Reverence for the Irreverent

A country's character is revealed by the personalities it honors.

In years past, today was celebrated as Washington’s Birthday.Now, it’s known as the banal President’s Day—a holiday celebrating all presidents, whether they’re worthy of remembrance or not.

This collectivized holiday was altered at the expense of the legacy of the man who founded the United States. George Washington, as the general who won the Revolutionary War and became the first President of the Republic, should hold a higher standing than all other men who served as commander-in-chief. For these accomplishment alone, he deserves a date reserved for himself—not for the office he held.

But that’s not the case, and Washington’s stature has diminished in recent years in favor of another president, Abraham Lincoln—a man currently celebrated as America’s White liberal par excellence. For it was Lincoln who freed the slaves and decimated a revolt predicated on values antithetical to the notion that “all men are created equal.” He cut an awkward figure in contrast to the warrior aristocrat Washington—a figure more like the urban elves you’d meet in the cities across the country. There’s even the floating rumor he was gay, which only makes him more appealing in the eyes of the chattering class. However, the present image of Lincoln is not entirely connected to the real man, and his support of Black repatriation and authoritarian rule are overlooked in favor of his more politically correct side.

Lincoln is still a revered figure by the vast majority of Americans today (with a few libertarian and Confederate sympathizer exceptions).

The same cannot be said about Washington.

In an article published on the day originally designed to honor the first President, the New York Times “uncovered” his overlooked record as a “slave catcher.” The intended purpose is to besmirch the character of the man that almost single-handedly forged a nation from a ragtag band of colonists. The writer for The Times—a black studies professor at the University of Delaware—thinks that’s not what important about Washington. Instead, the more important event for the revolutionary general was a lone attempt in 1796 to capture a runaway slave from his plantation. The author informs the reader that the runaway managed to elude the “slave-catching grasp” of Washington—as if the entire life of the President boiled down to this one episode. To add insult to injury, the author prefaces the article with a mocking mention of the common tales of the Virginian gentleman (the false teeth and apple trees) that every schoolchild has learned since the founding. No room for White idolization here.

This isn’t the article you’d imagine America’s preeminent publication running on a day intended to remember the man they’re slandering. But then again, this is 21st century America. Every White man endowed with a holiday now gets a ritual denunciation on that same holiday. Columbus gets smeared as a rapey imperialist who began the extermination of an entire people, with nary a mention he led the way for the settlement of the New World. White Jesus and White Santa Claus get attacked for being, well, White and are recast as non-Whites for modern-day Christmas. For Thanksgiving, we get tales of how the Pilgrims deceived, enslaved, and exterminated the peace-loving Indians they shared their first feast with.

It’s little surprise that the scorn of academia then turns to the ultimate “dead white man” on President’s Day. While it would still come as a shock to see the publication of an article along the lines of “George Washington, Slave Catcher” for “Abraham Lincoln, Negro Repatriater,” we probably aren’t that far off from it. The veneration of White men seems a dangerous stretch for our society, and even if the White man discussed are considered forerunners for today’s urban elves, that will likely not save them from the blade of countless denunciations for White supremacy. In the minds of our intelligentsia, what could be more White supremacist than holidays turning White men into icons when there’s an apparent scarcity of days for non-Whites? The simple answer to is White men created and built this country, thus a lot of holidays for White men. But that’s no longer a “reasonable” response.

You can tell that the Martin Luther King federal holiday and every minority group receiving its own month is not enough to quell their indignation at the people who made America. But they’ll take what they can get, and you’ll never see the New York Times MLK Day article: “Martin Luther King, Adulterous Plagiarist.”

What’s even more revealing about these traditional American commemorations is the apathy they generate within the people. President’s Day, to most Americans, is just another day where the mail doesn’t come and they have a shot of getting off work. There’s no real celebrations, no real feeling for it. While a few Americans may care about a major publication besmirching Washington, the vast majority don’t. If they read it, they’d shrug their shoulders and slowly imbibe the idea that the man who founded their country was a despicable slave owner. But that’s no shock to their worldview. Their reverence doesn’t lie with long-dead presidents.

