According to a report in The Independent on Feb. 8, 2020, Brandon Bryant signed up for a six-year enlistment as a Predator drone operator in the US Airforce. Since his discharge in 2011, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, he speaks out against the killer drone program and the atrocities he says he was forced to inflict during his time in the American military which he says is “worse than the Nazis.”
This is the Independent‘s account of his testimony to Amy Goodman of Democracy Now.
Mr Bryant says he reached his breaking point with the US military after killing a child in Afghanistan that his superiors told him was “a dog.” Mr Bryant recalls the moment: After firing a Hellfire missile at a building containing his target, he saw a child exit the building just as the missile struck. When he alerted his superiors about the situation after reviewing the tape, he was told “it was a f***ing dog, drop it.”
Bryant describes another Afghan strike that he participated in from a bunker in Nevada:
The smoke clears, and there’s pieces of the two guys around the crater. And there’s this guy over here, and he’s missing his right leg above his knee. He’s holding it, and he’s rolling around, and the blood is squirting out of his leg … It took him a long time to die. I just watched him.
It’s all in a day’s work.
A Brief History of Military Drones
(Principal source: The Bureau of Investigative Journalism) Unmanned aerial attacks date from August 22, 1849, when Austria attacked the Italian city of Venice with unmanned balloons loaded with explosives. Development of remote-control flying machines began soon after the Wright brothers flew the first airplane a decade before the outbreak of the First World War. Unmanned flight technology advanced in the interwar period. The term “drone” was born when the UK developed the Queen Bee, a bi-plane controlled by radio. Like most military drones at that time, the Queen Bee was a remote controlled target for anti-aircraft gunners to use for target practice.
It was the pioneering work of Abraham Karem, an Iraqui-born Jewish aviation genius brought up in Israel from the age of 14, that began the serious development of the modern military drone. Karem graduated in aeronautical engineering from Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology, and built his first drone for the Israeli air force during the Yom Kippur war. He later immigrated to the US where he founded Leading Systems, Inc. in his garage. There he built the Albatross and then the more-sophisticated Amber drone, which was to evolve into today’s Predator. Karem has been described by The Economist as the man who “created the robotic plane that transformed the way modern warfare is waged and continues to pioneer other airborne innovations.” It is largely thanks to Karem that both Israel and the US are leading military drone producers and exporters.
In the late 1950s the US and others began to use unmanned, remotely-piloted aircraft as spy planes. Radio-controlled and fitted with film cameras, these primitive drones flew over China and North Vietnam gathering images without risking the lives of pilots. These early drones were unreliable and expensive, and their operators had to be within range of their analogue radio signals. Communications satellites changed all that. Drones can now be controlled from comfortable bunkers with ergonomic seats located halfway around the world.
The lightweight, long-slender-winged drones’ ability to “loiter” was invaluable in the 1990s, during the US campaign against the former Yugoslavia. There was a shortage of intelligence on Serbian tank and troop movements and US supersonic jets were struggling to spot the Serbian forces in the thick Balkan forests. But the drones could hover for 24 hours at a time, keeping Serbian units under constant surveillance. Combining this loitering with a second advance, the use of transmitters to send the intelligence straight back to battlefield officers and commanding generals, greatly increased battlefield efficiency and shortened that war.
The key to armed drone efficiency is in eliminating the pilots: the drones are subsequently lighter than manned aircraft and they don’t have to land when the operators get tired. A fresh crew just takes over in the comfortable bunker. In 2000 the US took the final leap forward when the Air Force and CIA became the first to successfully fit drones with missiles, as part of a failed CIA attempt to kill Osama bin Laden. These satellite-controlled hunter-killer drones allow pilots to fly their aircraft from half a world away and it allows generals, spies and politicians to watch the war they are waging on the other side of the world, live on TV.
America’s drones have been used as assassination weapons in at least seven countries throughout Washington’s 15-year war on terror. They have been vacuuming up information, feeding the military’s insatiable demand for battlefield intelligence, and finding and killing alleged terrorists and insurgents. Those operations inevitably killed more than their share of innocent civilians, as well.
The US drone war expanded dramatically under President Barack Obama. Responding to evolving militant threats and the greater availability of remote piloting technology, Over the course of his two terms in office Obama ordered ten times more counter-terror strikes than his predecessor, George W Bush. President Obama would sit down periodically with CIA dirty-tricks specialist, John Brennan, to select personally the candidates for drone assassination. According to Joanna Walters, the Guardian correspondent in New York, Barack Obama “has not had a second thought” about the drone strikes that are causing untold numbers of civilian casualties as the US tries to beat back terrorist insurgencies in the Middle East. Obama was so impressed by Brennan that he made him director of the CIA.
The low-footprint nature of drone strikes – which can be carried out without having personnel in the country being hit – made it politically easier for the US to mount operations in places in which it was not at war. Hundreds of CIA and Joint Special Operations Command strikes have been carried out in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia, killing hundreds–or thousands–of civilians, according to the NGO Airwars. Human rights organisations have criticizeded the targeted killing program for its “clear violations of international humanitarian law.” (Source: Redorbit.com)
Who Has Killer Drones Today?
Dronewars.net provides us with this table of countries (below) currently operating armed drones, either by developing their own models or acquiring them from other countries. They also include ‘non-state actors’ as operators of armed drones, as some groups have developed fairly sophisticated models.
Lowering the Threshold for The Use of Killer Drones
The use of armed drones is touted as a ‘risk-free’ solution to security problems. By using remote-controlled aircraft to take out bad guys far away from our shores, we are told, we are keeping the public as well as our armed forces safe. The reality, however, is that drones are liable to increase insecurity, not reduce it.
Politicians know that the public does not like to see young men and women sent overseas to fight in wars with remote and unclear aims. Potential TV footage of grieving families awaiting funeral corteges has been a restraint on political leaders weighing up military intervention. Take away that political cost by using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), and it makes it much easier for politicians to opt for a quick, short-term ‘fix’ of ‘taking out the bad guys’ rather than engaging in the difficult and long-term work of solving the root causes of conflicts through diplomatic and political means.
Transferring the Risk and Cost of War from Soldiers to Civilians
Keeping ‘our boys’ safe through using remotely-controlled drones to launch air strikes comes at a price. Without ‘boots on the ground’ air strikes are inherently more dangerous for civilians on the ground. Despite claims of the defence industry and advocates of drone warfare, it is simply not possible to know precisely what is happening on the ground from thousands of miles away. While the UK claims, for example, that only one civilian was killed in the thousands of British air and drone strikes in Iraq and Syria, journalist and casualty recording organisations have reported thousands of deaths in Coalition airstrikes.
Expanding the Use of ‘Targeted Killing’
Legal scholars define targeted killing as the deliberate, premeditated killing of selected individuals of a state that is not in custody. This is, perhaps, the most controversial aspect of the use of armed drones by the United States, Israel and the UK. Where International Humanitarian Law applies, targeted killing of combatants may be legal. Outside of IHL situations, International Human Rights Law applies and lethal force may only be used when absolutely necessary to save human life that is in imminent danger. This does not appear to be the case for many of the drone targeted killing that have been carried out, for example, by the US in Pakistan and Yemen.
While some argue that it is the policy of targeted killing that is wrong, not the weapon used to carry out it out, it is very difficult to imagine that the wholesale expansion of targeted killing would have occurred without armed-drone technology.
Seducing Us with the Myth of ‘Precision’
Drones permit, we are told, pin-point accurate air strikes that kill the target while leaving the innocent untouched. Drone advocates seduce us with the notion that we can achieve control over the chaos of war through technology. The reality is that there is no such thing as a guaranteed accurate airstrike While laser-guided weapons are without doubt much more accurate than they were even 20 or 30 years ago, the myth of guaranteed precision is just that, a myth. Even under test conditions, only 50% of weapons are expected to hit within their ‘circular error of probability’. Once the blast radius of weapons is taken into account and indeed how such systems can be affected by things such as the weather, it is clear that ‘precision’ cannot by any means be assured.
Politicians and defence officials too have been seduced by the myth of precision war and are opening up areas that would previously been out of bounds –- due to the presence of civilians –- to air strikes. Perhaps most telling is the fact that internal military data which counters the prevailing narrative that drones are better than traditional piloted aircraft is simply classified.
Promoting Permanent War
Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of the rise of remote, drone warfare is that it is ushering in a state of forever war. With no (or very few) troops deployed on the ground and when air strikes can be carried out with impunity by drone operators who then commute home at the end of the day, there is little public or political pressure to bring drone strikes to an end.
Drones are enabling states to carry out attacks with seemingly little reference to international law norms. US law professor Rosa Brooks argued in a disturbing article in Foreign Policy that ‘there’s no such thing as peacetime’ anymore. “Since 9/11,” she writes “it has become virtually impossible to draw a clear distinction between war and not-war.” Rather than challenging the erosion of the boundaries between crucially distinct legal frameworks, Brooks argues that we must simply accept that “the Forever War is here to stay.” To do otherwise she maintains is “largely a waste of time and energy. “Wartime is the only time we have” she insists.
Advocates say the drone programme has saved American lives and reduced the need for messy ground operations like the 2003 invasion of Iraq. But it has also killed hundreds, if not thousands of civilians, according to data collected by the Bureau and the NGO Airwars — a reality which experts have warned could have a radicalising effect on the very societies from which US drones are trying to eliminate extremists. Human rights organisations have lambasted the targeted killing programme for its “clear violations of international humanitarian law.”
Trump Intensified the Drone War in Afghanistan in 2019
Almost 40 strikes hit Afghanistan every day in September of 2019, new Pentagon figures show, working out as more than 1,100 over the month, a significant rise. The number of US strikes not only increased in September, but that jump was dramatic. There were 1,113 strikes compared with 810 strikes in August, and 537 in July. It follows the collapse of US and Taliban peace negotiations in early September. The talks were suspended by President Donald Trump after the killing of a US soldier in Kabul.
Since then, President Trump repeatedly stated he was hitting the Taliban harder. Mark Esper, the current US defence secretary, told reporters that they had “picked up the pace [of operations in Afghanistan] considerably” since the breakdown of the negotiations. “We did step up our attacks on the Taliban since the talks broke down,” Esper told reporters. “The president did want us to pick up in response to the heinous attacks that the Taliban and others conducted throughout Afghanistan.” (Source: Bureau of Investigative Journalism)
For civilians on the ground, the deepening conflict comes at great cost. Recent UN figures show there were over 650 civilian casualties from US strikes in the first nine months of 2019, nearly double the number injured or killed in the same period the previous year. The UN has said civilian casualties in general – not just from air strikes – reached “unprecedented” levels in the 2019 as violence across the country increased. “The harm caused to civilians by the fighting in Afghanistan signals the importance of peace talks leading to a ceasefire and a permanent political settlement to the conflict; there is no other way forward,” Yadamichi Yamamoto, the head of the UN’s mission in Afghanistan, said.
The Irony/Hypocrisy of “Heinous Attacks”
So, while the United States and their coalition of usual suspects hone their killer-drone effectiveness on hundreds or thousands of innocent civilians in Afghanistan and other places across the Middle East, not having declared war on any of them, Mr. Mark Esper permits himself the luxury of denouncing the “heinous attacks” of the Taliban. He would say that, wouldn’t he.
True freedom of religion implies freedom from religion. If it doesn’t it’s not freedom. That’s why an authentic democracy cannot exist under the influence of any religious sect. A religion that preaches that born-again believers will be “raptured” up to heaven while the rest of us go straight to hell is more necrophile hate doctrine than religion, and it has no place anywhere near government circles. Yet, these Evangelicals and Pentecostals are President Trump’s people and he has created posts in the White House for them and facilitated their influence on the government of the United States.
This is the President’s recently-appointed “spiritual advisor,” Paula White, an extravagant preacher who was one of six televangelists investigated in 2007 by the Senate Finance Committee in connection with their fortunes (running to private jets and multiple luxury residences) accrued through “prosperity gospel” practices.
Why would the President take such unseemly measures? Has he converted to the born-again persuasion? Does he “speak in tongues” when he’s among friends? Given his trajectory, it seems unlikely. What is more probable is that his affinity for magical religion has to do with political expediency. According to a Pew Research poll the religious right comprises more than a third of Republican voters, enough to swing a presidential election. Draw your own conclusion. (Source: Pewresearch.org)
Presidential Pandering to the Religious Right
The serious part of the story is that, in order to lock in their loyalty, President Trump is pandering to them in ways that are dangerous for American citizens at large. The born-again belief system requires a war in the Holy Land in order to precipitate the Apocalypse–and the consequent “Rapture.” This may sound like nonsense to you and me but, according to Pew Research, about 36% of American voters believe it and they are essentially calling the shots. My question is: Do they even remotely realize the implications of another war in the Middle East? It’s the equivalent of opening the door to World War III. That’s not a certainty, mind you, but it’s a very real possibility. Do we really want to confront it? What’s in it for us? I only foresee one benefit and that’s the re-election of President Donald J. Trump. Come to think of it, I’m not sure that’s a benefit. Are you a hard-core optimist? You might console youself by considering that, when the Third World War does come, it won’t last long.
There’s even more horror. The person that President Trump has appointed to guide America’s foreign policy, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, is one of the born-again Rapture brigade. Does this mean that his–and your–foreign-policy agenda is driven by his sincere Evangelical beliefs regarding biblical end times and how to jump start them? Yes, that’s exactly what it means. Can you live with that?
Consider the Collateral Damage
There’s considerable collateral damage, as well. What is going on between President Trump and the Evangelicals is a classic symbiotic relationship. Both sides get something they fervently desire. The Rapture sect gets a ticket to heaven. The President gets re-elected. But in order to do so he has to embrace–directly from the highest office in the land–the Evangelical doomsday agenda, to put the United States government’s seal of approval on it. This legitimizing of religious juju as government policy is a terrible step for an American president to take.
Are prayer meetings legitimate responses to the current corona virus emergency? Or are they just fiddling while the country burns? What comes next, ticket sales to the Apocalypse? The spinoff of the President’s Rapture collaboration is the effect it could have on stability–or more likely instability–in the Middle East. Israel’s extreme-right-wing Likud party and their perrenial President Netanyahu are, of course, milking this geopolitical windfall to advance their own opportunism in the region. Their truculence vis a vis the Palestinians and the Iranians is actually subsidized with donations by Evangelical organizations in the US.
These miracle-religion-tinged policies are especially grave considering the intellectual and ideological vulnerability of America’s young people. Is this the sort of intellectual baggage that American parents want funneling into their children’s heads? Parents in the US are entitled to take that route. It’s a free country and freedom of religion is a laudable principle up to the point where it puts a majority of American citizens in harm’s way. It makes no difference whether that harm comes from a nuclear holocaust radiating from the Holy Land or from a global virus pandemic. Then a sane, responsible lay government must intervene in order to save the very country. The failure to do so would have consequences and they could well be catastrophic.
Are we already beginning to see the onset of that process? It’s March 25, 2020. In just a matter of weeks we should be able to discern the results of President Trump’s recent determination that the country should soon be “open for business.” How can the President pretend to know at this point what the extension and gravity of the virus will be, even in the short term. Public health professionals and other scientists are admitting that they can’t make predictions without seeing the results of massive testing programs. Clearly, the President can’t, either. And, given his obligation to promote good health and wellbeing for all Americans, to pretend that he can foresee the future is so wittlessly irresponsible that we might consign it to the category of religion. Then it would be up to a second impeachment panel to decide whether the President should be tried for criminal wittless irresponsibility.
Where Do They Go from Here?
If the United States had a sane and responsible governing team with a vision that went beyond their own enrichment and re-election, at this point in contemporary history they would still be in deep trouble. There are just too many life and death issues on the table at this time: COVID-19, their overt and covert wars around the world, their apocalyptic economic situation, their penchant for cultivating enemies around the world and the meteoric rise of some of their adversary countries. Asia is beginning to look quite first world lately while the US is clearly slipping.
But, since the US conspicuously lacks the necessary sanity and responsibility in government where they are destined to go from here is anyone’s guess. The best we can do is just to lie down and enjoy the spectacle. Our current situation can best be summed up by a millenary Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times.
That “What’s wrong” question is popular lately and the answer, in a word, is Everything. The US body politic is today like the body of a person who is afflicted by a whole series of mortal illnesses. It’s got everything and it’s all terminal:
underlying egotism and narcisism
obscene predatory capitalism
pervasive lying and misrepresentation everywhere
corruption as the order of the day on all fronts
deadly inequality and unfairness
abiding greed and cynicism
ruthlessly exporting dystopia
loss of credibility abroad
money and bling worship
rampant militarism and permanent war
deterioration of the rule of law
toxic religions, opportunistic preachers speaking in tongues
unlettered, infirm, immoral leadership
What to Do About It?
What is to be done to remedy this cumulus of mortal ills? If this question had been asked a few decades ago and drastic steps had been taken to cure or even improve somewhat these dysfunctions, something might have been done. But now it’s too late for patches.
The Americans have pointed the pistol at their own temple and pulled the trigger. The round is now proceeding down the barrel at the standard muzzle velocity. Who’s going to stop it now?
Note: Most of the content of this piece is sourced from the site of an admirable British NGO called Dronewars.net.
A Drone-Wars, Targeted-Killing Glossary
Drones—Or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in military parlance, are pilotless aircraft, flown by remote control, frequently from bunkers halfway around the world by operators recruited from among some of America’s finest computer gamers. There are both unarmed surveillance drones and armed killers. Lethal UAV attacks can be launched from anywhere with a sufficiently powerful communications connections but the principal launch spot for “daily overseas contingency operations” is at Creech Air Force Base in Clark County, Nevada.
Wars—Wars are armed conflicts undertaken by nations at least theoretically to redress grievances against other nations. In the western world they are under the democratic control of elected representatives. This controlling body in America is the United States Congress. Military actions outside of this context are rogue actions (such as every war the US has launched since World War II) which are illegal under international law.
Targeted—That word gives one a calming sense of security. Ahh, these strikes are “targeted,” precise, controlled, not willfully random nor irresponsible nor out of control. As for civilian casualties, they are kept to the absolute minimum. America’s armed drones are virtually humanitarian. Their strikes are “targeted.” Ho, ho, ho, during the Vietnam War they were telling us that low-flying B-52 tactical close-air-support strikes, with a payload of 70,000 pounds, were “targeted.” Here’s one now, with its full complement of tricks:
Eight AGM-84 Harpoon missiles, four AGM-142 Raptor missiles, 51 500-pound bombs, 30 1,000-pound bombs, 20 AGM-86C conventional air-launched cruise missiles (CALCM), 12 joint stand-off weapons (JSOW), 12 joint direct-attack munitions (JDAM), and 16 wind-corrected munitions dispensers (WCMD), according to Airforce-technology.com.
Killing—Killing has a lot of modes, from eliminating noxious insects or slaughtering livestock for food, to school shootings in peaceful neighborhoods or the bombing of entire cities in wartime. This “carpet bombing” was seen as too horrendous even to consider in the early days of the Second World War, but that delicacy soon passed, just as all the unthinkable becomes ultimately thinkable. So where does “drone killing” fit into this continuum. Before deciding this question we must clarify the terms. “Drone killing” is actually a euphemism, employed to disguise the fact that American drone killing, often portrayed with the innocence and beneficence of crop spraying–is murder, the unlawful premeditated killing of one human being by another.
Netly outside the legitimizing context of declared war and unsanctioned by any democratic process, the American freelance killing of people from the air by remote control enjoys no legitimacy to distinguish it from murder, nor its perpetrators from murderers. One of its early practitioners was President Barack Obama, who would sit down periodically with his Deputy National Security Advisor, John Brennan, to personally select victims for “targeted killing.” Obama later elevated Brennan, longtime CIA dirty-tricks master, to director of the CIA.
In June of 2011, Brennan claimed that US counter-terrorism operations had not resulted in “a single collateral death” in the previous year because of the “precision of the capabilities that we’ve been able to develop,” even though the Bureau of Investigative Jounalism discovered 76 innocent drone deaths, including eight children and two women. Later the NY Times revealed the convoluted “reasoning” that permitted Brennan to exonerate himself, his operations and his country from a year’s drone murders. It seems that Washington ‘counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.’
No drone-casualty figures are actually trustworthy due to the secretive world they operate in. One reliable source assures us that the percentage of innocent civilians among those killed by American combat drones may vary betwee one and 35%.
The American Drones Will Not Be Reined In
Despite the best efforts of activists like the Dronewars people in Britain, there is little room for optimism in the matter of banning killer drones. Fair enough, they’re unthinkably inhuman, brutal, illegal and immoral. Won’t that get them banned? No, actually. In its day the trebuchet, the ingenious medieval catapult used against fortified positions and capable of hurling a heavy stone more than 300 yards, was thought to be unholy. The same went for the longbow, used against the enemies of the English till the end of the 16th century. Its use was considered beyond the ken due to its range, punch and rate of fire, The same process of horror-acceptance-routine has continued until our own times. The machine gun was considered too much, not to mention the atomic bomb. Why should we suppose that killer drones might be any different?
If you would like to know more about the US drone wars you can download this .pdf file of Dronewars’ 28-page “campaigners’ briefing.” The American drone think tank, the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College, takes another–characteristically American–approach. According to their website they’re more interested in exploiting drones: “By conducting original, in-depth, and inquiry-driven projects, we seek to furnish stakeholders, policy-makers, and the public with the resources to engage in a robust public debate and develop policies that best address those opportunities and challenges.”
You might also like to know what Israel is up to on the drone front. The document, also from Dronewars.net, is called: Precise Strikes: Fractured Bodies, Fractured Lives. The Israelis are modern-day drone pioneers and major exporters along with the US and China. Their long-hovering armed drones keep people from all over the Middle East living on tenterhooks.
Who’s Responsible for the Mess the US Is In? It’s Possible That You Are.
Were you born into a single-parent family that hovered for long periods around the poverty line? Have you or members of your family had brushes with the law or even been to prison? Do you belong to a racial minority: black, Hispanic or Native American? Have you lived in more than one bad neighborhood? Did you drop out of school so you could go to work and earn some money? Do you belong to organizations advocating white supremacy or violent overthrow of the government? Do you read the newspaper? Do you read anything? Do you do drugs regularly? Do you sell them? Do you live in a tent or in a car? If many or most of these statements describe your life, you probably don’t carry much of the blame for the shape your country is in. You’re too busy just trying to get by to cause any serious problems at the national level. You couldn’t even if you wanted to. You lack the technical knowledge, communications and organizational skills. You lack the contacts and the financing. So you can just keep on doing what you’re doing and you’ll probably never make a blip on your country’s big-issue radar. In all likelihood you remain just another victim of 21st century America.
Or are you from a solid middle-class family with a university education and a well-paying job? Did you go to a good school? Do you own your house? Can you boast never having been in prison? Do you travel abroad? Do you have the best health insurance money can buy? Are you a sharp dresser? Are you well read? Have you thus far avoided serious mental illness? Do you drive a prestige car, or more? Or do you travel by limousine? Do you have friends in high places? Are you horrified by the repugnant state of your nation and the people who are running it? Even so, do you shun “getting involved in politics?” Would you rather spend your spare time on your boat or playing golf, traveling abroad or just trying not to think about it? If you answered “yes” to enough of these questions it’s highly likely that you are to blame for America’s lamentable state of affairs, or at least your corresponding share of it.
President Donald Trump’s Responsibility
Not even Donald Trump is principally responsible for today’s America’s woes. He can only be blamed for aggravating them to a formerly-undreamed-of degree. Those woes have long roots. They were planted hundreds of years ago with the Pilgrims and their intolerant religion, genocidal racism and voracious territorial pretensions. And those “values” have been perversely extended, admired and cultivated ever since by their descendents. Donald Trump was just randomly cast ashore a few centuries down the line with other American floatsam like Billy Graham and the Unabomber. He won the presidency against all odds in a grotesque lottery propelled by circumstances seemingly tailored to his limited qualifications.
He was just lucky, though it’s still not clear whether his luck was good or bad, both for him and for you. What does seem to be clear is that he’s in way over his head. But none of this makes him unique. It makes him a normal American like so many others, just a product of a traditional American upbringing that, by the time he arrived, was fatally flawed. It was the classic me-first, get-rich-quick American way of life, already atypical on the world stage, already pathologically narcissistic (ultra-nationalism is just narcissism on a grand scale), tragically unequal, and homicidally competitive. President Donald J. Trump should be no surprise to anyone. He’s your bog-standard American boy: over sexed and under read, unintelligent and unlettered though shrewd, but certainly too incompetent to have mounted the social, political and economic brouhaha the Americans have on their hands today.
Trump Needed Some Help and He Got It
Donald Trump needed some help in becoming President of the United States. He got it from legally tilted campaign financing norms via Citizens United. He got it from an overreaching Republican Party. They were hoping against hope that they could control a totally new rogue phenomenon in American politics. He got it from manipulating America’s unusual and anti-democratic Electoral College election process. He got it from high-tech, big-data, big-bucks, low-brow billionaires like Robert Mercer. Mercer, a big-data pioneer, founded Cambridge Analytics and sent teams of media meddlers and data analysts to tilt the Brexit referendum in Britain in favor of abandoning Europe. Last–and far from least–he got it from the American people on both sides, those who voted for him and those who abstained. It is entirely possible that one of those people was you and there were a lot of others like you.
Why Didn’t Some of You Do Something?
Ironically, there was a point where the Donald Trump initiative could have been stopped, peacefully and easily. Simply by voting. Why didn’t that happen? In the first place, the big half of America that should have blocked Trump’s ascension was blindsided. They weren’t expecting a lowbrow real-estate speculator/reality show host to have a ghost of a chance at becoming President of the United States. In the minds of sane Americans–and there are lots of them–a presidential candidate requires special qualities which are usually boiled down to “a presidential air.” He needs to be conspicuously intelligent and well-balanced, an excellent communicator, with some expertise and a certain gravitas. Barak Obama was a good example of this. You can’t have any old used-car salesman governing the greatest country in the world. (Conversely, a country with any old used-car salesman for president cannot be the greatest in the world.)
