The Heresy of America First

The Heresy of America First November 22, 2018
Here’s a little pre-turkey political theology for your day. Consider, when someone says “America first” what do they mean? What they mean, bottom line, is that the president can do whatever is necessary to sustain the life of the US.
Examples: drone strikes on US citizens, suspend asylum rules, any and all proclamations or edicts from the “sovereign” that suspend the rules (which is why almost all of these policies are then challenged by the courts, the last arbiters of whether or not the “sovereign” is violating the “economy” of rules set by the nation itself, by previous “sovereigns”).
The modern political theological concept of this was: Sovereign is the one who makes the state of exception.
The larger theological question related to it: Can God act contrary to the economy of salvation God has ordered?
My friend Greg Walter points out to me that this larger theological question is very old (at least in our western Christian tradition), going way back to debates about the Eucharist and political issues around Charles the Great in the 9th century.
But everyone, of all political or religious persuasions, will want to ask themselves the fundamental questions that hover around this: What should we do when the sovereign violates sovereign laws (and in the case of asylum, for example, in the name of America first violates not only the laws of asylum but also the laws and norms that places the person under him in their position in the first place–Whitaker).
In other words, a basic theological question would be: Can you faithfully say “America first”? One answer to that would be global… how shall we love other nations even while loving our own nation?
But another answer would be: America first becomes heretical when it elevates the sovereign above the very economy of laws that makes the nation what it is.
Greg also pointed out to me that heteronormativity was another one of these moves that happened in the 19th century. “Heteronormativity is established in the 19th century as a way to suspend the traditions of broad acceptance, flexibility, and generosity that characterize the way that Christians and others granted each other about sex… [Foucault and Jordan point out that] pre-19th century attitudes weren’t as welcoming as they could be to non-hetero folk.  but the codification and suspension of a wide variety of traditions suspended more welcoming tradition’s potency and care.”
In the modern world, the other sovereign is the subject themselves. I decide, each individual person decides, the state of exception. Nobody can get between me and Jesus. Nothing else norms that. You can’t challenge what I believe, because that’s just what I believe.

This is why the Chief Justice finally spoke up yesterday. He’s attempting to carve out space that makes the sovereignty question more complex (which is what our form of government attempts to do also):

“We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges. What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them. That independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for.”

You might say the judicial response to the question of sovereignty is, at its best: Communicative rationality.

Or as Greg says, “A response to America First should not be God First or my community first. Instead, get rid of firsts altogether.”

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