I first remember hearing this phrase when I was in my teens, back in the 1970s. Originally it was the title of a novel published in 1958 and a film released in 1963, starring Marlon Brando. According to Wiki, The Ugly American “depicts the failures of the US diplomatic corps, whose insensitivity to local language, culture and customs and refusal to integrate was in marked contrast to the polished abilities of East bloc diplomacy and led to Communist diplomatic success overseas.”
The term is apropos in today’s social and political contexts.
When I see the hatred and vitriol spewed from the likes of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, and Carly Fiorini, my stomach turns. Worse is the rabid applause and cheers from their supporters. Trump’s supporters attacked a Black Lives Matter protester at an Alabama campaign stop.
But it doesn’t stop there. Hatred and fear ooze like toxic waste over the landscape of our country. It is overwhelming but it is also deadly and violent.
My husband Ronald and I went to see the movie Trumbo. For those who don’t know who Dalton Trumbo was, he was one of the most successful screenwriters in Hollywood, that is, until the House Un-American Activities Committee charged him with being a Communist.
It was a dark time in our history. The Cold War was raging, and America became paranoid. That meant people who did not share the very narrow definition of patriotism were subjected to investigation and possible prison sentences. Trumbo was one of many who served a sentence. Many of the accused weren’t Hollywood royalty but regular folk like teachers and firefighters. Some lost their careers, their homes, their families, and even their lives.
The House Un-American Activities Committee conducted these investigations from 1938 – 1975. Neighbors turned in neighbors, friends turned in friends, and many people believed that doing so protected the freedoms we so often take for granted in this country.
But the opposite occurred, because our First Amendment Right that guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of religion was under attack.
Trumbo said, “Democracy means that people can say what they want to. All the people. It means that they can vote as they wish. All the people. It means that they can worship God in any way they feel right, and that includes Christians and Jews and voodoo doctors as well.”
Today we are dangerously close to repeating history. Some GOP candidates have called for the shutting down of Mosques and even internment of all Muslims. Today Donald Trump announced his new proposal that would prevent ALL Muslims from entering this country, even American citizens who travel outside the country.
One of his supporters, standing in line to watch Trump speak in Mount Pleasant, NC, said of Muslim Americans, ”Ship them all out.”
Historically, we have done this before. We interred Japanese Americans during WWII, some of whom had been Americans for generations. Jim Crow systematically segregated and contained black Americans through socio-economic oppression and meted out violent and deadly retribution on those who did not comply. The Trail of Tears, the forced migration of the Cherokee, Muscogee, Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw nations from their ancestral lands in the Southeast to Oklahoma, led to thousands of Native Americans perishing during the arduous journey.
It’s important to remember that every new wave of immigration in our country caused paranoia and fear. Jewish, Italian, and Irish immigrants were all considered dangerous to “the American way of life.”
What is the “American way of life” if it does not include the diversity of our citizens and a mainstream culture that is the melange of multicultural and sub-cultural contributions?
We are not a white country. We are not a Christian country. We are a country that is predominately of Euro-ethnic heritage, the majority of which are Christian, but that does not represent all of us.
Whenever a whole group of individuals is demonized we are hurting our country and our citizens. In this case, because many people refuse to be inclusive and, instead, feed their own paranoia and fear, we are letting extreme Islamic terrorists win. They count on irrational responses, and there are many Americans who are more than willing to comply.
In addition such hatred, fear, and paranoia feed the virulent hate of a growing group of radicalized white citizens who perpetrate their own terrorist acts against other Americans, such as the murder of nine black worshippers at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston and the murder of three and injury of nine at the Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs. America is amnesic on these terrorist acts because the San Bernardino terrorist act better fits a narrative that includes arming more citizens rather than passing common sense gun control and blaming one group of people for terror in our country.
The ugly Americans: people applauding the murders of unarmed black men; turning their backs on Syrian refugees who are fleeing unimaginable circumstances; shouting their hatred of fellow Americans who choose to worship or not worship in ways that are not congruent with fundamental Christianity.
What’s worse is the hatred directed toward President Obama at this time when we should be standing united behind him. How dare Donald Trump, or any of the other candidates, think he can out strategize the President when he doesn’t have access to the information the President has nor the large number of experts advising him.
I can’t see how that will help us stay safe, especially when we don’t share the same definition of what it means to be safe. There is a sector of America who believes safety lies in removing everyone who doesn’t fit the narrow and untrue definition of American – white and Christian, in whatever manner it takes to get rid of them.
How can we discover who the radicals are when we are busy damning whole groups of people, most of whom are innocent?
President Obama said, “When we travel down that road [of discrimination] we lose.”
Albert Einstein once said, “Insanity is doing something over and over and expecting different results.” We are dangerously close to repeating history and the outcome won’t be different.
The Ugly American