IS AMERICA READY TO COME BACK?
Posted on by Toni Reavis
Despite the GSA finally “ascertaining that Joe Biden was the apparent winner of the Nov. 3 presidential election”, thus allowing the formal transition process to begin, what remains unchanged is that after four years of a Trump presidency, whatever America was before, it is not that anymore. And whatever “American Exceptionalism” might have meant in the past, it does not mean that anymore, either – certainly not to the world-at-large, which once looked to America as we kids once looked to Super Man in the 1950s, you know, “fighting for Truth, Justice, and the American Way.”
Four years of Donald Trump was all the kryptonite needed to debilitate an image that had taken two centuries to build by the likes of Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Kennedy. It is a testament to how fragile the structure of democracy is.
And though Trump lost his bid for re-election, 74 million Americans still voted as if the last four years supported another four, which speaks to the lingering effect Trumpism will have going forward.
The elections of 2016 and 2020 have confirmed that if you inject enough fear and greed into a system, group-think will take hold and that it will be impervious to logic and rationality, as feelings trump facts, and no argument, no matter how concise, will be able to shake it.
Americans, it turns out, are no different than any other human beings on the planet. The past means nothing if the future is threatened by one’s adherence to it.
No, Trump 2016 was not a one-term aberration, a civic crie de coeur from a disenfranchised segment of the population for whom globalization wasn’t a boon but a bust. Instead, even after watching the 45th president trample every norm, upset every alliance, embrace every authoritarian, some 74 million good Americans still chose to see in him a savior rather than a lazy, ill-prepared, selfish saboteur.
Facts, it turns out, are quite mutable in this current America where fear is regnant and comeuppance due.
In other words, Trump was/is a reflection of the true red-blue split that has been building in America for 40 years. He was not the radical outlier, but a real hero to half the nation – though a revolting specter to the other half. And there is your divide. Neither blue America nor red can seemingly build a bridge with the other. Our colors have set like a permanent stain where there is no bleaching them out.
We speak the same words but not the same language. We see the same thing but define it in different ways.
President-elect Biden introduced his national security team on November 24, 2020, an impressive group of talent and experience that harkens back to America’s Best & Brightest (except for John Kerry, for whom I’ve never had much use). But it will take more than saying, “America is back” for that to be so, as the world has watched with a mixture of schadenfreude and horror as Trump has dismantled the post-WWII American world order.
America has always presented itself as different, unique, not beholden to blood and land but to an ideal expressed by its founders and embraced by succeeding generations that the free individual was the foundational element of society. But they also held that each free individual pledged allegiance to a mutual responsibility that undergirded their freedom. One cannot thrive without the other.
And that was all well and good as long as everyone (who counted – and not all did) was safe, secure, and relatively happy. But the minute that pursuit was challenged from below, all bets were off.
In the time of a hundred-year pandemic, in the wealthiest and most advanced country on earth, this 2020 election has shown how easily corrupted America could be.
More than that, 2020 has been like the dotted-I and crossed-T to the 1980 Reagan Revolution. Reagan, you recall, came to office denigrating the U.S. government to its people. His joke, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: “I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help,” always delivered the laugh but it also seeded the distrust which blooms so vividly in 2020.
According to the Pew Research Center, 1964 was the high watermark for trust in the federal government when three-quarters of the American people believing that the federal government would do the right thing some or most of the time. That trust level has dropped to 17% in 2020.
Reagan’s trickle-down economic approach of the 1980s also opened credit wide, exploded deficit spending (national debt tripled in eight years), and saw savings rates tumble as he liberated us to our appetites, greed, and consumption, turning us into a nation of grasshoppers.
In the ensuing years, standards and institutions have fallen, debt has risen, savings dropped, and business and government become even more dangerously entwined.
The Dotcom bubble of the late 1990s didn’t knock us off that path, nor when the US economy was staggered again during the 2008 financial crisis. We bailed out the banks but did not take an honest accounting and recalibrate our path by tasking ourselves with difficult but needed reforms. Instead, we just kept pretending there would be no future consequence.
