Grotesque Nationalism


the sea venture.jpg
(“The Sea Venture in a Heavy Sea in 1609”, Jesse Helms (R-NC) revved up traditional American isolationism into a variant of what I frequently call “pugnacious nationalism”.
Helms hired and trained hundreds of leading national security and foreign policy operatives during his tenure on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and morphed together strident isolationist sensibilities with the seemingly conflicting but, in the end, happily cooperating neoconservative movement.
But after reading John Jeremiah Sullivan’s new article in GQ, “American Grotesque“, I think “grotesque nationalism” may fit just as well as “pugnacious nationalism.”
Read the entire, fascinating essay (which I think can only be purchased in magazine form right now) — but I want to share two clips here — one recounting a battle between pugnacious colonists sent from England to relieve the embryonic Jamestown colony and ‘would-be socialists’ on the expedition. The other is a selection on an assault by a group of anti-health care reform zealots on a town hall meeting hosted by Congressman Tom Perriello (D-VA) in Virginia.
And when you are done, for more — go check out Max Blumenthal’s Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party.
America’s First Revolution — Pugnacious Colonists vs. Socialists, from “American Grotesque”, GQ, January 2010:

The first American Revolution was fought over socialism, in 1609. This is never mentioned. Even before slavery and the Indian genocides, it’s a founding schism.
In that year, a ship called the Sea Venture wrecked off the coast of Bermuda. She’d been on her way to relieve the struggling infant Jamestown colony in Virginia. So the ship hadn’t even reached here yet–that’s how early this was.
Among the passengers were several of separatist tendencies, the Brownists and Familists, whose ideas about society and Christianity had been shaped by the radical sectarian movements that rose up before the English Civil War. These were the parents, then, of the Levelers, Diggers, and Quakers (the people you read about in Christopher Hill’s 1972 classic, The World Turned Upside Down). Most of those movements contained at least some communitarian element.
The passengers made it ashore and right away set to work building another ship.
Some of them did. The others said, What are we doing? Why are we killing ourselves to get to Jamestown, where they’ll put us to work as colonial drones until we starve or get eaten by heathens, when we have everything we need on this island? Fresh fruit, seafood, plenty of space. Let us live here in common, worshipping God and sharing the bounty of the earth, and no man shall be master to any other.
Nor was there was any indigenous population in Bermuda. It was terra pura, pure soil.
What happened? The ones who intended to go to Jamestown tried to imprison, banish, and execute the ones who wanted to stay. The latter ran off into the forest.
The governor killed one of their leaders, a man named Henry Paine, to set an example. He wanted to hang him, but Paine begged to be shot, as more befitting a gentleman. His last recorded words were “The governor can kiss my arse.” That’s literally what he said.
In the end, almost everyone went to -Jamestown and perished.

Siege on Perriello, from “American Grotesque”, GQ, January 2010:

I ARRIVED AT the town-hall meeting in Virginia on time, but the doors were locked. Too many people inside already; the fire department had made the call. A bunch of us stood outside, going through the ritual bonding gesture of greeting each new person who came up to try the door. “It’s locked,” we mutter in friendly warning. Really? (Trying anyway.) What the hell? “We know! What the hell!”
I asked a willowy redheaded woman who looked about 40 why she was there.
“Because I’m afraid,” she said. “I’m -really afraid of this president. I mean, they’re starting to talk about limits on family size, how many children you can have. In our America.”
A guy came up and pulled on the door. “Figures,” he said. “He’s a liberal” (meaning the Democratic congressman hosting this town hall).
People around me snort and harrumph, but there are some guys here from a union.
“Oh, some of us are pretty smart,” a white-bearded one of them says.
“Oh yeah?” the guy says.
“Yeah,” the labor guy says. “Some of us even have master’s degrees and Ph.D.’s.”
Pretty tame, as political combat goes, but still you could tell it made the people in our little group edgy. (A couple of days later, someone bit somebody’s finger off at a Move-On event. We were ready.)
Three people exited, the fireman let in three, that’s how it worked. It took me over an hour to sausage-press my way through this process into the hall itself, where Representative Tom Perriello (D-Va.) was facing questions from a constantly self-refreshing queue of disgruntled Republican constituents. It turned out I needn’t have worried about missing anything; this meeting would go for hours. It seemed every person who’d come intended to speak.
As we shuffled up the hallway toward the room with the microphones, distinct words began to emerge from the doors. The one we heard clearest and loudest, and that generated the biggest response by a huge measure, was “socialism.”
A man you couldn’t see from where I was standing got up and said to Perriello–he didn’t so much say as intone–“From each according to his abilities; to each according to his needs.” He paused. “Karl Marx said that was the credo of Communism. Now, I want you to tell me the difference between that…and what we’re headed for.”
It was the one time all day the place actually shook.
“But that’s from the Bible,” I muttered. “From the New Testament.” (I couldn’t help it, I used to be a hard-core Christian. Acts 2 and 4: The believers “had all things common…as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.”)
The lady next to me reeled and looked at me like she’d just caught me sniffing my finger.
“It is!” I said.
The next man up to the mike was very somber, soft-spoken, bearded; a study in browns and khakis; he walked slowly. He had been waiting for this moment. “I have one question,” he said to Perriello. “Where in the Constitution does it state that we are required to provide health care for everybody?”

It’s probably taking things too far to say that if the tea-baggers were in control, that America and Americans would perish under their leadership. . .but then again. . .
— Steve Clemons


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