Some say property, some say money, some say the insatiable attempt to assuage psychosexual anxieties by a projected identification with monstrous edifices of domination and death is the true American religion. But I say it is what Americans love most: sanctimony.
You could soar like a far-seeing hawk across the entire political landscape of the United States and never spy a single spot not covered with the fine, strong moss of sanctimony. From the highest mountaintop of power to the deepest crevice of servility, from east to west, from north to south – and certainly from right to left – sanctimony will fill your eyes and cloud your head with its powerful savor.
Every issue, every public action, is informed by it – and deformed by it. In a land where both religious and secular people are indelibly imbued with the sense that they belong to a sanctified nation – whether the divine sanction comes from God or else emanates from the fetish object of an 18th century parchment – there can be no political contention that is not also a spiritual agon for righteousness. Whether knowingly or not, most Americans view politics in the words of Dmitri Karamazov: “God and the devil are fighting it out, and the battlefield is the human heart.”
The recent impeachment farce is a good example. As the spectacle slouched inexorably toward its preordained end of acquittal, the writer Jacob Bacharach made a very pertinent observation: “Pretending the whole impeachment and trial were some grave, solemn, and serious legal proceeding rather than just a perfectly normal parliamentary No Confidence vote that was never going anywhere is a total affectation.” And of course, this is true: having the legislature vote on whether or not a government should continue in office is ordinary if the infrequent matter in most countries that call themselves democracies. It’s a question of workaday politics, a calibration of coalitions and numbers that have nothing to do with the “soul” or “character” of the nation involved.