Those traditional high standards were smashed by George W. Bush in the 2000 elections. Bush, who was a lamentable candidate, went on to become a lamentable President, largely managed by his own personal Svengali, National Security Advisor and later Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger. (See Seymour Hersh’s 1984 book: The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House.) It would seem that sane Americans should have seen Bush as a warning sign for the future, but not enough of them did.
Why not? This, I think, has to do with the continental divide between the two Americas, the ultra-nationalist, brainwashed, corporate duped, southernized half and the other half, which I refer to as “sane America.” The latter couldn’t perceive the former–or if they did they couldn’t believe it. Sane Americans couldn’t believe the numbers they were up against, nor the depth of ignorance, nor the vehemence. By the time they realized it fully it was too late.
Why Is This Geopolitical Juncture So Vital?
It’s vital because of the extraordinary instability of the moment, when the American vision of the future of the world, as defined baldly by the neoconservative think tank the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) in the late 1990s, in terms of “”American leadership is good both for America and for the world,” The 2001 attack on the World Trade Center gave wings to PNAC’s and the Pentagon’s “full-spectrum-dominance” solutions. But that was nearly 20 years ago and those “solutions” have proven to be less effective–and more expensive–than expected.
Today the United States finds itself reeling, a victim of its unfulfilled promises at home and abroad, a waning confidence of its own citizens and signs of distrust from its traditionally loyal allies and client states. That is, for example, all of Europe. Even Britain, a little country with seemingly all its eggs in America’s basket, has just expressed exasperation with President Trump’s threat to bomb 52 cultural sites in Iran. It’s not clear whether or not American foreign policy mavens have noticed, but Russia and China are gaining new friends and partners around the world. At least two of America’s traditional hard-core allies, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, are chatting with the Russians on the subject of their S-400 anti-aircraft missiles.
Of course, President Trump’s unilateral, apparently gratuitous murder of Iran’s iconic–to Iranians–Major General Qassem Soleimani has brought issues to a head. Coupled with Trump’s so-called “economic sanctions,” themselves another act of war, that assassination has opened the door to a host of unforeseeable responses, ranging from merely testimonial to cataclysmic. It’s unclear whether the US deserves to be situated in this uncomfortable position, but there you are, sitting pretty. What comes next seems to depend upon President Trump’s next indigestion.
Where Do You Go From Here, America?
That is the geopolitical question of the moment–and perhaps the century. While the evolution of many of these momentous situations are foreseeable, at least to some degree, this one is shrouded in obscurity. Historically, critical geopolitical moments like this lend themselves to some sort of logical analysis based on historical antecedents, international agreements, studies of countries’ long-term policies, even game-theory analysis, but this case responds to none of these approaches. Thanks to one unpredictable factor that obeys none of the logical variables, we are left entirely in the dark. And that factor is as capricious as the flight of a butterfly on a windless day. President Donald J. Trump, the first American president to govern via Twitter, the narcissist in chief, and the first to explicitly discard all forms of truth and logic, is the most abnormal player in international relations since Hitler or Idi Amin.
Having dismissed or been abandoned by his best advisors (see Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig’s just-published book, A Very Stable Genius: Donald J. Trump’s Testing of America), Trump is on his own with very light baggage. It’s as if he were setting off on an Antarctic expediton with just his golf bag, which, by the way, happens to contain the nuclear button. Unfortunately, America–and the rest of the world–is setting off with him. Will he now opt for another extreme move against the Iranians? Or someone else? There’s only one given when it comes to President Trump’s modus operandi: it’s erratic. The authors of A Very Stable Genius describe him as a “chaotic, undisciplined, impulsive leader.” So we don’t know what he will do at this point in American–and world–history, and we won’t know until it’s too late.
Full disclosure: In the early fifties, when I was eight or ten years old I had a recurring fantasy that, if I could only meet and talk with a Russian boy, I could convince him that I didn’t hate him, and that might be the beginning of the end of the Cold War. My take on the subject today is essentially still the same.
As I was growing up in rural Michigan I never stopped wondering how the all-powerful American anti-communist obsession came about, what drove it and where was it taking us. One thing was clear to me: the whole issue was seriously instrumentalized by the American establishment, who converted the threat of communism into a blunt instrument for dominating the minds of the American people and physically bludgeoning the people of other lands utterly to death. It seemed then that everything evil or simply negative in the world could conveniently be explained away by blaming it on the “commies,” and not much has changed in that respect today. Even after the 1989 collapse of the Soviet Union “the Russians” are still perceived as enemies, threats to the “free world” and are still held responsible for everything from those subversive little nested dolls to influencing American elections. Having heard that cry of “Wolf!” so many times already, I think I’m entitled to be a bit skeptical.
When I arrived in Spain in 1968 one of the first friends I made was Pablo, a Spanish TV correspondent who was a communist, the first one I ever met. They called them “Eurocomunistas” in those days to distinguish them from Soviet communists.Their program was just about constructing a more decent society in their own country, something they helped to do in the intervening years. During that time they were the only organization on the Spanish political scene to take any real risks in opposing the murderous Franco military regime. Franco, who was a smart, ruthless dictator, ultimately died in bed in 1975. In the meantime my friendship with Pablo developed and he introduced me to his friends, all committed, altruistic young people working towards a Spanish democracy. Today the majority of our Spanish friends are ex-eurocommunists, Spain’s finest folk. The geopolitical wisdom of Captain America was long forgotten until I ran across him on the web the other day.
Allies to Enemies, an Assisted Metamorphosis
A US Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing was already at work in early 1919 presenting “Bolshevik horror stories” which were picked up by the sensationalist press–including the New York Times–adorned with lurid headlines like “Reds Seek War With America” and sold to the American public. This introductory education on Russian communism lasted throughout the 20s and set the tone of what was to come during the rest of the century.
Ironically, America’s mortal enemies since the Second World War were their most-important allies during the war, not Britain and certainly not France. It was the Russians who defeated the most Nazis and paid the highest price in destruction and lives of both soldiers and civilians–more than 20 million. President Roosevelt was convinced that he could work with the Russians after the war. But Roosevelt died and the American right–including President Harry Truman, the know-nothing Democrat, turned on the Soviets. He famously said on the day after the Germans invaded the Soviet Union: “If we see that Germany is winning, we ought to help Russia, and if Russia is winning, we ought to help Germany, and that way let them kill as many as possible…” He and his British allies then proceeded to sit on their hands for three years, leaving the Russians to take on the Germans by themselves.
After the war the expert American propaganda machine saw to it that those Russians were metamorphosed from allies into adversaries and from there into enemies. The advantage of enemies is that you don’t have to play fair against them and you can kill them if you need to.
For decades the question lurked in the back of my mind: How the hell did that happen? Then I ran across a book by William Blum entitled, The CIA, a forgotten history. Released in 1986 by Zed, an independent non-fiction publishing company based in London, UK, the book’s introduction presents a brief and cogent history of American anticommunism. It occupies a scant 14 pages but it immediately cleared away all the cobwebs in my head on the subject of American anticommunism. Most of the facts in this article come from that introduction to Blum’s book.
Here’s How America’s Geopolitical Blood Feud Began
Soviet communism resulted from the Bolshevik revolution, the derrogation of the Tsar of all the Russias, which coincided with the end of the First World War. Communism experienced its greatest growth during the 1930s. While Western economies were muddling their way through the Great Depression, Russian industry boomed and technology advanced. One of Stalin’s pet projects was the formation of engineers. Communism was admired by working people from around the world, but not so much by the owners of the means of production. Thanks mainly to Stalin’s purges and gulags, that utopian mirage didn’t last long but it was long enough to throw a powerful scare into the world’s capitalist oligarchs, one they never recovered from. It didn’t take them long to mobilize.
As early as 1918 the United States launched two military attacks on Russia from the north, one (the Polar Bear Expedition) at Arkhangelsk and another (the American Expeditionary Force, Siberia) at Vladivostak, Russia’s important Pacific port near the Chinese border. These initiatives, which coincided with the Russian civil war, were ill conceived and executed and allegedly gave rise to a mutiny among the 5,000 troops at Arkhangelsk–two thirds of which were from Michigan. The principal results of these senseless military missions were to terrorize the population of north Russia and cast a lasting shadow over relations between the US and the Soviet Union.
The inspiration for this attempt “to strangle at its birth” the Bolshevik state came from the British Minister for Air and War, the young Winston Churchill, who remained throughout his life a bitter enemy of Russia and one of the principal animators of the Cold War.
Blum asks, “What was there about this Bolshevik Revolution that so alarmed the most powerful nations in the world?” He relates how the Russians had dared to make a separate peace with Germany, abandoning the First World War after three years of bloody fighting. Graver still, they overthrew a capitalist-feudal regime and proclaimed the world’s first socialist state. Says Blum, “This was the crime the Allies had to punish, the virus which had to be eradicated lest it spread to their own people.”
The Dreaded Enemy Becomes a Useful Pawn in the Game
For years, numerous Americans, in high positions and obscure, sullenly harbored the conviction that World War II was “the wrong war against the wrong enemies.” Communism, they knew, was the only genuine enemy on America’s historical agenda. Was that not why Hitler had been ignoired/tolerated/appeased? So that the Nazi war machine would turn East and wipe Bolshevism off the face of the earth once and for all? It was just unfortunate that Adolf turned out be be such a megalomaniac and turned West as well. (William Blum, The CIA: A Forgotten History)
The shrewd American foreign-policy team, headed by Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, figured out by the 50s how to turn Soviet Communism to their advantage by casting the Russians as the quintessential enemy, responsible for misdeeds all over the world. There was nothing so far off nor so tenuous that it couldn’t be attributed to “the Russkies.” According to Wisconsin Senator Eugene McCarthy they had even deeply infiltrated the US government . The Americans continued beating the same tired drum during President Ronald Reagan’s Crusade Against the Evil Empire in the 80s.
One hundred years of overt and covert hammering on the American subconscious has had a devastating effect on their perception of the world outside their own borders. Today the average American’s reaction to any mention of communists or communism is wholly Pavolvian. They immediately start to salivate.
William Blum, sums it up:
The American people have been subjected to a relentless anti-communist indoctrination. It is imbibed with their mother’s milk, pictured in their comic books, spelled out in their school books; their daily paper offfers them headlines that tell them all they need to know; ministers find sermons in it; politicians are elected with it and Reader’s Digest becomes rich on it.
Blum then goes on to elucidate in elaborate detail the pecadilloes of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the United States’s principal agency in the fight against communism (which incidentally can include socialism, liberalism and, at times, simple nationalism or self determination.) As Blum makes clear over more than 400 pages, the cure has been vastly more serious than the illness.
Meanwhile, the reality of US-Soviet relations since World War II was much more nuanced than Captain America would have us believe. The most outstanding example was during and after the Cuban missile crisis, 13 days in October, 1962, which was the closest humankind has ever come to total extermination. Both President Kennedy and Chairman Krushchev were acutely aware of the extreme gravity of what almost happened in Cuba and both were convinced that it was up to them to take measures to obviate the possibility of a catastrophic, world-ending “misunderstanding.” Both leaders faced bitter opposition to peace initiatives in their respective military establishments but Krushchev was determined and Kennedy seemed to be inclined. He was encouraged by Norman Cousins, his private envoy to Krushchev, who informed him that the Soviet leader sincerely sought “a new relationship with the United States…” Cousins suggested that Kennedy deliver an address offering “a breathtaking new approach toward the Russian people, calling for an end to the cold war and a fresh start in American-Russian relations.”
This new departure was suggested in Kennedy’s June, 1963, American University address, prepared by the President and his staff without the intervention of the Joint Chiefs, the CIA or the State Department. Stone and Kuznick, authors of The Untold History of the United States, consider this talk “the most enlightened speech made by any president in the twentieth century.” This is the version published in that history book. The President said:
I have…chosen this time and this place to discuss a topic on which ignorance too often abounds and the truth is too rarely perceived–yet it is the most important topic on earth: world peace. What kind of peace do I mean? What kind of peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war… I am talking about genuine peace–the kind of peace that makes life on earth worth living–the kind that enables men and nations to grow and to hope and to build a better life for their children–not merely peace for Americans but peace for all men and women–not merely peace in our time but peace for all time. I speak of peace because of the new face of war. Total war makes no sense in an age when great powers can maintain large and largely invulnerable nuclear forces and refuse to surrender without resort to those forces. It makes no sense in an age when a single nuclear weapon contains almost ten times the explosive force delivered by all of the allied air forces in the Second World War. It makes no sense in an age when the deadly poisons produced by a nuclear exchange would be carried by the wind and water and soil and seed to the far corners of the globe and to generations unborn… Second: Let us re-examine our attitude toward the Soviet Union…it is sad to…realize the extent of the gulf between us. But it is also…a warning to the American people not to…see only a distorted and desperate view of the other side, not to see conflict as inevitable, accommodations as impossible and communication as nothing more than an exchange of threats… Today, should total war ever break out again…all we have built, all we have worked for, would be destroyed in the first 24 hours… In short, both the United States and its allies, and the Soviet Union and its allies, have a mutually deep interest in a just and genuine peace and in halting the arms race… And if we cannot end now our differences, at least we can help make the world safe for diversity. For, in the final analysis, our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal. Third: Let us re-examine our attitude toward the Cold War…we shall also do our part to build a world of peace where the weak are safe and the strong are just. We are not helpless before that task or hopeless of its success. Confident and unafraid, we labor on–not toward a strategy of annihilation but toward a strategy of peace.
Five short months later, on November 22, 1963, President Kennedy was murdered. Premier Krushchev was deposed in October of the following year, and the world returned to the status quo ante.
America’s Truth Is Scarier Than Hollywood’s Fiction
The other night we watched Pulp Fiction for maybe the fourth time. Halfway through the film I was jolted. It occurred to me suddenly that Americans today live inside a frightening, dystopian noir movie that makes Pulp Fiction pale by comparison. Director Quentin Tarentino tried to portray aspects of that condition in his film but, compared to the real-life, day-to-day realities that Americans face, his film looks like pretty tame stuff, more like a Rock Hudson/Doris Day comedy than a historically horrific cinematic experience. Just substitute John/Samuel for Rock/Doris. In Tarantino’s film there are half a dozen assassinations that made cinema history for their casual cruelty, but they’re like a walk in the park compared to normal American life over the past half century or so.
I suspect that you’re going to accuse me of exaggerating. Of course, I’m exaggerating. I need to get your attention. So just stick with me a bit more and I’ll prove to you that everyday life in America is far more horrific than Hollywood’s best/worst cine noir, better than Frankenstein, better than zombies, better than snuff. Have you ever seen a snuff film? Can you imagine a movie with 58,000 snuffees whose names were later etched on a monument 258 feet long in Washington DC? And those were just the American victims. There were many more–like millions–among the Vietnamese soldiers and civilians. Between American-inflicted “collateral damage;” the carpet bombing of great swaths of Vietnamese, Thai and Cambodian territory; and the assassination of thousands of suspected Viet Cong collaborators carried out by the CIA under Operation Phoenix; Messrs. Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Kissinger and McNamara, brewed up a movie that Messrs. Tarantino, Jackson and Travolta could never dream of.
And it’s not over yet. Vietnam veterans are still committing suicides attributible to their Vietnam experiences, but their statistics get swallowed up by those of more-recent war-related American military suicides, currently occurring at around 20 per day. According to Michael de Yoanna at Kunc.org (June 29, 2018):
The 20-a-day rate has been relatively consistent since 2008. By that estimate, more than 58,000 veterans and troops have taken their own lives since 2008. Add roughly 20,000 more suicides for the three years prior to that, when the daily suicide rate was 19 a day (in 2007) and about 18 (in 2005 and 2006). Numbers for 2016, 2017 and 2018 are yet to be tallied. If they hold to 20 a day, by the end of this year the total number of suicides among veterans and troops will be more than 100,000 since 2005.
These lurid realities, I think you’ll agree, go far beyond the horrors of a couple of pretentious, Bible-quoting assassins shooting dope pushers in a Hollywood film.
Bringing It All Back Home
Not all of the American horror shows take place overseas, by any means. Most of them hit the American heartland. Would you be interested in a script that would make Tarantino’s blood run cold? Let’s talk about homelessness and poverty.
Last spring the Washington Post ran a story they called Homeless, Living in a Tent Blocks from the U.S. Capitol–and Working Full Time. In it they tell Monica Diaz’s story. Monica works full time in a fast-food outlet and sleeps, with her husband, Pete Etheridge, in a tent on the street. But even under those unthinkable conditions they are not secure from municipal harassment. This is their seventh tent; the other six have been swept away, along with their belongings, in raids by city police. The way to evade these evictions? Monica must stuff all of her belongings in black rubbish bags, take down her tent, put everything on a shopping cart and move it to another location until the police go away. Then she’s moves back in until the next rout. It seems to be the best the American capitol can do for its “more affluent” homeless, the ones with a job. This is the lesser homeless horror show. What is life like for people with no income, and with children? Let me guess. You try not to think about it.
Numbers of homeless peoplel in America in 2017:
553,000 total on a given night
0.17% of population
According to http://www.opendoormission.com, the average age of a homeless person is nine years. But according to the New York Times, who interviewed the Department of Homeless Services, the average age across the whole system is 24 years. Estonia is the country with least homelessness with 0.06% of the population. The US has more than double that rate. According to joinpdx.org, homelessness can essentially be broken down into four categories: chronic, episodic, transitional, and hidden. If we cut to the chase, the principal underlying cause of all of these modes is income inequality and we’re obliged to look at poverty.
Lurking Beneath Homelessness is Crushing Poverty
According to debt.org, more than 46 million Americans–15%–live in poverty today. Atd-fourthworld.org reports that the wealth of countries is usually rated by GDP per capita, and many statistics include the poor in that same basket. So when the rich get richer, they maintain, so do the poor. That’s not true. The rich can–and do–get immensely richer without the trend alleviating poverty in any way, whatsoever.
The Trump administration has made poverty in America much worse. Bernie Sanders and Rashida Tlaib note, in an opinion piece published in The Guardian on New Year’s Eve, that Trump has just finalized the first of three policies that willmake this inequality even more obscene. Just two years after passing a $1.5tn (that’s “trillion” with a “t”) tax giveaway to the wealthiest Americans and large corporations, the Trump administration now plans to eliminate nutrition benefits for 3.7 million people.
The second measure it to limit benefits to families who cannot afford childcare and decent housing. Add to this a determination to turn up the pressure on families who must choose between food or heat. Meanwhile, the Republican tax-cut scam is working perefectly. Today, the richest 400 billionaires pay lower taxes than any group in America – including the poor. Nearly 100 of the top Fortune 500 companies now pay zero taxes.
Meanwhile, Republicans defend cuts to food stamps by saying that keeping people hungry will make them work harder. They would say that, wouldn’t they.
Down the Poverty-to-Prison Chute
The United States leads the world in mass incarceration with 788 prisoners per 100,000 population. A reasonable case can be made for a country’s incarceration statistics as a pretty good indicator of its overall health and wellbeing. By that measure there’s the United States, topping the list of the most dystopian nations in the world. Is that because Americans are innately more evil than people from Argentina or Norway? I doubt that. Or is it that the least fortunate Americans are faced, virtually from birth, with an uphill struggle against poverty, inadequate education, failing social services, and alienating societal values. Unlike the first world, they don’t even have health care. And these conditions have gone from bad to worse thanks to anti-social measures taken by a series of right-wing governments which have given rise to an unheard-of level of income inequality.
In a society that embraces the Americans’ wild-west human values, for the children born into underprivileged America, it’s a short hop to violence and crime. They perceive that as their only option for getting rich quick–the universal American aspiration. And they’re not mistaken. So they are rounded up and sent to prison. About 25% of the world’s prison population is in the US, which currently has more than 2.1 million total prisoners. The prison population in 1972 was 200,000, almost 2 million less than it is today. Here are the comparative statistics by country (prisoners per 100,000 population) of the world’s top 10 lockups:
Despite President Trump’s lack of concern for American prestige abroad, as anybody with an IQ over 50 can discern, this is not a proud list to be on. And the United States is not only on it. The United States leads it.
If You’re White You’re All Right
Mass incarceration in the United States is, of course, a civil rights issue, as many argue that incarceration dehumanizes poor people and minorities, does not increase public safety and damages already marginalized communities. The creation of massive amounts of prisoners with ever-longer mandatory sentences has led to several other issues, including overcrowded prisons, which increase health risks and decreased psychological well-being. And we still haven’t touched upon the disproportionate numbers of minorities imprisoned in the United States. Let’s just look at the briefest of statistics. According to 2017 figures from pewresearch org, hispanic and black people make up 28% of the American population but 56% of federal and state prisoners, while white people, with 64% of the total US population, make up only 30% of its inmates. Something is clearly amiss in American society and it goes far beyond their minorities’ inborn penchant for crime.
Additionally, the increasing number of prisoners is putting a major strain on state budgets. Prisons must control and administer all aspects of life for inmates, which include lengthy and costly list of necessities. Prison costs include adequate security, food, recreational and education opportunities, infrastructure maintenance, utility costs for the facilities, and providing healthcare for the prisoners. State prison spending varies greatly and can be as high as $69,355 per inmate per year (the average cost of an inmate in New York).
Black Holes, Anyone?
Independent journalist, Will Potter, visited one of the quasi-secret US detention facilities that exist inside two prisons out there in flyover America. Here’s his 15-minute report:
Can you think of a screen writer who can make this stuff up? I can’t.
How Does It End?
Is this noir enough for you? I don’t want to bore you, though I could go on about titles like Americans Who Die by the Gun, The Uninsured, Children in Cages by Themselves, Victims of Homicidal Racism, Politicians Who Sell Democracy for Self Gain…
How does it all end? We can only guess. You want my guess? It’s not a happy ending.
Some American Evangelical Christians see through President Donald Trump’s pandering to the Christian right as an effort to win their votes. Others no. According to Wikipedia.com, the United States has the largest concentration of evangelicals in the world. The results of a recent PEW Research poll indicate that American evangelicals are a quarter of the nation’s population and its single largest religious group. The results of the 2016 presidential election, according to a PEW poll, saw Trump winning 81% of the evangelical vote while just 16% voted for Clinton. Trump’s margin of victory among voters in this group was 65-percentage-points.
These numbers also help to explain the importance of President Trump’s iron-clad pro-Israeli agenda, perceived by Evangelical Christians as coinciding with the their own vision of the Biblical end-of-days story. They need a war in the Holy Land to jump-start the Apocalypse, which will in turn precipitate the Rapture. According to supposedly inerrant biblical prophesy, the Rapture will propel the born-again believers directly into Heaven. The President knows, despite his notoriously dissolute lifestyle, that he can count on their votes as long as he maintains his policy of harassing and provoking Iran, and supporting Israel’s right-wing government’s belicose policies. The militarist Likud party, personified in Israeli President Benjamin (aka Bibi) Netanyahu, is perceived by the uber-Christians the one most likely to take the world to Armageddon. This narrative isn’t difficult for President Trump to accept, for two cogent reasons:
He doesn’t believe in the Apocalypse any more than you and I do.
There are many millions of votes in it for him.
Besides, Trump and Netanyahu are cut from the same cloth. Both are ruthless and unscrupulous in pursuit of their own ends, no matter how illegitimate, immoral or illegal they may be, or what macabre consequences they may bring. Both of them see the rule of law–both domestic and international–as something that can be hammered into any shape they desire.
The latest news on President Trump’s provocation of Iran, according to today’s Wall Street Journal, is his “considering” a significant expansion of the U.S. military footprint in the Middle East to counter Iran, including dozens more ships, other military hardware and as many as 14,000 additional troops, thus doubling the number of U.S. military personnel since the troop buildup began last May. One wonders, have any of the Pentagon geniuses considered the possible repercussions in Saudi Arabia itself of a growing presence of American troops on sacred Arabian ground. This was the issue that propelled Osama bin Laden to worldwide fame.
Where Will Presidential Pandering Take the US?
President Trump’s pandering to religious institutions dramatically lowers the level of political discourse in the United States. The constant rise of magical religious sects as one of the most powerful electoral blocs in the country. only enhances their appeal to cynical, opportunistic, dubiously-Christian candidates. This fact is not lost on Donald Trump and he bends over backwards–and forwards–to cater to the most radical Christian fundamentalist elements in American society. He actually tailors his Middle East foreign policy to their perceived needs. Concidentally, these “needs” for moving the Israeli capital to Jerusalem, condoning the ongoing establishment of illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, and, ultimately, war in the region, have become President Trump’s standard Middle East policy. In all it amounts to an exceedingly complicated–and dangerous–kettle of fish.
If the Evangelical strategy were to work, while they are being wafted into heaven, everybody in the non-born-again world, including President Trump himself, all the Jews and, incidently, you and I, will go straight to hell. I sincerely think I’m rendering this story line correctly. Though it sounds like the script of a B-rated sci-fi movie, they believe it, and President Trump believes that their votes will get him re-elected in 2020. Seen with a cold eye, it’s a classic symbiotic relationship, like that of the shark and the remora, the little fish who cleans the parasites off the shark’s teeth. The Evangelicals are using Trump and he’s using them, despite the fact that they have nothing else in common. It’s just not quite clear which of the two is the shark.
Beside their curious end-times beliefs, most of these born-again Christians subscribe to the standard right-wing cant: racism, nationalism, predatory capitalism, deregulation, rapture culture, anti-science stances, along with retrograde views of women and attitudes towards LGBGT people. They’re essentially the classic American right with a theological twist.
Televangelism to the Front
A recent addition to President Trump’s White House juju team as the new head of his Faith and Opportunity Initiative is his “longtime prayer partner,” televangelist Paula White, also known as a successful practitioner of the Pentacostal “prosperity gospel.” This shrewd “ministry” has netted her a private jet and a $3.5 million crib in Trump Tower in New York, among other goodies. According to thegospelcoalition.org, White, who delivered the invocation at Trump’s presidential inauguration, claims to be the “convener and de facto head” of the president’s evangelical advisory board. The group of about 35 evangelical pastors includes the four men who endorsed her latest book: Jerry Falwell Jr., Franklin Graham, Jack Graham, and Robert Jeffress. This is how christianitytoday.com describes the prosperity scam.
