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When Told You Are Anti-American

By James Rothenberg

March 02, 2021 "Information Clearing House" - Domestic critics of the United States are sometimes accused of being “anti-American”. We’re used to the phrasing, but it is a little strange. If you’re a US citizen, how do you go from American to un-American so fast?

Ok, so we know anti-Americanism has nothing to do with losing citizenship. Much the reverse. The charge is never leveled against anybody but citizens for its traitorous connotation. But there’s no substantive difference between anti-American and un-American, so the terms may be loosely interchanged.

What makes someone susceptible to being characterized un-American? It has little to do with American culture or anything else that Americans deal with in their ordinary lives. It has everything to do with American policy, particularly America’s foreign policy, policy that is not made by Americans per se but by a small, select group of Americans.

Everyday Americans are not incentivized to interpret, let alone challenge, the country’s foreign policy. We’re supposed to thank our lucky stars for belonging to the country that flies God’s favorite flag, and leave American policy to the learned specialists that serve it.

When discussing anti-Americanism, it’s important to distinguish the individual from the state. Disliking other Americans is not anti-American in the sense of the accusation. The concept is mis-named because it is only when you take issue with the state that the charge takes on a sensible meaning. The more precise term would be anti-American state, or anti-state or anti-government, but these do not make for a proper, personal slur.

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The House Un-American Activities Committee of the past century is a good reference point for a further understanding of the government position. The committee investigated people who were suspected of not being American enough. Notably, this did not include the Nazi fascists that our government invited here after the defeat of the Third Reich. The only people targeted were those suspected of being communist, or leaning leftward enough to be considered sympathizers.

This is also a little strange because we were not fighting communists in WW2. We were fighting Nazis, and the communists were on our side. The crucial distinction between the two ideologies that led to differences in their treatment is that Nazis are pro-capitalist and communists are anti-capitalist.

That tells us something. Being anti-American, or un-American, must have something to do with being anti-capitalist. As Americans we’re supposed to understand that socialism is a creeping disease, and militarized capitalism, even if associated with fascist goons, is the cure. If we’ve been waiting for capitalists to get rich enough, billionaires are looking for their first trillion, while the hollowing out of the working class continues unabated since 1968.

That’s where today’s federal minimum wage is in terms of what you can buy with it.

The days of McCarthyism are over thanks to some national image polishing, but in the eyes of the state, if you’re socialist or a left sympathizer you still aren’t American enough. That some individuals come to a similar conclusion is not surprising. We’re predisposed to take the side of our country. We identify with it in the same way that most people in a city, say Baltimore, root for Baltimore's sport teams and not the teams of another city.

With the virtual merger of corporation and state, the political center has been crossed. We live under a two-party capitalist dictatorship consisting of a Republican Party that ranges from right to far right including the newest concoction, alt-right, and a Democratic Party that is near right but likes to think of itself as centrist.

Currently, there are individual progressive Democrats trying to move the party leftward with some success, but there are things a true party of the left would stand for that are well beyond the horizon of this party.

Chiefly, this would entail dispensing with the military and economic enforcement measures of capitalist imperialism. Another way to say this is to recognize the right of self-determination of foreign countries. How cynical it is to choke out the life in socialist countries like Cuba and Venezuela and then use their suffering against them as a comparative with our surpluses!

There are many other things a true party of the left would stand for. How many people, if not persuaded by lifetimes of hyper anti-communism, would be against reorganizing economic life to serve social needs, and not private profit? How many Christians would be against it?

Leftists are painted as radicals when many left positions actually enjoy majority support, like the elimination of a private-profit health care system. The left has been at the forefront of many people’s movements: anti-war, nuclear disarmament, worker’s rights, civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, racial and ethnic equality, and environmental stewardship.

In contrast, U.S. foreign policy is the right-wing foreign policy of imperialism, developed in tandem with the interests of multi-national corporations giving this sector of the capitalist class inordinate control over all of society.

With wealth and income inequality proceeding at runaway speed, the state is in the delicate position of having to maintain a capitalist system that is increasingly at risk of coming apart. Weighing the moral component of left struggle that the state is up against, what other strategy is at its disposal other than to demonize capitalism’s nemesis, socialism, as being too radical for America?

The absence of a left party to countervail the right wing opens ground for authoritarianism, like we’re presently witnessing in many right-wing countries around the world. Brazil is a far-right state, but at least it has a workers’ party. The spectrum of far-right parties in Europe now includes alt-right and neo-fascist, but Europe has its share of left parties in opposition. Israel has become an alt-right state, singularly distinguished by having no left opposition at all.

This does not bode well for the future of the democratic principle, and, as nebulous as what it means to be “American”, we know that it’s antithesis means you’re out of line. The charge of being anti-American relies on the unsupportable assumption that people and the government that rules over them are inseparable. This is incompatible with the idea that we are a free people.

James Rothenberg writes on U.S. social and foreign policy. - jrothenberg3@gmail.com 

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See also

Two US Parties, One Imperial Policy


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