Glenn Beck: Normally I’d say “Hello America,” but here’s the one thing: This can’t be the same country I grew up in because in the America I grew up in the headlines would be a whole lot different today.
Rush Limbaugh: We have to stop and shout, and stop this and oppose it. This is not the America that you and I grew up – I said earlier if Al Qaeda wants to demolish the America we know and love, they’d better hurry because Obama’s beating them to it.
Sean Hannity: Obama is single-handedly destroying the America I grew up in.
Sarah Palin (praising North Carolina’s small towns): We believe that the best of America is in these small towns that we get to visit, and in these wonderful little pockets of what I call the real America, being here with all of you hard-working very patriotic, um, very, um, pro-America areas of this great nation.
Bill O’Reilly: If you are 35 or older, chances are good that your childhood in America was pretty much like mine, no matter where you grew up. … How times have changed.
Ann Coulter: No matter what defeatist tack liberals take, real Americans are behind our troops 100 percent, behind John Ashcroft 100 percent, behind locking up suspected terrorists 100 percent, behind surveillance of Arabs 100 percent.
Anyone listening to the town-hall gatherings concerning health care over the summer heard several themes running throughout the oppositional rhetoric to comprehensive health care. Among one of the prominent themes voiced by many seniors in their 60s and 70s is the demand to return to the America of yesteryear. The America in which they and many of us grew up. The America of the 1950s and ’60s.
At the top of their lungs, they demanded that this America be returned to them. They expressed real fear about today’s America, wanting to return to a simpler time when everyone knew their place. Frankly, whenever I hear such nostalgia for the good old days, a cold chill runs up my Hispanic spine, mainly because I am old enough to remember all too well the America to which they want to return.
Regardless of O’Reilly’s tendency of reducing all Americans to some mystical white experience similar to a “Leave it to Beaver” sitcom, this Latino-American who is way over 35 lived in a very different America than him, even though our homes were just a few miles apart. His Long Island experience could not be enjoyed by my family, relegated to the New York slums of Hell’s Kitchen, thanks to the prevalent segregation of the America for which he pines.
This was an America where brown bodies throughout the Southwest, like black bodies throughout the South, were often the strange fruit found hanging from trees. This was an America where the killing or the disappearance of nonwhite bodies was a common occurrence.
It’s an America where I learned early, for my own safety and hopes of surviving, to fear, not trust, law enforcement. Laws, customs and traditions made sure that the deprivation of my Hispanic childhood was absolutely nothing like O’Reilly’s childhood.
The headlines Beck longs for are in an America where a Latina would never have been heralded as a Supreme Court justice in its newspapers. This is an America where I would have remained trapped in my first job at 9 years old as a janitor. (Child labor laws didn’t apply to Hispanic kids.) I pushed a mop that was taller than me. My only aspiration was to succeed my father as the building’s superintendent.
It was an America where this Hispanic lacked the opportunities to grow up to become a seminary professor, let alone a Supreme Court justice.
Ann Coulter’s America is very curious. It seems to beckon back to a Joe McCarthy era as if it had won the day. Where all real Americans support a conservative cause 100 percent. Where deviation from the party line does not exist. This is a love-it-or-leave-it attitude toward an America where differences of opinion are stifled.
Such an America seems to have more in common with some Party Central Committee that outlines what we should believe and support and what we shouldn’t, rather than a democracy where differences are the desired norm.
Palin believes that real America is comprised of small North Carolina towns, reminiscent of the mystical North Carolina town of Mayberry, from the sitcom, “The Andy Griffin Show,” popular during our childhood. This is an America where lovable characters like Aunt Bee, deputy sheriff Barney Fife and little Opie lived in an uncomplicated, simple and rustic America.
More importantly, this is an America that, in spite of the fact Mayberry is located in the heart of the South, there are no black people and less Hispanics, not that different from Palin’s real-life hometown.
For Limbaugh and Hannity, the America they wish to return to is one where Obama would never have been able to occupy the White House. One where his views and concerns would never be able to see the light of day.
In short, what all those who demand a return to the America of our youth really want is an America that would have kept the White House white.
Professor of Social Ethics and Latinx Studies at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado.