Chuck Norris: I am basically crazy now

Yeah, that's pretty much everything.

Yeah, that's pretty much everything.

Remember when Chuck Norris was a harmless list of absurdist statements that your roommate read aloud to you from his laptop in 2006, and then your dad emailed to you yesterday? Well, he’s a real person now, and that person is completely, totally, scrambling-naked-out-of-the-shower-to-chase-his-marbles-across-the-kitchen-floor-during-your-dinner-party insane. Chuck Norris has a regular column over at, and he’s using it to push his agenda of radical socialism inspired by Fourier and inflected—nah, I’m just messing with you. All he cares about is taxes, guns and making sure everybody prays.

That’s a little reductive, I guess. As his most recent column indicates, Chuck Norris is deeply concerned about the “tyranny and oppression” inflicted upon us by our elected representatives, and he thinks that we should stop using the contemporary American flag. Instead, he urges his readers to fly the thirteen-star Betsy Ross flag, the Navy Jack, or the Gadsden flag,* all of which represent the stronger, better United States that existed before states stopped printing their own money or black people were allowed to vote. By flying one of those flags, you’ll show your neighbors that you stand with the Founding Fathers’ vision of America. “Of course,” Norris acknowledges, “patriots know that the 50-star flag truly represents one nation under God and our Founders’ republic, but modernists simply don’t get it.”

By “modernists,” I assume he means Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso, but that’s not important right now. The Patriots/Modernist dichotomy Norris sets up captures nicely the spirit behind Glenn Beck’s 9/12 Movement, Fox News’s Tea Party protests, Dick Armey’s Town Hall disruptions, and the larger, possibly fake, possibly real groundswell that I’m going to call Reactionary Populism. Norris, like Beck and anyone else likely to be found standing next to Griff Jenkins, is deeply concerned with the degree to which the United States has moved away from the year 1789. He quotes liberally (if you’ll pardon the term) from George Washington, John Adams and Patrick Henry, none of whom lived long enough to see the invention of the federal income tax or the limited liability corporation. Somewhat confusingly, Norris asserts that Reactionary Populism is a “nonpolitical” movement, despite the fact that it is primarily concerned with the workings of the US government. Instead, he says, “It represents patriots who are fed up against modernists who seek to overturn almost every principle and tenet laid down by our country’s Founding Fathers at the inception of our republic.”

It is in that quote that we find the elusive political platform of Reactionary Populism, which is often frustratingly against many things (Obama, taxes, spending, gun control, health care, existence of federal government, cancellation of The Golden Girls, women) and for very few (flags, God.) Basically, Reactionary Populism is in favor of everything covered in the first three weeks of your ninth-grade American History class, and against what came after. The George Washington quotation Norris counterposes against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, is from his Farewell Address in 1796. The chronologically latest quote Norris cites in his column is from 1816, when the United States was a preindustrial nation where men who did not own land weren’t allowed to vote, slavery was legal, and California was part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain.

The reactionary part of Reactionary Populism is baffling in its degree, but it makes sense in light of the Populism part. The distinguishing feature, historiographically speaking, of Norris’s beloved post-Revolutionary era is that it’s easy to understand. You’ve got your Constitution, your dozen or so Founders, your $8.7 million federal budget, and that’s about it. Once you’ve read Washington’s Farewell Address and Jefferson’s various libertarian screeds, you pretty much have all the historical viewpoints you need. The political concerns of a country with no public schools** and seven million people were comparatively narrow, which explains the startling redundancy of the Reactionary Populist critique. Consider some of Norris’s lists of problems with the current state of the nation:

“Outrageous borrowing, excessive bailouts, massive spending, speedball stimulus plans, universal hell care and swings toward socialism are just a few of the things that were protested [on September 12th.]”

“We’ve bastardized the First Amendment, reinterpreted America’s religious history, denied our Christian heritage, and secularized our society, and now we ooze skepticism and circumvent religion on every level of public and private life.”

