Manifest Destiny Revivalism

glenn beck i have a dreamDuring the 19th century the “Manifest Destiny” of the United States was one of “God-ordained” expansionism. African slaves, indigenous peoples, Mexican nationals and other “non-Europeans” were deemed aliens and enemy combatants, anathema to the democratizing force of America. Using that “old time religion” to shepherd the flock on the 47th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington Glenn Beck’s “Divine Destiny” revival deftly mines this history.

Beck’s decision to hold the event on the March on Washington anniversary has elicited outrage amongst civil rights organizations who accuse him and the radical right of hijacking the legacy of the civil rights movement. Reeking of sulfur, hubris, and the visionary charlatanism of 1920s revivalist Aimee Semple McPherson, Beck claimed that the Divine Destiny event will provide “an inspiring look at the role faith played in the founding of America and the role it will play again in its destiny.”

Decrying the cultural primitivism and backwardness of the Muslim world, twenty-first century Christian zealots seeking to preserve human rights as the province of white supremacy continue to put the lie to American exceptionalism. Over the past week the Islamphobic vitriol of demagogues like Beck, Sarah Palin, and Newt Gingrich have paid off in cold blood. The recent stabbing of a Muslim cabdriver in New York and the hate attack against a Fresno, California, Islamic center (by an organization calling itself the American Nationalist Brotherhood), are the tragic but all too predictable results of the nationalist chest beating that masquerades as empathy for the victims of 9/11.

In a climate in which the militant right wants to dismantle civil rights freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution, Beck’s evocation of “divine destiny” is all of a piece. Throughout American history, recourse to the transparent word of God has always been the last refuge of scoundrels wielding the Bible and the bayonet as protections from the ungovernable hoard. Thus, it is fitting that this naked evocation of the language and legacy of Manifest Destiny comes during a period when the right has launched a campaign to repeal the 1868 14th amendment, which was originally initiated to confer citizenship onto freed African slaves.

As Kevin Alexander Gray writes in Counterpunch, “in the Reconstruction period, as now, racism and white supremacy loomed large in public debate. Back then, opponents of the amendment talked about ‘public morality’ being threatened by people ‘unfit for the responsibilities of American citizenship.’’ Now the self-appointed defenders of public morality have come full circle, drunk on a cocktail of xenophobia, anti-immigrant hysteria and jingoism.

The Birthright Citizenship Act

Vaulting ahead of the pack, Republican Congressman Lamar Smith, one of the staunchest critics of the 14th amendment’s provision of birthright citizenship, introduced the Birthright Citizenship Act of 2009 into the House. The statute would deny citizenship to children born in the U.S. to undocumented women, stripping away yet another civil right that ostensibly distinguishes the U.S. from fascist governments.

Smith’s legislation is a reminder of the connection between slavery and expansionism. In the 1840s, the concept of manifest destiny was used to justify the U.S.’ brutal occupation of Mexican territory. Cultural propaganda demonizing and dehumanizing indigenous Mexican populations provided American imperialism with the aura of moral righteousness. Commenting on the U.S.-Mexico War, it was no less than “radical” poet Walt Whitman who stated: “What has miserable, inefficient Mexico—with her superstition, her burlesque upon freedom, her actual tyranny by the few over the many—what has she to do with the great mission of peopling the new world with a noble race? Be it ours, to achieve that mission!”

Back in the good old days of docile slaves and vanquished savages, there were no ambiguities about who deserved to be accorded rights. God ordained the universality of European American experience, civilization and moral worth. Non-white peoples either submitted to the Enlightenment principles and values of the culturally superior West or were extinguished. States rights were citizens’ last vestige of protection from the trespasses of big government.

So it is no mystery then why the ideology of 19th century expansionism and evangelical Christian revivalism has gained fresh currency amongst a “reloading” white nationalist insurgency. As the freshly inked graffiti on the vandalized Islamic Center in Fresno proclaimed, “Wake up America, the Enemy Is Here.”

Sikivu Hutchinson

Sikivu Hutchinson is the editor of blackfemlens.org and the author of the forthcoming Moral Combat: Black Atheists, Gender Politics and Secular America. She is a Senior Fellow with the Institute for Humanist Studies.

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Comments

  1. Jeanette says

    Glenn Beck is awesome!! lots of people attended his rally and it was about hope, charity and honor! It was very spiritual and moving. Glenn Beck is the only person I trust and to all you lefties ,,,Whatever !

  2. says

    Keynesian vs. Austrian economics made simple – Good analogy?

    If you have been confused about the differences between the Keynesian and Austrian schools of economics, may I humbly propose an analogy that may help your understanding. If you don’t think this is accurate or helpful then please let me know. I’m new to this myself.