In light of recent events, the reverence of many Americans, especially urban elves, apparently lies more with smart-allecky comedians who affirm their core values. Namely Jon Stewart and the institution that is Saturday Night Live.

Jon Stewart, host of the The Daily Show, announced last week he was retiring from his show. Based on the reaction to this meaningless development, you would’ve been forgiven if you thought a great religious leader had just died. Emotional reactions poured through every facet of social media and glowing tribute after glowing tribute was published by every major media outlet. Stewart’s record was described as a “necessary crucible” for American society and it “defined news for a generation.”

Sadly for that generation, Jon Stewart was less a hard-hitting “social critic” than a court’s jester.

As Gregory Hood points out:

The contemporary court jester comforts the comfortable, mocks the powerless, and reinforces the System that grants him privilege. He’s not really a court jester, but a court’s jester. And the three most renowned jesters in the larger parody we call a country are Steven Colbert, John Oliver, and Jon Stewart Leibowtiz.…

Stewart created the dominant form of contemporary comedy, or perhaps post-comedy–the baldly signaled social cue, followed by the required response. It was the precursor to the Internet’s emotional porn, where text accompanying videos not only tell you what to think, but also what you should feel. The key to Stewart’s Culture of Comedic Critique is that it is entirely dependent on the audience–the equivalent of a bumper sticker that says “Vote Republican, it’s easier than thinking.”

Since he stuck with the comfortable aphorisms of the System and demonized the proper targets, his departure posed a sobering question to his devotees: Who will fulfill his role as the penultimate court’s jester?

More importantly, his leaving generated more enthusiasm than the upcoming event commemorating the actual leaders of this country. A man who deals in cynicism and parades jokes as news conjures more allegiance among the young than the combined weight of America’s ancient statesmen. What a state.

Furthermore, an event televised the night before President’s Day did manage to grip the nation’s attention—Saturday Night Live’s 40th Anniversary Special. Serving as a time machine for pop culture debris over the last (near) half-century, the special was a bloated affair full of every celebrity imaginable and hamfisted skits galore. It broke two Twitter records and dominated the ratings. Similar to the religiously-tinged reaction to Stewart’s resignation, the show seemed more like a televised ritual for the nation. But instead of the valorization of heroes and the commemoration of sacrifice, the country received snarky sketches and self-absorbed jesters. But this was a momentous affair for all the country to experience, akin to a comedy Super Bowl. Meanwhile, fewer and fewer people care about America’s forefathers.

But that point conveys exactly how the majority of young Americans view their country. They have no reverence for the Founding Fathers, but they revere comedians who bring them entertainment and comfort their beliefs. It shouldn’t be surprising that the two events involving America’s favorite jesters elicits more interests than the combined activities of President’s Day. To many of the people living in the U.S. this isn’t a country they’re attached to. The patriotism of their parents and grandparents is a joke to them—hence, their appreciation for those like Stewart who satirize it. They hold more reverence for the irreverent, and cynicism and irony are all too-common traits among them. You can’t expect them to attend a Rally for George Washington and salute the fallen soldiers of the Revolution. That would be a ridiculous idea, more fit for those Tea Party rubes they love to laugh at.

And as the chattering elite continues its war against all White male historical figures, the growing detachment from the traditions that once united America will only increase. American nationalism will achieve full irrelevancy as the youth are taught this country was founded on lies and exploitation, and the only figures they’ll be allowed to respect are those with a darker skin tone. The unintended effect of this cultural cleansing will be the corrosion of those values Lincoln supposedly stood for in the Civil War, the same values cherished by present-day liberal. The proposition nation can only survive if the people who live in it consider it an actual nation. Without heroes, without traditions, without a real culture, America can hardly constitute a country. Without a national identity, people will seek other, more rooted identities.

Those won’t originate from the court’s jesters who tore down America’s.