Ah, Thanksgiving, that time of year when we honor the spirit of humble gratitude so nobly displayed by our Puritan forbearers in 1621. In that year, the newly arrived settlers invited their Indian neighbors to celebrate a bountiful harvest. Such comity, history records, was to define relations between the European settlers and the New World’s native inhabitants. Look no further than the powerful bond forged between Tonto and the Lone Ranger.
This may strike some as bad history. But really, what could be more American than bogus storytelling? We relish bullshit and celebrate its propagators. For that we can thank the Puritans, those iconoclasts fleeing the oppressive conformity of the Anglican Church in Rome. Or was it England? Anyway, the Puritans loathed elitism—that of the religious establishment—and handed down to us skepticism of the professional class and their ghastly facts and figures. Real Americans go with their gut.
Since being a dumb ass kicks ass in the land of the free, we naturally make kingmakers out of numbskulls. David Rothkopf of Foreign Policy calls it Snookism in honor of “Snooki,” the perma-tanned reality television star whose proud vacuity has captured the hearts of a nation of empty-headed wannabes. Consider this holiday season some Washington Snooki’s:
For starters, there’s Joe Barton. The Texas congressman made headlines when he apologized to BP’s CEO for the Obama administration’s $20 billion “shakedown,” referring to a fund established by the company at the White House’s behest to compensate victims of the Gulf oil spill (Did his critique have anything to do with the $1.5 million in campaign donations he received from the oil industry?). Barton is now jockeying to head the House’s Energy and Commerce Committee. To make his case, he circulated a critique of a competitor by Rush Limbaugh in which the radio host condemns the lawmaker for believing in the science of climate change.
John Shimkus, another contender for the same leadership post, has a different take on climate challenge. He asserts that global warming isn’t something to worry about because God promised he woud not harm his creation. “I do believe in the Bible as the final word of God,” the congressman observed. “And I do believe that God said the Earth would not be destroyed by [another Noah-like] flood.”
Such Snookism was memorably encapsulated by one GOP bigshot (allegedly Karl Rove), who derided the “reality-based community,” or those who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” When reality becomes an epithet, lies can be repeated with impunity, as when Congresswoman Michele Bachmann—who, incidently, thinks global warming is a hoax—claimed President Obama’s recent trip to Asia would cost taxpayers $200 million a day, a figure later discredited. No matter. The future is bright for the head of the Tea Party Caucus in Congress regardless of her lack of fidelity to the truth.
When facts don’t matter, simple addition need not either. The GOP triumphed in the past election by promising to reverse Obama’s fiscal recklessness. Yet Republicans are pushing a permanent extension of the Bush tax cuts, including on the wealthiest two percent of Americans (those making more than $250,000 annually), which would cost nearly $700 billion over the next decade. The move is justified on grounds that it would benefit small businesses, a claim that that Eric Toder of the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center calls “largely bogus.” Most of the tax break’s beneficiaries would be—surprise!—successful hedge funds and law firms.
The exemplar of Snookism is Sarah Palin. It is the basis of her appeal. Her snarky condemnation of “liberal elites,” the “lamestream media” and, for that matter, the type of people who use “snarky” in a sentence taps into a longstanding anti-intellectual tradition. If “Real Americans” could just take back the country from such uppity snobs then our greatness would be restored.
Palin’s narrative, if wholly unoriginal, is stunningly effective, as it is only reinforced when her detractors highlight its logical inconsistencies and blatant hypocrisy. Her dangerous idiocy, in other words, is her sword and shield—it powerfully “refudiates” her political opponents by cleverly exploiting the power of victimhood. Call it a smart strategy for a dumbed-down society. Which brings us back to Thanksgiving.
We Americans are going through a difficult period. We fear our nation’s decline, making it difficult for many of us to conjure reasons to be thankful this holiday season. Don’t lament, though. Americans, whatever our differences, eventually come together to solve our problems. That’s our tradition. Just ask Native Americans.