It is an aberrant theology that teaches God rewards faith—and hefty tithing—with financial blessings, the prosperity gospel was closely associated with prominent 1980s televangelists Jimmy Swaggart and Jim and Tammy Bakker, and is part and parcel of many of today’s charismatic movements in the Global South. Orthodox Christians wary of prosperity doctrine found a friend in Senator Chuck Grassley, who in 2008 began a thorough vetting of the tax-exempt status of six prominent “health and wealth” leaders, including Kenneth Copeland, Bishop Eddie Long, and Paula White.
With her unabashedly sexy stage presence and mock-pious pitch, Paula comes across as an uniquely kinky con-woman. Her church -– which once boasted a membership of 20,000 people — declared bankruptcy in 2012. (Source: ministrywatch.com).
Perhaps You Would Like to Meet Her
The Constitution Speaks; Is Anyone Listening?
The first amendment to the US Constitution clearly states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” That should settle the question of separation of church and state but, as in everything else, particular interests can find a little wiggle room in any text.
That’s how religion crept into the government during the second Bush administration. It was he who established by executive order on January 29, 2001, the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (OFBCI) which, ostensibly sought to strengthen faith-based and community organizations and expand their capacity to provide federally funded social services. For fiscal year 2005, more than $2.2 billion in competitive social service grants were awarded to faith-based organizations. This pouring of federal funds into religious initiatives was promptly challenged by critics including Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American Civil Liberties Union. When President Obama assumed the office he changed the name of the OFBCI to President’s Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, though he did not substantially change its functions. (Source: Wikipedia)
The phrase “separation of church and state” can be traced to a January 1, 1802, letter by Thomas Jefferson, addressed to the Danbury Baptist Association in Connecticut, and published in a Massachusetts newspaper. Jefferson wrote:
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.
It was the second President Bush’s cozying up to the country’s right-wing Christians, that eventually led up to–or down to–the appointment of Paula White as President Trump’s spiritual advisor. Her otherwise routine presidential appointment had, according to thegospelcoalition.org, an immediate cruel and unusual sequel:
A day after the announcement was made, White’s ministry emailed supporters under her name asking them to donate $3,600 to achieve “opportunity and favor” from God. As Nicola A. Menzie reports, the email states: “During this season something so supernatural will take place and it will literally shift your life in a very positive way, IF you have ears to hear and connect to the prophetic moment. Friend, YOU MUST STAY CONNECTED TO ME DURING THIS PROPHETIC SEASON!”
If this doesn’t smack of conflict of interest, the Pope ain’t a Catholic.
Pandering to the Religious Right Is Good Electoral Business
There is a campaign being promoted by Evangelicals to support President Trump on issues such as religious liberty exemptions for wedding vendors, who object to offering services for same-sex wedding ceremonies. The CSMonitor cites Attorney General Jeff Sessions as saying “We will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied, or silenced anymore.” This certainly sounds like a stalwart defense of government support for right-wing Christianity in America and adherence to their ideology. Coming from one of Trump’s most accomplished sycophants, it also smacks of vote-stroking electoral opportunism.
The Bottom Line
The incursion of right-wing religion in the heart of American politics, whether motivated by over-zealous Christians in the government or by sheer electoral opportunism, represents just another crack in the edifice of normal democratic government. Normal government in today’s world depends upon rational, reasonable criteria to permit it to function properly for all of its citizens, not magical thinking nor “biblical correctness.” A right-wing Christian/Trump coalition would certainly lead to a loss of credibility with American allies, most of whom are guided by humane, rational criteria, with some notable exceptions, including President Trump’s favorites: Russia, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
With the Trump administration headed up by bible-thumping, Rapture-smitten politicians, aided by televangelist “religious advisors” like Paula White, the threat to separation between church and state–and democratic government as we know it–is evident. Included in the basic tenets of the Evangelical religión are a belief that the Bible contains the literal truth about everything, and the necessity of being “born again.” The Pentacostal Evangelicals add to this the essential importance of the “gift of tongues.” The obvious question that arises is: What happens when these strict theological principles clash with the Constitution of the United States, a clash that is inevitable? Are the citizens of the United States facing a critical turning point at which they must choose between their traditional a-religious government and a Taliban-style theocracy? The clock is running.
In his book, Brave New World Order, (Orbis Books, 1992), Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer identified seven characteristics of a National Security State:
The first characteristic of a National Security State is that the military is the highest authority. In a National Security State the military not only guarantees the security of the state against all internal and external enemies, it has enough power to determine the overall direction of the society. In a National Security State the military exerts important influence over political, economic, as well as military affairs.
A second defining feature of a National Security State is that political democracy and democratic elections are viewed with suspicion, contempt, or in terms of political expediency. National Security States often maintain an appearance of democracy. However, ultimate power rests with the military or within a broader National Security Establishment.
A third characteristic of a National Security State is that the military and related sectors wield substantial political and economic power. They do so in the context of an ideology which stresses that ‘freedom” and “development” are possible only when capital is concentrated in the hands of elites.
A fourth feature of a National Security State is its obsession with enemies. There are enemies of the state everywhere. Defending against external and/or internal enemies becomes a leading preoccupation of the state, a distorting factor in the economy, and a major source of national identity and purpose.
A fifth ideological foundation of a National Security State is that the enemies of the state are cunning and ruthless. Therefore, any means used to destroy or control these enemies is justified.
A sixth characteristic of a National Security State is that it restricts public debate and limits popular participation through secrecy or intimidation. Authentic democracy depends on participation of the people. National Security States limit such participation in a number of ways: They sow fear and thereby narrow the range of public debate; they restrict and distort information; and they define policies in secret and implement those policies through covert channels and clandestine activities. The state justifies such actions through rhetorical pleas of “higher purpose” and vague appeals to “national security.”
Finally, the church is expected to mobilize its financial, ideological, and theological resources in service to the National Security State.
Here Comes The Project for the New American Century
In 1997 the American Agenda was consolidated as never before thanks to the brainstorming of a select group of neo-conservative activists headed by William Kristol and Robert Kazan. They called the initiative the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), and the team they put together to plan (and execute, as many of them held important posts in the George W. Bush administration) reads like a Who’s Who of neocon chicken hawks at the time. The first group of recruits might sound familiar to you. They included Elliott Abrams, William Bennet, Jeb Bush, Dick Cheney, Eliot Cohen, Midge Decter, Steve Forbes, Francis Fukuyama, Frank Gaffney, Fred Ikle, Donald Kagan, Zalmay Khalilzad, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Norman Podhoretz, Dan Quale, Henry Rowen, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz. To that illustrious cohort were later added Richard Perle, Kenneth Adelman, Richard Allen, Richard Armitage, John Bolton, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Charles Krauthammer, Daniel Pipes, and James Woolsey. A quick scan through Google shows that, of this entire group of patriots and warmongers, very few of them did any military service at all, let along serve their country in combat.
The PNAC, emboldened by right-wing successes in Washington as well as the collapse of the Soviet Union less than a decade previously, brazenly declared the objectives of their program to promote US global hegemony in a series of comuniqués which recommended, among other measures:
· Increased defense spending
· Complete US militarization and domination of space
· An anti-missile system that came to be known sardonically as the “Star Wars” system
· The ability to “fight and decisively win multiple simultaneous major-theater wars”
· The policy of “critical regions,” especially the oil-rich Middle East
(Source: Stone and Kuznick, The Untold History of the United States, 2013)
At the top of PNAC’s immediate agenda was the toppling of the Sadam Hussein regime in Iraq. Sadam was their ally when his military served as an American proxy army against Iran in the 80s but by 2003 he was no longer useful. They had other plans for Sadam. Seen in retrospect, their strategy was to devastate Iraq, grab their oil (following much the same process as they are doing today in the Kurdish zone of Syria), then rebuild the country with the income from Iraq’s own petroleum. (Yes, it sounds just as absurd as making the Mexicans pay for the wall.) There was only one factor holding them back. Sadam had not committed any crime nor outrage grave enough to justify levelling his country in order to unseat him. Even the neocons could see that, and they alluded it in their contingency plans. They noted that, barring some catastrophic event such as the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, there was nothing to be done.
Enter 911, 2001, right on cue, and the Americans marched manfully into Iraq. Wait a minute. All but four of the 19 hijackers were Saudis, so why didn’t Bush’s National Security team decide to invade Saudi Arabia? Silly question. It would have been bad for business. What about Afghanistan? Osama bin Laden, the alleged perpetrator of 911 was allegedly hiding out somewhere in them there Afghan hills, wasn’t he? So, if they were going to invade anywhere, wouldn’t simple fourth-grade logic suggest it be Afghanistan before Iraq? The neocon strategists were having none of that. Rumsfeld made a remark, something about “better targets” in Iraq, General Colin Powell found some weapons of mass destruction under the bed and the world’s most formidable war machine booted up and marched. Handily enough, they already had the plans prepared.
I have treated this absurd series of events as a lark because, in the end, that is exactly what it turned out to be, a big, fat, lethal lark with a horrifying balance of dead and wounded Iraqi civilians, as well as millions being converted into homeless refugees. The number of Iraqi victims depends upon whom you listen to. The Iraq Body Count project (IBC) figure of documented civilian deaths from violence is 183,535 – 206,107 through April 2019. This includes reported civilian deaths “due to coalition and insurgent military action, sectarian violence and increased criminal violence.” The IBC site states: “many deaths will probably go unreported or unrecorded by officials and media.” According to the Associated Press‘s version more than 110,600 Iraqis had been killed since the start of the war to April 2009. (Source: Wikipedia)
It was President Barak Obama who was finally going to put the United States—and the world—in order and make things normal and decent again. So many American voters believed that message absolutely. Then, according to thebalance.com, he increased Bush’s “defense” budget to between $700 billion and $800 billion a year, and took the United States armed forces into Afghanistan. Coincidentally, Afghanistan sits on many billions (trillions?) of dollars worth of rare minerals. War, it seems, can look like good business, when regarded with a blind eye.
The Art of the Deal or Criminal Negligence?
Alleged heir to billions, real-estate developer, sexual harasser and reality TV star, Donald J. Trump achieved a surprising election victory in 2016 that produced a seismic awakening for a politically stale and morally drowsy United States. But the real shock took some time to sink in. Because, in obeyance to his wacky campaign promises, President Trump and his merry band of sociopaths have devoted the three years since he was elected to dismounting and demolishing the United States government as we know it. Lest you consider that categorical statement exaggerated, let’s take a look at the situation piece by piece. Investigative journalist and writer, Michael Lewis, makes that possible. In his thin (217-page) 2018 book, The Fifth Risk, he has given us enough reliable facts, laid out in an orderly and interesting manner, to get a reasonable grip on the situation.
The Fifth Risk is virtually a handbook of authoritative–and highly readable–information that Lewis obtained while criss-crossing the country and interviewing high-level civil servants from the Obama administration. These were the people responsible for the day-to-day functioning of vital federal agencies.
The most fascinating–and terrifying–sections of the book describe the transfer of power from the people who ran US government agencies under Obama to the new Trump appointees. We’re talking about agencies that run from the Patent Office, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Education and the Department of Commerce, up to the Department of Energy, a thirty-billion-dollar-a-year organization with about a hundred and ten thousand employees. This process is understandably complicated and its procedures are actually established by law. Well before the election, presidential candidates are required to form a “transition team” to facilitate the transfer of specialized knowledge required to keep the all-important federal agencies running smoothly. The law actually provides fully-furnished and operational office space for each transition team.
Lewis describes the importance of the departments and their management teams:
How to stop a virus, how to take a census, how to determine if some foreign country is seeking to obtain a nuclear weapon or if Korean missiles can reach Kansas City: these are enduring technical problems. The people appointed by a newly-elected president to solve these problems have roughly seventy-five days to learn from their predecessors. After the inauguration, a lot of deeply knowledgeable people will scatter to the four winds and be forbidden, by federal law, from initiating any contact with their replacements.
He makes it patently clear that Trump’s appointees form a demolition team, not a governing body, driven more by extreme-right-wing ideology than any expertise. Perhaps the most telling detail revealed by Lewis is that the day after the inauguration of President Trump, with all the Obama agency heads sitting in offices specially prepared for welcoming the incoming appointees with thick volumes of transition information and procedures, some of which took more than a year to prepare, no Trump representatives showed up. Days went by–in some cases weeks–and the Trump administration show no signs of life. When they finally appeared, instead of the expected teams of 20 or 30 experts, they were met with just a few incoming staff members, in one significant case a single elderly white man without a notebook nor a pencil.
Lewis quotes a comment by Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump’s White House Chief Strategist during the first seven months of his term, that sums up that insider’s view of the Obama-Trump transition:
I was fucking nervous as shit. I go, Holy fuck, this guy [Trump] doesn’t know anything. And he doesn’t give a shit.
The Trump policy was obviously not to do things, rather to undo them. And he and his cohorts are proceeding diligently down the same path today. Some of them seem to think that the nation’s problems can be solved by prayer.
Is the American Agenda Survivable?
From all outward signs, the objective of the Trump government is to continue to enrich the rich and subjugate the poor, thus placing in jeopardy the health and wellbeing—if not the very survival–of generations of Americans to come. Who can assure Americans that their children and grandchildren, and their children and grandchildren, will be capable of surviving the coming climate change, the wars, the famines, the water shortages, the industrial and electromagnetic pollution, the plummeting education standards and, above all, the false values that the American agenda is based upon. In order to survive as a nation, the Americans might benefit from teaching their children well. That is, to stop trying to convince them that they are superior to other people around the country and the world. They’re not smarter nor better than any of the other children around the world. If they are superior in anything, it’s as consumers of low-grade ultra-nationalism, “pop culture” and reality TV, the maximum expression of which is their own President Donald Trump.
The American National Security State generally refers to the ideology and institutions (CIA, Dept. of Defense, etc.) established by the National Security Act of 1947, an enduring legacy of then President Harry S. Truman in support of his doctrine “to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.” (Source: Michael J. Hogan, A Cross of Iron: Harry S. Truman and the Origins of the National Security State, 1945-1954). Hogan’s book explains the transformative process under Truman that ended in the ultimate demise of the New Deal state with its emphasis on social spending, and ushered in the militarist National Security State, which promptly proceeded to dedicate itself to subjugation and outside pressures. (Source: Sourcewatch.org)
The National Security Act brought about a major restructuring of the United States government’s military and intelligence agencies following the war. It created many of the institutions that subsequent Presidents have found useful when formulating and implementing foreign policy, including the National Security Council (NSC). It also created the Department of the Air Force, converting the Army Air Force into a separate branch of the armed forces.
Then, in rapid succession, came the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 1947, taking over from the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), (1942–45) headed by Major General William Joseph (Wild Bill) Donovan and dedicated to obtaining information about and sabotaging the military efforts of enemy nations during World War II. Donovan is regarded as the founding father of the CIA, and his statue stands in the lobby of the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, both as homage to Wild Bill and to his freewheeling style in international relations, a lot of which remains today. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) followed in 1949, and the National Security Agency (NSA) in 1952. The NSA quickly grew into a massive high-tech and top-secret organization dedicated to signals intelligence and capable of of spying on everybody, everywhere.
With all these pieces in place, the United States was ready to undertake their world takeover. The first steps in that militarist departure are today referred to as the Cold War. Today, 67 years later, the Americans have roughly 1,000 (nobody outside the Pentagon knows the precise number) military installations around the world. Meanwhile, in 2018, it was reported that Russia operates “at least 21 significant military facilities overseas.” (Source: Wikipedia)
US Repertoire Includes Remote Death from Sky
The skies of the world are filled with American satellites and armed drones. Many unfortunate people live under permanent threat of sudden death descending from Heaven in the form of US “targeted assassinations.” This includes not only the leaders of terrorist organizations (always keeping in mind that our terrorists are their freedom fighters) but also their extended families, neighbors, friends, sympathizers, passers-by and the milkman. Since the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, the United States government has carried out drone strikes against ostensible Jihadist terrorist leaders primarily in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Libya. Though the number of accompanying civilian deaths is hard to compile some organizations have tried. According to Wikipedia.com, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism says the rate of civilian casualties for 2012, for example, was nine percent. The Bureau, based on extensive research in mid-2011, claims that at least 385 civilians were among the dead.
It has been reported that 160 children have died from UAV-launched attacks in Pakistan and that over 1,000 civilians have been injured. Additional reporting has found that known militant leaders have constituted only two percent of all drone-related fatalities. These sources run counter to the Obama administration’s claim that “nearly for the past year there hasn’t been a single collateral death” due to UAV-based attacks.The New America Foundation estimates that for the period 2004-2011, the non-militant fatality rate was approximately 20%. (Source: Wikipedia)
President Barak Obama was to take a personal interest in the drone assassination program, actually sitting down periodically with the CIA’s top dirty-tricks specialist, John Brennan, whom he later named director of the CIA, to select from a list of candidates for the week’s proposed killer-drone victims. This seems to be a first: a hands-on, Murder-Incorporated-style operation based in the White House, and directed by the President himself.
It was President Trump who, just this came year, came up with an expedient solution to the dance of statistics. On March 6, 2019, he signed an executive order revoking the requirement that U.S. intelligence officials publicly report the number of civilians killed in Counter-Terrorism missions in Areas Outside of Active Hostilities.
When in Doubt, Escalate
The drone war was just another step forward in the escalation of the ever-more-creative American agenda. After World War II, instead of demobilizing the army, President Truman expanded the war machine and ushered in the National Security State. When President Kennedy’s turn came around he raised military spending $17 billion above that of the Eisenhower years. This year, 2019, the United States “defense” budget for the four branches of the U.S. military: the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force, has progressed to approximately $693,058,000,000. That’s 693 billion dollars; some sources say it’s probably closer to a trillion. Either way, it’s more than the money spent on defense by the next seven countries combined, and certainly enough to finance a lot of hot lunches for schoolchildren.
Speaking in 1994, Gore Vidal, America’s favorite celebrity intellectual in the sixties and seventies—until he started cutting too close to the bone—says in a long interview with Paul Jay, the Canadian journalist who was later to found the Baltimore-based Real News.com:
But by forty-five—when the bombs were dropped— we lacked Franklin Roosevelt. He was the emperor. He knew exactly what he was doing. He made a number of agreements with Stalin at Yalta. All Stalin asked for was to be treated as a normal superpower, which is what they were. Roosevelt did not have any nonsense going on in his head about the sanctity of Christianity, the sanctity of capitalism versus communism. I don’t think he ever gave such topics a thought. All he knew is we had won the war, and he was going to decolonialize.
I realize how little understanding any of us had of what was actually going on at the [Cold War] time. We had been carefully conditioned to believe that the gallant, lonely USA was, on every side, beleaguered by the Soviet Union, a monolithic Omnipotency; we now know that they were weak and reactive while we were strong and provocative. Once Jack [Kennedy] had inherited the make-believe war against communism in general and the Soviet Union in particular, he preceded, unknown to all but a few, to change the rules of the game. He was about to turn Truman’s pseudo-war into a real war…
Unfortunately for the United States and the world, President Roosevelt didn’t live to carry out his noble plans. His place was taken by a mediocre politician, the product of a mediocre Democratic Party machine from Missouri, who had only been vice president for 82 days when Roosevelt died and never enjoyed his confidence. Truman knew nothing when he was thrust into the presidency, for example, of the United States’s development of two nuclear devices. But, against the advice of all the bombs’ developers and all the relevant government departments, he dropped them both on Japan, unnecessarily, it turns out, and with disastrous consequences. This was the definitive indication that the United States was declaring its unilateral primacy in world affairs.
What motivates Americans these days? What are their priorities? Where did those convictions come from? Why are the axiomatic American truths so different from those of the rest of the world? What do Americans read? Where are they coming from? Where are they headed? Are they out front, or lagging behind? What is their agenda?
As I see it, our generations’ part of the American story, one of the most truculent in their history, which I have deemed The American Agenda, takes shape at a meeting in Yalta (Crimea, Soviet Union) from February 4th to the 11th, 1945, just before the end of second great war of the 20th century. United there, at their second and last wartime meeting, were the leaders of the three Allied countries that were to be instrumental in the defeat of German nazism, Italian fascism and Japanese imperialism: Premier Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt of the United States, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill of Great Britain.
With the war in Europe practically won by these Allies, the grumpy, hard-drinking prime minister’s principal objective at the conference was to save the British Empire, which was retained, if not for long, and the British still have not closed the wound. Premier Stalin felt obliged to emerge from the war with enough control over Eastern Europe to assure that neither the Germans, nor anyone else, could march unhindered into his country. Roosevelt’s goals included consensus on thee creation of the United Nations and gaining Soviet agreement to enter the war against Japan once Hitler was defeated. None of them left Yalta completely satisfied. (Source: Wikipedia)
Roosevelt and Stalin trusted one another and foresaw possible common projects between their two countries after the war. Churchill, a British aristocrat, lifelong anti-communist hardliner, and the one who would betray the other two, felt left alone at the meeting with his big cigar. When the war in Europe ended he actually suggested to American President Harry Truman (Roosevelt having died a couple of months after the Yalta Conference) that, since they were already in Europe, a combined British-American force might invade Russia and nip communism in the bud.
The US Enters an Open Field
It is important to keep in mind at this point that, while Britain and the Soviet Union, along with many other countries in Europe and Asia, were devastated by war on their own ground with massive human and economic losses, the United States was never bombed and never saw an enemy soldier on their land. They fought in Europe and Asia, and didn’t enter the war until more than two years after Britain and six months after the Soviet Union. When the Americans finally did get into the fray it was not to form a western front in order to relieve the hard-pressed Russians who were left virtually alone to face the Germans’ lethal attack (Operation Barbarrosa) on the east beginnning in June of 1941.
Instead the Yanks followed Churchill’s lead, always prioritizing the protection of British colonies and access to Middle-East oil. So the Americans and the British dilly-dallied in North Africa and Italy for a disproportionate long time. The all-important British and American advance across the English Channel did not take place for three more years, during which the Soviet Union fought the Germans almost alone, until the Allied Normandy landing (Operation Overlord) in June of 1944. President Truman actually said, in the meantime, that the more Germans and Russians who killed one another, the better.
The Americans, having pulled themselves out of the tail end of the great depression and gotten rich from their industrial contributions to the war, were sitting on top of the world. It was around that time that a few smart, opportunistic American leaders began to think in terms of American world domination. and to act on their thoughts. What better time than the present, they must have thought, with virtually the entire world at their feet. So they began to lay the ideological groundwork and to create the institutions necessary to work their plans. From there on out, the United States essentially called the shots.
Showdown at Bretton Woods
The first step to enable the projection of American power around the globe, in July, 1944, a few months before the Yalta Conference, was an international meeting at the Mount Washington Hotel in the ski resort of Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. The meeting was called the United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference, though the United Nations would not be created until more than a year later. There, under the undeniable leadership of the United States, 730 delegates from all 44 Allied nations sat down from July 1 to 22, 1944, to regulate the international monetary and financial order after World War II. Out of this meeting came the establishment of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), as well as the International Trade Organization.
The United States and Britain had secretly been planning the economic future of the world since 1940. Their attitude towards the rest of the delegates was hinted at by the economist Lord Keynes, the head of the British delegation, in a recorded conversation:
Twenty-one countries have been invited which clearly have nothing to contribute and will merely encumber the ground… The most monstrous monkey-house assembled for years.
In the accelerated approval of the agreements at Bretton Woods the Soviet Union did not join the newly-created financial entities and Soviet influence on world trade was badly damaged as a consequence. The final agreement replaced the gold standard with the U.S. dollar as the global currency. By so doing, it established America as the dominant power in the world economy. After the agreement was signed, America was the only country with the ability to print dollars. (Source: Wikipedia)
One of the reasons Bretton Woods worked for the Americans was that the U.S. was clearly the most powerful country at the table, thus able to impose its will on the others, including an often-dismayed Britain. At the time, one senior official at the Bank of England described the deal reached at Bretton Woods as “the greatest blow to Britain next to the war”, largely because it underlined the way financial power had moved from the UK to the US. Having become the largest international creditor, the US held nearly two-thirds of the world’s gold reserves and commanded half of all global industrial production. (Sources: Wikipedia and AstuteNews.com)
Three quarters of a century later, Kristina V. Minkova, St. Petersburg State University, writes in the Russian Journal of Global Initiatives: Policy, Pedagogy, Perspective:
It is my belief that Stalin was not fully aware of all the complexity of the big economic and political game between the United States and Great Britain, which gained momentum in 1943. While the latter was struggling to save the remnants of its empire and was bargaining madly for credits vitally important for its survival, the former were clearly demanding the role of world leader.
Over the past half century the majority of the leaders in the American military, especially officers and non-coms were either from Southern States or had been formed on southern military bases. There they absorbed southern-dominated expressions of nationalism, weaponized patriotism and religion. An old friend who did his obligatory military service during the Vietnam War was so repelled by the redneckedness of the US Army that he left the country for good when he was discharged. Looking back a half a century he says with a mock meaningful smile, “I left the US the same year as Stanley Kubrick, 1968.”
Southernization’s Limitations on Voting Rights
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 signed into law on August 6, 1965, by President Lyndon Johnson, outlawed the discriminatory voting practices adopted in many southern states after the Civil War, including literacy tests as a prerequisite to voting. But on June 25, 2013, the United States Supreme Court, in the landmark Shelby County (Alabama) v. Holder case, reconsidered the constitutionality of two provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965: Section 5, which requires certain states and local governments to obtain federal preclearance before implementing any changes to their voting laws or practices; and Section 4(b), which contains the coverage formula that determines which jurisdictions are subjected to preclearance based on their histories of discrimination in voting. (Source: Wikipedia)
According to an article by Vann R. Newkirk II in The Atlantic of July 10, 2018:
Just five years after the landmark Shelby County v. Holder decision, it’s become clear that the decision has handed the country an era of renewed white racial hegemony. And we’ve only just begun.
