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What So Proudly We Hailed.

You’ve got passports, right?

“We always like to talk about how only ten percent of Americans have passports,” said Bob Geldof, “And you… do have passports!” The crowd gathered in the holding area at Heathrow laughed. I laughed. It was the funniest thing Geldof had said in, well, minutes, since he shouted obscenities at a door alarm that kept interrupting his impromptu remarks. He went on to talk about how Americans were really okay, how they care, and how the Americans got a bad rap quite unfairly. It was kind and generous in the same manner that a Mississippian c.1920 publicly affirming the generally okay nature of the average Negro was kind and generous: a mild rebuke to a popular bigotry before the very objects of that bigotry. If you’ve been to Europe lately, to say nothing of the Middle East, you already know — anti-Americanism is in. While there are some few who have some rational basis for it, for the most part it is pervasive, groundless, ugly and raw.

This presents a peculiar problem to men such as Geldof, who despite his occasional lapses in broader judgment is the sort of person who wants to get along for the sake of his larger goal. He is, moreover, not a particularly good hater. The word has long since gone out amongst the Live 8 community that bashing the Administration or the United States will be met harshly by Sir Bob himself. This is unquestionably problematic for many, if not most, within that milieu, who regard the Administration and/or the United States as the root cause of the problems they have flown all the way from Berkeley to protest. So they voice their dislike of their own nation and government sotto voce, in casual conversation and away from on-the-record or recorded remarks. It is a remarkable phenomenon: having internalized the reflexive, degrading criticism of themselves and theirs (they are, you see, representatives of an uncultured, uncaring, uniquely unknowing people), they seek not to rebut it, but to acknowledge its truth, apologize and atone. Rebutting it would be all to easy: they are themselves the counterexamples. But the curious virus of self-hate is pernicious because it is effective, and the American volunteers of Live 8 are not immune.

They’ve got passports.

I skipped this morning’s Live 8 press conference on the theory that canned news isn’t news. But I was wrong in this case. My hard-left journalistic companion related with disgust the things that were said by our American volunteers: They’re here because we’ve done so much to screw up the world. They’re here because we are uniquely guilty of afflicting Africa. They’re here because they have to make up for the crimes of the Administration. They’re here because the Cold War was a fraud used to oppress Africans with debt. They’re here because governments incur debt, not nations, and America is immoral to demand repayment. This man is no stranger to acid critiques of his nation, and his fellow-countrymen of Live 8 made him recoil into patriotism.

Patriotism doesn’t come easy in Edinburgh this week. You cannot walk about town without encountering flyers imploring the common man to “Stop the Bush Reign of Terror!” (Presumably this will be accomplished with giant puppets and thrown trash.) Slogans and speakers harangue on how capitalism, profit, and other evils(!) somehow emanate from the black heart of the American people. “Don’t tell anyone you’re American,” warned a helpful cab driver. Academics at various panels mournfully recount how this or that eternal problem of man — poverty, hunger, disease — remains unsolved due to the machinations of the American. The American, the American, the American leader, the American people. And their influence. And their money. And their desire for domination.

Did I write we are the Negroes of the Old South? No. We are the Jews.

The very font of every injustice ever.

On the Virgin charter flight from Heathrow to Edinburgh, I spoke with a winsome young college girl. Blonde and eager, she was ready to save the world; like me, she had been to the townships of the Cape Flats in South Africa. Clad in a t-shirt demanding that America “Drop the Debt,” she spoke of how she hated Cape Town. “I couldn’t stand those skyscrapers and symbols of white capitalism, while the real people were down there in the townships. To me, it was the total end result of, like, capitalist exploitation to see that.” I thought this over. Not merely because I love Cape Town, but because I knew that the inequalities of South African apartheid were the result of the single largest socialist sector in the Western world, if you considered Afrikaner-ruled South Africa part of the West. Actual capitalism would have allowed entrepreneurship and self-betterment amongst all South Africans; the apartheid regime forbade that, and the resultant misery is on display today. She knew none of this: she saw suffering and evil, and equated it with capitalism. Her views on America I could as easily guess. Instead of saying any of this, I nodded. I was weary, and she was dumb.

Still, a small idea did enter my mind. I excused myself and walked to the galley. “Since,” I said to a stewardess, “we’re all away from home today, could we get a cabin announcement wishing us a happy Independence Day?” She brightened and readily agreed. As I walked back to my seat, the stewardess’ voice came over the cabin announcement system: “On behalf of the captain and crew, we’d like to wish all our American friends a very happy Independence Day!” “Hooray!” I said. A few people in the cabin gave some desultory claps. And then, silence.

Later in the day, I walked alone into a corner store for some water and food. The two men at the counter were evidently Muslims from south Asia, with accents as Scottish as any I’d yet heard.

“You’re from America, eh?” one asked.
“Yes,” I said, immediately wary.
“Did you celebrate Fourth of July?” asked the other.
“Only in my heart,” I replied.
“Well,” said the first, smiling, “happy Independence Day!”

And so, for a moment, it was.

Share  Posted by Josh Trevino at 5:44 PM | Permalink

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