America, I Love You, But I Totally Don’t Get You

March 6, 2012

Okay, so, first of all, ‘Super Tuesday’? I totally don’t get Super Tuesday. I totally don’t get a lot about how your political system works – and I say this as someone who holds multiple degrees in political science – but Super Tuesday is particularly confusing, not least because there is nothing super about it, certainly not in the Marvel/DC comics sense of the word. I mean, I understand how it works – presidential primary elections! in a whole lot of states! – but how it works is kind of baffling to me, because, seriously: why do you guys not just have, like, one election? You know, like we do in Canada?

I’m not saying that the Canadian multiparty parliamentary system is better, but seriously: we have one election day. Just one. It’s really pretty straightforward. Also, we have two dollar coins that we call ‘toonies.’ And also moose, and maple syrup. Which have nothing to do with democracy, but still.

What we don’t have is Rush Limbaugh, and batshit crazy politicians who get all up in ladies’ reproductive systems (I’m looking at you, Rick Santorum), and I can’t say that we’re the poorer for it. You’ll hear Canadians – if you listen to them, which you don’t – go on about how we have conservatives in Canada and how they’re just as alarming as any Limbaugh-like figure that the US can produce, but good golly that is just such an epic misunderstanding of what conservatism is. The Rush Limbaughs of the world are not conservatives: they’re fringe-facing demagogues. The kind of interventionist social conservatism that you see in the US – the kind that orients itself around issues like, say, deciding what women should and should not do with their bodies, or who should or should not get married – is just not as much of a thing in Canada, and it truly, honestly, totally baffles me to see up close in American politics. I’m used to more of a classic, neo-liberal conservatism, the kind of conservatism that has a logic to it, if not, you know, a heart. The kind of crazypants, illogical and heartless conservatism of a Rush Limbaugh terrifies me.

That said, I’ve never actually met anyone – I don’t think – who supports the kind of woman-hating, hypocritical, crazypants ranting that Limbaugh goes in for (I do know – and love – people who are socially conservative, but they’re not crazy, and they have good hearts – these are not the type of people I mean), so I have, of late, been consoling myself with the entirely fanciful notion that maybe they just don’t really exist, and the Rush Limbaughs of America are like this absurdist performance art (I mean, seriously — SLUTTY SLUT LADIES CONTROLLING YOUR SLUTTY REPRODUCTIVE SYSTEMS SLUTTILY YOU MUST LET US WATCH YOU HAVE SEX ON VIDEO YOU SLUTS — this is a real thing? There’s a very strong argument to be made that it simply cannot be) that we can totally wave our hands at dismissively and go oh, that. THAT’S just, you know, the weirdos being weird. IGNORE!

I know that this is a form of self-deception, but it comforts me, and so you must leave me to it. Because I love you, America, as I hope you love me, and just as I expect that you won’t think too much about how I pronounce the word ‘about’ and the letter ‘z’, I will not explore too fully the extreme outer edges of your political culture, and also will not watch your Chuck Lorre sitcoms or drink your Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. And thus we shall continue to love each other, and know each other only at our best.

I indulged my worst ex-pat Canadian turned Brooklyn hipster parent impulses here. And I am really only somewhat sorry about it.


Deal? Deal.

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    red pen mama March 6, 2012 at 7:32 pm

    You should, actually, do yourself a favor and watch Big Bang Theory, because it’s LOL funny.

    Carolinadancer March 7, 2012 at 12:35 pm

    I have to agree with this one – The Big Bang Theory is just about the funniest thing on TV period. :) But most of us have known that Rush and his ilk (the people who follow him are called Dittoheads (eye roll)) were batsh*t for a long time. Unfortunately, when you stand in public, drop your pants and wave your wanger, it gets in the news. Thanks for a great blog.

    Wynn Anne March 6, 2012 at 8:24 pm

    As a Canadian who has lived in the States for a total of seven years, I have to agree with you. The conservative extreme scares the ovaries out of me!

    Mom101 March 6, 2012 at 9:10 pm

    Crazypants + heartless. That about sums it all up in two perfect words.

    Thanks for the “outsider’s” perspective. Hopefully we’ll continue serving you more of our best and less of our heartless crazypants.

    (Psst…Dunkin coffee used to be a whole lot better.)