It was during this time that China began to believe in America’s unrecoverable decline.
There is an old Chinese proverb: tao guang, yang hui – bide your time, build your capabilities. That strategy, in time, would overturn the old order, bring you to the lead and enable victory. Some observers also believe it is the current political philosophy of modern China.
For over 200 years, it was our safe redoubt as the abundantly gifted, unthreatened nation protected by two expansive oceans that allowed us to grow and prosper on a continental scale even as the other nations of the world continued to scrap and squabble amongst themselves.
The First World War of the 20th century brought down empires and reconfigured the global map. In many ways, the world remains a remnant of that conflict. And while America was tasked greatly, she came out of World War II as the preeminent nation of the world with a huge advantage that succeeding generations took as their right and privilege, though it was the Greatest Generation that had made the sacrifice to earn that position.
In an attempt to avoid another world conflagration, America helped establish a new world financial order at the Bretton Woods Conference in the White Mountains of New Hampshire in the summer of 1944. There, the victorious nations from the war met to form a series of monetary institutions – The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank – to steady the unsettled financial order that had led to military conflict in the first place. Out of Bretton Woods, the American dollar became the standard unit of financial exchange worldwide.
But 75 years on, technology and global trade have brought the world closer and erased much of the American economic hegemony. And as U.S. jobs left for more clement taxes and cheaper labor abroad, and education was not prioritized at home, as the understanding that America’s business class was more attuned to its own health rather than that of its workforce, more and more factories were shuttered and jobs lost. All the while government sided with the bosses and did nothing to protect the people, and court rulings like “Citizens United” equated money with blood and bone, and money was taxed lower than labor until the frustrations felt by millions of displaced Americans finally turned to anger.
But rather than engendering a national initiative to rebuild a robust middle-class, society kept putting off its hard choices and never developed a broad constituency for middle-class redevelopment.
Thus, as the Haves grew increasingly have-ier while the put-upon class grew larger and no relief arrived to address the gut-level feeling of betrayal, a demagogue like Donald Trump arrived to find fertile ground upon which to plant his seeds of division and disunion disguised in the flag of “America First!”
And wasn’t he the perfect image for our time of national decline? Knowing this now won’t save us, God knows, but it feels good to do something that vents our deep-seated fears just the same.
Throughout this tumultuous time, long-cocooned China began implementing a plan that Michael Pillsbury wrote about in his 2015 book The Hundred-Year Marathon. In it, Pillsbury outlined China’s secret strategy to supplant America as the number one global superpower by 2049, the 100th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China under Mao Zedong in 1949.
America under Trump will have accelerated that exchange by a decade or more, notwithstanding his re-election defeat in 2020. That’s how consequential Trump has been in just four short years, and how fragile a democratic form of government has been shown to be.
As we continue to vacate the world stage and dismantle the alliances and institutions that saw the global rise of the American Economic Empire—the empire of the dollar —China will continue attempting to fill that vacuum, however imperfectly. In 2019, China overtook the United States in the total number of diplomatic outposts worldwide.
In 2013, China’s President Xi Jinping initiated the Belt & Road Initiative, a global infrastructure developmental strategy that has built ties in dozens of countries around the world, even as our president continued to preen and strut in our name, braying about being No. 1, the greatest country in history while walking away from American instituted international organizations and treaties.
This is not to suggest that China has an open road ahead. Its own internal fault lines and authoritarian thuggishness have hindered its own efforts overseas writes Samantha Power, former U.S. ambassador to the U.N., in the Jan./Feb. issue of Foreign Affairs.
“Yet even as the United States has faltered in highly visible and costly ways, China is fumbling the mantle of global leadership, too, with its lethal cover-up of the pandemic, its bullying diplomacy and extraterritorial belligerence, its controversial approach to development, and its ongoing human rights horrors, including the mass internment of its Uighur Muslim population.”