    Fire policy — In the early 1900s the US Forest Service implemented a new policy to aggressively suppress all forest fires. Citizens didn’t like to see trees burn and the lumber companies saw profits going up in smoke. Over the years they obtained equipment, trained men, and worked out elaborate plans. With a lot of time and money they reduced fire damage considerably.

    Over the years the forest management experts began to notice problems. Without periodic small fires the undergrowth became thick. It ignited easier, acted as additional fuel making the fire hotter, and sent it up into the crowns of the mature trees. This spread the fire faster and farther, killing more of the forest.

    With further study they found that in the pasts forest experienced periodic small fires which cleared the undergrowth and burned up the deadwood. They usually did not reach the crowns and burned themselves out without doing great damage. They triggered the tree seeds to sprout and start a healthy new generation. The mature trees also grew better. The old policy of trying to manage nature was counter productive. The policy was changed to allow the natural cycle to return.

    Keynesian school – All recessions are bad and must be suppressed by government actions. This protects established businesses and jobs. The methods are elaborate and costly, but a benefit to the public overall.

    Austrian school – When markets stray too far from reality they must be purged by adversity. This clears unneeded or failing enterprises so capital is not allocated wastefully, and new businesses can emerge. Periodic small recessions are the price of a healthy economy.

    Recent situation — Unfortunately, after decades of total suppression many forests were overgrown tinder boxes. At Yellowstone National park the “hands off” policy let a fire get completely out of control before they used aggressive suppression. 36% of the park burned and much of this area is still black 20 years later. At Los Alamos a “controlled burn” to clear undergrowth ran away from them and destroyed 400 houses.

    Yellowstone – Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, current economic predicament.

    Los Alamos – Recognizing the problem and the perils of trying to make up for past mistakes.

    I have often found a good analogy helpful to understand or explain a concept. It is easy to push one too far, but if used properly it can be a good tool. Is this one accurate or helpful? What do you think?

  3. Godfather05 says

    What Glenn Beck did was show the faces of the 300,000 racists and bigots and the 1,200 uncle toms. We know they are there and Beck showed some of them.

  4. Alex says

    Elaine:

    The bigots and fascists are being led lock, stock and (emphasis on) barrel by the Glen Beck’s of the lunatic right. Take a look at the throngs supporting Beck on Saturday; these people are not representative of the majority of Americans (working class, people of color) who support the nominal big govt social welfare that we have in this country. Big govt has helped scores of white Americans “bootstrap” their way into the middle class at the expense of hard working people of color.

  5. Elaine says

    You are right! Wake Up America, the enemy is here & the enemy is winning at building a Jihad Memorial 2 blocks from the Murdering of 3000 People in the world trade center, the Firefighters & the Policemen & all that lost their lives there. The People that screamed & ran for the windows jumping out rather then to burn alive from the full tanks of fuel in the airplanes.
    On Martin Luther Kings, Jr. I have a dream speech was for all of to get along. Those of you that do not know Glen Beck but what you hear or have not watched enough of his Founding Fathers shows that were on Fridays, are doing exactly the opposite of what Rev.Martin Luther King, Jr. was trying to do. Think people we are all Americans and our country is being led into socialism & communism. Obama does not care about America or Americans! If he did he would not made his first speeches after his inauguration overseas. Telling them that we are arrogant, dismissive & derisive. He was describing himself. He does not listen to any of the American People that being you & I. No he scrambles to try to forget the 9/11/01 victims forgotten about. He knows better then you & I that this Jihad Monument is for their success at killing those people in the World Trade Center, tried to kill all in the Pentagon, & I thank those that died so bravely on the Plane that took it down before it could get to its destination. Now that we are working together as Americans & trying to hold our country together & yes, trying to keep illegals, this does not just include Mexicans, but all kinds to take over in our country is going to help lead us into a One World Order that Obama, Biden, Pelosi & Reid & all those that think we do not need to keep our Constitution & Bill of Rights & give in are the very ones destroying out great Nation. Rev. Martin Luther Kings, Jr. speech did not mean that and there is no twisting of words that is going to change that. So, Yes Wake Up American! I ask you just to think about these things & open your eyes & see Obama for what he is doing & see Glen Beck for trying to help. This race baiting that is being done is incomprehensible to what we should do. Yes we are still going to encounter bigots on both sides but if we stand together we can succeed. By the way, because I see Maxine Waters video here, I want you to remember that while she was speaking that day in Congress & let the word “socialism” come out & she was trying to back track, someone in her district should be reminded of that. She should have admitted to it but instead she tried to cover it up with the rest of them. She knew what was going on & she would not be noble enough to say it.

  6. says

    All I can do is agree and thank you for writing this article. It is no mistake that the GOP has been taken over by Southerners and Right Wing religious Inquisition. This is pre-Civil War talk and many don’t realize how close they are a form of secession that could cost them federal funds, medicaid and medicare for starters. Toll Interstate highways, in those states not wanting federal funds and list goes on and on. Anyway, thanks for keeping it “real.”

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