberals are prejudiced against heartlanders, I think most would say that holding that prejudice is wrong, and politicians like Kerry and Dean don't bash Mississippi or Salt Lake City the way Bush bashes Massachusetts or Hollywood. Judging from what I hear from conservative politicians like Bush, they apparently don't merely harbor some regional prejudice, like many Californians, but also apparently don't even believe that regional prejudice is wrong.

Posted by: Julian Elson | Sep 27, 2004 4:25:22 PM

I think this is about diversity (e.g., immigration of many ethnic groups) in general, not just blacks and Latinos, and reflects a discomfort many whites feel about the increasing diversification of the country (which Republicans have tapped into for support). It also is consistent with Republican attacks on "liberal elites," since liberals are seen (usually correctly) as supporting diversity.

Posted by: Rebecca Allen, PhD | Sep 27, 2004 4:29:42 PM

Why the beating around the bush? Call it what it is: fascism. Remember the big distinction between "true Germans" and the disposable trash that was the rest of humanity?

Is there anything non-Ayran about "real America"? Name one characteristic.

Posted by: Diana | Sep 27, 2004 4:47:26 PM

One basic problem is, had the WaPo article been about a gay Latino's struggle with his community, and been entitled "Real America," none of us would have blinked an eye. Because we recognize that's all part of the real America.

But as it's about a white rural kid, there's this mad rush to ascribe every possible bad motive to the titling.

Perhaps it's not the growth of diversity, but reactive denigration of the majority's "nostalgia," that is causing the discomfort to whites.

Nostalgia only needs to be debunked when it informs present policy. Going further only needlessly riles up people who mean no harm by it.

Posted by: Jim | Sep 27, 2004 4:50:41 PM

they're not consciously trying to say that African-Americans and Latinos are less authentically American than are white folks...

Are you sure? I will admit that I have only read a brief excerpt, but isn't that pretty close to what Huntington is trying to get at
here?

Posted by: Dave | Sep 27, 2004 4:51:46 PM

Bob McManus asked about the social basis of the RNC. An MSNBC survey suggested that 65 per cent of the delegates were protestants, and 33 percent of the delegates to the overall convention professed to be evangelical Christians. In 140 years the social makeup of the Republican party has remained much the same: rural, small-city, and now suburban white protestants. Oh, and add the southern whites who left the Democratic Party just as the civil rights revoultion brought many blacks into that party.

Posted by: g-lex | Sep 27, 2004 4:56:19 PM

Diana-

To answer your question, I'd guess that "real Americans" are probably much fatter on average than "real Aryans."

There I go bashing the "heartland." I'll stop now.

Posted by: drjimcooper | Sep 27, 2004 5:15:35 PM

Jim,

I think that how one reacts to this "real Americans" language is analogous to how women react to certain kinds of exclusionary language. Some of the people who use that language don't mean to exclude women; some do. But no matter what the intent, many women (not all) do feel excluded. There was a discussion of this recently on Jeanne d'Arc's blog, Body and Soul.

The way I feel about "Real Americans" being from "the heartland" is similar to the way I feel about the fact that Wonkette was the only female blogger mentioned (other than very briefly) in last weekend's NYT Mag article on political blogs. Apparently, real bloggers are men.

Posted by: janet | Sep 27, 2004 5:24:03 PM


To add to what Rebecca Allen said: it's also consistent with Republican attacks on "political correctness," which is almost inseperable from attacks on "liberal elites."

The reproach against political correctness is sort of an interesting case. The examples often given are of exceptional situations, often on a college campus where a professor, student group or administrator has exercised poor judgment or taken a rigidly dogmatic stance on some issue. But I think that the disdain for "political correctness" would not have caught on were it not symptomatic of a more basic conduct.

That is, I tend to think that it's a reflection that many people accept that certain notions about racial, ethnic, even religious minorities are at least somewhat rightly subject to shame. Yet, these same people may also believe, going by their interpretations of their everyday experiences, that some racist, ethnocentric or xenophobic notions are empirically true. This is a pretty tortured conflict, and the reproach against "political correctness" speaks to it.

Certainly, this balancing act -- telling the audience "We know you're not totally crazy for thinking x, y, z" while accepting in bare principle that racism, sexism and xenophobia are morally wrong -- is the core principle behind a good amount of lowbrow right-wing media. It's pretty obvious on Fox News, screamingly obvious with talk radio or its print equivalent, the NY Post. Christ, then there's David Horowitz, who's managed to perfect the art of postmodern race baiting.

Posted by: jgh | Sep 27, 2004 5:52:04 PM

"An MSNBC survey suggested that 65 per cent of the delegates were protestants"

That is not bad at all, and I give them credit. 35% non-Protestant is possibly even better than actual national numbers. So anti-Catholicism appears to no longer be a problem. Mea culpa.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Sep 27, 2004 5:52:54 PM

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