Reality Distortion

We need vigilance against the idea that some Americans are more real than others

by Sean Bugg
Published on July 1, 2010, 3:17am | Comments

Reality can be so confusing.

Once again, as we traipse our way through a Supreme Court nomination hearing in the Senate and as Republican presidential hopefuls continue their attempts to portray Barack Obama as something ''other,'' we find ourselves hearing a lot about Real Americans versus, well, everyone else.

Elena Kagan is not a real American for some in the right-wing because she's an Ivy League careerist whose careful planning and precise hobnobbing have placed her near the pinnacle of power. Apparently, Kagan should have put in some time as a chicken farmer or a truck driver in order to fully emerge as a ''real'' American.

It's the same as the case against Obama, recently restated by Rick Santorum, the defeated former senator from Pennsylvania plotting to fail upward by running for the White House.

''Obama is detached form the American experience,'' Santorum told The Iowa Republican. ''He just doesn't identify with the average American because of his own background. Indonesia and Hawaii. His view is from the viewpoint of academics and the halls of the Ivy League schools that he went to and it's not a love of this country and an understanding of the basic values and wants and desires of its people. And as a result of that, he doesn't connect with people at that level.''

This is, of course, claptrap of the most pernicious kind.

It's a complicated thing, being an American, because we're a big, messy people full of beliefs and desires that rarely fit seamlessly together. Our American lives are more often pieces cobbled together as we attempt to balance our freedom to be ourselves, the pressures of our culture, our responsibilities to our communities and the strictures of our ideologies. We can be rural or urban -- or, like me, a transplant to urban life who's never left his rural upbringing completely behind. We can be left or right -- or some combination of the two, depending on the issue before us.

That's actually the beauty of it: Whether you're a saint or an ass -- or some more human combination of the two -- you can claim the mantle of Real American, even if you're the one paradoxically arguing that everyone different from you isn't one.

I believe Rick Santorum is a Real American, as are Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh and Maggie Gallagher and all the others who are committed to making LGBT Americans less than equal. I don't get to pick and choose who makes up that class, although there are many who try -- this particular political vulgarianism isn't confined to the right-wing, though it finds a lot of expression there these days.

Santorum and his ilk think that it's a simple matter to be an American: You simply define yourself and the people you flatter as real and authentic, and everyone else as not.

I've written about this before and, sadly, I'll likely write about it again because it's a demagogic tool too tempting for those seeking power. But it's something all of us as LGBT people should push back against every time we see it because we know how easy it is to be dismissed from our culture and community.

Life in real America is more complex, painful, boisterous and liberating than any ''us versus them'' politician could ever describe. And that's the way I like it.


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