Joe Biden’s victory in 2020, therefore, coupled with his vast international experience, while lending hope to a renewed American engagement with the world, still must contend with the domestic strength of the Republican Party, which picked up seats in the house and will likely holding on to the senate. That strength confirms the arc of history that we are on. Trump may have lost, but Trumpism goes on validated by the more than 70 million votes he garnered.
The irony is rich, of course, as Fundamentalist Christians continue to follow the least Christian man in America, one who pays off strippers to keep them quiet, who wasn’t even a Republican till a black man came to the presidency in 2008, who uses other people’s charitable contributions to payoff lawsuit settlements.
If we remain polarized at home and isolationist abroad, we, like the Soviet Union before us, risk ending up as a dangerous nuclear power, but with an increasingly hollowed-out national center. As in Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union, life expectancy in America is already, for the first time, going down.
As if on cue, like a trampolining effect, the combination of Trumpism and the Coronavirus pandemic of 2020 hails the end of what’s been called the American Century. It isn’t certain yet whose century the 21st will be, and there is still time for America to reassert its traditional role. But as of this writing, I’m glad the Greatest Generation and all previous ones aren’t around anymore to see what we have done of late with the legacy they left us.
If you didn’t actually see him say it yourself, you wouldn’t believe anybody who told you about it later.
“No, he didn’t. Stop it. Nobody would suggest injecting disinfectant to treat anything. What am I, an idiot? You must’ve heard wrong.”
Uh…actually he did.
On Thursday, April 23, Mr. Trump stood behind the lectern in the White House press room at the daily Coronavirus Task Force briefing and mused aloud whether medical experts should study injecting disinfectant into people to kill the virus. But that was only the half of it. That jaw-dropper followed his original corrective suggestion of subjecting the human body to heat and light as a possible cure.
The president’s witless wanderings followed a presentation from William Bryan, undersecretary for science and technology at the Department of Homeland Security, who presented results of a study showing how the coronavirus deteriorates on surfaces and in the air more quickly when subjected to higher temperatures and humidity. He also said his office was studying how certain disinfectants might kill the virus more effectively than others, referencing isopropyl alcohol and bleach.
Seizing on a connection that doesn’t exist – between humans and Formica – that nobody over three would ever make, Trump began inquiring about using light and heat as part of a potential cure.
“So, supposing we hit the body with a tremendous – whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light – and I think you said that hasn’t been checked but you’re going to test it,” Trump said to Bryan who was sitting next to Dr. Deborah Birx, medical coordinator of the White House Task Force who was experiencing a belief meltdown internally. “And then I said, supposing you brought the light inside of the body, which you can do either through the skin or in some other way. And I think you said you’re going to test that too. Sounds interesting.”
Deluded into believing he was onto something, and with rhetorical bit firmly in his teeth, Trump next floated the head-spinning theory about the potential use of disinfectants on Covid-19 patients.
“And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning?” Trump said to Dr. Birx. “Because you see it gets in the lungs, and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. So it would be interesting to check that. So you’re going to have to use medical doctors with — but it sounds interesting to me.”
OMG! This, ladies and gentlemen, isn’t Benny Hill, it’s the President of the United States of America. I mean, you knew he was unqualified for the job when he got elected, but…
When I was four, my mom was painting the kitchen and had to go to the garage for something, leaving a cut-in-half milk carton full of turpentine on the table. What did I know? Evidently as much as Dr. Numbskull, because I thought the turpentine smelled good and at age four smelled good meant tasted good. So I drank some.
Next thing I know, I was in the hospital getting my stomach pumped. I guess I could’ve been President of these United States.
Inject disinfectant into a person because it kills the virus on a countertop? This is the guy who’s in charge? The Madness of King Donald.
“The whole world is watching,” he said at Friday’s briefing, the one that lasted only 22 minutes and ended without questions, because where the hell do you go from Thursday? Yeah, the whole world is watching. That’s the problem.