The same author says on July 21, 2018:
Voter suppression almost certainly helped Donald Trump win the presidency. Multiple academic studies and court rulings indicate that racially biased election laws, such as voter-ID legislation in places like Wisconsin, favored Republican candidates in 2016. Like most other elections in American history, this one wasn’t a fair fight. A poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and The Atlantic has uncovered evidence of deep structural barriers to the ballot for black and Latino voters, specifically in the 2016 election. More than that, the survey finds that the deep wounds of Jim Crow endure, leaving America’s democratic promise unfulfilled.
Nor is it necessary to resort to sophisticated big-data techniques to influence voting results significantly. There are effective redneck measures as simple as closing polling stations in Democratic neighborhoods. Unfair, discriminatory voting laws are already in effect. Some of them would be clearly illegal if challenged, but that is a complicated, time-consuming process that not all communities are prepared to face. It’s up to the Attorney General to file those suits, but Jeff Sessions hasn’t take the initiative, so cheated would-be voters–significantly many poor and elderly people and minorities who would vote for Democrats–are cut out of the mix.
What’s Next? Could Southernization Be Reversed?
In theory, everything is possible, but the de-southernization of the United States would be difficult to the point of impossible. With more than half a century of head start, southernization has its roots sunk deeply in large parts of the north and west. And let’s not forget the south, which is already southernized. We’re talking about changing people’s hearts and minds, which is never easy, as the Americans discovered in other people’s countries. What would be required? First and foremost: education. Ignorance fertilizes all the ills of an underdeveloped region, and the south is at the bottom of the US totem pole in high-school graduates. This is not because southerners are less intelligent. It’s because the south spends significantly less on public education. Deficient nutrition is also a factor. Hungry kids from poor families make worse students and the south lacks many programs to help them.
Michael Herr, one of the most lucid people I have never met, and who didn’t write much beyond a thin book called Dispatches and two of the seminal film scripts of the 20th century, Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket, said, “They speak about the dumbing of America as a foregone thing, already completed, but, duh, it’s a process and we haven’t seen anything yet.”
A loosening of the grip that fundamentalist Christianity has on the southernized population would also help immensely. The belief in a better life after death is a terrible millstone around the neck of a society. Then there’s economic equality. If people are given real hope they don’t have to rely on charismatic leaders and magical religion.
Of course, the south’s (and the southernized north’s) deep-down racism would have to be tempered. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 14 percent of all people in the United States are identified as black, either alone or in combination with one or more other races. In 2010, 55 percent of the US black population lived in the South, and 105 Southern counties had a black population of 50 percent or higher. The way things look today the necessity of eradicating the inequality and marginalization of so many innocent people seems to be a virtually insoluble problem.
Overblown, racially-discriminating incarceration rates in the United States are the highest in the world, and their effects on the society are more damaging than most of the original crimes themselves. Not only is prison–especially long mandatory terms– disastrous for the families concerned, but it is a sure generator of more delinquency. What keeps American lawmakers from realizing that? Never lose sight of the fact that a disproportionate number of those in prison are people of color. Could it have to do with racism?
Where’s the Will to Make America Great Again?
Is there a firm determination, or even a mild desire in the American power structure to redress all these wrongs and put the country back on the path of solidarity and sanity? That is to say, to make America great again. Patently not. Such a change of priorities would require tremendous political conviction and the commitment of so many resources that the United States would no longer be able to devote itself to its primary businesses: world domination and never-ending war. Unfortunately, the decision to make any sort of fundamental changes in the country lies in the hands of the same southernized politicians who created the current situation, so any significant change is highly unlikely. Those politicians are too firmly backed by their southernized voters, approximately half the country, along with the big business interests which have financed reelection for most of the United States Congress. Therein lies the problem.
There’s the other inevitable American reality: too many powerful interests are satisfied with the status quo. Workers wages are so low in the south that industries are beginning to relocate their traditional northern manufacturing operations to the south, and even to bring some of them back from Asia. This, however, doesn’t necessarily indicate a bright future. Better than cheap labor is no labor, and most manufacturing jobs will soon be in the “hands” of robots.
In an article for American Prospect, Harold Meyerson says:
The Old South may not be able to bring back the days of unpaid slave labor, but the GOP’s doing the next best thing by shredding our safety net, slashing our wages, and taking aggressive measures to keep us from voting them out of power.
So, could the southernization of America be reversed or tempered? The odds tend towards “not a chance,” save the occurance of some unforseen cataclysmic event or, failing that, a miraculous awakening of the sedated American electorate.
Did you ever wonder how the United States government became dominated by white southern Republicans and their northern cohorts? It was a slow process that began when the South began to move north and west more than half-century ago. They took with them their quaint accent–which sounds powerful endearing coming out of the mouth of Dolly Parton, but not so charming when the speaker is Mitch McConnell. They also took their rural-exploitation economics, their slavers’ racism, their beatification of ignorance, their love for guns and the flag, their fundamentalist Christianity and their faith-based view of reality which admits no common sense, not to mention scholarly thinking. Little by little their influence grew, thanks to factors we’ll look at here. Today they direct the fate–and the fatality–of a great nation.
Disclaimer: This piece is not intended to be a blanket condemnation of southeners and things southern. There are a lot of good and valuable people down there. Nor do I limit the term “toxic redneck” to southerners. There are plenty of them in the north, right up to the northeast, right up to the very, very Toxic Redneck in Chief.
Before we go any further, let’s define “toxic redneck” so we’re on the same page. For our purposes that term–usually, but not always–refers to a rural, southern, white, bigoted, racist with limited education and virulent extreme-right-wing political convictions. Due to the “southernization” of a large part of the northern and western parts of the United States, the rankest versions these values have been adopted in the north, as well. The common denominator in both cases, north and south, appears to be ignorance and intolerance.
The Epidemiology of Southernization
The term “southernization,” for the tendency to adopt traditional down-home customs, mindsets and values was probably borrowed from the title of a 1974 book by John Egerton: The Americanization of Dixie: the Southernization of America. Egerton’s well-documented thesis is that the “Americanization of Dixie” and the “Southernization of America” are complementary social phenomena that migrated respectively from North to South and South to North and have changed the essential character of the nation. He feels that they have cannibalized each other to the detriment of both and, of course, the country, which is currently advancing backwards. Egerton’s book is more than 40 years old but its theses remain surprisingly valid today.
It seems that it was the most brutal and retrograde of plantation values that traveled best, from white supremacy and exploitation mentalities to the most primitive forms of down-home miracle religions. Kevin Phillips, in his 2006 book, American Theocracy, traces the evolution of Christian sects in America from the time of the American Revolution. The trend, he suggests, is toward ever more fundamentalist versions of Cristianity, embodying biblical inerrancy, speaking in tongues, millenarianism, and rebirth in Christ. Phillips traces the trajectory of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). It was denominated “southern” when it was founded in Atlanta, Georgia in 1845 in opposition to the northern Baptists over the issue of slavery. Today it is the world’s largest Baptist denomination:
In his article “The Southernization of America Religion: Testing a Hypothesis” (Sociological Analysis 1991), Mark A. Shibley undertook a systematic, empirical examination of the Egerton thesis. Using church membership data from the Glenmary Research Center and population and migration data from the U.S. Census, he showed that virtually all the membership growth in evangelical churches during the 1970s could be attributed to growth in historically southern evangelical churches. Moreover, Shibley found that the growth of southern-style religion was especially marked outside the South and corresponds with regions that experienced high levels of in-migration from the South during the same period.
Kevin Phillips quotes the historian, Mark Noll, who says:
The protestant bodies whose rates of growth in recent decades have exceeded general population increases–sometimes far exceeded–are nearly all characterized by such labels as Bible-believing, born again, conservative, evangelical, fundamentalist, holiness, Pentecostal or restorationist.
This is the tenor of the religious beliefs that have migrated north and west and today rule supreme in the United States government. Believe it or not, there are full-fledged members of President Trump’s cabinet–along with scores of other high-level appointees–who sincerely believe that the biblical “end times” are upon us. According to these evangelical Christians all that is necessary is the Jews’ return to Jerusalem followed by the great war of Armageddon which is prophesied in the Bible. Then God will swoop down and lift all of his born-again true believers into Heaven and send the rest of us straight to Hell. This is the “Rapture” that is currently all the rage among born-again rednecks. And these are the people responsible for shaping United States foreign policy. The truth is that God doesn’t have to bother to descend to earth in order for a war in the Mid-East to deteriorate into Holy Hell.
Elizabeth Parker Illuminates the Issues Graphically
In her website, blogger and web developer Elizabeth Parker sums up the southernization process in her commentaries on thirteen carefully-selected maps. She sets the tone with the first one which portrays the division between slave and free states in 1861, just before the Civil War. Its design coincides eerily with today’s map of red and blue states.
And here is the map of red and blue states:
The twelve following maps in her presentation illustrate the “progress” that has been made in various aspects of the American experience since the process of southernization began. The maps shed light, state by state, on such issues as numbers of high-school graduates, gun deaths, encarceration rate, minimum wages, teen pregnancy, etc. Her accompanying explanations and examples further illuminate the uncomfortable truths exposed by the maps. You might want to have a look at the complete 5,000-word article.
The Southernization of the Nation’s Capitol
Washington DC sits on land originally donated by the states of Maryland and Virginia, so it was born with a marked southern character. The city of Washington was declared the national capital in 1791. Then, in 1846, Virginia requested the return of the area they had donated to the capitol in the beginning, fearing that slavery would be banned in the district, and Congress approved. Subsequently the northward march of southern attitudes in increasing numbers had increasing influence on national elections. After–and largely due to–the civil-rights legislation of the mid-sixties the solidly-racist south abandoned the Democratic Party en masse, thus reinforcing the Republicans’ strength both in Washington and throughout the country.
Naturally, their racist, white-supremacist values went with them and remain powerful today. How else can we explain the absolute boycott of President Barak Obama’s legislative agenda by both houses of Congress dominated by good ol’ boys who, though they never announced it publicly, considered Obama “just another uppity nigger.” President Trump follows the same tacit policies, going to exaggerated lengths to annul President Obama’s legacy. Needless to say, Trump’s nazi, klan, and white-supremacist followers are delighted with this turn of events and will follow him to the gates of Hell.
What Turned Americans so Virulently Against Socialism?
Socialism, or elements thereof, are commonplace throughout the modern world and they’re generally accepted as just another legitimate political option to be included in the democratic mix. Every place, that is, except the United States, where socialism has been systemically demonized over the last century. Today socialism is almost universally rejected as false, subversive and actually dangerous, as it allegedly leads to communism. Americans appear to have forgotten that their society already embraces many aspects of socialism including the police, fire department and public schools, as well as social security and public employment. The two collectives that benefit most from American socialism are the military, with full health benefits including dentistry, and–oh irony of ironies–the United States Congress, most of whose members shun and berate “socialism” but all of whom enjoy a 72% discount on their healthcare as well as comfortable retirement plans, all of which they awarded themselves.
Meanwhile, the entire civilized world is enjoying the benefits of both capitalism and socialism. There’s Germany populated by consumate capitalists who compete über-successfully in world markets. At the same time all German citizens enjoy the advances of socialism: universal health care, month-long vacations, generous maternity and paternity leaves, living wages, worker participation in company boardrooms, free education through college… The same model prevails in many other countries around the world, starting with Scandinavia. Norway, one of the most socialized countries in the world, also has one of the world’s most successful sovereign investment funds. Most of the European Community has similar rights and benefits. Some extend to foreigners who can go to college for free both in Germany and Scotland, though the latter requires English students to pay. Outside Europe; Japan and Canada, Australia and New Zealand, are all similiar, well-ordered capitalist countries, sweetened with the solidarity and generosity of democratic socialism.
Why hasn’t the United States done something similar? Why must the streets of their cities be populated by cold and hungry homeless families? Why are the young lives of their college students blighted by long-term debt? (On the subject of student debt in America, Derek Newton writing for Forbes.com about Secretary of Education, Betsy deVos, whose family, it is reported, owns ten yachts, says: “As the Queen of Student Debt, DeVos is burdening students with debt she knows many can’t pay in order to advance the interests of those who take advantage of them.” It gets even better. See Newton’s full article here.) Why does the United States have the highest encarceration rates in the world? What about the hopeless working poor and millions of citizens bereft of any health care? Why are their billionaires so obscene and so obscenely rich? Aren’t they taxed? And where did that President come from?
Have the Americans forgotten that theirs is the richest country in the world? Or have they forgotten that riches are not just for buying yachts and wars? These are not rhetorical questions. Why don’t the Americans look around and see what the governments of the rest of the world are achieving for all of their citizens and fix their own country?
Trick Bag, Can’t Fix
They can’t. They’re living in a trick bag, victims of the false American ethos of rugged individualism, the self-made man and dog-eat-dog competitiveness. It’s a country where people are judged primarily by how much they have with all other considerations coming in a distant second. Where did this twisted, unnatural and anti-human set of values come from, and how did it get a death grip on what was potentially the greatest country in the world? The answers to these fundamental questions are not secret. They just require a bit of research.
Ironically, it was a historical coincidence that caused socialism to set the anti-socialism ball rolling. It was during the low point of the 1930s that many American citizens noticed that there was one country in the world that was conspicuously unaffected by the Great Depression. It was not only not affected but actually enjoyed a booming economy. The Soviet Union’s first Five Year Plan in 1928 brought with it redistribution of wealth, universal health care, and full employment. (Source: Wikipedia) There was a period, before Stalin’s brutal excesses became known, when the Soviet system looked attractive to the American Left and the Communist Party enjoyed a honeymoon with the American working class. With unemployment figures hovering around 25% (much higher for minorities), desperate American workers formed long lines to emigrate to Soviet Russia. Business Week reported at the time that the Soviet Union needed 6,000 American workers and more than 100,000 applied.
This unexpected set of economic circumstances (particularly the implicitly negative comparison between America and Russia) sent American businessmen into paroxysms of fear. What would become of their economic dominance if Soviet successes continued? That fear has continued to dominate their world down to our own times. It fueled the First Red Scare (1917-20), which coincided with the Russian revolution, and the Second Red Scare in 1947-60 which was supercharged by Joseph McCarthy, the ambitious and unscrupulous Senator from Wisconsin. McCarthy’s fear mongering to the lowest common American denominator debilitated the labor unions, political associations and cultural organizations of the American left, responsible for the reforms of the 30s and 40s. In the process McCarthy virtually wiped out the American Communist Party, along with the creme of Hollywood talent, which was blacklisted by his House Un-American Activities (HUAC) committee. Ninety percent of the tarnished filmmakers never went back to work in Hollywood. (Source: The Untold History of the United States)
Socialism, Just Vanilla-Flavored Communism
With anti-Communism firmly consolidated as American scripture, the United States moved on to the Cold War, the Soviet-American geopolitical confrontation which lasted from 1946 (with American diplomat, George Kennan’s, “Long Telegram” from Moscow in which he enunciated the United States’ policy of containment of Soviet expansionism), until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. (Source: Wikipedia) It was during this period that the United States made maximum use of “the Communist threat” to justify their colonial wars in Korea and Vietnam, as well as American-sponsored proxy wars in Latin America, Afghanistan, Iran and other places.
That’s more than half a century of selling hard-core anti-Communism as one of the basic pillars of American thinking, so it’s no wonder that “socialism” (which, as all American patriots know, is just vanilla-flavored Communism) should be anathema to all right-thinking Americans. For that matter, today perhaps half of Americans consider a “liberal” to be the first cousin to a dangerous commie.
The Future of American Socialism
The upcoming American presidential and congressional elections, scheduled for November 3, 2020, have a lot to reveal about the future of the country. At stake, besides the presidency, are all 435 seats in the House of Representatives and 34 of 100 Senate seats. The choice for American voters is between more of the same and a radical departure from President Donald Trump’s atypical administration. The issues right now, just over a year from the elections, are centered on President Trump’s alleged wrongdoing on several fronts, and his possible impeachment. But all of that could prove irrelevant if his well-entrenched and loyal backers re-elect him or, as he has hinted, he refuses to accept the election results.
If the elections should tilt the other way and the Democrats were to win the presidency, maintain their majority in the House, and gain ground in the Senate, the task of restoring the government to sanity and decency would be massive. There democratic persuasions of all stripes, including socialism, would enter into the mix. The question becomes, would the outrages of the Trump administration persuade middle-of-the-road American voters to opt for more-socialist-leaning solutions: more regulation of big business including a fair tax structure, more robust social programs, investment in public education, a clearer division between church and state, cutting back on military spending, sane administration of international relations… This may sound like a left-wing Christmas list, but everything is possible in turbulent times such as these, and progress on even half of these issues would be a step forward. It will not be easy in any case, considering the considerable influence of corporate money on the United States Congress, on both sides of aisles.
Who would lead the left’s campaign to take responsibility for the government of the United States? Both Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, who will be, respectively 79 and 77 years of age on election day, might be considered too old. (On the other hand, age connotates wisdom…) That leaves Elizabeth Warren, who would bring competence and decency into the presidency and would not be reluctant to include democratic socialists in her government. Would she include any of the four young ethnic congresswomen the press refers to as “The Squad.” President Trump, himself, is one of their promoters, prompted by the fear they inspire, with comments like, “Go back where you came from!” They look like the future of something. It remains to be seen what.
“We need leaders not in love with money but in love with justice. Not in love with publicity but in love with humanity.
If you’re reading this you will agree that some profound changes in the American government are urgently needed. (How can I be so sure you’ll agree? Because the people who disagree don’t read.) The questions remaining are:
What changes are required?
Who’s going to carry them out?
When and how?
The most obvious answers seem to be:
A clean sweep of the Trump government
A citizens’ initiative
ASAP, and the How is more complicated
The prevailing wisdom seems to be that President Trump needs impeaching. It’s hard to disagree with that, but it’s equally hard not to notice that it wouldn’t do a great deal of good. Besides impeaching (being brought to trial by a simple majority of the House of Representatives where Democrats outnumber Republicans 235 to 198) he also needs convicting by a two-thirds vote in the Senate, and with a Republican-controlled Senate that’s not going to happen. Let’s fantacize a little bit. If it did happen and President Trump were booted out of office, what then? There’s Vice President Pence, waiting in the wings, drooling scripture. Then comes the three-year legal process to get rid of him. Clearly, this is too clunky, and it’s not feasible.
In fact, maybe this whole scenario is based on the liberals’ denial of the real situation. Perhaps their obsession with freeing the country from Trumpism just forms part of their aversion to cell phones, killer drones and Marvel movies. Maybe they should let nature take its course. President Trump was elected, after all. The rest is history in the making.
People who disagree profoundly with President Trump feel they need not only a new President but a clean sweep of the government. To achieve that objective by legal means is virtually impossible, given the extent to which Republican elected officials and appointees control the government, with the sole exception of the Supreme Court, which has its own impediments, i.e. a conservative majority. That situation could get even worse. It’s not clear how much longer Ruth Bader, the charming little 86-year-old weight-lifting justice who has been on the Court for the past 26 years, might last. If President Trump gets to appoint her successor the Supreme Court could be monopolized by powerful reactionaries for decades.
Another possibility is civil war. (Yes, it could happen there.) But that has serious drawbacks, too. In the first place, it would be messy, as Americans discovered in their first civil war, a century and a half ago. Then there’s the question of doubt about its outcome. Would President Trump’s well-armed-and-de-cerebrated Nazis, Klansmen (Klanspeople?) and White Supremacists prevail? Even worse, it’s not clear whether the military and the police would come down on the side of the conspirators or the armed militias. No, the civil-war option is entirely too risky.
What possible solution to America’s current political dilemma does that leave? They could try some sort of covert operation to bring about what the Americans refer to as “regime change.” The mere mention of that provokes a shudder among even the most hardened proponents of getting rid of Trumpism. “Yes, but these are trying times and this is a special case,” they will say, “and there will be time later to justify the more extreme measures.” That is if those measures work, something that is not assured.
If progressive Americans should decide to take the first step down that slippery slope, how would they go about it? It’s a massive project, like building a dam. They would need some experts, though they wouldn’t have far to look. The world regime-change capital is in Virginia, the home of Washington and Jefferson. The CIA headquarters is in McLean, just 20 minutes down the George Washington Memorial Parkway from Washington, DC. They’re not short of tried and tested experts in the business of changing regimes. As far as we know, until now their activities have been limited to other people’s countries, but it wouldn’t take a great deal of adjustment for them to adapt their methods to their home ground.
Tutti Frutti Regime Change
The CIA regime-change specialists have several flavors to choose from. There’s the straightforward invasion mode, which sounds like a good idea given the size and technological level of the American military. Though it didn’t work in Vietnam, Iraq or Syria, it was successful in smaller, less advanced countries like Panama and the Caribbean island of Grenada. But it isn’t a first-choice option for their own country. Nobody–or almost nobody–would look kindly upon the bombing of Boston.
A subtler approach is the proxy mode in which the CIA recruits, equips and trains an army of mercenaries (hereafter known as “the opposition”) with sufficient clout to bring down the existing (usually elected left-wing) government and install a strong man of their own choosing. This model has worked in Central America (since time immemorial) and East Timor (1975–1999), but not so well in Korea (1950-1953), Vietnam (1953-1975), Angola (1974–2002) or Syria (2011-2019). American proxy wars have been known to get out of hand and require American troops to intervene, as was the case in Korea and Vietnam.
A proxy operation would seem redundant in the United States, which already has a massive military, poised and ready to intervene anywhere in the world. Why not start in Washington? This would require years of careful grooming of key military officers capable of commanding a coup détat when the time comes. Does that mean this Manchurian-army ploy would take 10 or 20 years to execute? Yes, unless they already started 10 or 20 years ago…
Wait, Hasn’t the United States Already Undergone Regime Change
It can be coherently argued that the election of President Donald Trump and the government he subsequently formed was a de-facto regime change. After all, their objective was to dismount virtually the entire government by eliminating or privatizing existing programs in all areas, from environmental protection to education, health care and government regulation of the financial sector. And they are moving briskly backward with that program. So, yes, there is regime-change underway, though many thoughtful Americans would affirm that it’s changing in the wrong direction and needs to be re-directed.
That is to say, they would advocate a regime change of the regime change. It sounds almost as silly as the Brits Brexiting the Brexit, but there you have it. How simple it would have been for the Americans to head Trumpism off at the pass in the last presidential election, but for some reason they didn’t. So now they find themselves facing a bear that is potentially bigger and hairier than the Russian bear they’ve been threatening us with all these years.
Whatever they decide to do, they had better do it quickly, in view of President Trump’s latest declaration on his pullout from the contested border areas between Turkey and Syria, populated by the long-suffering Kurds. They were the main players in the recent American-sponsored “victory” over ISIS. Last Sunday’s American withdrawl opened the way for Turkish troops to sweep into Syria, wiping out the Kurds, now abandoned by the US, along the way. Turkey has the largest army in NATO, and according to yesterday’s papers they’re ready to roll.
It seems that some of the President’s advisors have belatedly warned him that turning the Turks loose to slaughter the Kurds and invade Syria is a singularly bad idea that would open up a whole new can of worms in the Middle East. So the President, never at a loss for words, excreted this declaration yesterday (as reported by The Guardian, October 7, 2029):
“As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!),” Mr Trump wrote on Twitter Monday morning.
He continued: “They must, with Europe and others, watch over the captured ISIS fighters and families. The US has done far more than anyone could have ever expected, including the capture of 100% of the ISIS Caliphate. It is time now for others in the region, some of great wealth, to protect their own territory. THE USA IS GREAT!”
It may be too late for regime change in the United States. Don’t you wish you’d built a bomb shelter?
If you look up definitions of “patriotism” you will find a collection of innocuous platitudes about love of country, shared values, pride, etc. It is as if the people who wrote those definitions were unaware that their loveable patriotism has metamorphosed from a cute little yellow worm to a giant venomous butterfly and that it has been instrumentalized as a tool used to justify all sorts of outrages all over the world. Those bland representations of patriotism have been largely out of date for centuries, perhaps as far back as the time when the ancient Greeks coined the word “patris,” meaning “fatherland,” in order to legitimize their own wars of conquest.
It’s patriotism in the hands of cynical politicians and dark interests that not only authorizes, but glorifies the United States’ least noble machinations both inside and outside their own country . It was a curious mousse of patriotism, anti-communism and business-as-usual that justified more than a century of American subversions, bombings, regime changes, invasions and occupations of other people’s countries around the world. It started in Massachusetts and Virginia in the 16th and 17th centuries against the native Americans and went from there to Mexico, Cuba, all of Central America and the Philippines, later to pass to Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Libia and Syria, among others. No country with strategic locations, sugar plantations or oil-and-gas deposits escapes American patriotism. “But that doesn’t make any sense,” you say, “no decent country can pretend to justify grave abuses worldwide on such flimsy, false thinking.”
How did such a pure and noble concept as the natural love of one’s country degenerate into murderous havoc? It didn’t happen haphazardly. It was carefully planted and nurtured throughout the history of American society, in their schools, churches, the media, the men’s clubs, the Boy Scouts, the military, the government, the think tanks, and Hollywood. John Wayne did more damage than napalm. Almost everybody was–and remains–on board.
I wonder if American school-children still recite the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag every morning. That would be considered insidious mind bending of innocent children in any advanced country except the United States. From 1892 until December 22, 1942, the Pledge was accompanied by the “Bellamy salute,” with the hand outstretched toward the flag, palm down. It was not until the middle of World War II, that Congress noticed the uncomfortable similarity to the Nazi salute and derrogated the Bellamy salute in favor of the familiar hand-over-heart gesture.
The same goes for the American flag fetish, which I have written about earlier in this series. One of the first things that first-time visitors to the United States notice is the abundance of American flags adorning the facades of private homes. Seen from abroad, this looks like just another of the standard trappings of right-wing authoritarian regimes. And, in the eyes of the world, it is not a pretty sight.
We Can Often See the Beginning but not the End
Patriotism is one of humanity’s great concepts. It hits many buttons: idealism, emotion, empathy, inspiration, to name a few. But like virtually all of the other great concepts–think Christianity, democracy, socialism–it has been perverted, twisted over the centuries by shrewd, self-serving opportunists to hoodwink the populace and advance their own dubious and dangerous agendas. First they convert patriotism into a lie. Then they use that lie to justify their injustices.
