Remember when everyone liked Rudolph Giuliani? The former “Mayor of the World” was, after all, Time magazine’s “Person of the Year” in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Yeah, I remember that too. But Giuliani is also a right-wing dunce.
Case in point: he recently stirred the endlessly bubbling American political chamber pot when, at a private gathering of like-minded conservative Oompa Loompas held for Wisconsin Koch Brothers organ-grinder monkey Scott Walker, he questioned President Barack Obama’s patriotism. “I do not believe that the president loves America,” Giuliani babbled, “He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.” Translation: Obama’s
black different; we’re not; Anti-Americanism follows. But questioning a political rival’s love of country is an old American political tactic, and it hasn’t gotten any less vile over time.
Of course, inquiring just how much the dusky-skinned usurper-in-chief loves America has been standard procedure for the Right for years now. There’s a huge willingness on the part of the Republican Party’s mouth-breather base to believe that Obama is a funny-named, possibly Muslim, undoubtably communist “outsider,” and tools like Giuliani are happy to throw these unenlightened baboons chunks of rhetorical red meat. Koch Industries fellater Scott Walker even got into the act when he said he didn’t know if Obama was a Christian. To many of America’s right-wing voters, being American is synonymous with being a reactionary bible thumper. Walker and Giuliani know this, and they bent over accordingly.
As I already noted, accusations of un-Americanism go back a long time. The Atlantic’s Peter Beinart reminds us, for example, that John F. Kennedy endured anti-Catholic bigots who accused him of being the pawn of a nefarious Papacy bent on infiltrating Protestant America. The problem in the case of Kennedy, as in all such cases of “Anti-American” accusations, rests in how you define “patriotism.” In her book To Die For: The Paradox of American Patriotism, Cecelia Elizabeth O’Leary reminds us that the loyalties and identities that constitute American patriotism have always been “steeped in contradictory patterns and ambivalent relationships.”* Historically, the tension generated by Americans’ failures to put their rhetorical patriotic ideals into practice has often turned patriotism into outright repression.
Citing the work of scholars of nationalism Robert Schatz and Ervin Staub, political psychologists M.A. Depuiset and F. Butera note that there’s a big difference between “blind” patriotism and “constructive” patriotism. Blind patriotism “refers to a rigid and inflexible attachment to the country, characterised by a loyalty without any criticism,” regardless of how that country behaves. By contrast, constructive patriotism is a type of ‘critical loyalty’ that “considers humanitarian value as of fundamental worth.”* Constructive patriots don’t throw themselves like lemmings off of the “my country, right or wrong” cliff. They’re willing to criticize their country when it violates humanitarian values, and they consider this criticism to be essential to their patriotic duty. The Right, as you undoubtably noticed, doesn’t do “critical loyalty.”
Conservatives are drawn to blind patriotism like Sloth to a Baby Ruth. For them, patriotism has always functioned as an absolutist philosophy crossed with Reductio ad absurdum assumptions. These self-professed “patriots” claim that national devotion can only be demonstrated by adhering to a series of unrealistic and overly simplified standards that they themselves spontaneously (and not coincidentally) create. But sanctifying patriotism is a recipe for tyranny. Doing so encourages all kinds of civil-rights violations that range from character assassination to mob rule. When you elevate patriotism to a nuance-free, unambiguous ideal, patriotism becomes whatever you want it to be, and this, in turn, justifies any and all attempts to root out the supposedly un-patriotic.
This has happened before, long before Kennedy faced the taunts of the WASP establishment. Consider the tumultuous environment of fear, surveillance, and coercion that engulfed the American Deep South in 1860-61 — a mere few months before the outbreak of the Civil War. In the wake of Abraham Lincoln’s election to the presidency, the so-called Fire Eaters — virulent pro-Southern, pro-slavery, pro-secession politicians and rabble-rousers — demanded the immediate secession of the southern slaveholding states from the Union. In states like Mississippi, where anti-Union, anti-abolitionist, pro-slavery feelings ran deep, the Fire Eaters stoked a climate of intimidation and terror that singled out any perceived pro-Union feelings as evidence of a lack of southern patriotism. In this maelstrom of paranoia, many Mississippians paid a steep price for their alleged “dissent” from the self-professed patriots’ ideals.
Natchez planter George Sargent lamented this environment of stifling patriotic conformity. “As for this state there is no hope for moderation on her part,” Sargent wrote, “politicians have aroused the worst passions of the human beast,” and the people, being naturally “slow of comprehension,” were susceptible to leaders that were “taking care not to give them time for reflection.”  Indeed, reflection was the last thing on the mind of steam-headed secessionists like Senator, and soon-to-be Confederate president, Jefferson Davis. During a campaign stop in the fall of 1860, Davis responded morbidly to a spectator who asked what would happen to anyone who voiced Union support in the event of Mississippi’s secession. “The neck of the author of such an inquiry was in danger of hemp,” Davis answered. Patriotism indeed.
When Mississippi held elections in the winter of 1860-61 to determine whether or not the state should secede from the Union, mobs of pro-secessionist thugs staked out positions at polling places to “discourage” voters from casting a pro-Union ballot. They employed flapping lips or flying fists, depending on the situation. John Aughey, an evangelical minister and ardent Mississippi Unionist, reported on the pressures to conform to southern “patriotism” that gripped the Magnolia State during the secession vote. Aughey heard a pro-secessionist speaker warn that, “compromise with the Yankees, after the election of Lincoln, is treason against the South.” The speaker then bragged that secessionist thugs had hanged seven “tory-submissionists” [common terms for Unionists] near the Tallahatchie River. The hangings discouraged any further “non-patriotic” agitation, as Unionist candidates, “having the wholesome dread of hemp before their eyes,” wisely decided to stop canvassing their neighborhoods. Terrorism has a way of keeping people quiet. 