Wait—he’s against borrowing, spending, bailouts and the stimulus plan? And in addition to reinterpreting our religious history, we’ve also denied our Christian heritage? I had no idea the American crisis was so, you know, two-thinged. The RP complaint is essentially that 1) taxes are too high and 2) church attendance is too low. You can throw in guns and some vague threat of socialism, but basically you’ve got a political platform that can be fully understood in the time it takes you to gas up your Tahoe. This simplicity is a big part of Reactionary Populism’s appeal. The signature feature of most of our present political problems is that they’re extraordinarily complex—so complex, in fact, that the majority of normal Americans with full-time jobs do not have time to understand them. H.R. 3200, for example, is 1,000 pages long and takes fifteen hours to read aloud. By comparison, you can skim through the Constitution in about 40 minutes. Why read one when you can just go to your local rec center and bludgeon Barney Frank with the other?

Somewhere in that calculus of understanding lies the true appeal of Reactionary Populism. By applying the political principles of men who didn’t live to see the steam engine to an era in which nuclear weapon specs can be found on the internet, RP creates the comforting illusion that we live in simple times. “What I loved about the 9/12 idea is that it was a nonpolitical, nonpartisan movement,” Norris writes. “[On] Sept. 12, 2001…we were not concerned then with red states, blue states or political parties. We were united as Americans, standing together to protect our nation.” The day after September 11th, the primary obligation of the US government seemed totally clear: prevent ultra-religious hillbillies from flying planes into buildings. It was as if things like road maintenance and debt-to-liquidity ratios and maintaining a favorable balance of trade while ensuring that corporate interests did not over-consume natural resources in a way that hobbled future growth didn’t exist. On September 12th, anyone could understand policy just as well as the President of the United States.

That was an illusion, of course. America’s problems will continue to threaten us whether we’re aware of their existence of not, and Reactionary Populism is an expression of nostalgia more than a valid political movement. It’s like wishing you could still move to Wyoming and hunt buffalo for a living. You can’t, and blaming the disappearance of the American buffalo hunter lifestyle on the federal government of 2009 is stupid. Mourn the extinction of the original America if you want to, but don’t pretend that we could all load up with buck knives and rifles and wander out onto the high plains instead. There is nothing out there to eat.

* You know, the yellow one with with the snake that says “Don’t tread on me” and looks like it was designed by a child. If you were an eighteenth-century British person, would you be worried after seeing that flag?

** Okay, Massachusetts. This is what happens when your blog is likely to be read by James Erwin.

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  1. Yeah, reactionary populism must be appealing for people who don’t have time for politics. But some people listen to paranoid conspiracy theory radio broadcasts (not much different from the clips you’ve been showing of Glenn Beck, as far as I can tell) for four hours a day. So it’s not that they don’t have time, nor could you say they don’t care about others. They’re just stupid. They can’t recognize logic sinkholes that you could probably identify at the age of five. You can’t convince these people, you can’t reason with them, you can’t educate them. I suppose you could brainwash them to believe the other way if you really tried, but they wouldn’t understand things any better. And it’s kind of irritating because they remain our relatives or high school economics teachers and there’s not a fucking thing to be done about it.

  2. The concept of Reactionary Populism reminds me of Religious Fundamentalism. Funny how they seem to always come together, huh?

    A former nun, Karen Armstrong, recently wrote a book called “The Case for God”.
    I’ll probably never read this book. However, I listened to an interview with her on NPR, and I’m intrigued. She studies religion and spirituality in longview, from pre-history to the present.
    I’m especially interested by her statement that religious fundamentalism–and the concept of scripture being read literally–started in response to the advent of science and the Enlightenment. Before then, she says people were fine to take religion with a grain of salt, because they didn’t believe they had to know the answers to life, the universe, and everything.* They just chalked that stuff up to the unknowable and got back to their wretched serfdom. However, scientists and other thinkers during the Enlightenment started attemtping to answer those questions, with mixed success.**
    In response, religion had to attempt to answer the same questions. It did it in its characteristic Shut-the-fuck-up-and-believe-what-I-tell-you-to manner, by pushing the humorous concept that the Bible was perfect, undeniable fact, never mind the geologic record. Enter, religious fundamentalism.

    I bring this up because Reactionary Populism is doing basically the same thing. It pushes the humorous concept that our Founding Fathers were demigods who created perfect, unalterable documents.*** I think Washington’s farewell address, so loved by Reactionary Populists and similar ‘Original Intent’ types actually proves that the Founding Fathers made lots of mistakes, knew it, and so left lots of room for improvement in their government.