Please, I know you personally keep Coronavirus away with daily tanning bed sessions, but couldn’t you inject some disinfectant too? Just to make sure. Puh-lease!
Even as Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders announced the suspension of his campaign for the presidency today (Wednesday, 8 April 2020), he seemed to understand that he had found himself in the wrong election cycle, again.
In his 2016 campaign, Bernie was beaten not so much by eventual standard-bearer Hillary Clinton as by the Democratic Party itself, which engineered a Super Delegates head start for Hillary that Bernie could never overcome.
This year, after a dead-heat with Mayor Pete Buttigieg in the Iowa caucuses followed by convincing wins in the first two primary elections, Sanders came up against the Democrat Party machine once again in South Carolina where, with the endorsement of Congressman James Clyburn, former VP Joe Biden began his run to the top of the Democratic ticket.
Ever since, Biden has gone on a winning streak, piling up delegates even as people have reached out to Senator Sanders saying, ‘we believe in your cause’ and ‘we believe in what you’re projecting, but we think Biden is the man to beat Trump this November’.
Thus, Bernie’s call for a systemic progressive revolution led by a government-run universal healthcare system hasn’t been repudiated per se, but instead maybe just been postponed, just like the Boston and London Marathons have been put off in the face of the coronavirus crisis, as in “now is not the time”.
Whenever a patient is considered for major surgery, one of the first calculations doctors make is to evaluate his or her overall condition. Is the patient strong enough to withstand the procedure? Well, the American body politic in 2020 isn’t nearly fit enough for the kind of major operation Sanders was prescribing. With the political polarization that currently defines and divides the nation, the electorate is in no condition to make an unemotional choice of this magnitude.
Thus the long-term threats Sanders sees in the lack of universal health care and income inequality that is manifesting itself in the disproportionate number of African Americans being affected by the coronavirus are being trumped by the immediate existential threat posed by Trump himself.
Remember that in the 1964 general election Republican standard-bearer Barry Goldwater, the Senator from Arizona, was soundly beaten by President Lyndon Johnson as Goldwater was perceived as being too extreme – “Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice,” he said. “Moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue.”
But the brand of ultra-conservatism Goldwater seeded in 1964 finally came to harvest 16 years later in the form of the Reagan Revolution, a revolution that Yale literary critic Harold Bloom said led to “the emancipation of selfishness” that built the 1999 DotCom Bubble, loosed the 2008 Great Recession, and currently is manifest in the polarization that makes the nation ill-equipped to handle a left-leaning counter-revolution.
That is why it could well be that Bernie Sanders’ unsuccessful campaigns of 2016 & 2020 will take another three or four election cycles, either 2032 or 2036, to come to fruition in the form of a yet unknown candidate who will appeal to today’s 18 to 39 year-olds, who support Bernie and his democratic socialist cause but don’t vote as widely as older Americans, when they come into their majority with ballots in hand rather than just poll surveys in mind.
(Not that I am a Bernie supporter, just a reader of history).
Posted on Toni Reavis
If you are searching for a particular set of tea-leaves to read before November’s U.S. elections – if they even happen in these very unsettling times – just look at the arc of the Brexit votes in the UK, the ones determining whether to withdraw from the European Union or not. Spoiler Alert, they left!
In June 2016, the original Brexit referendum passed in what was seen as a shocker because so many Brits thought their “yes” to leave was simply a screw-the-establishment protest vote. Only after the votes were counted did it become clear that enough others had voted with that same thought that the referendum actually passed. Here are the totals.
Instantly, there was an outcry for a new vote so people could express their “real” feelings. But three plus years and three Brexit delays later, leading to the resignation of Prime Minister Theresa May, an early general election was held on 12 December 2019.
As opposed to the 2016 vote, the 2019 election delivered a landslide of 80 additional Parliamentary seats to the pro-Brexit Conservatives, representing the party’s largest majority since 1987.
Following the vote, Conservative standard-bearer Boris Johnson declared that the UK would leave the EU in early 2020. The withdrawal agreement was ratified by the UK on 23 January, by the EU on 30 January, and entered into force on 31 January just as the Coronavirus was about to explode.
