There is, perhaps, no politician more poetic than Sarah Palin. Yes, yes, I know: Contain your rage. What I mean by this is that Sarah Palin simply does not think in prose. Not for her, the worked-out, comprehensible statement; not for her, the careful chain of verifiable logic; not for her, the facts. She thinks in big, startling images and portentous phrases; she is capable of transforming nearly anything she touches, no matter how mundane, into a near-mythic entity, charged with emotion and significance. America becomes “Real America.” The media becomes “The Gotcha Media.” Blame for something she does not wish to be blamed for becomes “Blood Libel.” Although that last one… well, the Palin approach to language can backfire.
Still, after so many years of hearing Palin speak about “Real America,” it’s undeniably exciting to see her actually try to define the damn thing. Her current bus tour — devoted to “the fundamental restoration of America!” With Palin as pagan Earth Goddess, spreading fertility unto the wasteland with each blessed visitation — has the aim of visiting American landmarks and historical sites. So that Palin might pay homage to them, sure. But also, so that she might let us know what she perceives those essential American landmarks and historical sites to be.
So, for once and all, we have a chance to know exactly what Sarah Palin means when she speaks about “America.” And now, with the tour just begun, it is time for us to figure out what “Sarah Palin’s America” really is.
1. An America in which the Declaration of Independence was “non-partisan.” To the casual student of history, the Declaration of Independence is an artifact from a bloody civil war, in which thirteen colonies of an empire passionately declared the right to self-governance, despite the fact that the empire in question tended to respond to declarations of self-governance with heavy musket fire. The Declaration of Independence took sides; it had, shall we say, a point of view. To Palin, however, this document, and the United States Constitution, are “nonpartisan, valuable historical tools we all need to see, read and absorb to learn the truth about our past.” They furthermore prove that “we ARE one nation under God, and we’re indivisible if we follow the blueprints our Founders drew for us.” Those blueprints, of course, largely consisting of the sentiment that governed states are extremely divisible from their governors. But so it goes.
2. An America haunted by the benevolent, diversely interested ghost of George Washington. Say what you will about the man — church-avoider, slaveholder, connoisseur of hippo-ivory teeth — but never say that Sarah Palin is not a fan. Indeed, upon visiting his tomb, she was apparently visited by his ghost, an experience that she seems to think is fairly common: “I wished that every American school student could be here to see and feel the spirit of our nation’s first father.” This mystical spirit visitation was apparently shared by family members: “Even Piper was able to grasp the significance of being in the presence of our first President – who had such diverse interests.” Interests such as “farming, fishing, trade and commerce,” and reaching out from beyond the grave.
3. An America that could stand a few more hellish bloodbaths. Upon visiting Gettysburg, Sarah reflects upon “how ready and willing troops and civilians were in 1863 to lay their lives on the line. Are we as ready and willing to accept the call for sacrifice today in order to keep our union secure?” Sure: Lots of folks might focus on the devastated and broken families, the brutal field amputations, the being gored to death with bayonets. They might hope that we could actually avoid the circumstances that led up to all this (as, for example, people being willing to gore other folks to death with bayonets in order to uphold slavery). But, jeez. Americans today are wimps.
4. An America in which New York’s most historic landmarks include Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, and Donald Trump. Much has been made of Palin’s snitty remarks about the DREAM act, and her emphasis on “legal” immigration, while visiting Ellis Island: “The immigrants of the past, they had to literally and figuratively stand in line to become U.S. citizens. I’d like to see that continue.” (As opposed to the immigrants of today, who merely have to close their eyes, click their heels three times, and repeat “there’s nothing like citizenship status.”) But then, one doesn’t expect pro-immigration sentiment from Palin. More perplexing is her list of other stops: After thanking France for the Statue of Liberty, Palin added that she was “on to visit colleagues at the FOX studios.” And to have pizza with Donald Trump: Another public figure with a deep and somewhat anti-factual fascination with foreigners.
5. An America in which all truth is subject to the verdict of Wikipedia. Of course, finally, one has to address the Revere Incident: Stopping at Revere’s house, Palin described the man as “he who warned, uh, the, the British that they weren’t gonna be taking away our arms, uh, by ringing those bells.” There were no bells; the colonists, not the British, were being warned; the British were opposing colonial independence, not an NRA rally. Or so you would presume! And yet, in the wake of this incident, and the media backlash, Palin’s supporters responded by simply re-writing history, using that great tool of American scholarship: Wikipedia.
“Most colonial residents at the time considered themselves British as they were all legally British subjects,” was one of the lines they attempted to add to Paul Revere’s Wikipedia entry. Though the change was quickly denied, it shows us more than anything else about Sarah Palin’s America, and cuts the heart of her poetry and her vision for America. Facts, history: These are hollow. What Sarah Palin aspires to is a world in which literally anything can be imbued with any meaning she chooses to ascribe to it; a world in which we peer through the veil of physical reality to grasp the mythic truth of whatever Sarah Palin has just made up. To become a part of “Real America” is, fundamentally, to reject the “real.” It is to enter the United States of Wikipedia: A steady fabric of random facts and giddy redefinitions. An America in which there is never — and shall never be — a .