    Lori Zambito March 6, 2012 at 9:37 pm

    Thank you for speaking up about this very important issue and problem in our country. It’s interesting to hear from an outsider. It also lets me know I’m not crazy.

    Haley March 6, 2012 at 9:40 pm

    Thanks for bringing up the point that anyone calling a woman a SLUT is just plain heartless. When a batshit crazy conservative wants to control all women’s reproductive rights?!? Well, yes… it’s just so sad.

    I’m often in total awe of the crazypantness and heartlessness myself. On a daily basis really.

    OHmommy March 7, 2012 at 12:26 am

    Like when Bill Maher called Sarah Palin an extremely vulgar slur or when Ed Shultz referred to Laura Ingram as a “right wing slut?” long before Rush. It’s all very sad – on both sides.

    I’m not a big fan of Rush, his rant was totally over-the-top and disgusting but I am a proud Conservative (I have a heart & I’m not crazy) and a Catholic.

    Her Bad Mother March 7, 2012 at 10:50 am

    Bill Maher gets pretty gross, yes. Fair point.

    Marilyn March 6, 2012 at 9:46 pm

    Yeah, I don’t get it either. And I’ve been an American all my life. Who keeps giving Rush a platform to spew his craziness? And WHY? It’s *gotta* be akin to train-wreck watching reality tv shows. It’s GOTTA.

    Christine @ Quasi Agitato March 6, 2012 at 10:03 pm

    I’m a native in these parts and am just as lost as you when it comes to this shit.

    Hollie Pollard March 6, 2012 at 10:31 pm

    Wrote about this very issue this weekend over on my blog, never ever should we let others use words like this, we as women have already had a long road.

    Julie Marsh March 6, 2012 at 10:38 pm

    This is especially horrifying to me, not just what Rush said (and continues to say), but the political conversation we’re having on the right, because I used to be a conservative of the logical, compassionate variety. There’s no place for us in the US any more.

    I’ll leave you to your self-deception, but I can’t do it myself. I’m too scared that we’ll end up living in the fucking Handmaid’s Tale.

    Procrastamom March 6, 2012 at 11:59 pm

    Julie, I used to love your column on The Stir and miss reading you over there. If Catherine has the notion that crazypants Repubs do not really exist, she has only to read over at The Stir to realize it’s not true. And you’re right, every day I am reminded of the Handmaid’s Tale. I’m frightened for the US.

    Her Bad Mother March 7, 2012 at 10:11 am

    As I said, it’s a self-deceptive notion.

    Procrastamom March 7, 2012 at 12:09 am

    It’s all such a circus to me, as a Canadian. I can’t imagine what it’s like being immersed in that political climate, but I’ll bet it’s interesting. A few weeks ago, a Canadian MP tried to introduce a piece of “personhood” legislature in the House. I believe after they stopped laughing the other MP’s basically told him to sit down and give it a rest. We just don’t do the whole anti-choice, anti-woman, anti-gay thing here…at least not in an extreme way.

    Josette Plank March 7, 2012 at 12:13 am

    On one hand, the popularity of Rush has less to do with politics, and much more to do with the same vein of outrageous entertainment as Jackass and reality shows that exploit just about everyone, and really, allow just about everyone a soapbox to stand on and call out their own “sluts” and judgments. The popularity of Rush comes from the same place of popularity as Toddlers and Tiaras and Octomom and Teen Pregnant Mom, all of which I’ve seen otherwise smart, compassionate, forward thinking friends put on pedestals and just to throw their own version of “slut, prostitute, whore, what were those idiots thinking, I know better than them.”

    In one light, Rush has so little to do with political anything, and so much more to do with the overall popular culture we all create – and everything being bigger and brasher in a country with 250-ish million people, you get bigger and brasher than anything anywhere else.

    No. Normally, no, even my most staunch conservative friends don’t openly hate anyone, do lean toward socially liberal and loving in their own lives no matter how much of a big mouth they are, and they end up having to defend themselves against wholesale attacks on who they are because they widely share the right side of a very large bench of people. They have no more in common with the few fanatics the media insists on showing as proof that all conservatives are racists/homophobes/misogynists – or usually, just uneducated through possibly little fault of their own- than liberal friends have in common with the fringe folks who show up at their rallies and attack police unprovoked or who call Republican women cunts and wish harm upon their children or who attack even the women in their own party.