Now recall the 2016 U.S. election. How many of the electorate voted for Donald Trump as a protest against the status quo? Oops! Now, 3 1/2 years later on the cusp of the 2020 election, with an impeachment acquittal in his rearview mirror, and the Democrats in lockdown amidst the coronavirus crisis,Trump, like Brexit, is poised for a landslide win in November. You watch.
Of all the times for an insidious novel coronavirus to enter the body politic. No time would be right, of course, but this time is particularly fraught.
Here we are, not only in the middle of an election year when political contention is always at its highest, but now trapped in a healthcare vice that threatens to crumble the very foundations of the nation, and who do we find as captain of this Ship of State? None other than an impeached but acquitted novel president, unmasked and unyielding, confidently unknowing, prowling the halls of the White House, prescribing unproven drugs based on late-night conversations with his kitchen cabinet cronies, cursing at anyone and everyone he perceives to be working against him, unable to see beyond the tip of his tanning-bed tinted nose as the danger mounts and the body counts rise.
“What we’re doing right now I think is going to be very successful,” he says as governors and mayors throughout the country beg for a national policy to coordinate a response to the growing crisis, even as he adds that at a certain point “we have a big decision to make. We cannot let this (lockdown) continue. So at a certain point, some hard decisions are going to have to be made.”
The perfect storm has arisen and with a Queegish captain at the wheel, the Ship of State is floundering. As former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “Now, in a divided country, efficient and farsighted government is necessary to overcome obstacles unprecedented in magnitude and global scope.”
People around the world just sit in slack-jawed wonder thinking, “OMG, maybe this is what America has become after all.”
Who would have thought it possible?
Here we sit deep into the era of our thumb-in-the-eye-of-the-establishment President who is changing the course of the American Ship of State without any navigation tools, charts, or dead reckoning skills to speak of, yet clinging grimly in all his strawberry blond, damn-the-torpedoes belief that he is the indispensable man despite overwhelming evidence of a Dunning-Kruger Effect insecurity and incompetence that argues the very opposite.
In 1992, 19% of the electorate was willing to take a chance on a squeaky-voiced Texas business man with sky-is-falling charts to plot the course ahead. Fortunately, the 81% prevailed.
In 2004, candidate McCain chose a gubernatorial pin-up girl from Alaska as his running mate. But after the act proved paper thin, even hard core Republicans couldn’t find the courage to pull the lever for her ascent to VP.
And wasn’t that the thinking on Trump, too, in 2016? Of course, this entertaining but buffoonish TV carnival barker wasn’t qualified for the job. People will come to their senses when they enter the voting booth.
But like the Brexit vote in the UK in 2016, what most thought would be little more than a strong protest vote, instead added up to an OMG election victory. And now we are reaping the harvest of that whirlwind as a heartless virus spreads with a relentlessness that knows no borders and is blind to moronic, bombastic hubris. Good luck, America, the piper is knocking at your door.
Campaigning for office and serving in office require two very different skill sets. Hillary Clinton proved again how poor she was in the former even as her work as New York senator showed a degree of acumen in the latter.
Throughout his winning campaign Mr. Trump led his rabid followers like a drum major while beating the Republican field like a drum. He considered a bold assertion every bit the equal of a proven fact, and often its better – facts, after all, are so messy and inconvenient with that whole need for supporting evidence. He said as much in his books.
“People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest,” he said in The Art of The Deal. “Call it truthful hyperbole.”
So he says what he thinks people want to hear in order to close the deal, and doesn’t let truth get in the way. Recall what Paul Simon reminded us of in his classic song The Boxer, “still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”
That’s why the 58-story Trump Tower was advertised with a top floor at 68 stories. Not because it had a 68th floor, but so it would sell at a higher price if listed at 68, and caveat emptor.