The Americans have elevated lying to high art. Since the conception of advanced persuasion techniques in the 1920s by professional communicators like the Austrian-American pioneer in the field of public relations and propaganda, Edward Bernays (1891-1995). Bernays, who was Sigmund Freud’s nephew, was a pioneer in using communication both for business and political purposes. It was he who coined the term “psychological warfare” while working for the CIA on the overthrow of the democratically-elected Arbenz government in Guatemala in 1954. Bernays, a fascinating-if-sinister character is one of the principal figures in The Century of the Self, an award-winning four-part documentary produced for the BBC by Adam Curtis in 2002. It’s worth a look-in.
Do you remember the Boy Scouts, where we had such great times as kids? Remember their salutes and handshakes, their uniforms and their survival skills, their patriotism, and their inevitable links to magical religion? Our troop meetings were held in the basement of the Methodist church. In short, the Boy Scouts were–and are–a lightly-camouflaged paramilitary organization.
Patriotism Has Always Loomed Large in the Repertoire of Authoritarian Regimes
That’s because it’s a cheap and effective resource for promoting their sick agendas.It’s a great recourse because it cannot be combated by reasoning. It’s like old-time religion in that respect. Its effectiveness is based entirely on emotion which, unlike facts, can be easily manipulated but not so easily refuted. And a skilfull, oft-repeated call to patriotism can be powerful beyond belief. It can lure young men and women off to unjust and inhuman wars with their statistical possibilities of returning diminished or dead. And, when they are brought back home in black plastic body bags, patriotism can convince their mothers that theirs was a worthwhile sacrifice. She loses a child, with all that implies, and in return receives a “beautiful funeral,” and a ceremoniously-folded American flag.
Congressman William McHenry has another point of view:
“Patriotism inspires us. It unites us. It fills our hearts with pride and optimism. And sometimes it brings us to tears. Simple but poignant acts of American patriotism occur every day. They rarely attract headlines but these are the actions that strengthen this great nation – and teach us the true meaning of patriotism.
The families of American troops make great sacrifices for this nation. Believing in the cause for which their loved ones fight, military families bear great burdens and ask little in return. As we pray for our troops, we must not forget the hardships of their families and pray that God watches over them as well.”
Patriotism and Militarism
How neatly America’s seemingly innocent patriotism lends itself to military applications. It can be converted, virtually overnight if deemed necessary, into aggressive nationalism. From there to blood lust is but a short step. Anyone who has been through basic training in any branch of the military, or seen Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket, knows this.
Some Americans can see through the sham, especially military veterans who have lived it in person, but unfortunately there are not enough of them. The old scam continues to bilk both young and old, year after year, war after war… What we’re looking at here is obviously brainwashing, but it’s not easy to convince Americans of that. Having drunk the Kool-Aid along with their mothers’ milk, they’re too thoroughly indoctrinated to believe anything else..
The 1918 Sedition Act, enacted during World War I, made it a crime to “willfully utter, print, write, or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the form of the Government of the United States” or to “willfully urge, incite, or advocate any curtailment of the production” of the things “necessary or essential to the prosecution of the war.” (Source: thirteen.org) More than 700 people were convicted under this scurrilous legislation and its validity was upheld by the courts. It is still applied today, notably in whistleblower cases. Since 2001 they have a newer law. It’s designed along the same lines but washes whiter. Officially its objective is, “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism.” That mission statement leaves a lot of room for maneuver–some would say too much–to all American law enforcement and intelligence agencies. It’s aptly called the “Patriot Act.”
Patriotism Laid the Foundations for American Exceptionalism
American Exceptionalism has several faces, all stemming from the fact that the history of the United States is inherently different from those of other nations due to its being blessed with liberty, egalitarianism, individualism, republicanism, democracy and laissez-faire. Therefore, Americans have a duty to ensure Lincoln’s dream that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” All of this goodness obliges the United States to assume the mantle of superiority over all other nations. You couldn’t make this up, but there it is, one of today’s rock-solid tenets of American ideology. Among other benefits this simple platitude insures that the United States enjoys immunity from international law. This whole system of patriotic values in an empty box has gotten them into some trouble and will get them into some more.
Historian Sheldon Stern, who served as the historian at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston from 1977 to 1999, had this to say recently:
The idea of “American exceptionalism” has, in fact, become a political hot potato—reflexively embraced on the right and passionately denounced on the left. Perhaps we can gain some valuable insight into the historical merits of this concept by turning to one of the most underappreciated, but arguably the most brilliant of the Revolutionary generation, John Adams.
Adams was confident that the new United States was on the cusp of a brilliant future. But he did not believe that Americans, as a people, were exempt from the flaws and faults of other nations and peoples. “There is no special Providence for Americans … and their nature is the same with that of others. …We are not a chosen people … and we must and we shall go the way of all earth.” Americans, he warned, were not immune to the hubris, greed, and foolishness of the rest of mankind. He was convinced that negative rather than benign forces had largely shaped—and would continue to shape—human political behavior; and Americans were no exception. (Source: HistoryNewsNetwork.org)
The Future of American Patriotism
Regarded from a discreet distance with a cold eye, old-fashioned American-style patriotism doesn’t seem to have a brilliant future. Its practitioners, victims of lifetime chauvinistic training, are either in plastic garden bags or Congress, are washed-up presidential advisors to alcoholic presidents or undereducated industrial and agricultural residue, demented billionaires hell bent on buying the world, or elderly white men with dual doctorates in cynicism and opportunism. Patriotism has taken their country into permanent war and a domestic dead end. Despite their military’s highly-touted “full spectrum dominance,” the last wars they won were against Panama and the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada, and their fifth-generation allegedly-invisible “stealth fighters” can be detected by the antique radars that spotted Hitler’s luftwaffe headed across the English Channel towards London. What is the solution? “Hopes and prayers” probably won’t get the job done. It looks as if the Yanks won’t be waving their aircraft carriers for much longer unless some bright young American comes along with magical powers. Do you believe in magic?
Racism is as American as apple pie. It’s a tradition that has been ongoing on many fronts, starting even before shiploads of African slaves began landing in the New World. Its first victims were the “savage and godless” Native Americans. But their wildness and heathenism were not the worst of it. They were also the “proprietors” of two entire continents that were fabulously rich in natural resources and potential for “development.” That anomalous situation simply would not do. It was imperative that they should be relieved of those lands and riches by members of a superior godfearing white race. From the very beginning racism was linked with profit and religion was used as a blunt instrument.
What made the white race superior, after all? It was mainly horses and gunpowder and, ironically, savagery. With these advantages the white European riff-raff overwhelmed the noble American Indians, whose values were arguably superior to those of the Europeans. They inhabited a humane society based on solidarity, tolerance, and respect for their natural surroundings and everything that inhabited them. But they were destined to succumb utterly to a series of rapacious European invaders driven by predatory greed and an intolerant religious ideology. And, as we shall see, in half a millenium not much has changed.
Though the United States’ racist ideology has been tempered by legislation, both out of fairness and for reasons of political correctness, much of its effectiveness was–and is–thwarted by shrewd racist maneuvers like election tampering. So not much has changed. They celebrate fewer lynchings today but new procedures have arisen to take their place, such as white police officers killing colored men and boys with total impunity. It is, after all, more pragmatic. They don’t need a rope.
Let’s Talk About Lynching
According to the Wikipedia:
Lynching is the practice of murder by a group of people by extrajudicial action. Lynchings in the United States rose in number after the American Civil War in the late 19th century, following the emancipation of slaves; they declined in the 1920s. Most lynchings were of African-American men in the Southern United States, but women and non-blacks were also lynched, not always in the South. White lynchings of blacks also occurred in the midwestern United States and the border states, especially during the 20th-century Great Migration of blacks out of the Southern United States. The purpose was to enforce white supremacy and intimidate blacks through racial terrorism.
First You Must De-Humanize the Victims
Despite the fact that some white people were also lynched, the practice always has been a special atrocity aimed at people of color. It occurred most often in the Southern United States, where slavery had paved the way for dehumanizing black folks as sub-human or even non-human and, therefore, subject to be bought and sold as personal possessions (hence “chattel slavery”), treated like beasts of burden, having their families broken apart, and murdered with impunity. Even slaves born on American soil enjoyed no rights, no personal freedom, insofar as they were not recognized as “persons.”
It is important to note that this dehumanization process occurred mainly in the South and spread from there over the decades as proponents of the Southern way of life moved North and into positions of power in the United States government. Racism migrated north not only with the good old boys in government, but with workers seeking northern jobs, and it went hand-in-hand with the increasing adoption of Southern-style Evangelical religion and the South’s switch from the Democratic to the Republican Party. In 1948 all the states of the “solid South” voted Democratic majorities. By 1972, thanks largely to the Democrats’ embracing the cause of civil rights, the South was solidly Republican.
Obviously, most of the racism that spread around the country was not openly declared, rather of the wink-and-nod variety, such as President Trump’s declaration after the May 2017, Charlottesville Unite the Right white-supremacist rally. That was where the Nazis and the Klan played starring roles and a woman was killed by a car that was deliberately driven into a crowd of peaceful anti-fascist protesters. Afterwards, the President highlighted his comments with, “You also had people that were very fine people on both sides.”
American racism is not just attributable to bands of fanatical crazies loose on the streets. Its also woven into the fabric of American institutions from top to bottom. Here’s the National Football League’s response to San Francisco quarterback Kevin Kaepernick’s gesture of solidarity with the black victims of police shootings, by kneeling during the national anthem. On Sept. 7, 2016, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said this about Kaepernick’s one-man protest:
“…we believe very strongly in patriotism in the NFL. I personally believe very strongly in that. I think it’s important to have respect for our country, for our flag, for the people who make our country better; for law enforcement, and for our military who are out fighting for our freedoms and our ideals.
He concludes: “…clearly we have things that can get better in society, and we should get better. But we have to choose respectful ways of doing that so that we can achieve the outcomes we ultimately want and do it with the values and ideals that make our country great.”
Goodell’s first paragraph is a cheap shot, pulling out the patriotism card. The issue here has nothing to do with patriotism, as he well knows, but he also knows that just mentioning it will warm up an American audience. The operative word in his closing remarks is “respectful,” as if kneeling weren’t a respectful way of expressing dissent. The subtext here is thinly-disguised racism. If Kaepernick had been white, addressing a non-racial issue, might the story not have been a little different?
An Intellectual’s First-Hand Observations of Racism
James Baldwin said this in a 1962 article in The New Yorker:
But the Negro’s experience of the white world cannot possibly create in him any respect for the standards by which the white world claims to live. His own condition is overwhelming proof that white people do not live by these standards. Negro servants have been smuggling odds and ends out of white homes for generations, and white people have been delighted to have them do it, because it has assuaged a dim guilt and testified to the intrinsic superiority of white people.
In any case, white people, who had robbed black people of their liberty and who profited by this theft every hour that they lived, had no moral ground on which to stand. They had the judges, the juries, the shotguns, the law—in a word, power. But it was a criminal power, to be feared but not respected, and to be outwitted in any way whatever. And those virtues preached but not practiced by the white world were merely another means of holding Negroes in subjection.
Every Step Is Loaded
Every step of the American justice system, from the police to the prosecutors to the judges and the prison system, is loaded with explicit or implicit racism, and the proof is in the pudding. Let’s take a look at the statistics. Here’s what Republican Congressman Rand Paul has to say on on his website on March 9, 2015, regarding America’s overall prison population:
“Though only five percent of the world’s population lives in the United States, it is home to 25 percent of the world’s prison population. … Not only does the current overpopulated, underfunded system hurt those incarcerated, it also digs deeper into the pockets of taxpaying Americans.”
Even more alarming are these “incarceration trends” compiled by NAACP.org:
Incarceration Trends in America
Between 1980 and 2015, the number of people incarcerated in America increased from roughly 500,000 to over 2.2 million.
1 in every 37 adults in the United States, or 2.7% of the adult population, is under some form of correctional supervision.
Racial Disparities in Incarceration
In 2014, African Americans constituted 2.3 million, or 34%, of the total 6.8 million correctional population.
African Americans are incarcerated at more than five times the rate of whites.
The imprisonment rate for African American women is twice that of white women.
Nationwide, African American children represent 32% of children who are arrested,
42% of children who are detained, and 52% of children whose cases are judicially
waived to criminal court.
Though African Americans and Hispanics make up approximately 32% of the US
population, they comprised 56% of all incarcerated people in 2015.
If African Americans and Hispanics were incarcerated at the same rates as whites,
prison and jail populations would decline by almost 40%.
Drug Sentencing Disparities
In the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, about 17 million whites and 4 million African Americans reported having used an illicit drug within the last month.
African Americans and whites use drugs at similar rates, but the imprisonment rate of African Americans for drug charges is almost 6 times that of whites.
African Americans represent 12.5% of illicit drug users, but 29% of those arrested for drug offenses and 33% of those incarcerated in state facilities for drug offenses.
The deck is clearly stacked and the principal motor of this curious situation is not a mystery. In one form or another it is racism .
Lee Atwater on The Southern Strategy
Lee Atwater was an atypical rock ‘n rollin’ Republican strategist, and later chairman of the Republican National Committee who died at 40 of a brain tumor. Born in Georgia and raised in South Carolina he was southern through and through. He is interesting to us for an anonymous interview he gave to political scientist Alexander Lamis in 1981, while he was working for the Reagan government. This interview, which wasn’t made public until 11 years after his death, surfaced as an audio published by The Nation on November 1, 2012. Its content gives us a privileged peek into the underlying thinking behind the almost subliminal use of racism in the Southern Republican strategy:
Atwater: As to the whole Southern strategy that Harry S. Dent, Sr. and others put together in 1968, opposition to the Voting Rights Act would have been a central part of keeping the South. Now you don’t have to do that. All that you need to do to keep the South is for Reagan to run in place on the issues that he’s campaigned on since 1964, and that’s fiscal conservatism, balancing the budget, cut taxes, you know, the whole cluster.
Questioner: But the fact is, isn’t it, that Reagan does get to the Wallace voter and to the racist side of the Wallace voter by doing away with legal services, by cutting down on food stamps?
Atwater: Y’all don’t quote me on this. You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger”. By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me—because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this”, is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger”. So, any way you look at it, race is coming on the backbone.
Atwater, the Republican insider, is notable for this devastating statement he made in a Life magazine article in February of 1991, a month before he died:
My illness helped me to see that what was missing in society is what was missing in me: a little heart, a lot of brotherhood. The 1980s were about acquiring – acquiring wealth, power, prestige. I know. I acquired more wealth, power, and prestige than most. But you can acquire all you want and still feel empty. What power wouldn’t I trade for a little more time with my family? What price wouldn’t I pay for an evening with friends? It took a deadly illness to put me eye to eye with that truth, but it is a truth that the country, caught up in its ruthless ambitions and moral decay, can learn on my dime. I don’t know who will lead us through the ’90s, but they must be made to speak to this spiritual vacuum at the heart of American society, this tumor of the soul.
By Way of Homage to Martin Luther King
This is the full text of Martin Luther King’s “I’ve been to the mountaintop…” speech, given in Memphis, Tennessee, April 3, 1968, the day before he was assassinated.
Thank you very kindly, my friends. As I listened to Ralph Abernathy and his eloquent and generous introduction and then thought about myself, I wondered who he was talking about. It’s always good to have your closest friend and associate to say something good about you. And Ralph Abernathy is the best friend that I have in the world. I’m delighted to see each of you here tonight in spite of a storm warning. You reveal that you are determined to go on anyhow.
Something is happening in Memphis; something is happening in our world. And you know, if I were standing at the beginning of time, with the possibility of taking a kind of general and panoramic view of the whole of human history up to now, and the Almighty said to me, “Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?” I would take my mental flight by Egypt and I would watch God’s children in their magnificent trek from the dark dungeons of Egypt through, or rather across the Red Sea, through the wilderness on toward the promised land. And in spite of its magnificence, I wouldn’t stop there.
I would move on by Greece and take my mind to Mount Olympus. And I would see Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Euripides and Aristophanes assembled around the Parthenon. And I would watch them around the Parthenon as they discussed the great and eternal issues of reality. But I wouldn’t stop there.
I would go on, even to the great heyday of the Roman Empire. And I would see developments around there, through various emperors and leaders. But I wouldn’t stop there.
I would even come up to the day of the Renaissance, and get a quick picture of all that the Renaissance did for the cultural and aesthetic life of man. But I wouldn’t stop there.
I would even go by the way that the man for whom I am named had his habitat. And I would watch Martin Luther as he tacked his ninety-five theses on the door at the church of Wittenberg. But I wouldn’t stop there. I would come on up even to 1863, and watch a vacillating President by the name of Abraham Lincoln finally come to the conclusion that he had to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. But I wouldn’t stop there.
I would even come up to the early thirties, and see a man grappling with the problems of the bankruptcy of his nation. And come with an eloquent cry that we have nothing to fear but “fear itself.” But I wouldn’t stop there. Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty, and say, “If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the 20th century, I will be happy.”
Now that’s a strange statement to make, because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around. That’s a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding. Something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee — the cry is always the same: “We want to be free.”
And another reason that I’m happy to live in this period is that we have been forced to a point where we are going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demands didn’t force them to do it. Survival demands that we grapple with them. Men, for years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it’s nonviolence or nonexistence. That is where we are today.
And also in the human rights revolution, if something isn’t done, and done in a hurry, to bring the colored peoples of the world out of their long years of poverty, their long years of hurt and neglect, the whole world is doomed. Now, I’m just happy that God has allowed me to live in this period to see what is unfolding. And I’m happy that He’s allowed me to be in Memphis.
I can remember — I can remember when Negroes were just going around as Ralph has said, so often, scratching where they didn’t itch, and laughing when they were not tickled. But that day is all over. We mean business now, and we are determined to gain our rightful place in God’s world.
And that’s all this whole thing is about. We aren’t engaged in any negative protest and in any negative arguments with anybody. We are saying that we are determined to be men. We are determined to be people. We are saying — We are saying that we are God’s children. And that we are God’s children, we don’t have to live like we are forced to live.
Now, what does all of this mean in this great period of history? It means that we’ve got to stay together. We’ve got to stay together and maintain unity. You know, whenever Pharaoh wanted to prolong the period of slavery in Egypt, he had a favorite, favorite formula for doing it. What was that? He kept the slaves fighting among themselves. But whenever the slaves get together, something happens in Pharaoh’s court, and he cannot hold the slaves in slavery. When the slaves get together, that’s the beginning of getting out of slavery. Now let us maintain unity.
Secondly, let us keep the issues where they are. The issue is injustice. The issue is the refusal of Memphis to be fair and honest in its dealings with its public servants, who happen to be sanitation workers. Now, we’ve got to keep attention on that. That’s always the problem with a little violence. You know what happened the other day, and the press dealt only with the window-breaking. I read the articles. They very seldom got around to mentioning the fact that one thousand, three hundred sanitation workers are on strike, and that Memphis is not being fair to them, and that Mayor Loeb is in dire need of a doctor. They didn’t get around to that.
Now we’re going to march again, and we’ve got to march again, in order to put the issue where it is supposed to be — and force everybody to see that there are thirteen hundred of God’s children here suffering, sometimes going hungry, going through dark and dreary nights wondering how this thing is going to come out. That’s the issue. And we’ve got to say to the nation: We know how it’s coming out. For when people get caught up with that which is right and they are willing to sacrifice for it, there is no stopping point short of victory. We aren’t going to let any mace stop us. We are masters in our nonviolent movement in disarming police forces; they don’t know what to do. I’ve seen them so often. I remember in Birmingham, Alabama, when we were in that majestic struggle there, we would move out of the 16th Street Baptist Church day after day; by the hundreds we would move out. And Bull Connor would tell them to send the dogs forth, and they did come; but we just went before the dogs singing, “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around.”
Bull Connor next would say, “Turn the fire hoses on.” And as I said to you the other night, Bull Connor didn’t know history. He knew a kind of physics that somehow didn’t relate to the transphysics that we knew about. And that was the fact that there was a certain kind of fire that no water could put out. And we went before the fire hoses; we had known water. If we were Baptist or some other denominations, we had been immersed. If we were Methodist, and some others, we had been sprinkled, but we knew water. That couldn’t stop us.
And we just went on before the dogs and we would look at them; and we’d go on before the water hoses and we would look at it, and we’d just go on singing “Over my head I see freedom in the air.” And then we would be thrown in the paddy wagons, and sometimes we were stacked in there like sardines in a can. And they would throw us in, and old Bull would say, “Take ’em off,” and they did; and we would just go in the paddy wagon singing, “We Shall Overcome.”
And every now and then we’d get in jail, and we’d see the jailers looking through the windows being moved by our prayers, and being moved by our words and our songs. And there was a power there which Bull Connor couldn’t adjust to; and so we ended up transforming Bull into a steer, and we won our struggle in Birmingham. Now we’ve got to go on in Memphis just like that. I call upon you to be with us when we go out Monday.
Now about injunctions: We have an injunction and we’re going into court tomorrow morning to fight this illegal, unconstitutional injunction. All we say to America is, “Be true to what you said on paper.” If I lived in China or even Russia, or any totalitarian country, maybe I could understand some of these illegal injunctions. Maybe I could understand the denial of certain basic First Amendment privileges, because they hadn’t committed themselves to that over there.
But somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech.
Somewhere I read of the freedom of press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right. And so just as I say, we aren’t going to let dogs or water hoses turn us around, we aren’t going to let any injunction turn us around. We are going on.
We need all of you. And you know what’s beautiful to me is to see all of these ministers of the Gospel. It’s a marvelous picture. Who is it that is supposed to articulate the longings and aspirations of the people more than the preacher? Somehow the preacher must have a kind of fire shut up in his bones. And whenever injustice is around he tell it. Somehow the preacher must be an Amos, and saith, “When God speaks who can but prophesy?” Again with Amos, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Somehow the preacher must say with Jesus, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me,” and he’s anointed me to deal with the problems of the poor.”
And I want to commend the preachers, under the leadership of these noble men: James Lawson, one who has been in this struggle for many years; he’s been to jail for struggling; he’s been kicked out of Vanderbilt University for this struggle, but he’s still going on, fighting for the rights of his people. Reverend Ralph Jackson, Billy Kiles; I could just go right on down the list, but time will not permit.
But I want to thank all of them. And I want you to thank them, because so often, preachers aren’t concerned about anything but themselves. And I’m always happy to see a relevant ministry.
It’s all right to talk about “long white robes over yonder,” in all of its symbolism. But ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here! It’s all right to talk about “streets flowing with milk and honey,” but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can’t eat three square meals a day. It’s all right to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God’s preacher must talk about the new New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee. This is what we have to do.
Now the other thing we’ll have to do is this: Always anchor our external direct action with the power of economic withdrawal. Now, we are poor people. Individually, we are poor when you compare us with white society in America. We are poor. Never stop and forget that collectively — that means all of us together — collectively we are richer than all the nations in the world, with the exception of nine. Did you ever think about that?
After you leave the United States, Soviet Russia, Great Britain, West Germany, France, and I could name the others, the American Negro collectively is richer than most nations of the world. We have an annual income of more than thirty billion dollars a year, which is more than all of the exports of the United States, and more than the national budget of Canada. Did you know that? That’s power right there, if we know how to pool it.
We don’t have to argue with anybody. We don’t have to curse and go around acting bad with our words. We don’t need any bricks and bottles. We don’t need any Molotov cocktails. We just need to go around to these stores, and to these massive industries in our country, and say, “God sent us by here, to say to you that you’re not treating his children right. And we’ve come by here to ask you to make the first item on your agenda fair treatment, where God’s children are concerned.
Now, if you are not prepared to do that, we do have an agenda that we must follow. And our agenda calls for withdrawing economic support from you.”
And so, as a result of this, we are asking you tonight, to go out and tell your neighbors not to buy Coca-Cola in Memphis. Go by and tell them not to buy Sealtest milk. Tell them not to buy — what is the other bread? — Wonder Bread. And what is the other bread company, Jesse? Tell them not to buy Hart’s bread. As Jesse Jackson has said, up to now, only the garbage men have been feeling pain; now we must kind of redistribute the pain.
We are choosing these companies because they haven’t been fair in their hiring policies; and we are choosing them because they can begin the process of saying they are going to support the needs and the rights of these men who are on strike. And then they can move on town — downtown and tell Mayor Loeb to do what is right.
But not only that, we’ve got to strengthen black institutions. I call upon you to take your money out of the banks downtown and deposit your money in Tri-State Bank. We want a “bank-in” movement in Memphis. Go by the savings and loan association. I’m not asking you something that we don’t do ourselves at SCLC. Judge Hooks and others will tell you that we have an account here in the savings and loan association from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
We are telling you to follow what we are doing. Put your money there. You have six or seven black insurance companies here in the city of Memphis. Take out your insurance there. We want to have an “insurance-in.”
Now these are some practical things that we can do. We begin the process of building a greater economic base. And at the same time, we are putting pressure where it really hurts. I ask you to follow through here.
Now, let me say as I move to my conclusion that we’ve got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end.
Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point in Memphis. We’ve got to see it through. And when we have our march, you need to be there. If it means leaving work, if it means leaving school — be there. Be concerned about your brother. You may not be on strike. But either we go up together, or we go down together.
Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness. One day a man came to Jesus, and he wanted to raise some questions about some vital matters of life. At points he wanted to trick Jesus, and show him that he knew a little more than Jesus knew and throw him off base…. Now that question could have easily ended up in a philosophical and theological debate. But Jesus immediately pulled that question from mid-air, and placed it on a dangerous curve between Jerusalem and Jericho. And he talked about a certain man, who fell among thieves. You remember that a Levite and a priest passed by on the other side.
They didn’t stop to help him. And finally a man of another race came by. He got down from his beast, decided not to be compassionate by proxy. But he got down with him, administered first aid, and helped the man in need. Jesus ended up saying, this was the good man, this was the great man, because he had the capacity to project the “I” into the “thou,” and to be concerned about his brother.
