Friday, May 28, 2010

“The American People”: A Rant on One Bit of Retarded Contemporary Political Rhetoric

My passport is issued by the United States of America because I was lucky enough to be born here some 46 years ago and for that I am bestowed this privilege. Now I could launch an interminable rant against the precepts of nationalism and empire, quoting generously the likes of Anderson and Chomsky and Said, but I would be, to a large degree, stumbling out of my league, out of my smarts zone. Simply put, I am not smart enough to do that topic even superficial justice. Instead, I will restrict this rant to a contemporary rhetorical strategy that just stick in my craw (even though I am not sure what a craw is).

It is the persistent, unapologetic, ridiculous wielding of, by politicians of every bent, the phrase “the American People.” Incessantly we hear politicians cite what the American People want, think, do. This is done on both sides of the isle and beyond as though this abstraction represents some real population with which the rhetorician is in direct contact. Rarely do politicians employ any qualifiers when referencing “the American People.” We don’t get a “many” or “most” or “a majority” of The American People, we simply get the all inclusive monolithic category. Most often we are told, without apology or irony, that “The American People,” as in ALL of them, all folks, presumably all folks eligible to get one of those US passports, are this or that or think thusly. This retarded* assertion results in a spike in my pulse rate every time I hear it. “The American People”? Who exactly are the American People? Who is this cohesive group of folks that ANYONE is qualified to speak for wholly and completely, with unbridled authority? Seriously? What the fuck?!

I know this is stating the obvious but I can’t help myself. So I am going to break it down. According to the US Census Bureau clock, there are currently 308,914,355 people living in the US. About a third of these folks identify as racial minorities, a little over half are female, and over 80% live in cities. About 76% identify as “Christian,” with 25% of those identifying as Catholic. Just over 1% identify as Jewish, less than 1% Muslim, and 15% do not identify with any religious tradition.

The median annual household income in the USA is about $46,000 with dual earner households being just over $67,000. If you are Asian the median annual household income is $57,000 and if you are in a Black household it’s $30,000, and for Hispanic it’s $34,000. The top 2.5% of the US population makes more than $250,000. And the national unemployment rate is about 10%. And lastly, according to a 2009 Gallup Pole, 49% of US citizens identify as Democrats and 41% Republicans.

I could go on and on citing various statistics that represent the incredible racial, economic, regional, and political diversity in this US of A. But I will stop here and pose this simple question: WHO the fuck are the “American People” that all these politicians are referring to? Are you telling me that a 65 year old Jewish doctor, a democrat living in NYC making over $250,000 a year thinks EXACTLY the same way as a 30 year old high school educated farmer, a republican, living in the heartland making less than $30,000 a year and facing the decline in his traditional livelihood? Can they be singularly represented by anyone asserting “The American People?” Or how about the WASP AIG CEO, a republican making zillions and the Black union factory worker who just lost his job? Give me a fucking break! The rhetoric is simply retarded, condescending, simplistic, patronizing, and absurd and I would really like politicians to stop using it. I know this will never happen, not in my lifetime, but I needed to write it anyway. Just cause. Just cause I am one of those “American People,” and no, John Boehner, Michelle “loop-dee-loop” Bochman, John McCain, and Sarah Palin do NOT speak for me. Hell, Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama do not completely speak for me. So please, shut the fuck up with the monolithic references to “The American People.” It’s like the tooth fairy or Santa Claus or bipartisanship in DC, a cohesive thing called “The American People” DOES NOT EXIST.

* I am reclaiming the word “retarded,” taking it back from being PC’d into oblivion because it is actually a fabulous word with so many appropriate applications in contemporary politics (and I mean no disrespect to those with developmental disabilities). My Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary (2nd Edition) offers the following definitions:

  • retard- 1: to make slow, delay the development or progress of (an action, process, etc.); hinder. 2: to be delayed. 3: a slowing down, diminution, or hindrance, as in a machine.

  • retardation- 1: the act of retarding or being retarded. 2: something that retards; hindrance. 3: slowness or limitation in intellectual understanding and awareness, emotional development, academic progress, etc.

  • retarded- 1: characterized by retardation. 2: mentally retarded persons collectively.

Retarded is a word I NEED these days to describe what goes on in Washington DC. I feel retarded without it.


Anonymous said...

Wow, you need the word retarded? Nice justification on being a bully. You choose to use a word that you know that when used as slang is dehumanizing to people with special needs.
What you really need is to rethink your position. Yes, I defend your right to use any word you choose. I just wonder why you would knowing who you destroy with it.
You shouldn't have to have a family member with special needs to understand what I wrote, but unfortunately that's the way of the world.

Mer said...

Your comments suggest to me that you have completely missed my point and my satire. "Knowing who I destroy"? Destroy? I know no such thing and it is not my aim (which I state explicitly) to address the community of folks with special needs or to "bully" anyone other than the dysfunctional politicians in DC. And you also presumptuously infer/imply that I do not have a family member with special needs when in fact I do. I will refrain from further explanation as I suspect it would not be welcome. I feel no need to "rethink" my position but thanks for taking the time to read and comment.