Andy Schmookler: When traitors think they’re patriots

By Andy Schmookler

It’s now a few weeks since some “conservative” leaders – like Sean Hannity — made heroes of the Cliven Bundy crowd for confronting federal officials and then were embarrassed when the fed-defying Nevada rancher, swollen with his folk-hero status, said blacks were maybe better off under slavery.

As the dust settles, it makes for a worrisome scene.

I’m glad that Gov. Rick Perry and Sen. Rand Paul and Sen. Dean Heller distanced themselves from Bundy and his racism. But for anyone who knows American political history, there’s something really new and disturbing — something weird — about these “conservatives” being happy, until then, to endorse what Bundy and his armed supporters had been doing and saying.

For a century, American patriots – especially on the right – regarded the intention to “overthrow the government of the United States” as the very opposite of patriotism. No greater enemies existed, in conservative America, than those – whether anarchists in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, or communists after the Russian revolution – who sought by deed, or even word, to undermine the American system of government.

But here is Cliven Bundy declaring that he doesn’t recognize the existence of the federal government created by the U.S. Constitution, or his own obligation to pay fees for grazing his cattle on federally owned land, or to abide by judgments handed down by federal courts. And here are his gun-toting supporters calling for county sheriffs around the region to forcibly disarm the agents of the federal government. And they are described as patriots by a Republican U.S. senator from Nevada (Dean Heller) and called heroes by major spokesmen, like Hannity, for so-called conservative America.

How does this happen? How do things turn into their opposites?

And why was American media not more disturbed by this strange contrast between the reaction to treason vs. the reaction to racism?

As much as I hate racism, I understand that it’s been part of America for centuries and isn’t going away any time soon. Whether racists keep their mouths closed or speak up (like Bundy) or get recorded expressing their private feelings (like basketball owner Donald Sterling), racism is a toxin in the American body politic that isn’t about to disappear.

We’re right to do all we can to keep racism from governing how our society functions, and yet it’s something we have to live with.

But with this anarchism and insurrectionism on the right, we have something new and dangerous.

To celebrate an assault on the very system of government that has enabled us to have as benign a history as we have had (overall); to make a hero of a man who disobeys the law and surrounds himself with armed men to resist federal authority — that calls into question the very foundation of a decent society.

It’s an assault not only on the Constitution but also on the rule of law that makes possible all other forms of social justice and decency.

The importance of upholding the rule of law is at the heart of genuine conservatism. Yet on the right in today’s America, we find the opposite. This is a frightening development.
Patriots are supposed to uphold their country, not break it apart.

Andy Schmookler is an award-winning author who was the Democratic nominee for Congress in Virginia’s 6th District.