Now you know, we use our imagination a great deal to try to determine why the priest and the Levite didn’t stop. At times we say they were busy going to a church meeting, an ecclesiastical gathering, and they had to get on down to Jerusalem so they wouldn’t be late for their meeting. At other times we would speculate that there was a religious law that “One who was engaged in religious ceremonials was not to touch a human body twenty-four hours before the ceremony.” And every now and then we begin to wonder whether maybe they were not going down to Jerusalem — or down to Jericho, rather to organize a “Jericho Road Improvement Association.”
That’s a possibility. Maybe they felt that it was better to deal with the problem from the causal root, rather than to get bogged down with an individual effect.
But I’m going to tell you what my imagination tells me. It’s possible that those men were afraid. You see, the Jericho road is a dangerous road. I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. And as soon as we got on that road, I said to my wife, “I can see why Jesus used this as the setting for his parable.” It’s a winding, meandering road. It’s really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about 1200 miles — or rather 1200 feet above sea level. And by the time you get down to Jericho, fifteen or twenty minutes later, you’re about 2200 feet below sea level. That’s a dangerous road. In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the “Bloody Pass.”
And you know, it’s possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it’s possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking. And he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt, in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the priest asked — the first question that the Levite asked was, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”
That’s the question before you tonight. Not, “If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to my job. Not, “If I stop to help the sanitation workers what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my office every day and every week as a pastor?” The question is not, “If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?” The question is, “If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?” That’s the question.
Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation. And I want to thank God, once more, for allowing me to be here with you. You know, several years ago, I was in New York City autographing the first book that I had written. And while sitting there autographing books, a demented black woman came up.
The only question I heard from her was, “Are you Martin Luther King?” And I was looking down writing, and I said, “Yes.” And the next minute I felt something beating on my chest. Before I knew it I had been stabbed by this demented woman. I was rushed to Harlem Hospital. It was a dark Saturday afternoon. And that blade had gone through, and the X-rays revealed that the tip of the blade was on the edge of my aorta, the main artery. And once that’s punctured, your drowned in your own blood — that’s the end of you.
It came out in the New York Times the next morning, that if I had merely sneezed, I would have died. Well, about four days later, they allowed me, after the operation, after my chest had been opened, and the blade had been taken out, to move around in the wheel chair in the hospital.
They allowed me to read some of the mail that came in, and from all over the states and the world, kind letters came in. I read a few, but one of them I will never forget. I had received one from the President and the Vice-President. I’ve forgotten what those telegrams said. I’d received a visit and a letter from the Governor of New York, but I’ve forgotten what that letter said. But there was another letter that came from a little girl, a young girl who was a student at the White Plains High School. And I looked at that letter, and I’ll never forget it. It said simply,
“Dear Dr. King, I am a ninth-grade student at the White Plains High School.”
And she said,
“While it should not matter, I would like to mention that I’m a white girl. I read in the paper of your misfortune, and of your suffering. And I read that if you had sneezed, you would have died. And I’m simply writing you to say that I’m so happy that you didn’t sneeze.”
And I want to say tonight — I want to say tonight that I too am happy that I didn’t sneeze. Because if I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1960, when students all over the South started sitting-in at lunch counters. And I knew that as they were sitting in, they were really standing up for the best in the American dream, and taking the whole nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1961, when we decided to take a ride for freedom and ended segregation in inter-state travel.
If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1962, when Negroes in Albany, Georgia, decided to straighten their backs up. And whenever men and women straighten their backs up, they are going somewhere, because a man can’t ride your back unless it is bent.
If I had sneezed — If I had sneezed I wouldn’t have been here in 1963, when the black people of Birmingham, Alabama, aroused the conscience of this nation, and brought into being the Civil Rights Bill.
If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have had a chance later that year, in August, to try to tell America about a dream that I had had.
If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been down in Selma, Alabama, to see the great Movement there.
If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been in Memphis to see a community rally around those brothers and sisters who are suffering.
I’m so happy that I didn’t sneeze.
And they were telling me –. Now, it doesn’t matter, now. It really doesn’t matter what happens now. I left Atlanta this morning, and as we got started on the plane, there were six of us.
The pilot said over the public address system, “We are sorry for the delay, but we have Dr. Martin Luther King on the plane. And to be sure that all of the bags were checked, and to be sure that nothing would be wrong with on the plane, we had to check out everything carefully. And we’ve had the plane protected and guarded all night.”
And then I got into Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?
Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind.
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!
And so I’m happy, tonight.
I’m not worried about anything.
I’m not fearing any man.
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom and democracy around the world. It was founded in in October 1941, and Wendell Willkie and Eleanor Roosevelt served as its first honorary chairpersons.
Prestigious American Think Tank Scores American Democracy–In Their Own Words
The Struggle Comes Home: Attacks on Democracy in the United States
Freedom House has advocated for democracy around the world since its founding in 1941, and since the early 1970s it has monitored the global status of political rights and civil liberties in the annual Freedom in the World report. During the report’s first three decades, as the Cold War gave way to a general advance of liberal democratic values, we urged on reformist movements and denounced the remaining dictators for foot-dragging and active resistance. We raised the alarm when progress stagnated in the 2000s, and called on major democracies to maintain their support for free institutions.
Today, after 13 consecutive years of decline in global freedom, backsliding among new democracies has been compounded by the erosion of political rights and civil liberties among the established democracies we have traditionally looked to for leadership and support. Indeed, the pillars of freedom have come under attack here in the United States. And just as we have called out foreign leaders for undermining democratic norms in their countries, we must draw attention to the same sorts of warning signs in our own country. It is in keeping with our mission, and given the irreplaceable role of the United States as a champion of global freedom, it is a priority we cannot afford to ignore.
US FREEDOM IN DECLINE
The great challenges facing US democracy did not commence with the inauguration of President Donald Trump. Intensifying political polarization, declining economic mobility, the outsized influence of special interests, and the diminished influence of fact-based reporting in favor of bellicose partisan media were all problems afflicting the health of American democracy well before 2017. Previous presidents have contributed to the pressure on our system by infringing on the rights of American citizens. Surveillance programs such as the bulk collection of communications metadata, initially undertaken by the George W. Bush administration, and the Obama administration’s overzealous crackdown on press leaks are two cases in point.
At the midpoint of his term, however, there remains little question that President Trump exerts an influence on American politics that is straining our core values and testing the stability of our constitutional system. No president in living memory has shown less respect for its tenets, norms, and principles. Trump has assailed essential institutions and traditions including the separation of powers, a free press, an independent judiciary, the impartial delivery of justice, safeguards against corruption, and most disturbingly, the legitimacy of elections. Congress, a coequal branch of government, has too frequently failed to push back against these attacks with meaningful oversight and other defenses.
We recognize the right of freely elected presidents and lawmakers to set immigration policy, adopt different levels of regulation and taxation, and pursue other legitimate aims related to national security. But they must do so according to rules designed to protect individual rights and ensure the long-term survival of the democratic system. There are no ends that justify nondemocratic means.
Freedom House is not alone in its concern for US democracy. Republicans, Democrats, and independents expressed deep reservations about its performance in a national poll conducted last year by Freedom House, the George W. Bush Institute, and the Penn Biden Center. A substantial majority of respondents said it is “absolutely important” to live in a democracy, but 55 percent agreed that American democracy is weak, and 68 percent said it is getting weaker. Big money in politics, racism and discrimination, and the inability of government to get things done—all long-standing problems—were the top concerns of those surveyed.
And yet Republicans and Democrats alike expressed strong attachments to individual liberty. A solid majority, 54 percent, believes it is more important for the rights of the minority to be protected than for the will of the majority to prevail.
So far, America’s institutions have largely honored this deeply democratic sentiment. The resilience of the judiciary, the press corps, an energetic civil society, the political opposition, and other guardrails of the constitutional system—as well as some conscientious lawmakers and officeholders from the president’s own party—have checked the chief executive’s worst impulses and mitigated the effects of his administration’s approach. While the United States suffered an unusual three-point drop on Freedom in the World’s 100-point scale for 2017, there was no additional net decline for 2018, and the total score of 86 still places the country firmly in the report’s Free category.
But the fact that the system has proven durable so far is no guarantee that it will continue to do so. Elsewhere in the world, in places like Hungary, Venezuela, or Turkey, Freedom House has watched as democratic institutions gradually succumbed to sustained pressure from an antidemocratic leadership, often after a halting start. Irresponsible rhetoric can be a first step toward real restrictions on freedom. The United States has already been weakened by declines in the rule of law, the conduct of elections, and safeguards against corruption, among other important indicators measured by Freedom in the World. The current overall US score puts American democracy closer to struggling counterparts like Croatia than to traditional peers such as Germany or the United Kingdom.
The stakes in this struggle are high. For all the claims that the United States has lost global influence over the past decade, the reality is that other countries pay close attention to the conduct of the world’s oldest functioning democracy. The continuing deterioration of US democracy will hasten the ongoing decline in global democracy. Indeed, it has already done so.
Ronald Reagan declared in his first inaugural address, “As we renew ourselves here in our own land, we will be seen as having greater strength throughout the world. We will again be the exemplar of freedom and a beacon of hope for those who do not now have freedom.” Nearly four decades later, the idea that the United States is such an exemplar is being steadily discredited.
ASSAILING THE RULE OF LAW
In any democracy, it is the role of independent judges and prosecutors to defend the supremacy and continuity of constitutional law against excesses by elected officials, to ensure that individual rights are not abused by hostile majorities or other powerful interests, and to prevent the politicization of justice so that competing parties can alternate in office without fear of unfair retribution. While not without problems, the United States has enjoyed a strong tradition of respect for the rule of law.
President Trump has repeatedly shown disdain for this tradition. Late in 2018, after a federal judge blocked the administration’s plan to consider asylum claims only from those who cross the border at official ports of entry, the president said, “This was an Obama judge. And I’ll tell you what, it’s not going to happen like this anymore.”
The remark drew a rare rebuke from Chief Justice John Roberts, who declared “we don’t have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges,” and defended an independent judiciary as “something we should all be thankful for.” But Trump shrugged off Roberts’s intervention of behalf of the judicial branch, insisting that the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit was “a complete and total disaster” and that if his asylum policy was obstructed, “there will be only bedlam, chaos, injury and death.”
Nor was this the first sign of hostility to the rule of law from the president. As a candidate in 2016, he questioned the impartiality of an American-born judge with a Hispanic surname who presided over a fraud suit filed against “Trump University.” Soon after taking office, he disparaged a federal judge who ruled against his travel ban on several Muslim-majority countries as “this so-called judge.”
The president has since urged the Department of Justice to prosecute his political opponents and critics. He has used his pardon power to reward political and ideological allies and encourage targets of criminal investigations to refuse cooperation with the government. He has expressed contempt for witnesses who are cooperating with law enforcement in cases that could harm his interests and praised those who remain silent. His administration’s harsh policies on immigrants and asylum seekers have restricted their rights, belittled our nation’s core ideals, and seriously compromised equal treatment under the law. In October 2018, the president went so far as to claim that he could unilaterally overturn the constitutional guarantee of birthright citizenship.
The president’s attacks on the judiciary and law enforcement, echoed by media allies, are eroding the public’s trust in the third branch of government and the rule of law. Without that trust, the outright politicization of justice could well ensue, threatening the very stability of our democracy. Any American is free to contest the wisdom of a judge’s ruling, but no one—least of all the president—should challenge the authority of the courts themselves or use threats and incentives to pervert the legal process.
DEMONIZING THE PRESS
Legal protections for reporters are enshrined in America’s founding documents, and press freedom remains strong in practice. An array of independent media organizations have continued to produce vigorous coverage of the administration. But the constant vilification of such outlets by President Trump, in an already polarized media environment, is accelerating the breakdown of public confidence in journalism as a legitimate, fact-based check on government power. We have seen in other countries how such practices paved the way to more tangible erosions of press freedom and, in extreme cases, put journalists in physical danger. It would be foolish to assume it could never happen here.
In a tweet posted two days after a mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue last October, and not long after a series of pipe bombs had been sent by a Trump supporter to targets including CNN, the president blamed the media for inciting public rage: “There is great anger in our Country caused in part by inaccurate, and even fraudulent, reporting of the news,” Trump wrote. “The Fake News Media, the true Enemy of the People, must stop the open & obvious hostility & report the news accurately & fairly. That will do much to put out the flame … of Anger and Outrage and we will then be able to bring all sides together in Peace and Harmony. Fake News Must End!”
Previous presidents have criticized the press, sometimes bitterly, but none with such relentless hostility for the institution itself. Trump alone has deployed slurs like “enemy of the people,” flirted with the idea that the media are responsible for and perhaps deserving of violence, and defended his own routine falsehoods while accusing journalists of lying with malicious, even treasonous intent.
These practices have added to negative trends that were already apparent by 2017, including the emergence of more polarized media outlets on the right and left, the decline of independent reporting at the state and municipal level, the consolidation of ownership in certain sectors, and the rise of social media platforms that reward extreme views and fraudulent content. In this environment, more Americans are likely to seek refuge in media echo chambers, heeding only “reporting” that affirms their opinions rather than obtaining the factual information necessary to self-governance.
An independent, pluralistic, and vigilant press corps often antagonizes the subjects it covers. That is an acceptable consequence of the essential service it provides—keeping our democratic system honest, transparent, and accountable to the people. The press exposes private and public-sector corruption, abuses of power, invasions of privacy, and threats to public health and safety. Attempts by our leaders to disrupt this process through smears and intimidation could leave all Americans, the president’s supporters and detractors alike, more vulnerable to exploitation, perfidy, and physical hazard.
SELF-DEALING AND CONFLICTS OF INTEREST
Corruption and transparency are crucial factors in Freedom House’s assessments of democracy around the world. When officials use their positions to enrich themselves, or even tolerate conflicts of interest that sow public doubts about their motivations, citizens lose faith in the system and begin to avoid their own responsibilities, including paying taxes, participating in elections, and obeying the law in general. To avoid such decay, it is imperative that government and citizens alike uphold ethical rules and norms against corruption.
The United States benefits from a number of strong antigraft protections, including independent courts, congressional oversight mechanisms, and active monitoring by the media and civil society. But as on other topics, President Trump has broken with his modern predecessors in flouting the ethical standards of public service.
From the outset of his administration, the president has been willing to ignore obvious conflicts of interest, most prominently with his decision not to divest ownership of his businesses or place them in a blind trust. Instead, he moved them into a revocable trust, managed by his sons, of which he is the sole beneficiary. During his presidency, his businesses have accepted money from foreign lenders, including banks controlled by the Chinese government. Trump has swept aside the norm against nepotism by having his daughter and son-in-law, both seemingly saddled with their own conflicts of interest, serve as senior White House advisers. He also rejected the tradition obliging presidents to release their income tax records.
Trump properties have hosted foreign delegations, business dinners, trade association conferences, and Republican Party fund-raising events, complete with Trump-branded wines and other products, likely arranged in the hope of earning the president’s gratitude. The Washington Post revealed that a month after President Trump’s election, lobbyists representing Saudi Arabia booked hundreds of rooms at Trump International Hotel in the capital. Indeed, a number of foreign and domestic interests allegedly sought to influence the new administration by arranging donations to Trump’s inauguration festivities, which are now under investigation.
The unusual nature of President Trump’s approach to conflicts of interest has been underscored by the emergence of first-of-their-kind lawsuits accusing him of violating the constitution’s prohibition on public officials accepting gifts or “emoluments” from foreign states. The nation’s founders understood the corrosive threat of such corruption, and so have most presidents.
ATTACKING THE LEGITIMACY OF ELECTIONS
The importance of credible elections to the health of a democracy should be self-evident. If citizens believe that the polls are rigged, they will neither take part in the exercise nor accept the legitimacy of those elected.
Nevertheless, unsubstantiated accusations of voter fraud have been a staple of the president’s assault on political norms. During the 2018 midterm elections, he suggested without evidence that Democrats were stealing a Senate seat in Arizona and committing fraud in Florida’s senatorial and gubernatorial balloting. He complained that undocumented asylum seekers were invading the country so they could vote for Democrats. He suggested that Democratic voters were returning to the polls in disguise to vote more than once.
Months before his own election in 2016, candidate Trump began alleging voter fraud and warned that he might not accept the results if he lost. Even after winning, he insisted that millions of fraudulent votes had been cast against him. To substantiate his claims, he created a special commission to investigate the problem. It was quietly disbanded in early 2018 without producing any evidence.
At the same time, the administration has shown little interest in addressing genuine and documented threats to the integrity of US elections, including chronic problems like partisan gerrymandering and the fact that balloting is overseen by partisan officials in the states.
But the most glaring lapse is the president’s refusal to clearly acknowledge and comprehensively combat Russian and other foreign attempts to meddle in American elections since 2016. The Homeland Security Department provided some assistance to states in protecting their voting and counting systems from outside meddling in 2018, but recent reports commissioned by the Senate Intelligence Committee indicate that foreign influence operations are ongoing across multiple online platforms, and that such campaigns are likely to expand and multiply in the future.
THE THREAT TO AMERICAN IDEALS ABROAD
Our poll found that a strong majority of Americans, 71 percent, believe the US government should actively support democracy and human rights in other countries. But America’s commitment to the global progress of democracy has been seriously compromised by the president’s rhetoric and actions. His attacks on the judiciary and the press, his resistance to anticorruption safeguards, and his unfounded claims of voting fraud by the opposition are all familiar tactics to foreign autocrats and populist demagogues who seek to subvert checks on their power.
Such leaders can take heart from Trump’s bitter feuding with America’s traditional democratic allies and his reluctance to uphold the nation’s collective defense treaties, which have helped guarantee international security for decades. As former US defense secretary James Mattis put it in his resignation letter, “While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies.”
Trump has refused to advocate for America’s democratic values, and he seems to encourage the forces that oppose them. His frequent, fulsome praise for some of the world’s worst dictators reinforces this perception. Particularly striking was his apparent willingness, at a summit in Helsinki, to accept the word of Vladimir Putin over his own intelligence agencies in assessing Russia’s actions in the 2016 elections.
The president’s rhetoric is echoed in countries with weaker defenses against attacks on their democratic institutions, where the violation of norms is often followed by systemic changes that intensify repression and entrench authoritarian governance.
For example, Cambodian strongman Hun Sen consolidated one-party rule in sham elections last summer after banning the main opposition party and shutting down independent media. He acknowledged that he and President Trump shared a point of view about journalists, saying, “Donald Trump understands that are an anarchic group.” Poland’s president, whose party has sought to annihilate judicial independence and assert control over the press, similarly thanked Trump for fighting “fake news.” Saudi Arabia’s crown prince almost certainly ordered the assassination of a leading journalistic critic, apparently believing that the action would not rupture relations with the president of the United States. It seems he was correct.
As the United States ceases its global advocacy of freedom and justice, and the president casts doubt on the importance of basic democratic values for our own society, more nations may turn to China, a rising alternative to US leadership. The Chinese Communist Party has welcomed this trend, offering its authoritarian system as a model for developing nations. The resulting damage to the liberal international order—a system of alliances, norms, and institutions built up under Trump’s predecessors to ensure peace and prosperity after World War II—will not be easily repaired after he leaves office.
NEITHER DESPAIR NOR COMPLACENCY
Ours is a well-established and resilient democracy, and we can see the effect of its antibodies on the viruses infecting it. The judiciary has repeatedly checked the power of the president, and the press has exposed his actions to public scrutiny. Protests and other forms of civic mobilization against administration policies are large and robust. More people turned out for the midterm elections than in previous years, and there is a growing awareness of the threat that authoritarian practices pose to Americans.
Yet the pressure on our system is as serious as any experienced in living memory. We cannot take for granted that institutional bulwarks against abuse of power will retain their strength, or that our democracy will endure perpetually. Rarely has the need to defend its rules and norms been more urgent. Congress must perform more scrupulous oversight of the administration than it has to date. The courts must continue to resist pressures on their independence. The media must maintain their vigorous reporting even as they defend their constitutional prerogatives. And citizens, including Americans who are typically reluctant to engage in the public square, must be alert to new infringements on their rights and the rule of law, and demand that their elected representatives protect democratic values at home and abroad.
Thanks to Freedom House and to their president, Mike Abramowitz. It’s reassuring to see that at least one qualified organization is freely and fairly monitoring the United States Government. It’s an invaluable service to the country.
The Boeing B-52 Stratofortress is a gigantic, eight-engined, American long-range, subsonic, jet-powered strategic bomber, which also doubled as a tactical bomber supporting American troops in Vietnam. The B-52, which came into service in 1955, was designed to carry nuclear weapons for Cold-War deterrence missions. Fortunately, it never had to drop any atomic bombs. Capable of carrying up to 70,000 pounds (32,000 kg) of weapons (compared to the B-17 on a long range bombing mission over Germany during World War II carrying a 4,000-pound payload), it is capable of previously-unthinkable devastation whether dropping napalm, anti-personnel cluster bombs, chemical defoliants or the dreaded white phosphorous, which burned its way to the bone. Mass bombing was the Americans’ “ace in the hole” that would, in theory, guarantee victory, even in the worst of circumstances. Operation Rolling Thunder, the American’s first massive bombing campaign in Vietnam, began in 1965, with the objective of bombing North Vietnam into submission, something they never achieved, even after the biggest bombing campaign in history. The work horse of these missions was the B-52. (B-52 Source: Wikipedia)
The B-52 is capable of flying so high that, despite its gargantuan size and power, it can neither be seen nor heard from the ground. Its deliveries came as a terrifying surprise, except to North Vietnam’s radar-guided Soviet anti-aircraft installations, featuring the V-75 (“SA-2 GUIDELINE” in NATO-speak) missile system, which brought a lot of B-52s down, some of which can be seen today at Hanoi’s military museum. The bombardment of North Vietnam and its neighbors began shortly after the Gulf of Tonkin incident in August 1964, and continued until the last American was airlifted out of Saigon over a decade later. All told, the U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps together conducted at least 2.8 millioncombat missions against ground targets, while the air forces of South Vietnam, Laos, Australia, and South Korea added an additional 360,000 missions to the tally. (Source: globalsecurity,org)
By the time the United States ended its Southeast Asian bombing campaigns, after the last American was evacuated from Saigon in 1975, the total tonnage of ordnance dropped on Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia approximately tripled the totals for World War II, with more bombs dropped than in all previous wars. The Indochinese bombings amounted to 7,662,000 tons of explosives, compared to 2,150,000 tons in the Second World War. The effects of this unprecedented volume and density of aerial bombing of both military and, unavoidably, civilian objectives, were nothing short of diabolical, comparable only with the use of American atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the fire bombing of Tokyo. The American air campaign during the Vietnam War was the largest in military history. Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force, General Curtis LeMay, (portrayed by George C. Scott as the insane General Buck Turgidson in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb), stated “We’re going to bomb them back into the Stone Age”. (Source: Quora.com)
American Atrocities and Their Effects on the Vietnamese People
The Vietnam War was a textbook example of War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity, defined as follows:
A war crime is an act that constitutes a serious violation of the laws of war that gives rise to individual criminal responsibility. Examples of war crimes include intentionally killing civilians or prisoners, torturing, destroying civilian property, taking hostages, performing a perfidy, raping, using child soldiers, pillaging, declaring that no quarter will be given, and seriously violating the principles of distinction and proportionality, and military necessity. (Source: Wikipedia)
Crimes against humanity are certain acts that are deliberately committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian or an identifiable part of a civilian population. The first prosecution for crimes against humanity took place at the Nuremberg trials. (Source: Wikipedia)
The atrocities of the American military in Vietnam, besides the bombing, include the killing of civlians–men, women and children–at close range, burning their villages and herding them into virtual concentration camps where they could be effectively isolated from the Viet Cong. This Nazi-style forced-displacement initiative was referred to as the “Strategic Hamlet Program.” The most egregious example of textbook atrocity, which came to light thanks to the legendary American investigative reporter, Seymour (Sy) Hersh, was the My Lai massacre.
The My Lai massacre was one of the most horrific incidents of violence committed against unarmed civilians during the Vietnam War. A company of American soldiers brutally killed most of the people—women, children and old men—in the village of My Lai on March 16, 1968. More than 500 people were slaughtered in the My Lai massacre, including young girls and women who were raped and mutilated before being killed. (Source: History.com)
By the time the My Lai massacre ended, 504 people were dead. Among the victims were 182 women—17 of them pregnant—and 173 children, including 56 infants. Although the events and actors at My Lai are lavisly documented, the legal repercussions for the participants–notably the officers involved–were ludicrously mild. According to History.com, only 14 men were charged, including Lt. William Calley, the unit commander; Captain Ernest Medina; and Colonel Oran Henderson. They were all acquitted except for Lt. Calley, who was convicted of premeditated murder for ordering the shootings, despite his contention that he was only following orders from his commanding officer, Captain Medina. In March 1971, Calley was given a life sentence for his role in directing the killings at My Lai. Many saw Calley as a scapegoat, and his sentence was reduced upon appeal to 20 years and later to 10; he was paroled in 1974. That’s three years’ imprisonment for the premeditated rape and murder of an entire village, including toddlers and babes in arms.
My Lai Was Not an Accident
Nor was My Lai an “isolated incident.” According to a report published on BBC.com, investigative journalist Nick Turse has uncovered convincing evidence that war crimes in Vietnam were common. In late 1968, the 9th Infantry Division, under the command of Gen Julian Ewell, was engaged in a large-scale operation in the Mekong Delta, the densely populated deep south of Vietnam. Ewell, who became known as the Butcher of the Delta, was notorious for his body-count fixation. He chastized subordinates who killed insufficient numbers and turned loose hellish firepower on civilians.
One of the soldiers present at My Lai wrote to William Westmoreland, US Army Chief of Staff, requesting an investigation. He reported that artillery called in on villages had killed women and children. Helicopter gunships had frightened farmers into running and then cut them down. Troops on the ground had done the same thing. The result was industrial-scale slaughter, the equivalent, he said, to a “My Lai each month.” (Source: BBC.com)
The Frosting on the Cake: An Egregious Lack of Justice
The United States actions in Vietnam arguably constitute both war crimes and crimes against humanity. Why, then, have they not been brought before an international court to account for their crimes. There are two reasons, each more absurd than the other.
They’re too big to try.
They don’t recognize the jurisdiction of any international court.
