A Country is a Country Does Not a Country Make

Or, Why Michael S. Kochin is Wrong

The American subjectivity is more fragile and piecemeal than most pundits seem to realise, especially in an age that has produced Trump — an age, one would hasten to add, that rests upon the neo-imperial realpolitik and neoliberal domestic economic policies that the past five Presidents of this ostensible paradigmatic free country have implemented without fail. This is an age that has seen the rise of global finance capitalism, the failure of the ragtag Left to define clear-cut goals to combat the modalities of exploitation specific to globalised exploitation, the advent of social media and other such platforms that allows for one to curate and soapbox one’s worldview even as one is forced to reckon with the polyphony that is our world. That all this destabilisation of the self, fractured and remade under the glare of spectacular consumerism, should lead to conservatives to pursue a reactionary stance against the historical struggle towards inclusivity is unsurprising in hindsight.

But the particular strain of regressive myth-retelling about American exceptionalism that Michael S. Kochin demonstrates in his piece for the thirteenth issue of The Point is telling: at this juncture in history, when faced with a multiplicity of counter-narratives to the manifest destiny-Founding Father romanticism that has pervaded American consciousness, it is simply easier to parrot uncritically the same lies about “the American principles of equality and the rule of law” than to reflect on its implementation within the country’s borders. There is no consideration within Kochin’s piece about the fact that inequality has been institutionalised from the very beginning in his romantic depiction of the signage of the American constitution, easy as it may be to pretend that the “all men were created equal” clause has been applied to everyone without fail through history. It is within this framework of re-inscription upon recorded history that Kochin can conveniently leave out the fact that after the freedom of discourse provision is made in the Internal Security Act, the statute effectively labels those “individuals who knowingly and willfully [sic] participate in the world Communist movement” as traitors to their country, “in effect [transferring] their allegiance to the foreign country in which is vested the direction and control of the world Communist movement” — or that it provided part of the basis upon which McCarthyism thrived, or that President Truman vetoed the Act out of concern for the extent to which freedom of political opinion would be curbed under it.

The truth — or at least, an alternative fact — is that America has remade the world in its image, that America has claimed the pursuit of human liberty, nebulous as the term is, as the fruits of its labour, even as America has intervened and installed regimes in Central America and Africa and shaming its name. This cultural paradigm is what allows for people like Kochin, the descendants of the colonial settlers to reproduce all these sketches of the ideal settler-immigrant who does not care to interrogate the content of the social mores that the laws — idealised, unquestioned — who does not care to reckon with one’s own history, all its consequences, its silenced burdens, wounds taking the form of birthmarks. What is left is the bare bones of a myth that has been utilised to bear upon the minorities throughout American history: that the Other has no understanding of legalistic Pax Americana and its values, where somehow America represents the apex of human development.

One hardly needs yet another self-congratulatory account of the settler-colonial story that has, for the better part of two centuries, completely re-inscribed itself as the sole source of ontological and sociocultural meaning onto the native lands, cultures, and peoples (forcibly imported or otherwise). That narrative — its construction, and its dissemination — was the first political act that defined America, separating the Old Anglo-World from the New Anglo-World. Perhaps it would behoove us all to consider whether this age of complexity would benefit the construction of a new America that no longer erases the suffering people of all skintones and creeds have suffered under this particular variant of a nation-building project.