    Did I tell you about my Democrat friend who threatened to punch me in the face at my kid’s soccer game because I said I might vote for Clinton over Obama? Yeah. Nuts a plenty come in all flavors, not just Rush or Beck or Savage.

    I grew up in Appalachia in an impoverished region, coal miners and generations used to having business and government come in, take what they wanted, and then leave, leaving the area worse and worse off each time. Truly hard working people, forever skeptical, cynical. Thousands of people Obama dismissed with a condescension that was heart-breaking. These are the people who Democrats want to help with social programs and support through unions and that’s great. But the fact is that after generations of hardscrabble living and being screwed over generally, and not being able to take part much in the same socio-economic culture that creates prosperous cookie-cutter suburbs outside of most cities and boutique neighborhoods within cities, all these folks have is their own cultural identity. Blue collar, mainly. Religious, mostly. And yes, sometimes suspicious of a world at large and things that are different. When you don’t have anything else, all you do have is who you are, for better or worse. It’s difficult enough to make changes outside your comfort zone when you *are* in a good physical/economic place. It’s tough to challenge your own life philosophies from solid ground, let alone from a life of day-to-day stress and being separated from the gloss. And I think that the messages that some of these folks get from the popular left is “you’re so stupid for thinking and acting and voting the way you do, let us help you, let us help you be better people, just like us.” When people are pushed into that kind of psychic corner – over their religion, their blue collar work, even the foods they eat, what they do in their time off, their 100 year old cultures – they will defend themselves, for better or worse. Usually. When your very identity and culture – right or wrong – is being condemned but that’s all you have of yourself, the only thing you can count on, you don’t just change your mind.

    So that’s what I think, anyway. That’s why I think some scared people are allowing some pretty crazy shit from media mouthpieces – it’s not about politics. It’s about dignity. And the paradox of holding on to scraps of identity against their own economic interests. And it will take a whole lot of understanding and finding opportunities to communicate authentic respect in whatever ways possible from liberals with continued solutions to break through the barriers of fear – no matter how loudmouthed regular folks become – in letting them feel heard. Finally. By someone other than a blowhard.

    Lauren March 7, 2012 at 11:50 am

    I can top that: I have Great Gatsby and The Sun Also Rises tees for my girls. Nerdy English majors unite!! :)

    Christie March 7, 2012 at 11:57 am

    You know what? Rush Limbaugh and anybody that subscribes to his demented school of thought does not define America or its political process. As with any Country, there are going to be those that – everytime they open their mouths they provoke an image unfavorable for the world to see. However, you obviously disrupted your whole life and moved to America for some reason. Was it because of some opportunity that America could provide you that Canade could not? Therefore, maybe you should think twice before holding up a symbol of idiocy to define our politics.

    Carolinadancer March 7, 2012 at 12:53 pm

    Wow! Why not just shorten it to “Bitch, go home”? What she’s trying to put forth, and you obviously don’t get, is that BECAUSE Limbaugh, Colter, et al are on TV constantly spewing their brands of hate, they ARE what defines America to the rest of the world – not us everyday people who are a mix of liberal and conservative, up and down, good and bad. During the height of Bush II’s administration, and by coincidence, Limbaugh’s popularity as well, Americans abroad had it really rough. I have a friend who worked for a global restaurant chain, and who traveled abroad about 300 days a year during that time. He stopped eating in restaurants overseas, period. Not even room service. Because almost everyone outside of the US assumed that because he was an American, he was a war-mongering radical who agreed with Bush II’s policies, and he discovered that in foreign countries, many who work in restaurants find Americans offensive and do things to their food. Not everyone, but after a particularly disgusting incident he didn’t take any more chances. He finally left the company he worked for after he was attacked by two German men in an airport in Dubai JUST for being an American. Don’t forget, we recently had Lowes pull their advertising from a show that portrayed American Muslims as everyday people (which almost all are!), BECAUSE it didn’t show them as spewing hate and plotting terrorism. How sad is that? And how do you think that made us look to people in Middle Eastern countries? Until we can present a better picture of ourselves to the world, this is the kind of opinions we will have to deal with. For better or for worse.

