treating palinism seriously

Though I wonder whether it’s appropriate to credit Sarah Palin with a sufficiently coherent worldview (and I mean this with stress on world, since it’s clear that she lacks the life experience, self-reflexivity, and intellectual sophistication to understand either the structure of globalization, any foreign cultures, or the way non-Americans perceive this country) to qualify as “Palinism,” Roger Cohen’s Op-Ed in today’s NYT productively analyzes her assertion of American exceptionalism. For Cohen, the defining characteristic of Palinism is anger, which comes from a building sense of American decline in the popular viscera. This anger is manifest in the widespread and willful ignorance evident in debates over issues from climate change to military strategy; as the left attempts to produce a discourse grounded in fact, the conservative movement continuously adheres to a love of truthiness that exposes its ignorance of the gravity of the matters at hand

The article is particularly interesting when placed into dialogue with Empire as a Way of Life, by William Appleman Williams, which I just read for Race, Empire, and Modernity. While it’s difficult to claim today that any one particular event or discourse is the strongest evidence for Williams’ thesis (since so much points to the imperial character of American political/social/economic ideology), Palinism is certainly a contender. Assertions of American exceptionalism increasingly ring hollow in the Internet age, when your ability means more than the color of your passport.

In his preface, Williams argues that a characteristic of the “imperial way of life” is an inability “to say no to our desires.”  He quotes another historian’s description of “our ‘growing national disillusionment when it appears that the desires must be limited'”, which is a surprisingly prescient evocation of Palinism more than thirty years before anyone outside of Anchorage knew who Sarah Baracuda was. If we take this discussion of desire seriously, it’s possible to read Palinism (and the related desparation of rust belt whites ‘clinging to their guns and religion’) as a truly fetishistic construction. The unreasonable importance Palinists give to trivial social policy is the fetish obscuring their (dis)avowel of American decline. Only an enforced ignorance of the rapidly morphing world order could make denying gay marriage seem worth the effort.

With the financial system collapsing around us and the real vacuity of American wealth no longer ignorable, a truly international awareness is essential. Even Adam Smith’s own analysis supports the need for a global approach (it’s good to fight on their turf):

Riches do not consist in having more Gold and Silver, but in having more in proportion than the rest of the World… whereby we are enabled to procure to ourselves a greater Plenty of the Conveniences of Life than comes within the reach of Neighbouring Kingdoms and States

Instead of colonial plunder, today’s riches are virtual: information, skill, education, creativity, etc. It’s not enough for a Palinist to “know” that we’re in a bad spot because imported stuff costs more, jobs are being “outsourced” in inreasingly creative ways, and people are asking to be paid in Euros. In this century, leaders need to understand education, productivity, energy policy, foreign affairs, cultural production and everything else of importance in relative terms. Thinking America is Exceptional laughs in the face of a global approach because it raises painful truths about our own value. We need our leaders to interrogate this fetishism before we wake up an irrelevancy.


0 Responses to “treating palinism seriously”

  1. Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

What I'm Reading