Other Mississippians witnessed similarly extreme pressures to conform to southern “patriotism.” Pontotoc County resident R.F. Crenshaw told his cousin that, “we are so convulsed here now in Miss. With Secession, that the man who does not give, not only one day but all his time to his Country is regarded at best but a lukewarm patriot.” John Goss, a native of Ohio who lived near Attala County described to a friend how “drunken rowdies” had whipped several men in his neighborhood on account of their “unsoundness on the secession question.” This was the apex of blind patriotism, in which thuggish coercion squelched dissenting views that might have otherwise questioned the wisdom of Mississippi seceding from the Union and waging a war that would reduce thousands of her native sons to rotting corpses on a battlefield — all in the name of patriotism.
And woe to those Mississippians who appeared to express the ultimate form of un-patriotic disloyalty: allegedly sympathizing with slaves or abolitionists. Betty Beaumont, a British national living in Wilkinson County, observed how “there seemed to be a strong prejudice…against those who did not own slaves…and a disposition to persecute and prosecute them on every occasion.”  Such occasions came frequently during the secession crisis.
In December 1860, Batesville resident Tom West stood accused of being a “nigger worshipper” and harboring “filthy abolitionist sentiment.” As punishment, a local mob “administered to him a severe flagellation.” Similarly, an enraged mob ran English-born schoolteacher John Blissett out of Newton County, where he had lived for years, due to his supposed “abolition sentiments.” In Coahoma County, along the Mississippi River, a local planter reported that over eighty armed men waited along the riverbanks to “sink every Abolition city boat,” and he observed that “a few, a very few, Union men may be seen in the cities of the State.” Of course, this wasn’t so surprising given that self-professed southern patriots did their best to silence, if not injure or kill, anyone who refused to tow the secessionist line. In Mississippi, before the outbreak of the Civil War, it really was “my country, right or wrong,” and this wasn’t a good thing if you happened to be “wrong.”
So, what did patriotism mean to Mississippi’s would-be Confederates? Well, it meant whatever they said it meant at any given time. Just like Rudy Giuliani and other right-wing wombats who have endlessly questioned President Obama’s love of country over the course of his two terms in office, southern secessionists in 1860-61 defined patriotism as a blind loyalty to the cause they cherished the most. These “patriots” demanded a bizarre, untenable, and downright tyrannical level of patriotic devotion that trampled the rights of so-called “dissenters” into the dirt.
When Giuliani, Scott Walker, and other conservative purveyors of patriot porn question how much Obama loves his country, they’re not questioning in good faith. To them, Obama simply can’t love his country, at least in the blind, nuance-free, uncritical, jingoistic way that they love their country. Had these bozos been around in 1860, they might have had a great time driving “disloyal” abolitionists and Unionists out of the Sunny South.
There have, of course, been plenty more incidents in U.S. history during which the stifling of dissent masqueraded as patriotism. The Sedition Act of 1918 that outlawed criticism of the government during World War I, and the era of McCarthyism that ruined the lives and reputations of anyone perceived to be communists by Wisconsin’s favorite paranoid, senatorial nutball are two more notable examples. In these cases, as was the case in pre-Civil War Mississippi, “patriotism” came to mean whatever the fevered minds of the blindly loyal could cook up. But the goal was always the same: separate the “real” from the “false” Americans; silence all unwarranted criticisms, and eliminate “outsiders.”
And it’s President Obama — he of the funny name, of the cosmopolitan upbringing, of the liberal politics, and of the black skin — who has played the role of the Right’s favorite “outsider” ever since he took the oath of office. There’s only one way to deal with outsiders. You claim that they don’t think like you do; you claim that they’re too different to fit in, and you claim that they don’t love their country. No doubt that Mississippi’s pro-secessionist Fire Eaters, who waged a war against another lawyer-from-Illinois-turned-President, are watching from beyond the grave at the antics of Giuliani and others — and are smiling.
* See Cecelia Elizabeth O’Leary, To Die For: The Paradox of American Patriotism (Princeton: Princeton Univerity Press 2000), 4.
* See M.A. Depuiset and F.Butera, “On the Relevance of Studying Patriotism and Normative Conflict in Changing Attitudes Towards Immigrants,” Psicología Política, 30 (2005): 76-77.
 See George Washington Sargent to George Sargent, December 5, 1860; George Washington Sargent to George Sargent, December 15, 1860; George Washington Sargent to William Duncan, December 30, 1860; all in George Washington Sargent Papers, 1840-1900, folder 11, volume 11, 04025, Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
 See John Hill Aughey, Tupelo (Lincoln, NB: State Journal Company, 1888), 30-31.
 See R.F. Crenshaw to Ella Austin, December 13, 1860, R.F. Crenshaw Letter, #MUM01341, Box 1997.1, Folder 97-1, Archives and Special Collections, J.D. Williams Library, University of Mississippi, Oxford, Mississippi; Diary of Jason Niles, January 2, 1862, Transcript of manuscript #950, Documenting the American South, Electronic Edition. Southern Historical Collection. University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1999. http://docsouth.unc.edu/imls/niles/niles.html
 see Betty Bentley Beaumont, Twelve Years of my Life: An Autobiography (Philadelphia: T.B. Peterson & Brothers, 1887), 105-106, 136, 157.
 see Daily Evening Citizen (Vicksburg, MS), December 20, 1860; “A Female Abolitionist,” Ibid, December 18, 1860; “A Natural Result of Abolition Aggression,” Ibid, December 20, 1860.