Oratory of Division: A Humanist Response
By SIKIVU HUTCHINSON - THE NEW HUMANISM
Added: Wed, 08 Sep 2010 22:16:05 UTC
Newt Gingrich's new book, To Save America: Stopping Obama's Secular-Socialist Machine, has harsh words for nonbelievers—or at least those who in his view are complicit with the president in a "secular-socialist" conspiracy that imperils the nation's survival. Since the election of Barack Obama in 2008, conservatives have been relentless in their vilification of Obama as a mortal enemy of American democratic traditions, free enterprise and the moral authority of the United States. Gingrich's canard is noteworthy because of its hackneyed Cold War-style conflation of Obama's liberal domestic policies and the lurking evil of secularism. The scorched earth culture wars that characterized the Reagan-Bush and George W. Bush eras made "secular" a dirty word. Secularism was blamed for everything from abortion, teen pregnancy, divorce, pedophilia and political radicalism. In this latest iteration, secularism was once again code speech for being anti-American, un-patriotic and amoral. Gingrich's charge against Obama was part of a growing wave of anti-government hysteria incited by the far right Tea Party movement. This hysteria is informed by the belief that secularism is the ideological linchpin of an administration caricatured as the architect of big government wealth redistribution.
Historians such as Gary Wills, Robert Middlekauf and Robert Boston have ably challenged the grossly misguided notion promulgated by conservatives that the U.S. was a founded as a fundamentally "Christian nation." Yet the persistence of this myth continues to cast long shadows on American politics, culture and education. In March 2010, the Texas Board of Education proposed substituting the term "Atlantic triangular trade" for the term "slave trade" and revising historical representations of the separation of church and state in its textbooks. Dominated by conservatives, the most prominent members of the Board were a dentist and a real estate agent. No historians, sociologists or political scientists were consulted. The Texas debacle was significant because the state is one of the largest buyers of textbooks in the U.S. and has a broad national influence over school curricula. One of the most extreme examples of the backlash against "secularism" was the Texas Board's decision to omit Thomas Jefferson from "a list of figures whose writings inspired revolutions in the late 18th century and 19th century, replacing him with St. Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin and William Blackstone." In lieu of Jefferson, the National Rifle Association, The Moral Majority and Gingrich's "Contract with America" brainchild were added to state content standards to restore "balance" to an egregiously left-leaning curriculum. Based on the Board's view that capitalism had gotten a bad rap, the word capitalism was replaced with free enterprise. In line with the right's Reagan-besotted playbook, free enterprise received a more nuanced definition—"including minimal government intrusion, taxation and property rights."
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