The Bush and McCain ideology of national extinction
At President Bush’s annual Ramadan dinner at the White House this week (did you know the president has an annual Ramadan dinner?), he announced: “For the first time in our nation’s history, we have added a Koran to the White House Library.” Yippee! I’m all in favor of the White House Library having a copy of the Koran, which, obviously, any good library ought to have. Furthermore, I dearly wish that our president would actually read some of it, particularly Sura 9 with its instructions on killing infidels. But from the nature and circumstances of Bush’s announcement, he seems to be conveying, not just that a book has been added to a library, but that the religion of Islam, which commands the conversion, subjugation, or death of all non-Muslims, is receiving additional official recognition from the U.S. government; perhaps the Koran being added to the library is an Arabic Koran, which for Muslims is the only real Koran. Any way we look at it, it shows the incoherence of this administration. One week, Bush gives a speech announcing that “radical Islam,” not just “terrorism,” endangers the world, and he garners widespread plaudits from conservatives for taking a more serious stand than he has in the past against militant Islam. The next week, he takes a symbolic step to legitimize Islam in America, and the only mainstream columnist who notices is Diana West. But really, there’s no surprise here, no betrayal, and nothing to be alarmed about. It’s simply the continuing working out of the “compassionate conservative” agenda that Bush ran on in 2000—meaning, on each and every issue, a dollop of conservatism combined with liberal substance.
On a deeper level, it’s the working out of the American creed itself. As Senator McCain said in a speech last week at the Al Smith Dinner in New York City:
We are a nation of many races, many religious faiths, many points of origin. But our one shared faith is the belief that a nation conceived in an idea—in liberty—will prove stronger, more enduring and better than any nation ordered to exalt the few at the expense of the many or made from a common race or culture or to preserve traditions that have no greater attribute than longevity.According to McCain, the meaning of America is that we have no common culture and no coherent set of traditions, but give equal freedom to all cultures, traditions, and religions. Such a cultureless society is stronger and more enduring than any other. Indeed, our “one shared faith” is that our nation “will prove … better than any nation … made from a common … culture.” Now this is a pretty radical definition of America, yet it is only the latest stage in the continuous detaching of America from its historical self—all in the name of freedom. Up to the 1990s, centrist liberals and conservatives such as McCain insisted that America had a common culture, that immigrants must assimilate into it, and that they were assimilating into it. This expansive common culture, we were told, made it possible for us to absorb endless waves of non-European immigrants into our society without losing our fundamental character, indeed, without losing anything at all.
But now, five years into the era of Bush,—who as a candidate in 2000 celebrated the spread of the Spanish language and the Hispanic culture in the U.S.—talk of a common culture is gone. Now, because the cultures we have been importing are not assimilating as was promised, but are manifesting their differences more and more and demanding freedom and recognition as cultures, a common culture—our common culture—is a bad thing, relegated to the ash heap of history along with tyranny and superstition. And since a common culture is a bad thing, a national tradition, which is a synonym of a common culture, is also a bad thing: in McCain’s treatment, a tradition has no value other than “longevity.” The only thing that defines us now is an “idea of liberty.” But what is this liberty for? Since we are not allowed to have any common culture or code of values (a culture is a code of values, after all), what can we pursue with our exalted freedom, other than the ever-expanding freedom to do what we want? But what should we want? What is the shared notion of the good that tells us what is good for ourselves and our neighbors? There can be no such common notion of the good, because a common notion of the good is an attribute of a common culture, which is a bad thing.
So on the individual level, our freedom is the freedom to seek ever more freedom for the sake of freedom, while on the collective level, our freedom is the freedom to open ourselves to the ever greater inclusion of other cultures so that we become a country of ever more races, ever more religious faiths, and ever more codes of moral value, all expressing themselves with equal freedom. In short, “progress” for America means that whatever remains of our historic culture, and of ourselves as a recognizable people, shall grow less and less. This is the fun-filled future unfolding before us, the ever-advancing pursuit of personal emptiness and collective extinction—until, inevitably, other peoples and religions, who have not followed our path, take over what is left.
And now we understand the true meaning of Bush’s announcement that a Koran has been added to the White House Library—it is a small yet notable step toward our true national destiny.