Two Nations
Liveblogging World War II: The Economist: September 3, 1939

I Just May Have to Readmit Andrew Sullivan into Polite Society

For this, which covers a great multitude of sins--perhaps even the sin against the Holy Ghost:

The Daily Dish | By Andrew Sullivan: One does not quite know what to say about Pat Buchanan's latest. Is it too predictable to note? Or too ugly to record? Or too stupid to ignore? Upon reflection, I'll go with stupid. Take one simple point. Notice that for Buchanan in this column, it is axiomatic that America was once defined by its whiteness. This is what he means by "tradition." America - once uniformly white - is now, for him and those he speaks for, bewilderingly multicultural and multi-confessional. Hence the anxiety. Hence the panic. Hence, in some ways, the confluence of fear and paranoia among the 20 percent of Americans who seem to feel this way and see the federal government in some way as the enabler of this destruction.

But this axiom, while useful as a myth, has a problem. It is untrue. And this "country" that white Americans are allegedly losing is not, in fact, a country. It is merely a self-serving and solipsistic illusion of a country that some white Americans feel they are losing.

From its very beginning, after all, America was a profoundly black country as well.

This took a while for an Englishman to grasp upon arriving here, because it's so easy to carry with you all the subconscious cultural baggage you grew up with. England, after all, is deeply Anglo-Saxon. It makes some sense to refer to England's roots and ethnic identity as white, its language as English, its inheritance as a deep mixture of Northern European peoples - the Angles and the Saxons and the Normans and the Celts. And superficially, English-speaking white Americans might seem in the same cultural boat as white English people, dealing with a relatively new multiculturalism in an increasingly diverse and multi-racial society. And at first blush, you almost sink into that lazy and stupid assumption, especially if you arrive in Boston, as I did, and carried all the usual European prejudices, as I did.

The English, lulled by their marination in American pop culture from infancy, and beguiled by the same language, can live out their days in this country never actually noting that it is an alien land - stranger than you might have ever imagined, crueler than you realized, but somehow also more inspiring than you ever thought possible. This is the America I am trying to make my home, after 25 years. It is not the America of Pat Buchanan's or John Derbyshire's fantasies.

It struck me almost at once, if only in the music I heard all around me - and then in so many other linguistic, cultural, rhetorical, spiritual ways: white Americans do not realize how black they are. Even their whiteness is partly scavenged from the fear of - and attraction to - its opposite. Even something as stereotypically white as American Catholicism, I discovered to my amazement, was also black from the very start. (Yes, those Maryland slaves. If you've never been to a Gospel Mass in an ancient black Catholic parish, try it some time.)

From the beginning, in its very marrow, this country was forged out of that racial and cultural interaction. It fought a brutalizing, bloody, defining civil war over that interaction. Any European student of Tocqueville swiftly opens his eyes at the three races that defined America in the classic text. Has Buchanan read Tocqueville? And that's why it seems so odd to me that the election of the son of a white mother and a black father is seen as somehow a threat to American identity for some, when, in fact, Obama is the final iteration of the American identity - the oldest one and the deepest one. This newness is, in fact, ancient - or as ancient as America can be. The very names - Ann Dunham and Barack Obama. Is not their union in some ways a faint echo of the union that actually made this country what it is?

That some cannot see Buchanan's cartoon as a travesty of history remains America's tragedy of self-forgetting. It reminds me of the way in which Britain always defined itself as a Protestant country, even while, of course, it was deeply, deeply Catholic before it was ever Protestant - and for a much longer period of time. As a Catholic growing up in England, and having genealogical roots in both Catholic Ireland and in Domesday Book England, it took a while for me to appreciate the pied beauty of this identity. Tribalism is a powerful thing, especially for the Irish. I remember one day, as I was herded into the local Anglican church for my high school assembly, thinking: "This ancient building was once mine, ours." But that was before I realized that Anglicanism itself could not be understood without the profound inheritance of English Catholicism - and that Anglicanism was actually a hybrid of Protestant and Catholic Englishness. And that this was England - all of it. And to be truly English was to own it all.

Buchanan, of all people, should know better than these tedious recurring explosions of racial panic. And, of course, he does know better. He has read more history than most pundits. He is personally a civil and decent man. But he feels these things in such a profound and tribal way that what he knows is submerged by tribal fear and expressed as hateful hackery. But this much is true and deserves restating:

Black Americans have shed blood in every American war since the Revolution. This country, even the very Capitol building in which today's legislators now demand to see the birth certificate of the first black president, was built on the sweat and sinew of slaves. Before we were people in the eyes of the law, before we had the right to vote, before we had a black president, we were here, helping make this country as it is today. We are as American as it gets. And frankly, the time of people who think otherwise is passing. If that's the country Buchanan wants to hold onto, well, he's right, he is losing it.

And about time too.

But I am sure that Daniel Davies will have something to say about the claim that "England, after all, is deeply Anglo-Saxon..."