In the course of giving four reasons why the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is doomed, this article quotes Jay Michaelson, a gay rights advocate who has a JD from Yale Law School. who says, “Marriage has always been a matter of state law, and DOMA has been unconstitutional since the moment it was passed. Moreover, DOMA targets a specific minority group, and discriminates against it. Discrimination is un-American.” [My italics-MS]
Really? It surprises me when people show such little sense of history or self-awareness that they can say something like that. And although I am picking out this one example, one hears this kind of thing over and over again, that something bad must necessarily be ‘un-American’. I wrote three years ago that this is a form of pandering, part of the effort to make the speaker and the speaker’s message more attractive to the audience by making them feel good about themselves. But in the process, it perpetuates the damaging myth of Essential Goodness of the American people.
Such people take a recent positive development and act as if it was always part of the nation’s DNA, ignoring the long history that preceded it. In reality, discrimination is as American as apple pie, aimed at various times with various levels of intensity at Native Americans, African Americans, Irish, Jews, Poles, Hispanics, women, Japanese, Chinese, and gays. I am sure that I have left some groups out that at one time or other were also marginalized or even persecuted.
I think this need to say such absurdities arises almost unconsciously from the internalization of the idea of American exceptionalism, that the people of this nation somehow have a superior moral sense and do not share the same failings as people elsewhere in the world.
All we can truthfully say is that we, along with much of the rest of the world, are getting better at recognizing and eliminating discrimination. There is no question that in many areas, America has made great strides forward. It can be justifiably proud that it has done so, without distorting the past or making patently absurd claims.