If Republicans want to shed the marks of extremism and hate that taint their brand, they’ve got a lot of work to do with people like Rudy Giuliani running their mouths.
During a fundraising dinner for potential 2016 presidential candidate Scott Walker earlier this week, Giuliani made incendiary remarks about President Obama. He said, “I do not believe… that the president loves America. He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up, through love of this country.” The comments drew swift criticism from Democratic politicians and sparked the Twitter hashtag #ObamaLovesAmerica, while all of the potential 2016 Republican presidential candidates remained silent on the matter, except Marco Rubio who condemned the comments. When pressed on his remarks by Megyn Kelly in an interview on Fox News, Giuliani repeated his sentiments saying, “From all that I can see of this president, all that I’ve heard of him, he apologizes for America. He criticizes America. He talks about the Crusades and how the Christians were barbarians… This is an American president I’ve never seen before.” Then, in an interview with the New York Times, Giuliani defended himself, saying that his comments were a joke and that they weren’t racist because President Obama was raised by his White mother and grandparents.
Giuliani’s comments weren’t a joke. They were yet another attempt by another conservative political figure to paint President Obama as un-American and as the “other.” This has been a tactic used by Republican politicians and voters alike to defame the president and to rile the party base since Obama’s first presidential campaign in 2007. They othered him by characterizing him as a foreigner, as a racial and religious outsider: they said he’s Arab. He’s Kenyan. He’s Muslim. They demanded he produce a birth certificate as proof of citizenship. Conservative cartoonists depicted him and his wife as jihadists. Others as monkeys, an image with obvious racial undertones. While most Republicans are smart enough not to make blatantly racist comments about him in public anymore, they continue to other him by characterizing his politics, too, as foreign: they say he’s a European socialist, if not a communist, who rejects American capitalism. They say he runs his administration like a monarchy, not a democracy, and describe him as a “king” and a “tyrant.” And with his comments at the dinner, Giuliani sought to other the president by attacking his cultural upbringing as different from his and the guests in the room and lacking of a patriotic “love of America.”
All of this is done with the aim of delegitimizing Obama’s presidency. If he is “not like us,” if he is un-American, then, according to the Right, he has no claim to the presidency, they need not respect him, and they are justified in their hate of his otherness – otherness colored, above all else, by his blackness. Giuliani’s remarks may not be racist in and of themselves, but they certainly lend themselves to the racist agenda to smear the first Black president. They certainly serve the same function as racist slander.
But the reasons Giuliani cited for his original remarks on the president also reflect his disdain for any facts that challenge his inflated, exceptionalist view of America and of Christianity, a disdain shared by many in the Republican Party. Belief in American exceptionalism is not unique to the Right, but the Right’s embrace of it is unique in that the ideology is an integral part of conservative politics and personal identity. Many believe steadfastly that American political, social, and economic ideas and systems are superior to all others, and that the country’s history demonstrates this. Their exceptional conceptualization of the country, too, is infused with religious significance: they hold that the United States was founded by the Fathers on Christian principles – indeed, that this land was predestined by God to house us in freedom from Britain (ignoring the fact that tens if not hundreds of millions of people lived here before us and that our forefathers murdered most of them). They conceive of the United States as, to draw from biblical scripture, the “shining city upon a hill,” a – the – model for all that is good and right in the world, one for all other nations to follow. This understanding of America informs who conservatives understand themselves to be as American citizens – special people. So they reject anything and anyone that challenges this understanding. Thus, Giuliani takes issue when President Obama “apologizes” for, and “criticizes” America because, the way he sees it, there’s nothing to criticize or apologize for. Thus, he didn’t like when the president mentioned the Crusades and pointed out that the KKK committed acts of violence on American soil as recently as 50 years ago, because it flew in the face of his belief that Christianity is exempt from religious extremism, that Islam exclusively is the problem.
Giuliani’s criticism of Obama echoes ideas expressed by Oklahoma’s conservative legislature this week when it passed by an overwhelming margin a bill to ban AP US History courses in high schools, or views articulated by the Arizona state legislature in 2010 when it banned all ethnic studies courses. The author of the Oklahoma bill withdrew it and vowed to resubmit it with amendments after a national controversy erupted, but in justifying the bill, he complained that the AP US History course “only teaches what is bad about America” and depicts the US as a “nation of oppressors and exploiters.” And Arizona lawmakers in 2010 banned African American, Mexican American, and other ethnic studies courses because teaching students “historical facts of oppression and racism” could produce “racial resentment” against White people among minority students. In other words, confronting the historical realities of racial minorities in the United States teaches students to challenge the feel-good narrative of American history that conservatives identify with, which makes White people uncomfortable. The Right, including Rudy Giuliani, is not having that.
As many issues as Rudy Giuliani may actually have with President Obama’s politics, his problem with the president runs deeper than that alone. Giuliani is a man who sought to justify the violation of the rights of hundreds of thousands of Black and brown people who were stopped and frisked in New York City even though police data showed that more than 90% of stops turned up no drugs or weapons and did not result in arrest. People like him reject anything and anyone that challenges their elitist, ethnocentric, White supremacist view of themselves and of what America was, is, and should be. As a bi-racial man who identities as Black, President Obama does that with his very being. Therein lies Rudy Giuliani’s problem.
Read about the the Oklahoma AP US History bill here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/an-unflattering-history-lesson/2015/02/19/3be9cb0c-b878-11e4-a200-c008a01a6692_story.htm/
Read about Arizona’s ethnic studies ban here: http://www.cnn.com/2012/01/11/us/arizona-mexican-american-studies/
Brandon Ellington Patterson is a Senior Sociology major at Howard University in Washington, DC. He was formerly Chairman of the Political Action Committee for the NAACP Howard Chapter. He is a weekly contributor to Politic365 and an aspiring journalist. Follow him on Twitter @myblackmindd.