The one notable exception to this universal reluctance to prosecute the United States was the Russell Tribunal, also known as the International War Crimes Tribunal, a private body organised in 1966 by Bertrand Russell, British philosopher and Nobel Prize winner, and hosted by French philosopher and writer Jean-Paul Sartre.
Though it lacked legal validity, this symbolic gesture by two of the world’s grand old men, performed a valuable service by merely naming and shaming the United States, along with their running-dog allies, for their heinous crimes in Vietnam.
There Were Black Ops, Too
Setting aside the fact that, since the United States never declared war on Vietnam, everything they did in Indochina can be considered “black ops,” the Phoenix Program merits separate treatment. Phoenix was a counterinsurgency operation executed by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), United States special operations forces, and the Republic of Vietnam’s security apparatus, in which a conservatively-estimated 26,000 Vietnamese patriots suspected of being VC operatives and informants, were murdered outright. Some sources elevate that number to more than 40,000 “suspects.” This is what happened in Hitler’s Germany, Franco’s Spain, Pinochet’s Chile and countless other places. All of those countries, including Vietnam, were thus deprived of valuable leadership in their post-dictatorship societies.
The Metastases of the Vietnam War, Laos and Cambodia
Vietnam was not the only tiny Asian country damned by American intervention during the Second Indochina War. So were Laos and Cambodia, particular victims of intense and extended American bombing
From 1964 to 1973, as part of the Secret War operation conducted during the Vietnam War, the US military dropped 260 million cluster bombs – about 2.5 million tons of munitions – on Laos over the course of 580,000 bombing missions. This is equivalent to a planeload of bombs being unloaded every eight minutes, 24 hours a day, for nine years – nearly seven bombs for every man, woman and child living in Laos. It is more than all the bombs dropped on Europe throughout World War II, leaving Laos, a country approximately the size of Utah, with the distinction of being the most heavily bombed country in history. The problem of some 78 million unexploded cluster bomblets littering rice fields, villages, school grounds, roads and other populated areas in Laos, remains a serious problem today. (Source: Legaciesofwar.org)
Cambodia was another victim of the American Vietnam war adventure. In 1969, the US air war against Cambodia escalated drastically as part of Nixon’s Vietnamization policy. President Nixon decided to launch a secret bombing campaign there from 18 March 1969 until 26 May 1970. This was Operation Menu. These bombings were an escalation of what had previously been mere tactical air attacks. Newly inaugurated President Richard Nixon authorized for the first time use of long range B-52 heavy bombers to carpet bomb Cambodia.The invasion was under the pretext of disrupting the North Vietnamese supply lines but the goal was to wipe out Vietnamese communist forces located in Cambodia in order to protect the US-backed government of South Vietnam. The United States dropped upwards of 2.7 million tons of bombs on Cambodia, exceeding, again, the amount it had dropped on Japan during WWII (including Hiroshima and Nagasaki) by almost a million tons. During this campaign, about one third of the country’s population was internally displaced. (Source: Wikipedia)
On April 30th of 1970, after his massive bombing campaign had failed in everything except devastating eastern Cambodia, President Richard Nixon declared to a television audience that the American military, accompanied by the South Vietnamese People’s Army, were to invade Cambodia in order to bomb and destroy the Viet Cong base camps, that were backing up the other operations in South Vietnam. (Source: https://vietnamawbb.weebly.com).
Unfortunately for him, President Nixon collapsed before Cambodia and Vietnam did, though at the same time Laos was abandoned to the authority of the communist Pathet Lao, which allegedly went on to kill three million of their countrymen.
What methodology does one employ to sum up the Apocalypse? There are no words. What concerns me most about that savage and depraved war the Americans took to a tiny, backward far-off country in the Far East is its utter heartlessness. There was a blanket of unconcern covering every outrage visited on Vietnam, both North and South. No concern for innocent normal people doing normal things: cultivating their crops, raising their children, struggling to put food on their tables. Suddenly they’re expelled from their villages, which are torched (“We had to destroy the village in order to save it.”) and herded into barbed-wire enclosures, or worse. We’re talking here about five million Vietnamese peasants. Nowhere in my research did I come across any hint of humanitarian concerns on the part of the American officials neither military nor civilian while they were busy planning and prosecuting the Vietnam War. Presumably all of them but one could allege they were “just following orders,” a pathetic defense that had been invalid since the Nuremberg war trials.
As for the Commander in Chief, President Richard Nixon, who was ultimately responsible for everything since taking office in 1969, perhaps his most egregious decision of the war was Operation Linebacker II, the so-called “Christmas bombings,” the ruthless strategic bombing of North Vietnam. Begun on December 18, 1972, and lasting until December 29, American B-52s and fighter-bombers dropped over 20,000 tons of bombs on the cities of Hanoi and Haiphong. The United States lost 15 of its B-52s and 11 other aircraft to Russian anti-aircraft missiles before they desisted. North Vietnam claimed over 1,600 civilians killed. (Source: history.com)
After 20 years of murderously abusing the Vietnamese people, the only indication of remorse on the part of the Americans that we have is indirect but telling: the estimated 50,000-150,000 suicides of American Vietnam War veterans since the war ended.
The definitive documentary, The Vietnam War, is a 10-part American television documentary series written by Geoffrey C. Ward, directed by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, and narrated by Peter Coyote, available on Netflix and YouTube.
More Horrific and Unjustified Than You Can Imagine
The Americans’ active intervention in Vietnam didn’t start with President Kennedy in the early 60’s. It began in 1954 on the heels of France’s historic defeat in the battle of Dien Bien Phu by North Vietnam’s supposedly-inferior army. The score was 1,500 French dead, 10,000 captured. Such a victory over a well-established colonial power–backed, furthermore, by American arms and financing–was unthinkable, but it happened and it prompted the French to pull their troops out of that feisty little southeast Asian country. That was the perfect moment for the Americans not to stick their heads into the Indochinese beehive. So why did they do it? There were a few reasons, all of them specious, in retrospect. They entered the fray with a scant 1,000 “advisors” in 1954, then a few regiments to protect their bases, and wound up with more than half a million combat troops in the country, 68,000 of whom did not make it home alive.
What were they thinking?
The first reason/pretext for going in sounds almost comically lightweight today, but in the mid-’50s, when Americans were building bomb shelters in their backyards, and school children were being trained to take cover under their desks–I remember it well–it was considered of vital importance. The American power structure considered the communist threat to be imminent and deadly serious. Their “domino theory” held that the reds would take small countries one after another, like a line of dominos falling, until they were capable of threatening San Francisco. This imagined scenario had little credence in reality, but it fitted in nicely with American Cold War paranoia of the time.
Then there was the perceived necessity to buoy up Western colonialism in the Far East. Churchill had a lot to say on this subject. He actually proposed to Roosevelt that they should invade the Soviet Union immediately after the war, in order to head off the spread of Communism. If Indochina fell, Malaya, Indonesia and India would be next. Then the Philippines? Who knew? Ironically, the Vietnam war was no deterrent to the inevitable de-colonization that ensued.
The American penchant for “having a go,” for flexing their muscles, trying out new armaments and strategies–though none of them enabled the Yanks to win–was also a factor. Didn’t Bob Dylan say, “…they got a lot of forks and knives, and they gotta cut something.”
As always, there was American overconfidence, the disbelief among US political and military leaders that they could be defeated by a tiny country’s army of tiny soldiers. They had already forgotten that the Vietnamese army, against all odds, had just annihilated the well-dug-in French paratroopers who defended Dien Bien Phu. It was just one more instance of the US military underestimating their enemies. There are the cases of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, to name just a few.
American “Victories,” Vietnamese Advantages
Unfortunately, at that time, nobody in the American chain of command foresaw the götterdämmerung that loomed ahead of them. Despite their massive advantages in arms and technology, and their claims to have “won every battle,” they were thwarted at every step of the way by the humble, under-equipped and ill-technified little enemies. The principal advantages the Vietnamese enjoyed were superior leadership and a top-to-bottom iron-clad determination not to be subjugated by the Americans. There was another major advantage the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese army enjoyed, and it was a gift from the Americans. It was the extreme ham handedness with which they treated everything Vietnamese, starting with the terminology itself, “Gooks” and “Slants,” and ending with indiscriminate carpet bombing of their country.
The Vietnamese had seen enough colonial humiliation under the French. That said, the Vietnamese–along with their neighbors, the Cambodians and the Laotians–paid a terrible price in human lives, some 1,5 million dead in Vietnam alone. But they prevailed and made history in the process. Did the Americans learn the lessons of that history? Their entry into Afghanistan a few years later suggests that perhaps they didn’t. That Afghan war, the longest, along with Vietnam, in American history, is just now winding down, and is just another ignominious defeat. Recent research suggests that the Afghan invasion may have had less to do with bin Laden and more with Afghanistan’s massive mineral wealth and the American necessity for bases in central Asia.
Before going into the details of some of the mournful events of the second Vietnam War, the Americans’ war, I cannot overemphasize the fact that it never should have happened. It was based on faulty ideology, wrong-headed ambition and massive cynicism. It was a classic case of unprovoked aggresive war against a grossly weaker “enemy” who had no enmity whatsoever against the United States. As we will see below, the attack on the American destroyer in the Gulf of Tonkin that set off the open season on the Vietnamese was a lie calculated to justify American escalation. The Second Vietnam War was led, during its most cruel and sanguinary period, by a pair of borderline inhuman politicians: President Richard Nixon and his Secretary of State, Nobel Peace Prize winner, Henry Kissinger, both of whom had dubious psychological profiles. (Let me recommend a book: The Price of Power, Henry Kissinger in the Nixon White House, by Seymour Hersh. There you will find 700 pages of fascinating details on the subject.) Ironically, but in keeping with recent American history, both Nixon and Kissinger have been meticulously rehabilited in the American political folklore.
Some Details, Some Numbers
I would like to review here some of the ill-remembered details and statistics from the United States’ 20-year war on Vietnam. The numbers are so staggering–and represent such a brutal accounting of the American violation of Indochina–that they are seldom cited these days. But I think the Vietnamese people, and all the other people around the world who have been blessed by American intervention in their countries, deserve a modest gesture of respect, so I’m going to note here just a few of the gravest American outrages.
Unsurprisingly, when you begin to research what happened during the Vietnam war, the stories are almost always told from the American point of view: American innovations, American casualties, American POWs, American superiority in everything… Presumably the Vietnamese fought and suffered, too, but they don’t post on Facebook, nor were they supported by the biggest misinformation behemoth in human history, the mainstream media. To find their stories you have to dig a bit deeper or winnow them out of their enemies’ accounts.
Business as Usual; It Began with a Lie
On August 4, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson alerted America on national television that North Vietnam had attacked the American destroyer USS Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin. Not long after, Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, authorizing Johnson to begin military operations against North Vietnam. What Congress did not know was that President Johnson and his Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, had lied about the Tonkin Gulf incident. North Vietnam never attacked the USS Maddox as the Pentagon had claimed, and the falseness of the attack is now acknowledged–by the National Security Agency (NSA), no less. So the aggression that set off the Vietnam War never happened. It was carefully-contrived propaganda exercise devised to manufacture consent for all-out war, a war that remained undeclared from its dubious beginning to its bitter end. (Source: Goodreads.com)
My friend Danny writes from Greece the other day, “Why do you waste your time on Donald Trump? He’s just a moron.”
Yes, I suspect he’s a moron but I’m not sure that time spent on him is wasted. I don’t regard him so much for himself as for what he represents–the United States of America, with all that implies. Not so long ago, just the mention of that hallowed name would elicit respect verging on reverence. The United States had tipped the balance toward victory in both world wars and had gone on to set the benchmarks for science, technology, education, and democracy. Today, tragically, “the United States of America,” has lost most of its gloss. It sounds almost as ironic as “Great Britain.” If anything characterizes both of these once-great nations today, it’s the velocity of their race to the bottom.
There’s also a matter of reality vs. mythology. The “English gentleman” was never a gentleman, and he’s even farther from that ideal today. Boris Johnson, for example, has all the right credentials. The so-called English gentleman was responsible for enslaving and plundering the sovereign wealth of millions of people around the world in order to dot the Home Counties with those gracious palatial mansions, if anything gained by thuggery can be deemed “gracious.” The British Empire, established by England between the late 16th and early 18th centuries, originated with overseas possessions and trading posts. At its height, it was the largest empire in history and, for more than a century, the foremost global power. By 1913, the British Empire illegally and immorally held sway over 412 million people, 23% of the world population at the time, and by 1920, it covered 35,500,000 km2 (13,700,000 sq mi), almost a quarter of the Earth’s total land area. (Numbers from: Wikipedia)
US History Is Equally Grim
As for the United States, it was founded largely on genocide, cynicism, and lies. With their mouths full of “democracy,” their fists were full of native lands and natural resources, their hearts full of greed. Between 1830 and 1850 members of the Cherokee, Muscogee, Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw nations were forced by President Andrew Jackson to traverse the Trail of Tears to the badlands on the other side of the Mississippi, renamed the “Indian Territories.” In the process, these Native Americans, who had acceded to US government demands to abandon their traditional way of life in favor of agriculture and commerce, were obliged to forfeit their farms and businesses in the Southeast. Even that atrocity was not enough. Later the Indian Territories were grabbed for white exploitation.
With the same ruthless expedience, dubbed Manifest Destiny, and overlapping with the Trail of Tears on the timeline, the Americans extended their southern border down to the Río Grande. It was in 1848 after the Mexican-American War–actually an out-and-out American land grab–when, in accordance with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Mexico “ceded” to the United States more than a third of its territory (the current American states of California, Nevada, and Utah, along with portions of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming. Considering these seizures, as well as all of Texas, Mexico lost 54% of its pre-1836 territory in the harmless-sounding “Mexican Cession.” What the 11th-grade American-history books don’t tell you is that, while the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was being negotiated, US General Winfield Scott’s troops were occupying the Mexican Capital.
The Wanton Dismantling of America Is Not Even Illegal
These smash-and-grab policies extend down to our own day. The motives are the same and so is the American modus operandi. I’ll spare you the list of victims. You read the papers. Ironically, it’s not the rest of the world that receives the principal brunt of Donald Trumpism. It’s his own countrymen and women. President Trump, anointed by his country’s big-money interests is delegated to impose their retrograde ideology, which can be summed up as “dismantle the American government so business can take over.” He and his ghoulish cohorts are progressing apace, and it’s not even illegal.
Donald Trump didn’t become President just by accident or Russian intervention. Thanks to the confluence of an ignorant electorate that had been betrayed by generations of American politicians and the economic clout of big business, Donald Trump was well and truly elected. He enjoyed the backing at the polls of major segments of the US voting population, including not just semi-literate hillbillies and white supremacist thugs–though there were plenty of them. His voters also included cast-offs from America’s once-great industrial workforce as well as former solidly-middle-class citizens reduced to working McJobs and wondering how they’re going to send their kids to college. The former, after decades of America-the-Beautiful and Support-Our-Troops brainwashing, lacked all political criteria, and the latter were striking back at the system for betraying and impoverishing them. (Author’s note: Yes, America is undeniably beautiful, but so is almost every other country, something most Americans don’t realize. As for the troops, they definitely need supporting but the best way to do that is to bring them home, not send them into another hell hole.)
U.S. manufacturing jobs have declined steadily, from around 28% in 1960 to 8% in March 2017. Manufacturing employment has fallen from 17.2 million persons in December 2000 to 12.4 million in March 2017, a decline of about 5.7 million or about one-third. (Source: Wikipedia) This is what the American working class is up against, watching the jobs-and-benefits capital of the world become the Rust Belt. An article published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis (minneapolisfed.org) has this to say on the subject:
The fall of the Rust Belt extends back to the 1950s when firms such as General Motors and U.S. Steel dominated their industries and were among the biggest, most profitable businesses in the world. The Rust Belt was an economic giant at that time, accounting for more than half of all U.S. manufacturing jobs in 1950 and about 43 percent of all U.S. jobs. But after 1950, the Rust Belt began a long downturn.
Moreover, the fact that its share of U.S. manufacturing jobs fell so much demonstrates that the Rust Belt’s fate was not simply part of the general decline in U.S. manufacturing. The Belt’s downturn was uniquely deep and long-lived. Indeed, since 1950, no region of the United States fared worse economically than the Rust Belt.
When we refer to “big- money interests” we’re talking about the great energy companies, of course, but also banks, hedge funds and insurance companies, big pharma and tobacco, and the military/industrial complex, each with its own destructive agenda. And let’s not forget America’s deranged billionaires, who are striding out across the country–and the globe–like exquisitely-coifed Godzillas (e.g. Robert Mercer whose SCL Group provided financing and essential technical support to the Brexit campaign in the UK, or the Koch Brothers‘ self-interested meddling in Venezuela.) Against such formidable enemies–Yes, enemies. We’re talking about an adversarial system here.–“We the people,” don’t stand a chance.
New Legality, New Reality
How is it possible that such malfeasance on the part of the American government was actually legal? The principal factor in the process had to do with fixing elections through new campaign financing regulations. This was the result of the US Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 310 (2010), which opened the doors for corporations to spend money on electioneering communications and to directly advocate for the election or defeat of candidates. This decision breathed new life into an already vigorous lobbying business in Washington. It was the task of the lobbyists to channel corporate money into the election coffers of “sympathetic” politicians. As it turned out, there was no shortage of candidates whose sympathy could be purchased, and lobbyists were soon calling the tune in the nation’s capital. Though it wasn’t their own tune they were calling, rather that of their “sponsors.” That serve-the-sponsors procedure soon passed down to practically all the members of the House and Senate and goes a long way towards explaining the mediocrity and unscrupulousness on both sides of the aisle in Congress. Are there exceptions to this phenomenon? Yes, but far too few.
It is not an exaggeration to affirm that an American member of Congress’s first priority is neither the wellbeing of their constituents nor the security of their country. It’s purely and simply to get elected–or more frequently re-elected. The magic bullet for getting elected is money. To what extremes will Congressional candidates will go to grasp that money? They will go far. They will give a virtual blank check to oil and coal interests to despoil the earth, the water, and the air. They will savage the country’s budget in order to entitle the military/industrial/congressional complex to wage perpetual war, though they know that war does not make America safer, rather more insecure. Perhaps gravest of all, the power of moneyed interests to dictate policy for their own nefarious ends negates utterly any notion of ethics or humanity in government. They are prepared to see the whole country reduced to the condition of Flint, Michigan. (The latest news from Flint, September 9, 2019: Amid Water Crisis, Michigan’s Top Health Official Said Flint Residents “Have to Die of Something,” Scientists Say)
Decency and Hope, Plowed Under
If an ounce of decency remained after the Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, Bush, Obama, and Trump presidencies, it has long since been plowed under, and the whole world is aware of that fact. All world leaders, with the possible exception of the poor, shipwrecked Brits, distrust the United States explicitly. That condition of alone and distrusted is not an enviable position, friends. Ah, but they have many friends and allies around the world, you say. Not exactly. Those “friends” are mainly purchased or coerced and the “allies” are either bribed with cold cash and armaments or cajoled with promises and threats. What does the United States have to do to turn an independent country into an ally? It’s not necessary to “win the hearts and minds” of the whole citizenry. Usually, it’s enough just to bend the wills of a few high officials. How many of these well-placed running dogs does it take to deliver a country into the hands of the US? Not that many, actually. Usually, it’s a bargain. In the final analysis, the common interests the United States shares with their ill-gained “allies” are the uncertain promises of profit and plunder.
Who’s at the head of all these sinister shenanigans at home and abroad? President Donald J. Trump. If you’re going to try to stop him you had better start now.
Without Donald Trump as President, the United States Would Have Gone On Hoodwinking Half the World for a Few Decades More
Now, thanks to the most ignorant and arrogant American President in history the bare truth is out front for all the world to see. The United States today is a dangerously misguided missile. Virtually everything President Trump says and does is, first and foremost, in his own personal interest, either electorally or in business. He’s constantly preaching to his choir of unlettered, white supremacist, machista thugs, and fanatical religious leaders who “speak in tongues” and promise “rapture” experiences. The bitter irony is that there may well be enough of them to get him re-elected. But that does not compensate the litany of outrages that is making him persona non grata not only in half of his own country but in the rest of the world.
Former British ambassador to the United States, Kim Darroch’s recently leaked remarks in memos to the British Foreign Office about the President–“dysfunctional… incompetent… inept… insecure…”–are just the first pieces of evidence that come to mind but they are indicative of the tenor world opinion. The President gives himself away in the above quote when he affirms that he’s “…like, really smart.” Can anyone even halfway normal imagine a “really smart” person saying that? Unfortunately, declarations and actions that discredit the President also discredit his country.
Trump Unveils America in All Its Toxic Glory
The United States has dedicated two centuries to cultivating the myth of a beneficent, democratic, egalitarian, humane country. Though it has only occasionally lived up to those labels it has, until recently, been able to wave them as justification for its actions at home and abroad. They haven’t fooled anybody who is serious about discovering the truth, but that’s a small percentage of the world’s population. The rest have always been happy to accept the portrait that Hollywood and Madison Avenue have painted of America–and “the American dream.” This we-export-democracy ruse has worked well for many decades. What makes an upstart shoddy real-estate speculator think he can stumble in and start revealing the most scandalous truths about his country’s “full spectrum dominance” in world affairs, effectively “jerking the blanket off” their most sordid secrets, without encountering some blowback.
The world’s response to the new US President evolved quickly. At first, the citizens of other countries couldn’t quite believe what they were seeing on the news. But they quickly got the message: President Donald Trump is a person with limited intellectual capacity; infantile, narcissistic; and crude, who embraces oversimplified notions of governance and geopolitics, in consonance with his impoverished mentality. These elementary observations are backed up by his reckless and cynical actions at home and around the world. One of President Trump’s first big policy gaffes, on June 1, 2017, was withdrawing the US from the Paris Climate Agreement. Then he announced last October that he plans to “terminate” the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, despite universal concerns about the return of Cold War-style tensions over U.S. and Russian deployments of intermediate-range missiles in Europe and elsewhere.
The alleged principal motive for rescinding the Iran nuclear agreement came to light just recently when former British ambassador to the United States, Kim Darroch, affirmed that President Trump had annulled the agreement “for personal reasons.” According to the seasoned British diplomat, the President broke the nuclear pact with Iran due to “diplomatic vandalism,” in order to negate the legacy of his predecessor, Barak Obama. Many people inside and outside the United States think that this mixture of infantilism and racism is improper in a President of the United States and ill represents the decent people of his country.
The Trump Tsunami Rolls On Toward Receding Beaches
The frosting on this macabre cake was the President’s decision to approve concentration camps where illegal immigrant toddlers are locked in cages in deplorable conditions. There is some esoteric discussion as to whether those camps should be referred to as “concentration camps” or “internment camps.” As far as I’m concerned, “internment” is just a wimpy euphemism for “concentration.” Whatever you choose to call it, there are the children, separated from their parents and locked in cages like laboratory animals, a stunning poster image for the United States of America, 2019.
Once this clear vision of the American President was assimilated by the citizens of the world, it was a short hop to the inevitable conclusion: This man and his country are to be feared, not trusted, shunned, not embraced. This palpable truth has been obvious to people who do their homework from the early stages of the 2016 election campaign, but now it has become a viral truism that is sweeping the world like a tsunami. In response, countries around the world, notably Russia, China and most European nations, are busy seeking workarounds to the Trump administration’s spider web of tariffs, sanctions and bans. This realignment could have important repercussions, to say the least.
Is President Trump Up to the Job?
Not many relevant people around the world think so, excepting of course those with their snouts in the American trough, and there are more than a few of those. In fact, in today’s United States, “doing the job” seems almost irrelevant. I’ll refer you to Michael Lewis’s book, The Fifth Risk, which details the deliberate and systematic dismounting of a whole series of vital federal government agencies by President Trump and his motley crew of fanatics and mediocrities. If you google “federal agencies gutted by Trump,” you will find an article on thehill.com entitled The 22 agencies and programs Trump’s budget would eliminate. And this list does not include the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) nor the Department of Energy (DOE), in charge, incidentally, of the nuclear waste program.
What Has Uncle Sam Been Up To for the Past Three-Quarters of a Century?
Instead of reciting a list of America’s outrageous–and generally homicidal–global interventions, I’ll recommend William Blum’s book, Rogue State, A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower. Blum was working for the State Department with the goal of becoming a foreign service officer when his disillusion with the Viet Nam war persuaded him to resign in 1967. Since then, for half a century until his death in 2018, Blum was a political journalist, author, U.S. foreign policy critic, and historian. The list in his book, published in 2000, in a chapter entitled A Concise History of United States Global Interventions, 1945 to the Present; was too early to include Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, or Libya, but it will give you a clear idea of what we’re talking about.
Let’s let Umair Haque, today’s most cogent critic of US society, sum up the current situation:
American institutions have come to work backwards. They reward the worst qualities in people now — and punish the best. What economists call “adverse selection” results — things work backwards. Instead of institutions selecting the best — think of someone like Elizabeth Warren, smart, principled, tough, determined, fierce, gentle, wise — they select precisely and exactly the opposite.
Corporations don’t reward people for being wise, compassionate, just, and kind. They reward cunning, ruthlessness, flamboyant greed, absolute selfishness. Display all the former — you’ll be fired in days. Display all the latter — you’ll skyrocket up the corporate ladder. America’s public sphere doesn’t reward truth, honesty, fairness, wisdom — it panders to the lowest, dumbest, common denominator.
How did the worst person in America end up becoming its President? Because America let itself turn into a place where the worst ended up the most powerful, rich, and admired. But that means we ourselves have been made, forced, rewarded, punished, coerced, cajoled to be increasingly terrible people for a long time now, my friends. To one another, to the world, to our planet, to our future, to our country.
President Trump Has Made a Gift of Truth to the World
By dispelling the long-hovering mist of lies and myths surrounding recent United States administrations and their predatory dealings with their own citizens and those of the rest of the world, President Trump has illuminated the playing field. It is now clear to everyone with eyes to see that neither the President nor his country is motivated by healthy, decent intentions. President Trump and his dubious cohorts are openly and whole-heartedly dedicated to plundering the world–and their own country–for their own benefit and that of their corporate overseers. Although the President’s self-revelation is rooted in the basest arrogance and self-aggrandizement, it is a service for which we cannot thank him enough.
