Manifest Destiny Revivalism and Glenn Beck

By Sikivu Hutchinson

During 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.

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.”

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Comment by Shutch on September 8, 2010 at 2:54pm
She is demagoguing on abortion as "black genocide" (committed by none other than black women) and comparing her crusade to that of the modern civil rights movement. Fortunately there are now progressive religious pro-choice groups that have entered the fray to condemn her.
Comment by Dean Smith on September 6, 2010 at 6:40pm
What's up with Alveda King anyway?
Comment by Shutch on August 30, 2010 at 9:24am
The article critiques the atmosphere of xenophobic and racist hate, hysteria and unrest that conservative-reactionary demagogues are creating in this country. There is no direct attribution of violent acts cited here. However, liberal-progressives are not the ones parading around in public places with weapons, advocating open carry laws and developing militias to "take back the country."
Comment by Dean Smith on August 29, 2010 at 9:42pm
I'm largely in agreement, but don't be too quick to assign blame for incidents. People seem to be jumping to the conclusion lately that Tea Party types are behind violence only for it to often turn out later to be unrelated. It doesn't hurt to wait a minute to find out what the police have determined. Jumping to conclusions is shaky business.
Comment by Shutch on August 28, 2010 at 2:19pm
Unfortunately as long as the reactionary demagogues can exploit mass ignorance of social history conditions will be ripe for this kind of nationalist frenzy. Will be interesting to see how many people of color attended this mockery other than Alveda King and her minions.
Comment by Glen Rosenberg on August 28, 2010 at 10:24am
I agree. I only wish history was understood by the masses instead of bumper sticker propaganda. Maybe it would encourage a mass apostasy or deconversion, particularly for the peoples who have suffered greatest under the moral influence of religion.

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