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'How deep is our disconnect from that of which we should be most ashamed?' asks Christensen.  (Photo: Ted S. Warren/ AP)

"I’ve Never Been So Ashamed To Be an American." Really?

These are shameful times, but the current ugliness did not start simply with Donald Trump

Christian Christensen

"I’ve never been so ashamed to be an American."

We have heard that a lot since the election of Donald Trump. We have heard many Americans express their disappointment and outrage over where our country is going. Over how humanity and the rule of law have quickly given ground to the evils of ethno-nationalism and authoritarianism. Over how respect for human life has been replaced by a callous indifference to, and even pleasure taken from, the suffering of others.

"Trump didn’t invent dehumanizing Muslims for political gain, he exploited what was already there."Trump’s Muslim-Ban-That-Isn’t-A-Muslim-Ban-Even-Though-He-Asked-Rudy-Giuliani-How-To-Implement-A-Muslim-Ban, in conjunction with his halting of the acceptance of refugees from Syria, caused a great deal of soul-searching in the US. This soul-searching has led many to the conclusion that, yes, these are indeed the worst of times in contemporary US history.

To me, that many feel that this is when to be most ashamed to be American tells me a lot about how and why we got here. That is: how we got Trump, and why his campaign tactics and policies, as disgusting and racist as they are, have political currency.

How deep is our disconnect from that of which we should be most ashamed? After Trump announced his Muslim Ban, journalists and social media users were quick to point to a talk about Muslims and Islam given by George W Bush only a few days after September 11, 2001 in which he insisted that not all Muslims were terrorists, and deserved respect. His words were conciliatory and measured. His tone diplomatic. See, we were told, even W seems like a normal human compared to the ogre Trump.

Indeed, W’s words were fine. They would have been a touch finer had he not subsequently waged a savage neo-colonial war against Iraq based on a blatant falsehood that the US media was simply too lazy—or too blinded by the shiny flag pins corporate sponsors wanted them to wear—to expose. A war that ended up resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. A war that “internally displaced” between 2 and 3 million Iraqis. A war that destabilized the region, leading to the rise of ISIS.

A war and an aftermath, one could calmly and reasonably assume, that would never have happened had the citizens of Iraq been anything other than predominantly Muslim.

And where was our national shame in these years? Where was the media outrage over the slaughter of Muslims guilty of nothing more than living in a dictatorship, and then have their country destroyed by self-professed Christians who had no basic grasp of history, geo-politics or ethics? The silence on the part of the American people and US journalism over the unimaginable number of dead in Iraq during the first decade of the 21st century was so loud that the echo has reverberated all the way forward to 2017. And, Democrats should not nod their heads in knowing condemnation of Bush and Trump. Between 1992 and 2000 Bill Clinton oversaw sanctions against Iraq that had devastating effects upon the Iraqi population.

Indifference. Willful ignorance. Call it what you want.

Trump didn’t invent dehumanizing Muslims for political gain, he exploited what was already there. In the avalanche of media coverage of Trump’s Muslim Ban, little or no mention is made of the role of the persistent and wide-ranging stereotyping and dehumanization of Muslims that led to more Americans being in favor of the ban than against it. That media reluctance is not surprising, given that this would involve the media taking a long, hard look at how their Islamophobic flag-waiving after 9/11 contributed to the grotesque circus we are now witnessing. It would also involve Democrats getting off their high horses and looking back at their support for Iraq sanctions, the Iraq War, and Obama’s foreign policy in Yemen, Pakistan and Palestine (that led to the deaths of thousands of Muslim civilians). Basically, Trump’s anti-Muslim bigotry, and the Islamophobia of his supporters, are treated as if created in test tubes in Steve Bannon’s apartment. Because that's convenient.

These are shameful times, but it was a long time in the making.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Christian Christensen

Christian Christensen

Christian Christensen, American in Sweden, is Professor of Journalism at Stockholm University. Follow him on Twitter: @ChrChristensen

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