This is why, in the face of evidence to the contrary, Mr. Trump can say that Vladimir Putin had no hand in altering the election with Russian hacking, say his election is “a movement like we have never seen before in history”, or why he can look at the overhead pictures of his inaugural crowd compared with others taken at exactly the same time of day in previous years and declare his was the biggest ever.
Black is white, down is up, bad is good. It’s the cynicism of the Big Lie. Tell it over and over and over again and, who knows, after a while it begins to seep in until people will either begin to believe it, or don’t know what to believe. Truth is only what is perceived as truth. History, after all, is written by the winners.
But this kind of truth-twisting is significant in a president, because now it involves each of us, and the world at large. And to show how the disease can begin to infect the body politic, already presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway has coined a new Orwellian phrase for it, “alternative facts”. As if 2 + 2 = 5 is an alternative fact to 2+2 = 4.
And to prove how “on message” the new administration is, on Monday White House spokesman Sean Spicer told the press corps in the first press scheduled briefing under President Donald Trump, “I believe that we have to be honest with the American people, but I think sometimes we can disagree with the facts.” As if opinion and fact were now interchangeable.
“The less we have a reliance on a common set of facts, norms begin to fall in a quick and decisive way,” warned Politico’s Jeff Greenfield on Dec. 18, 2016 Meet the Press.
Can you believe it?
Heaven help us.
From a distance the scenes were resonate of the massive anti-war rallies that eventually led to the U.S. pull out of Vietnam in the 1970s. But those protest marches took place when their opposition actually helped determine the outcome of the war. In the case of yesterday’s series of protest marches across America railing against the inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States the question looms, NOW everyone gets upset about the election? Now, after he’s been administered the oath of office? Little tardy to the party, don’t you think? Didn’t Obama say, ‘don’t boo, vote’?
We learned nothing from the Brexit vote in the U.K? At least you can excuse Brits who never understood what Brexit meant. But who didn’t know exactly who this guy was? You think he was holding back for the last 18 months, disguising his qualifications and personal qualities? He reveled in them. You didn’t see?
So what forces, you think, kept this civic uprising from happening before 11/03 when it might’ve done some good? Where was this passion then? I’m sure 99.7% of the marchers voted for Hillary, but it wasn’t with any of the fire in the belly, which is what the Trump supporters had.
The Democrats got caught napping, that’s what happened. They believed the polls, and assumed that what they saw as self-evident – that Trump, like Sarah Palin in 2008, was unqualified for national office – would be apparent to everyone on election day, too. Instead, not even close!
Trump generated passions on all sides, yes, but there was a larger group pushing him forward than there was shoving him back. People miscalculated, but didn’t realize how badly till it was too late. Now they march? Now they carry placards?
That said, only 26% of those eligible actually voted for Mr. Trump, but more than enough to win the electoral college tally. And it wasn’t just true Trumpers either, there was bleed-over from those Repubs and Indys who voted Obama in either 2008 or 2012. Don’t think there wasn’t.
What is evident is that Hillary never struck a nerve this time around. She was like an old Republican candidate, say Bob Dole; it was just her turn. But there was no passion in the argument for her, only angst in the opposition to her opponent.
So here we are with the Tangerine Dream ensconced in the Oval Office in command of the full set of powers that attend it. I get it, and wish him God’s speed for all our sakes. But the fact that a misogynistic unqualified opportunist is now POTUS is the unblinking mirror that America will have to look into each morning for the next four years. So all the protesters have to ask if they did enough when the chips were still on the table.
But now is not the time to despair, it’s time to trust the system that has sustained the country for nearly two and a half centuries. How fragile would that system have to have been if this man could fundamentally alter it? We need to have more faith than that in all that has come before, and the continuing promise that lies ahead.
DISRUPTOR IN CHIEF
With the entire political establishment arrayed at his back, and leaden clouds looming overhead, newly sworn in President Donald J. Trump addressed his “Make America Great Again” followers in the crowd stretched along the capital mall.
“From this day forward, it’s going to be ONLY America first, American first,” he said, speaking simultaneously to a jittery world beyond. “We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs.”
