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Jon Schwarz

Jon Schwarz is editor of and was research producer for 'Capitalism: A Love Story.' He's also contributed to the New Yorker, New York Times, Atlantic, Wall Street Journal, Slate, Saturday Night Live and NPR.

July 20th, 2013 9:17 AM

Conservatives Grow the Same No Matter Where They're Planted

Imagine you were Iraqi and had the right personality to join Saddam's military in 1985, just before it engaged in actual genocide against other Iraqis, and rise through the ranks for 18 years until, by the time the U.S. invaded in 2003, you were a lieutenant colonel.

But then suddenly you're transplanted to America. Where would someone with your background and personality end up on the political spectrum here?

As [Muhanned al-Kusairy] ascended to the 19th floor of a downtown building on a Baghdad-hot afternoon, his hands trembled, his face flushed, and his stomach, he remarked, felt as if it were “filled with mice, not butterflies.” He was heading to see a man he had come to idolize since moving to Arizona three years ago, a man who he hoped would fulfill his American dream.

“Mr. Sheriff!” Muhanned exclaimed. “It’s a huge honor to meet you.”

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose hard-line approaches to illegal immigration have drawn nationwide attention, embraced the fawning Iraqi immigrant. “Tell me about yourself,” he said…

“My dream is to be a deputy sheriff,” he told Arpaio. “I want to work for you...Ever since I arrived here, I’ve wanted to wear a uniform with the American flag on it.”...

He and his family must wait two more years to become citizens — “it feels like two centuries” — but that has not dissuaded him from trying to be what he deems American. He covers his bald pate with a black Stetson, sports a stars-and-stripes sticker on the tailgate of his Tahoe, listens to country star Alan Jackson’s greatest hits and spouts off on politics when wedged in traffic on I-17.

“We have too many illegals here,” he said soon after picking me up from the airport last month. It was three days before his meeting with Arpaio. He went on to rail about how many immigrants receive state-funded health care and food stamps. “And they don’t pay taxes,” he groused. “They’re stealing from both my pockets.”...

“I came legally, and I pay my fair share in taxes,” he said. A few miles later, he returned to the topic. “I wish I was in charge of the Department of State. Anyone who doesn’t love the United States, I’d deport him to Mexico.”…

Muhanned has spent more than 40 hours in evening classes, learning how to use a two-way radio, process detainees and conduct a traffic stop. He is moving on to intermediate-level instruction this summer — “They will teach me to use a Taser!” — and he hopes to earn his certification to carry a sidearm and a posse badge by the end of the year….

He is unmoved by criticism that the squad of 3,500 civilians, some of whom are armed, has not been properly screened or trained. “Don’t believe everything you read in the media,” Muhanned said.

“We,” he told me, referring to the United States in the first person, “should have sent the sheriff to Iraq in 2003 instead of Paul Bremer,” the White House envoy who ran the initial U.S. occupation. “We needed someone tough like him.”

As this shows, no one's political perspective has much to do with ideas or the structure of their country's government or history or whatever. It's just about their personality. Some people like this guy Muhanned al-Kusairy just love taking orders from whoever's more powerful than them, while kicking the crap out of everyone less powerful. It doesn't matter who's giving the orders or why – it could be Saddam or Joe Arpaio or Vladamir Putin or General Zod or whoever. The important thing is just that someone is in charge and telling him what to do, and that this includes hurting other people while wearing a costume.

This would happen in the other direction, too. America's native-born worshippers of Joe Arpaio, at least the competent ones, would have loved being in Saddam's army if they'd been born Iraqi. And they would have all have patriotically massacred other Iraqis, just as they'll patriotically massacre other Americans if they ever get the chance.

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