    Abe March 7, 2012 at 1:15 pm

    Ok, first, the “reasonable”, point:

    A comparative discussion of Canadian and American political culture could be interesting. There are differences, which are the product of a lot of factors. I would say that that Canadian political culture tends to be more sensible, but also more narrow and more petty. But I also wouldn’t say that the narrowness and pettiness are all bad – it’s all part of a larger package. Canada is also just a lot smaller, so it’s much easier to control the market of political discourse from a narrow centre. In the U.S., the market is much larger, and so it includes a lot more variation. That is positive in some ways, and negative in others. Which isn’t something to ignore at all – and which isn’t just the “fault” (or the credit) of either country. It’s a fact of life, which raises all kinds of interesting social and political questions.

    And, now, the “rant” (my first response to the post!):

    In some ways I actually think that your post is an excellent example of the insane insularity of the noxious liberals who are forever screeching the rest at us about their magnificent “diversity” but are absolutely appalled to have to acknowledge the existence of people who actually, you know, disagree with them. In the first place, there is the problem of crying wolf: ok, so you now *say* that Canadian conservatives aren’t so bad; but many people among the supposedly most educated classes in Toronto will very, very seriously tell you about how they are no less than proto-Nazis. If you have this much trouble adjusting in America, how would adjust to, say, the right-wing extremism of Eastern Europe, let alone, say, Iran? How would you even put up with the kind of political discourse that exists in England, which has been far more vulgar for far longer than it has been in the U.S.? But of course the rest of the time the rest of us have to be lectured at by elite liberal types about how unworldly, “uncomfortable with diversity”, and whanot else that we are.

    Abe March 7, 2012 at 1:19 pm

    By the way, as an extension of my first point: the greater vulgarity of much of U.S. culture isn’t just evidenced in political culture. For instance, the music produced in the U.S. has a much higher degree of vulgarity and degrading content than you get in Canada. The difference is that in the U.S. it’s more often the conservatives who criticize that music, and liberals in Canada who enjoy it. This is a simplification. But my point is that your picture is also over-simplified, and I think just under-rates the importance of how the Canadian market is just more easily controlled internally by virtue of being so much smaller. Again, I’m not saying that means Canada is either better or worse – it cuts both ways. It’s just a fact with consequences.

    Her Bad Mother March 7, 2012 at 6:55 pm

    @Abe, my larger point was that I’ve very little trouble adapting to America, actually – I think that I actually belabored the point that I really love it here. And I wasn’t making any claims about the true nature of conservatives in Canada – I was making claims about the discourse around conservatism. And my point of interrogation around American politics was directed toward the phenomenon of figures like Rush Limbaugh, who, let’s face it, are not the best representatives of a rational, coherent conservatism.

    And for the record, I am, actually, a conservative, although of the neo-liberal variety.

    Abe March 7, 2012 at 8:31 pm

    Oh, I agree that Limbaugh is a horrible representative of just about everything, and that American conservatism is also generally a bad representation of conservatism. But I think that the Limbaugh phenomenon isn’t primarily about conservatism in Canada versus the United States, but about the differences in political culture as a whole – part of which is a consequence of the fact that Canada is just much smaller, and so the market is much more insular and easy to police internally. That has upsides: like it’s easier to marginalize certain types of extremism. It also has downsides, because the greater insularity of Canadian political culture produces unique forms of myopia, self-satisfaction, intolerance, lack of innovation, a great deal of pettiness, and so on. On balance the Canadian way might still be better – it certainly is in some specific ways, and I tend to think that it is overall as well. But I would say that what’s good about the American way is that often acts as a kind of shock treatment against the sort of calcified complacent elite consensuses that tend to develop in Canadian political culture – which is often dominated by, say, downtown Toronto types who are all about “diversity” so long as nobody actually disagrees with them about anything (thus the efforts to outlaw pro-life groups in Canadian universities, vagaries of “human rights” tribunals, hate speech laws, etc).

    Her Bad Mother March 8, 2012 at 4:31 pm

    Abe, no, of course it’s not about conservatism in Canada vs. the US – it’s just that that happens to be my particular lens.

    And I agree with you on Canada’s downsides, for what it’s worth; those are for filing under ‘Things I Do Not Miss.’

    Sif March 7, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    Catherine – I love all your writing, but this one was THE BEST. I couldn’t agree with you more. I also hope that Rush is some sort of crazy performance art rather than reality. “The Rush Limbaughs of the world are not conservatives: they’re fringe-facing demagogues.” – I couldn’t agree with you more. Thanks for this post.