Mr. Trump had promised never to betray his followers, and his inaugural address didn’t disappoint. “Me and you against them,” was his message as the rain began to fall. There were some who thought (wished) Mr. Trump would assume a more conciliatory tone once the swearing in had taken place, as Lincoln had in his famed second inaugural, as Trump himself had done when meeting with President Obama at the White House during the transition. But the tone of his 16-minute inaugural address was vintage Trump, reflecting his bombastic campaign stump speeches more than any of the previous 57 inaugural addresses. Absent was any historical context, unifying message. or appeal to what Lincoln called ‘our better angels’. Instead, Trump gave them the devil.
“Their victories have not been your victories,” he said speaking of the Washington insiders; “their triumphs have not been your triumphs. And while they celebrated in our nation’s capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.”
Pure pessimism with solutions that were presented, as always, as simple, Trump-centric, and never complex. In fact, there was little more than the Trumpian promise to deal in short order with what he described as the dystopian American carnage of crime, gangs, drugs, and rusted out factories that like tombstones are scattered across the American landscape. Just as he promised to wipe radical Islamic fundamentalism from the face of the earth, rebuild the military, reconfigure the healthcare system while refitting America with a whole new infrastructure. Easy.
America as leader of the free world, bulwark against injustice and totalitarianism wherever it may be found, re-builder of vanquished foes in Europe and Asia, architect of the post-WWII Pax Americana, well, that had come to a full-stop reset. The America that Frank Capra and Steven Spielberg had given us on the big screen had slipped away in the name of quarterly profits.
Even giving the New York billionaire builder president the benefit of the doubt that he was still playing to his base, and will come to his senses once he sees reality for what it is – America remains the richest, most powerful nation in the world, the indispensable North Star – the fact that his mind is so fixed, so lacking in self awareness as not to understand how his words could be interpreted by crazies on the fringe, enemies at the ready, or allies in a panic is enough in itself to frighten many more than it comforts. This isn’t a matter of being PC, telling it like it is, it’s a matter of having a fundamental capacity for critical political judgement.
Presidential? Makes you yearn for G.W. Bush. And who thought that would be possible? Trump is a walking carnival barker, constantly trying to coax people into his gold-fringed freak show tent. And for responsible Republicans to kid themselves into thinking this blustering editorial cartoon is up to the office of Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln, Roosevelt, Reagan and Adams because of some sense of party loyalty, is a testament to how far off-road that party has gone.
Remember well, it was writer Joseph de Maistre who said, “In a democracy people get the leaders they deserve.” So good luck fellow Americans, we have quite a future coming our way over the next four years with no one left to blame but all us rubberneckers as we pass the next political accident sitting in the ditch off the side of the road.
BY THE LIGHT OF A NEW DAY
Astronomers believe there are hundreds of billions of galaxies in the universe, and between 100 and 300 billion stars in our own Milky Way alone. The sheer immensity of it is both humbling and beyond our modest comprehension. Yet more and more people can’t even take in the vast spray of stars cast across the night sky anymore, as that display has been veiled by the light pollution enveloping our cities. Thus, while much has been gained in our relentless technological trek, much has been lost along the way.
With even the majesty of the night sky taken we tend to shrink in the dim light of man’s own making. By that weak light many people remain in the darkness of fact-aversion, beyond the light of acquired knowledge and accepted science. And though all science is amenable to challenge, there is no light strong enough to penetrate blind denial or unquestioning allegiance. Accordingly, many see only right/wrong, light/dark, win/lose, here/there, yes/no, a very restricted, brittle outlook, indeed. Even our political framework has been so constructed into cartoonish either/or choices.
As one eventful year bleeds into the next, we find ourselves increasingly at a distance from one another. Yet to co-exist, much less thrive, we must embrace certain basic premises like no cutting the course, the line forms here, and ours is a country of laws rather than men or the teachings of any particular belief system. And that understanding has worked quite well for over two centuries, because over that time there has been a large enough aggregate invested in the system where the differences in other beliefs have been assuaged by the common good.
