On One Hand

May 5, 2008

Word of the Week – “Anti-American”

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 7:03 pm
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Rising to popularity in the tumultuous era of the early Cold War, is today’s buzzword, “anti-American,” followed by its accomplice “un-American,” which, together, constitute one of the most popular and scathing insults hurled in modern United States politics.

Barack Obama’s embattled pastor Jeremiah Wright is the most timely example for what an “Anti-American” is, but in 2004 the term applied to the Vietnam vet. and presidential candidate John Kerry, and in 2002 it was used to describe the Democratic party as a whole. It has been used to describe people on both sides of the political spectrum, from Conservatives accused of suppressing votes to Liberals accused of refusing to wear an American flag lapel pin.

There isn’t a clear definition for the terms “anti-American” and “un-American” because, the concepts, as they are used, employ shifting definitions of the word “American.” The United States seems to be unique in that its name extends far beyond the nation as a whole; the terms “anti-UK” or “anti-French” are rarely heard because those nations are just nations and not models of a certain kind of spirit. One would reasonably surmise we must first define “American” or “America” as a starting point before we determine on what grounds a person is labeled as being against it.

Possible definitions for “America” include:

The geographical boundaries of the United States; the lower 48 states, Alaska and Hawaii. Here, Anti-American would mean opposing the climate or geography of the United States of America. Do you hate prairies, mountains or temperate coastal forests? Then you, my friend, are an anti-American. You fulfil the milder definition of being un-American if you are a piece of land not within the United States.

The 300 million people who are U.S. Citizens. Here, anti-American would mean being a non-American who supports discrimination against Americans. Do you want to make it illegal for Americans to enter your country or make them use separate drinking fountains or public restrooms? Then you’re an anti-American, in the purest sense, which precludes the possibility of you identifying as an American citizen yourself. You are un-American if you are one of the world’s 5.9 billion people who does not happen to be a citizen of the United States.

The United States Constitution. Here, Anti-American would mean having a political position that violates the Constitution or the Supreme Court’s determination of constitutionality, as currently understood. It includes those who support abortion bans in spite of the finding of Roe v. Wade or someone who supported the women’s vote before 1920. It probably also includes those who support changing the Constitution – until they do manage to change it, at which point they suddenly switch to being American and those who opposed it suddenly switch to being the anti-Americans. It would also include British loyalists who are unhappy with the outcome of the Revolutionary war.

The United States military. Here, Anti-American would mean supporting the abolition of the military. While no elected official in the United States supports this, you could find people across the political spectrum who don’t think there should be a government-funded military. They include some hard-core libertarians (who may say that the military itself is “un-American”), and Meninites who are religiously opposed to militias. If “American” is the military, un-American pertains to the 295 million people who are U.S. citizens but are not enlisted in the U.S. armed forces.

The current American executive administration. This means that everyone not within the 28 percent of Americans who “approve” of the Bush Administration are anti-American. Un-American applies to anyone outside the 100 or so people who work directly with the White House.

The current body of elected officials. This means that the 80 percent of Americans who disapprove of the current congress are anti-American. The 300 or so U.S. citizens who are not in elected office face the milder definition of “un-American.”

Representative Democracy. This is a commonly used definition of the term, and it means that a large percentage of the population living outside the United States is just as “American” as Americans are. All Europeans (including the French), North Americans, Australians, Brazilians, Indians, Russians, Japanese, South Africans, South Koreans or members of any other democratic nation who support their form of government are Americans. Furthermore, anyone in undemocratic nations like China or Saudi Arabia who would support their nation becoming a representative democracy would be Americans too. Those in any country who support overthrowing democracy for the installment of dictators is Anti-American, and anyone who is indifferent is un-American. Fortunately, Anti-Americans constitute the most tiny fraction of the world, however, many Anti-Americans in Saudi Arabia or China are important U.S. allies or trading partners.

Current U.S. Policies. This means that no actual human being is “American,” because the word applies to concepts and laws. An anti-American is anyone who wants to change anything about government; this includes all Republicans, Democrats, independents, centrists and Libertarians. Actually, it includes almost everybody, leaving the tiny few who are perfectly content and satisfied with everything they see (such as those who are very drunk or those in a state of meditation) as the elite group that does not classify as un-American.

Blue-Collar Midwesterners. According to Hillary Clinton, this is true; these “Regan Democrats” are the heart and soul of the United States. Saying anything disparaging towards them, or by extension, critical of unsavory attitudes toward African-Americans, Jews or Gays, is an Anti-American statement. Unfortunately, New York and California, you are not American after all, nor are Iowans, Coloradans or anyone from those darned un-American “Caucus States.”

My own personal views. This is the most commonly-used definition of “American,” with which anyone who disagrees with you can be called Anti-American. Liberals can use it on Conservatives, but more often, Conservatives use it on Liberals, deciding that whatever nuanced boundaries of their political philosophy are the exact boundaries at which a person crosses over into being an enemy of the United States. There are a bajillion ways to be “un-American” under this umbrella and everyone is some other American’s anti-American.



  1. Any connection to Turkey’s recently watered down crime of “publicly denigrating Turkishness”?

    Comment by jdhenchman — May 6, 2008 @ 10:40 am | Reply

    • After reading that article, I’ll say yes, I think it is the same thing. I initially thought “Turkishness” was going to refer to an ethnicity, but it seems that anything favorable to any other ethnicity is actually anti-Turkish according to this concept… so yeah. It’s the same thing.

      Comment by ononehand — May 6, 2008 @ 7:11 pm | Reply

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