    Gappy March 7, 2012 at 1:51 pm

    I’m British, and I could not quite believe my ears when I saw a clip of what Rush Limbaugh had said. I cannot understand how he is still in a job or has any social standing left – in this country he would have been forced to resign.

    What I also couldn’t believe were the republican politicians reactions to it! “Those weren’t the words I would have used.” Huh? So what, the sentiment was ok, just not the wording?

    I despair, really. Who on earth do these men think they are, to decide what women can and cannot do with their own bodies.

    Abe March 7, 2012 at 2:11 pm
    Dawn March 7, 2012 at 6:03 pm

    Thank God for the Internet and my email inbox. It is through this bit of escapism that I am able to leave my uber-socially conservative community – even if it is only in my mind – behind and connect with other like-minded women. I love where I live, truly I do, but sometimes it is difficult to raise my children to possess an attitude of respect for all when they are surrounded with people who express disdain toward the current President of the United States – who has volunteered to present the high school commencement speech – simply because he is not from their political party. Thank you for providing me with a piece of sanity to my otherwise crazy-filled day! :-)
    P.S.: “The Catcher in the Rye” is my oldest daughter’s favorite book, so love, love the pic!

    Jaelithe March 8, 2012 at 2:31 pm

    I am from Rush’s home state of Missouri, and I can tell you that, sadly, there are some people do really support and buy into Rush’s extremist ideas here. Even some women. Even women you know. Even women you like. Most of the people who hold such views, out of America’s own peculiar brand of politeness, just won’t say what they really think until socially liberal people like you (and yes, you’d qualify as a social liberal here — a Missouri Democrat is a California Republican; I consider myself moderately liberal but in my own state I’m basically a communist) are out of the room.

    There are two forces driving the rhetoric of hatred here in the States. One: xenophobia. We’re a nation of immigrants but we have a really hard time accepting cultural differences. This country has a very sordid history of genocide and slavery — as does Canada for that matter — but we went to civil war over slavery, and that shaped some very deep divisions that have yet to heal 150 years later (if you doubt me, take a road trip through Georgia sometime). Rural American whites are positively paranoid about the idea of people of color coming to “steal” something from them — land, jobs, daughters. Rush’s sexism is all tied up in his racism. When Rush says he doesn’t want women having access to birth control the coded message is that white women aren’t having enough babies. If you don’t believe me, read some of his other more infamous quotes (if you can stand it). I’ve been forced by rural relatives to listen to him rant about the “oppressed white minority” for decades.

    The second force: class conflict. It serves the interests of America’s wealthy elite for America’s poor and middle class to remain divided along racial and social lines, which is why provocateurs like Limbaugh keep getting paid. If the people who want to give women better access to healthcare and the people who want to give minority children better access to education, etc. joined forces with the students who are paying outrageous tuition and the rural workers who’ve seen manufacturing jobs that supported their small towns get shipped overseas . . . well, we might wind up with decent public schools and universal healthcare or something. Which could lead to more of a meritocracy than even Jefferson intended, undermining currently stable systems of inherited power and wealth. You can bet that idea freaks the 1% of people who hold 40% of the country’s wealth right out.

    Anyway I hope you’ll keep managing to love parts of us anyway. Because I think people who say aboot are adorable.

    Dawn March 8, 2012 at 5:57 pm

    As a fellow Missourian, I wholeheartedly agree with, support, and endorse all of your comments. :-) Well done.

    Becca March 8, 2012 at 3:14 pm

    As another foreign America-phile, I am right with you. I don’t know what I’ll do about visiting my second-favourite country if one of the crazy loons actually gets into the White House. Seeing the “Get the Homeless out of San Francisco” signs, “Can’t Feed ‘Em; Don’t Breed ‘Em” t-shirts for sale, and “Abortion – What Part of Thou Shalt Not Kill Do You Not Understand?” bumper stickers while we were on honeymoon was deeply upsetting.

    The only thing that scares me more is that batsh*t crazy people like Nadine Dorries are trying to turn what I consider to be a moderate party in our country into something quite sinister.

    Right Girl March 23, 2012 at 11:19 am

    Couldn’t agree more on your views of Santorum & Rush.

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