But once the constitutional system begins to corrupt and representation becomes available to the highest bidder rather than to the average voter, powerful historical forces like technological advancement and globalization can redefine winners and losers as the interests of the common man give way to the those of a few particularly advantaged men. Soon special interests form while the population at-large drifts into camps of flinty-eyed like-mindeds. Without a moderating middle things begin to polarize, until, dramatically out of balance, one side or the other snaps.
This is the unsettling equilibrium that now confronts us as an analysis from Oxfam shows how just eight of the richest men in the world have accumulated as much wealth as the bottom half of the planet’s entire population. This imbalance is part of what helped elect Donald Trump, as he first reflected then ginned up a righteous, frustrated anger through an increasingly fearful population eager to lash out against perceived losses — even if not fully realizing the consequences of that lash. Because once set loose a pent up populism will dance spastic for a while like a pack of lit firecrackers before it burns through leaving a charred husk behind. We may not be at the combustion phase yet, but the sparks of dissolution are becoming increasingly evident and disturbing.
Both the rest of the world and the U.S. have now repeatedly been visited by episodes of mass shootings, police shootings, bombings, and indiscriminate targeting of police by citizen shooters. Predictably, the carnage has released a welter of emotional responses, from anger and sadness, to fear and righteous indignation. In the U.S. there have been calls for fewer guns and for more guns; for a more open, inclusive society and for a more fearful, walled-in nation. (BROTHERS ON ARMS)
In the Cold War the choice was between free-market capitalism and state-run communism, and the world fell into rough alignment along that borderline. It took half a century for capitalism to prevail/communism to fail. But the Soviet implosion left a vacuum along the political spectrum rather than a single-pole winner. It also had a shriveling effect on the entire left wing of political ideology, a reality that became apparent in the U.S. this last November 8th.
Today, camps have been pitched along several fronts, including one that lies along a values continuum balancing the advanced technologies and inclusive social mores of the progressive West against a retrenching populism at home. Another foments an even more radical 7th century barbarism in the Middle East, and yet a third extols a revanchist pride here, there, and everywhere. And let the world beware of each.
While the promise of technology has always been great, its corresponding danger lies in how it simultaneously isolates us into a whirlpool of conspiracy theories that demonizes the “other”, while bringing us into closer proximity to the point where we can’t keep from bumping into one another. Now heat that brewing stew with the fervor of organized, faith-based belief – doesn’t matter which particular faith, because each and every one of them offers a zero-sum game that leaves no room for conciliation. It is my way or the Hell Bound Highway. And moral certitude is dangerous no matter who wields it.
Rather than seeing one another as culturally-specific expressions of the same natural impulse, e.g. the search for meaning and and a path toward purpose-driven living, the righteous in every belief system sees an existential choice, either-or, with-us-or-against-us, with the consequences of right and wrong viewed through the prism of that particular belief’s tenets.
This is where sport once helped mend the torn fabric of humanity. Sport is where we strip ourselves bare and share the same humanity on a base, gravitational field. But sport, too, has been ripped by its own hand, abdicated its integrity, leaving the agitated world to build even more pressure. Fear and revenge are among the sticks of societal dynamite being set. All they need is a certain spark.
As news reverberates that eight white men own as much wealth as the bottom 3.6 billion people on earth, the 1% meeting in Davos, Switzerland have to be smart. Walls and safe-rooms have only limited utility, for whatever walls you might construct can just as easily come tumbling down like the on in Jericho once did.
The way forward isn’t to isolate and pull away, but to invest against the growing disaffection. You aren’t separate from the masses, my friends, you are among them for better or worse. We have entered Fram Oil Filter ad territory – “you can either pay me now, or pay me (much more) later”. So pay it forward while you still can, you Masters of the Universe, before the tinder ignites, and things blow apart and we make a light such that the stars themselves will weep at the loss beheld.