    These same people who declare revisionistic interpretation of the Constitution (looking at the Constitution through today’s eyes) to be blasphemous don’t realize how hypocritical they are when they try to push fundamental constitutionalism (looking at today through 200-year-old eyes).

    Besides, our Founding Fathers would whup the collective asses of Reactionary Populists. Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton shot each other with large bore pistols at short range. George Washington was a 6’2″, 200lb badass. Andrew Jackson personally killed many men, and even watched a potential assassin fire two pistols at him, and then Andy beat him with his cane, a la Preston “Dan is a Pansy” Brooks.

    I’m sure Chuck Norris could knock a couple of their powdered wigs off, but the Founding Fathers would deliver a fundamentalist roundhouse kick to his head.

    * 42.

    ** Isaac Newton was a brilliant mathemetician, physicist, and scientist who was also very religious and wayyy into alchemy.

    *** They were hoopy froods, however.

    **** Hooray for ephemera!

  3. I never considered the connection between Biblical and Constitutional literalism, but it’s a good one and I like it. I’ve said it before, but that Tim Gavin is a man who knows where his towel is.

  4. Smick–

    There are two main reasons why Combat! is not in the NYT:

    1) The NYT is a self-fellating bastion of douchebaggery, and

    2) Dan has repeatedly exposed them as such.

    So, if the NYT deigned to acknowledge the existence of Combat!, it would probably be miffed about it.

  5. George Washington’s farewell address? Only a VERY selective reading of our first president’s great speech would lead someone to Chuck Norrisocracy.

    Summed up:
    – blind allegiance to political parties, special interests and regional distinctions are the bane of democracy
    – don’t amend the constitution to make the federal government weaker, federal gov’t is better than confederate gov’t
    – no, seriously guys, political parties are bad news, and will leave you prone to putting party interests above national interests and your own wellbeing, ferreal
    – checks and balances are good
    – religion good, morality good, informed opinions good
    – don’t make war in/with other countries unless you absolutely need to (looking at you, W.), and don’t be a dick in foreign affairs
    – you all probably won’t listen to this, but goddamn, audience of George Washington, don’t put any stock in political parties or fake patriots

    Political parties bad. No one listened, George. They’re more concerned about the God part, forgetting that white people originally came here because they had to worship God the “right” way back in the old country.

  6. Big Game-

    Amen! That’s exactly what I meant when I pointed out the hypocrisy of Norrepublicans using George’s farewall address to further their ends.

    I assume they read about it in a mass e-mail from Chuck Grassley, and have never actually read it themselves. “Readin’ books? That’s for those high-falutin’ liberal types.”

  7. Below is the opening paragraph of Mencken’s “Damn! A Book of Calumny”

    If George Washington were alive today, what a shining mark he would be for the whole camorra of uplifters, forward-lookers and professional patriots! He was the Rockefeller of his time, the richest man in the United States, a promoter of stock companies, a land-grabber, an exploiter of mines and timber. He was a bitter opponent of foreign alliances, and denounced their evils in harsh, specific terms. He had a liking for all forthright and pugnacious men, and a contempt for lawyers, schoolmasters and all other such obscurantists. He was not pious. He drank whisky whenever he felt chilly, and kept a jug of it handy. He knew far more profanity than Scripture, and used and enjoyed it more. He had no belief in the infallible wisdom of the common people, but regarded them as inflammatory dolts, and tried to save the republic from them. He advocated no sure cure for all the sorrows of the world, and doubted that such a panacea existed. He took no interest in the private morals of his neighbors.

  8. My grandparents were Christians in Northern Ireland. She was Protestant, and he was Catholic. They had to flee after death threats.
    I volunteered and joined the Army, and I served as an 11B Infantryman. Most of my time in the field was in squad or platoon size operations. We would have discussions about what we were fighting for. It always came back to the “Bill of Rights”. To me the most important was “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”
    What did our Founding Fathers have to say about religion:
    “Question with boldness even the existence of a god.” – Thomas Jefferson (letter to Peter Carr, 10 August 1787):
    “All natural institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.” Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason;
    “Religion and government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.”, John Madison;
    “Lighthouses are more helpful than Churches”, Benjamin Franklin
    I volunteered and joined the Army, and I served as an 11B Infantryman. Most of my time in the field was in squad or platoon size operations. We would have discussions about what we were fighting for. It always came back to the “Bill of Rights”. To me the most important was “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

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