Michael Hamar

America's False Promises

Filed By Michael Hamar | July 20, 2010 10:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: Argentina, Barack Obama, broken campaign promises, gay rights, religious freedom

I often note on my personal blog the vast difference between what the USA claims to stand for - especially in terms of religious freedom - versus the sad reality of what citizens actually experience. Indeed, I wonder at times when the rest of the world is going to seriously take note that the USA is not the promised land that it likes to depict itself to be.

Religious based prejudice against gays and non-Christians is rampant. Racial discrimination against blacks, Hispanics, and other non-whites is pervasive. And in terms of social mobility, recent studies have shown that it is becoming easier to move up socially and financially in other nations than in the USA.

Yet demagogues and others continue to pretend that the USA is special or "blessed by God" - as if God favors one nation over another, at least absent a maniacal regime such as the Nazis. Do not get me wrong, I am not anti-American. I just wish we'd see more honest analysis of the true state of this country.

Now, Glenn Greenwald has picked up on this phenomenon in a piece at Salon. Would that more Americans would recognize the continuing disconnect between what the USA claims it is and the reality - and move to correct it.

Here are some column highlights:

Argentina [Thursday] yesterday became the latest country to grant full and equal legal rights to its gay citizens, as the nation's Senate followed the lower house in approving a bill to recognize same-sex marriages. Because President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has vigorously advocated for the bill, it is now certain to become law.

Argentina is a country with a fairly recent history of dictatorships, an overwhelmingly Catholic population (at least in name), and pervasive social conservatism, with extreme restrictions on abortion rights similar to those found on much of the continent. The Catholic Church in Argentina vehemently opposed the enactment of this law. But no matter. Ending discrimination against same-sex couples is understood as a matter of basic equality, not social progressivism, and it thus commands widespread support.

The contrast with the U.S. is quite instructive and depressing. Not only is the U.S. not close to nationally recognizing same-sex marriage, but we have a law -- the Defense of Marriage Act -- that explicitly bars the granting of any and all federal spousal rights whatsoever (including immigration rights) to same-sex couples. Despite the election of a President who campaigned on a pledge to overturn that law, and overwhelming Democratic control of Congress, repeal of that law isn't even on the table.

Virtually no national politician in the U.S. is even willing to advocate same-sex marriage, and those who advocate granting equal rights as part of "civil unions" refuse to take any real steps to bring that about.

It's worthwhile now and then to take stock of the vast disparity between how we like to think of ourselves and reality. When a country with Argentina's history and background becomes but the latest country to legally recognize same-sex marriage -- largely as the result of a population which demanded it -- that disparity becomes quite clear.

"Old Europe" and now Argentina are embracing equality and modernity. Meanwhile, in the USA - once a nation of progressiveness and modernity compared to others - the forces of reaction and theocracy seem to sadly be gaining more sway, not less. How far will America fall behind the rest of the world before we wake up and realize that this country is a sham in many ways compared to what it advertises itself to be?


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But America has always been a lie. It has only consistently kept its promises for heterosexual male WASPs. Consider the following:

* Slavery (not just of blacks but among Native American tribes) was legal until the end of the Civil War
* Segregation was still in force until nearly 100 years after
* Native Americans weren't entitled to citizenship until the early 1900s
* Chinese were banned from immigrating
* Japanese were thrown into internment camps
* "No Irish. No Blacks. No Dogs."
* Jews fleeing the impending Holocaust were turned away
* Women couldn't vote until 1920
* Spousal rape was legal until the 1990s
* Sodomy laws were still legally enforceable until 2003
* 30 states explicitly require anti-gay discrimination in their constitutions

On top of that, Christian theocrats have always been given license to force their beliefs on the populace, and oppression of GLBT people, women and minorities has always found justification in religion, not to mention efforts to legislate morality such as the banning of prostitution, Prohibition and so forth.

Chitown Kev | July 20, 2010 2:30 PM

Correct.

In terms of civil rights, the United States has never really been a leader.

Alaric,

Your points are all well taken and truly underscore the hypocrisy that has long been a hallmark of this country.

We have never, ever been a country of "equality for all", in spite of what we think. Never. Ever. African-Americans are still fighting for it--equality--even though on paper they have it. Now, sure, gays, too want our equality to be recognized and marry and not be taxed inequitably.

Mo Rage
the blog

I've been unable to locate it again (I thought I'd bookmarked it, but obviously didn't), but over a year ago I read an outstanding academic article about any time in the history of the world there has been major societal changes, there has been great upheaval.

People, always afraid of change, see their comfortable world changing around them. The response is not only to resist the changes, but to try to actually move society back in time to an idealized time in the recent past. We are clearly seeing that here too.

The author's final summary was that the good news was, society always marches on and advances. The bad news is that it usually gets worse before it gets better, and people resisting the change react more and more irrationally.

Colonialism taught us that we are superior. We've never unlearned the lesson.

"Old Europe and now Argentina are embracing equality . . . "

That's because they've given up religion.

"Old Europe and now Argentina are embracing equality . . . " That's because they've given up religion.

So, is there anything wrong with that? Certainly not, in my view, if the religion that has been rejected is the hate and fear based religion of the Christianists.

I found Greenwald's argument here strange, to say the least. They legalized same-sex marriage in Argentina because they believe in equal rights, but they don't allow women to control their bodies because... they believe in equal rights? And his comparison to Brazil - with a completely different ethnographies, histories, climates, economies, and governments - is just bizarre.

As an Argentine American (I rarely get to pull that card), it is strange to see the proliferation of "Look! Even Argentina has gay marriage! Isn't the US really, really backwards if Argentina did something modern and the US didn't???" Argentina, like the US, is a mixed bag for reasons that are more complex than I understand (gay marriage could be related to the much more urban population that they have, as well as the low levels of religiosity and the fact that pols don't feel a need to suck religious people's collective cock).