Obama and Trump: Anti-American Patriots
Obama and Trump are anti-American patriots. That is, both espouse anti-Americanism, Obama by apologizing for America’s past sins throughout the world, and Trump by calling the current political order “a swamp” that he was dedicated to cleaning up.
But their anti-Americanism doesn’t cut very deeply or deeply enough to be illuminating. Rather, it cuts just deeply enough to eventuate in a renewed American patriotism. In other words, their anti-Americanism is a façade behind which is American exceptionalism. Their anti-Americanism doesn’t lead to insights, to what might be called intellectual virtue, but rather it leads to more flag-waving, to moral rather than to intellectual virtue. For both, being a “good American” is sufficient, and much more important than being an intelligent American.
The virtue of anti-Americanism, insofar as it has any, is that it illuminates the defects of our political and social orders. That is, it shows why being a “good American” is not sufficient, that good Americans participate in or condone corruption or viciousness while being perfectly respectable. Americans can be perfectly respectable while opposing universal health care or condoning “collateral damage” that includes killing civilians, including children. Letting people die for want of health insurance or killing them via drones while they remain unnamed are respectable policies, and those who support them are respectable, are “good Americans.”
Insofar as Obama’s and Trump’s anti-Americanism doesn’t challenge “American respectability,” it is little more than hypocrisy. And that hypocrisy means that neither Obama nor Trump would or could act reformers. Obama embraced wars and assassinations, even extending the policies of the Bush/Cheney administration, while “the swamp” Trump promised to drain grew as a result of his administration. The politics of both men reflect the hypocrisy of American moral values, a hypocrisy already visible in the Declaration of Independence, which justified the revolution by proclaiming that “all men are created equal” while enslaving blacks and killing the indigenous.
Until the hypocrisy of our moral values is recognized, there will not, there cannot be genuine reform in the United States. Our moral virtue is compromised, and our well-being depends on our intellectual virtue, on our seeing clearly that the moral virtues we embrace lead us into war, imperialism, and even oppression.