This graphic is not up to date. Since these appointments, a lot of people have been fired, eased out, or quit and new ones have been incorporated.
Is Getting Rid of Trump the Answer?
Approximately half of the voting population of the United States is in agreement on one thing: the urgent necessity to unseat President Donald Trump. The other half is determined to maintain him in office and advance his curious agenda, which essentially amounts to dismantling and destroying the government and the country. His recent, “I have second thoughts on everything…” comment confirms his arbitrariness. It’s almost as if he didn’t have ideas of his own, but was in the business of adopting other people’s programs for a price–notably re-election but also the advancement of his personal business interests and those of his family.
President Trump’s government is not run on ideas, it’s run on personal self-interest and simple-minded ideology, the notion that less government and fewer taxes are better, and that the affairs of the nation are better left to the private sector, to business. His selection of personnel for his cabinet and staff to dis-govern the country is based on a wonderfully-simple idea which is fatally-flawed at its base. The authentic purpose of government is to assure the health and wellbeing of the whole nation, the principal objective of all the countries of the developed world–except one. The purpose of business is to make a profit. It should be clear even to a person of limited intellect that the two concepts are diametrically opposed and that favoring profit over wellbeing, though it’s great for a few rich men and powerful industries, is a ruinous policy for the vast majority of the American people.
Which brings us to the point. The ongoing trashing of the United States for the benefit of sinister powerful interests is not actually Trump’s program. He lacks both the wit and the attention span even to outline such a vast program, let alone execute it. That’s why the powers behind the President have decided he needs a crew that can be trusted to do the trashing, firstly on behalf of the select tribe of business gangsters who put him in power and in second place, in order to benefit his personal interests and those of his family. So, if the people of the American opposition should succeed in ousting President Trump, either through impeachment or the ballot box, they would still be far from solving the problem. The rest of the Trump team, with the most reactionary powers of the country behind them, would remain intact and active.
A Sea Change in Campaign Financing Changed Everything
Just who are the aforementioned “capitalist gangsters” and how did they manage to concentrate so much political power in the United States? The answers are not hard to find. The gangsters are people, companies, and institutions that have accumulated so much money that they can purchase the power of the US government. This was formerly unthinkable. Democratic institutions were not for sale. Then, in 2010, that reality changed, with the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 310, Supreme Court decision concerning campaign finance. The ruling effectively freed labor unions and corporations to spend money on electioneering communications and to directly advocate for the election or defeat of candidates. Do not be tempted to think that the unions and corporations were therefore on equal terms. American unions were pretty well defenestrated by 2010. That left American corporations an open field for essentially purchasing the US Congress. That wholly-legal power grab started a brief 19 years ago and explains the situation the country finds itself in today.
In my first year in college, there was a required course called American Thought and Language 101. In it, my first left-wing professor introduced 30 or 40 naive 18-year-olds to “Conservatism,” a political philosophy that put property rights before human rights, profit before people. I was stunned. How was it possible that citizens of my own country could adhere to such a monstrous philosophy? Seven years later I changed countries and never looked back, but Conservatism went on to reign in the United States in an ever-more-monstrous version.
Let’s Take a Look at the Cream of President Trump’s Governing Team
As the President’s cabinet stands today–there has been a lot of to-ing and fro-ing since 2016–the top man is Vice President, Mike Pence, the one who would ascend to the presidency if Donald Trump should die, become disabled, or step down. Michael Richard Pence (born June 7, 1959), a former US Representative and Governor of Indiana, characterizes himself as “a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order,” and as “a born-again, evangelical Catholic,” who, since 1995, attends the Grace Evangelical megachurch.
When queried about his “military experience,” Pence, a lifetime member of the NRA who never wore a uniform, brings up his family’s military tradition, referring apparently to his father’s service in the Korean War. He emphatically believes in armed solutions, having stated his support of Israel and its right to attack facilities in Iran to prevent the Iranians from developing nuclear weapons, defended the actions of Israel in its use of deadly force in enforcing the blockade of Gaza, and referred to Israel as “America’s most cherished ally.” He apparently hasn’t noticed that Iran is internationally certified as having no nuclear weapons and Israel, the only Middle East country with nuclear capabilities has an estimated 75 to 400 nuclear warheads, complete with a submarine-based second-strike capability. He visited Israel in 2014 to express his support, and in 2016 signed into law a bill which would ban Indiana from having any commercial dealings with a company that boycotts Israel.
According to a FiveThirtyEight rating of candidates’ ideology, Pence was the most conservative vice-presidential candidate in the last forty years. During the campaign Pence stated that his role model as vice president would be Dick Cheney. (Source: Wikipedia)
Vice President Pence visited the McAllen Border Patrol Station in Texas in July of this year, where 382 immigrant men were packed behind chain-linked fences under “sweltering hot” conditions. Many of the men told reporters they had been there for 40 days or longer, saying that they were hungry and wanted to brush their teeth. The cages were so overcrowded that it would have been impossible for the men to lie down all at once, and no mats or pillows were provided so the men slept on bare concrete.
“I was not surprised by what I saw,” Pence said at a news conference. “I knew we’d see a system that was overwhelmed. This is tough stuff. He added later, “While we hear some Democrats in Washington, D.C., referring to U.S. Customs and Border facilities as ‘concentration camps,’ what we saw today was a facility that is providing care that every American would be proud of.” (Source: People.com)
Orange California, West Point, the House, the CIA, Head of US Diplomacy
President Trump’s Secretary of State since April 2018, is Mike Pompeo, born and raised in Orange, California, who graduated first in his class from the United States Military Academy at West Point, majoring in engineering management. After his military service in Germany, Pompeo was president of Sentry International, an oilfield equipment manufacturer that was also a partner of Koch Industries. He was subsequently a member of the House of Representatives (2011–2017) and the Director of the CIA (January 2017 until April 2018).
In March 2019, when questioned regarding Israel’s conflicts with Iran and following a visit to the Western Wall with Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, Pompeo spoke of “the work that our administration’s done to make sure that this democracy in the Middle East, that this Jewish state, remains…I am confident that the Lord is at work here.”
In March 2014, he denounced the inclusion in a telecast of the whistleblower, Edward Snowden, at the South by Southwest conference in Austin, Texas, and asked that it be canceled, predicting that it would encourage “lawless behavior” among attendees. In February 2016, Pompeo said Snowden “should be brought back from Russia and given due process, and I think the proper outcome would be that he would be given a death sentence”
Speaking about climate change in 2013, Pompeo said: “There are scientists who think lots of different things about climate change. There’s some who think we’re warming, there’s some who think we’re cooling, there’s some who think that the last 16 years have shown a pretty stable climate environment.” He also stated that “climate change is actually good for the Arctic, since melting ice caps are ‘opening up new shipping routes’ and thus making it more economically viable to expand oil drilling in the region.” Now we know where he stands.
Pompeo is a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association and has been endorsed by them. He is a member of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church where he served as a local church deacon from 2007-2009 and taught Sunday school. In 2014, Pompeo told a church group that Christians needed to “know that Jesus Christ as our savior is truly the only solution for our world”. In 2015 in a talk at a church, Pompeo said that “politics is a never-ending struggle … until the Rapture.” (Source: Wikipedia)
Investment Banker, Asset Stripper, Home Forecloser, Secretary of the Treasury
Steve Mnuchin, Trump’s Secretary of the Treasury was born in New York City in 1962, the son of a Goldman Sachs partner. After graduating from Yale University in 1985, he worked for Goldman Sachs for 17 years, eventually becoming its chief information officer. After he left Goldman in 2002, he worked for and founded several hedge funds. Mnuchin was a member of Sears Holdings’s board of directors from 2005 until December 2016, and before that was on Kmart’s board of directors. After Sears went bankrupt, the company that formerly owned it sued Mnuchin and ex-CEO Edward Lampert for “asset stripping” during their tenure. As secretary of the treasury, Mnuchin has been a vocal supporter of reducing corporate tax rates.
Betsy de Vos Has Oodles of Money
Elisabeth Dee DeVos, born January 8, 1958, was President Trump’s choice for Secretary of Education. DeVos’s claim to fame is primarily that she is rich, having fallen into a vat of family money when she was born, and then again when she was married. Suffice it to say that members of her immediate family own ten yachts. What concerns us here is the fact that every aspect of her education activism was designed to undermine public education. That means she favors school choice, school voucher programs, and charter schools. All of these are thinly-disguised mechanisms for subverting and supplanting public schools by diverting parts of the education budget to religious models. Vouchers are popular with conservative Christians, and Vice President Mike Pence had expanded taxpayer-funded vouchers, as well as charter schools when he was governor of Indiana. According to the NY Times, DeVos has announced that she will no longer enforce a provision in federal law that bars religious organizations from providing federally-funded education services to private schools.
See What You’re Up Against?
Are these the best people President Donald Trump can find to lead the country? They all seem limited to just a couple of priorities: making (or inheriting) money and introducing religion systematically into the American government. I can detect no hint of dedication to public service in any of them, starting with the President, himself. Are these are the people who will take over the country when the President is no longer around? One wonders if there is an opposition think-tank committee somewhere trying to figure out how to get rid of them when the time comes. But, given the number of layers of Trump appointees and Congressional big-money lackeys that the opposition committee would have to sift through, the job would be like attacking a haystack full of needles.
You Have a Choice Between Two Solutions
From here, I can foresee only two possible solutions, one miraculous, the other military.
The miraculous theological solution: Pray.
The military solution: In the Army they prepared us for extreme situations such as this or seeing a blinding flash followed by a mushroom cloud. In these cases, the instructions were: “Bend over, put your head between your legs and kiss your ass goodbye.”
US “Justice” Wants to Crucify Australian Journalist for Revealing the Truth
The cruel and unusual treatment accorded Julian Assange over the past seven years is not an isolated incident. It forms part of a worldwide revenge operation by the usual American hands-on-hips, we-are-very-very-miffed crowd. So, what is Assange accused of? Is he guilty of anything? Let’s start at the beginning.
Julian Assange Has Been on the Lam Since Childhood
Julian Assange, today’s journalist, computer genius, activist and wanted man, is the product of an atypical boyhood. Until the age of 16, he lived an enforced nomadic life all around Australia with his divorced mother, Christine, who was fleeing from an abusive relationship. During that time he attended 37 schools. His mother gave him a computer when he was 16 and he quickly became an accomplished hacker. He first got in trouble breaking into the systems of the Nortel communications company. Accused of more than 30 counts of hacking, he got off with a fine. He went on to study mathematics at the University of Melbourne but dropped out before graduating.
Despite his unusual background, Assange became a world-renowned success. In 2006, he began work on his revolutionary internet project, an effort that would put his face on the cover of Time magazine four years later in December of 2010. The project was WikiLeaks, a website for collecting and sharing confidential information on an international scale. The site, which featured carefully encrypted communications with sources, launched in 2007 and released later that year a U.S. military manual that provided detailed information on the Guantanamo detention center. (Source: Biography.com)
WikiLeaks Blows the Lid Off the Putrid Pot
What followed subsequently was a series of millions of journalistic scoops based on leaked documents, not only from the United States government but from other countries around the world. Perhaps the one with the greatest impact was a video from Iraq that showed an American Apache helicopter gunship wipe out a group of civilians, including two Reuters reporters, on a street in Baghdad, complete with live audio of its crew gleefully celebrating their kills. The gruesome spectacle included a second pass in which the gunship attacked and killed the Iraqis who rushed to help the wounded.None of the Apache helicopter crew has been brought to even military justice for murdering those civilians, yet Julian Assange continues to deteriorate in a London prison cell for disseminating their story.
Sexual Assault Controversy, Political Asylum at London’s Ecuadorean Embassy, Forced Removal and Incarceration in Belmarsh Prison
Dormitory beds for migrant children at the Homestead “temporary influx facility” outside of Miami.
A two-year-old Honduran asylum seeker cries as her mother is searched and detained near the U.S.-Mexico border on June 12, 2018 in McAllen, Texas. They had rafted across the Rio Grande from Mexico and were detained by U.S. Border Patrol agents before being sent to a processing center. The following week the Trump administration, under pressure from the public and lawmakers, ended its contraversial policy of separating immigrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. Although the child and her mother remained together, they were sent to a series of detention facilities before being released weeks later, pending a future asylum hearing.
What Can We Do About American Concentration Camps for Children?
I feel helpless. With the creation of prison camps for children including toddlers, the United States has taken us to a new low, a sordidness that humanity has seldom seen before. We have to do something, but what can we–you, I, and the rest of us–do? My usual resort is to sit down and denounce these abuses writing them up, which is about the best I can do from here, thousands of miles away from the action. I should be sitting on the White House lawn, dousing myself with gasoline and touching it off with a match. But I’m too cowardly for that. Besides, it would serve only to give President Trump something to snark at. So I’ll write it up. Continue reading “Infantile Auschwitz Anyone?”
Just who are the most retrograde elements in the United States government to dictate policy to sovereign countries in the rest of the world? Where does their authority–and it appears to be absolute–come from? Who are they to lay down unilateral trade bans and tariffs, promote “regime change,” grab sovereign funds in American banks, or sponsor false-flag operations, proxy wars, torture venues, and far-right regimes worldwide? Or to propagate their climate-change criminal negligence?
Are they duly empowered to decide who can buy Venezuelan or Iranian oil, or to impose their grim version of “democracy” all over the world by means of armed drones? Of course, they’re not. All of this supposed authority they have simply arrogated to themselves, like greedy children grabbing all the toys in the nursery. They’re having us on, running rampant across the world while at the same time denouncing the very policies they regularly practice themselves. They deplore Russian signals intelligence at the same time the NSA is tapping the telephone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, an important European ally. Continue reading “The American Metastasis”
Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.
Americans believe in better mousetraps. That’s because they used to build the best ones in the world. Nowadays things are changing and they build mainly military products, which are great for killing people and enriching arms peddlers but not so great for making friends. Nor are all their military projects successful. Take the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter project, for example, the fattest military procurement operation in history. That atypical multi-purpose fighter plane, known among insiders as “the plane that sunk the Pentagon,” is a lemon in all of its unwieldy versions. According to one qualified critic, Pierre Sprey, “Its only purpose is to channel billions of dollars to Lockheed Martin.” Continue reading “A Better Mousetrap”
The West Virginia Mine Wars are a dramatic and often overlooked chapter of American history. In the early 1900s in the coalfields of Southern WV, miners faced desperate circumstances. Below ground they withstood some of the worst working conditions in America. Above ground they dealt with brutal mine guards and a mine guard system that controlled the politics and economy of the region.
In 1921 mountaineer families from the nearby hollows, African Americans from the Deep South, and immigrants from places like Hungary and Italy all came together to fight for the right to unionize and basic constitutional rights. From August 20 of that year, miners began rallying at Lens Creek , approximately ten miles south of West Virginia state capital of Charleston. Estimates of total numbers vary, but on August 24, between 5,000 and 20,000 miners began marching from Lens Creek into Logan County. Many of the miners were armed. Continue reading “What Went Wrong, America? 2/2”
Why is the United States, allegedly the richest, most-advanced country on earth, so out of step with the rest of the first world? Why does a significant part of its citizens live on the streets in cars, tents or cardboard hovels? Why are prisons occupied by an unnatural preponderance of people of color? Why are its gun homicides off the chart? Why are its elections so dubious and its religions so militant and mercantile? Why is such a wide swath of the population without health care? Why is the economic inequality so grotesquely pronounced there? What gives the American behemoth the right to impose–or try to impose–its will on any sovereign nation it pleases? Why does the United States need 800-1,000 military bases around the world? Why is the country controlled by a fiendish cohort of industrialists and financiers, headed up by a lowbrow President who was actually elected? Why doesn’t somebody do something about all of these glaring anomalies? They’ve done it in the rest of the First World. What went wrong with you, America? Continue reading “What Went Wrong, America? 1/2”
(This subhead is a link to a commentary by Johnny Cash.)
The list of people and agencies who are scrutinizing your personal data and Internet habits is a long one. There’s the FBI, ICE, the CIA, the NSA, the GCHQ, the KGB, Cambridge Analytica, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and a whole raft of politically rabid American billionaires. And me. I’m studying your comportment on Facebook to see if there’s anything I can learn about you and your fellow Americans. Sure enough, there is.
I’ve had a Facebook account for more than a decade. Mostly I’ve used it to look up old schoolmates, post curiosities, share human interest stories and music videos, relate to other dog-and-cat people, and generally waste time. When I started writing my geopolitical blog (Trump and All the Rest) a few years ago I began publishing my political posts simultaneously on Facebook. I also shared articles that I considered valuable on the subjects of American domestic and foreign policy, stories by excellent critical thinkers like John Pilger, Robert Fisk, Noam Chomsky, Seymour Hersh, William Blum, and lately, Umair Haque.
What’s Important, Puppy Dogs or Total War?
It seemed to me that my fellow Facebookers were ignoring the posts that I considered important. Fair enough, most of what I write is critical of the United States government’s wickedness at home and abroad. So I wasn’t surprised to find that responses to the dog-and-cat videos generated more feedback than the political articles. What did surprise me, however, was to what extent my Facebook friends ignored any content critical of the United States. There are exceptions, of course. But the vast majority of the English-speaking Facebook universe, which I consider a fairly representative cross-section of American society, flatly doesn’t want to know. It’s as if they were in amnesia mode, anesthetized, indifferent to every day’s vitally-urgent realities, or worse, in denial, at the top of a slippery slope.
What’s behind this amnesia/denial phenomenon? Have most Americans simply given up? Has the dramatic right-wing shift in their country taken all the wind out of their sails? Are they convinced that their future is limited to permanent war, caged children, miraculous end-times religion, and the dismantling of the American government as we know it? It would seem so.
Blame It on “Southernization?”
Or maybe not. There’s another possibility. Maybe the American majority has switched its loyalty to what Kevin Phillips refers to in his 2006 book, American Theocracy, as the “southernization” of American politics, the adoption by a desperate, undereducated electorate of simple good-ol-boy southern values, magical fundamentalist-religious solutions, and silly logic like advocating all-out war in the Middle East in order to bring about the Apocalypse. This is where leading American politicians like Mike Pence, Mitch McConnell and Mike Pompeo originate, the Rapture crowd, and there’s a lot more where they came from.
It’s not quite clear where President Donald Trump fits into this scheme of things but he’s at least opportunistic enough to hitch his wagon to a movement that includes many millions of true-believing voters. According to a piece published on Vox.com on November 2018, 81% of white, born-again evangelical Christians voted for Trump in the 2016 presidential elections. That same article affirms, “White evangelicals continue to be one of the most reliable voting groups in the country. Even as their numbers are shrinking in the general population, their affinity with and enthusiasm for President Trump has so far allowed them to hold their numbers steady at the ballot box.”
This End Game Is Not a Game
A 2014 Pew study categorized 25.4% of the American population, which stood then at 318.6 million people, as white evangelical protestants. So do the math. These numbers are not to be taken lightly. This link between fundamentalist religión and presidential politics goes a long way to explain President Trump’s fawning allegiance to Bibi Netanyahu’s ruthless right-wing Israeli party which millions of American evangelical and pentecostal voters are counting on to initiate the long-awaited end-times war. This massive swamp of ultra-religious voters is too important to President Trump’s political future to be ignored.
So here we are, all of us, kneeling on the biblical brink.
“For old men to be taken seriously they must resort to telling the truth.” Bart Sedgebear
Trump’s Phonecall Prompts Jimmy Carter to Reply Candidly
When President Donald Trump phoned Jimmy Carter earlier this month to talk about China he didn’t expect the result to be a damning declaration of American militarism. But that’s what he got, pronounced the following Sunday by the former President during his regular Sunday School lesson at Maranatha Baptist Church in his hometown of Plains, Georgia.
President Carter’s remarks were recorded and transcribed by Emma Hurt, a reporter for National Public Radio affiliate WABE and published on NPR.com. The President said, among other things, that the United States is “the most warlike nation in the history of the world…” This is not a jihadi terrorist speaking, nor a hot-headed young anti-war demonstrator. This is America’s most-respected and best-loved elder statesman, a Nobel Peace Prize laurate and veteran campaigner for free and fair elections and human rights worldwide.
Is it possible that President Carter’s compass is failing him as he reaches 94 years of age?Is he off the mark with this perception of the United States as history’s prime killer? He certainly doesn’t seem addled. Let’s see what he had to say and how he expressed himself in an interview last year when he was 93 years old:
The implications of President Carter’s most-warlike-nation evaluation are massive, perhaps even biblical. It was no coincidence that these thoughts should have been presented in a Sunday school class. “The history of the world…” is a long time, and there have been many warlike nations, extending down to our own lifetimes. It is true, however, that only one of those nations saw fit to drop two atomic bombs on innocent, unsuspecting civilian populations; men, women and children.
Why two bombs? Wouldn’t one have been enough? Yes, probably, but America’s nuclear scientists had two models prepared, Little Boy (Blast yield: 15 kilotons of TNT) and Fat Man (Blast yield: 21 kilotons), and President Truman and his advisors wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to test the destructive results of both. Hence Hiroshima and Nagasaki marked a lugubrious before and after in world history.
President Carter’s remarks extended to the domestic implications of American militarism. Aptly comparing the progress of China and the United States since relations between the two countries were normalized during his administration in 1979, the President Emeritus pointed out, “Since 1979, do you know how many times China has been at war with anybody? None. And we have stayed at war.” What Carter was too modest to say was that the only five-year period that America was free from war during the 20th century was the last year of the Ford presidency and all four years of his own.
According to President Carter, China has made giant strides forward in every aspect of their society while the United States has stagnated gravely due to its outlandish spending on “national defense.” What possible justification can there be for the US maintaining nearly 1,000 military bases abroad (compared to Russia’s 21 which include mainly former Soviet republics), or military spending that is the equivalent of the sum of the next seven countries combined? Economic experts predict that China will overtake the U.S. as the world’s strongest economy by 2030.
“How many miles of high-speed railway do we have in this country?” Carter asked the congregation.
“Zero,” they answered unanimously. According to Wikipedia China has the largest network of high-speed passenger trains in the world extending over 18,000 miles.
“We have wasted, I think, $3 trillion,” Carter said, referring to American military spending. “China has not wasted a single penny on war, and that’s why they’re ahead of us. In almost every way.”
President Carter’s summary was devastating:
And I think the difference is if you take $3 trillion and put it in American infrastructure, you’d probably have $2 trillion left over. We’d have high-speed railroad. We’d have bridges that aren’t collapsing. We’d have roads that are maintained properly. Our education system would be as good as that of, say, South Korea or Hong Kong.
Many Americans might be shocked to read that the United States can only aspire to education standards as high as those of South Korea. They might also be envious of South Korea’s automobile production of 4 million vehicles, compared to US’s 2.8 million–not to mention China’s 23.5 million. If these figures shock you it’s because you’re still living in the glossy past of the United States. In more recent times America has made mainly war while the rest of the world has made progress.
It’s an apt time to thank President Carter for this frank and valiant reminder and for his years of service, both during and after his time in office. If the American people had enjoyed half a dozen presidents of Carter’s stature at critical junctures in the history of their country today’s United States would be a far, far better place.
“The mightiest adversary that snaps great empires like twigs isn’t chimerical “globalization” — it’s glittering hubris, bedecked in the finery of denial.”
Umair Haque, Harvard Business Review (HBR.org)
by Mike Booth
The Biology of Empires
No empire is eternal. The lives of empires correspond to biological models. They are born, grow old and die. That process has not varied from the times of Cyrus the Great, founder of the Persian Empire around 550 B.C. It took the Byzantine Empire more than eight centuries to wind down to zero, and the Holy Roman Empire lasted roughly the same amount of time. In terms of longevity the British Empire doesn’t even make the list of the top 15. It survived for less than 400 years, though it was the largest. In 1922 the “empire on which the sun never set” ruled 458 million people spread over almost a quarter of the earth’s surface. As for the American Empire, it’s a mere upstart. If we look at it from the end of the Spanish American war, the United States already controlled part of Mexico thanks to the “Mexican Cession” land grab at the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848, including today’s states of California, Nevada, Utah, and parts of New Mexico and Arizona. In 1898 they added Puerto Rico, the Philippines and the Island of Guam. These latter two aquisitions were the jumping off points for American establishment in the Pacific.
What has varied in these imperial processes is the speed at which they deteriorate. Far back in history everything was slower, including decline. Today, with everything functioning at electromagnetic speed, the duration of empires tends towards zero. That’s why United States imperialism which, if we include the undeniably imperialistic treatment of native Americans, has only been around since the 17th century, doesn’t look terribly promising. After all, the Ottomans conquered and held Mesopotamia (Iraq) from the 16th century till the end of World War I. Afghanistan was conquered and ruled successfully by the Persian Empire (Iran) from 539 until 331 BC. These primitive successes don’t say much for recent American efforts in those places. “But we’ve got the greatest military power the world has ever seen!” you say. That ‘s true, but it’s not winning many wars, and the the expenditure it requires is impoverishing your country unduly.
How Are Today’s Empires Faring?
Today’s patent reality is that Great Britain’s empire terminated in 1997 witht the return of Hong Kong to China and is now submerged in a disastrous post-imperial Brexit process. The headline on today’s (April 6, 2019) Brexit story in The Guardian:
“A shambles on which the sun never sets: how the world sees Brexit”
Here’s their lead to that story:
A New York Times columnist believes the UK “has gone mad”. How, asks a Russian TV host, can Britain fail so spectacularly “to correlate its capabilities with reality”? For Australia, it’s like “watching a loved grandparent in physical and mental decline”.
From China to Israel and Russia to Brazil, a world well beyond Europe is watching Britain’s Brexit bedlam with sorrow, bafflement and amusement – and, in those parts of the globe once told that Rule Britannia meant order, stability and shared long-term prosperity, not a little schadenfreude.
Washington Post columnist Fareed Zakaria says in an article entitled: “Brexit will mark the end of Britain’s role as a great power” that:
The UK, famous for its prudence, propriety and punctuality, is suddenly looking like a banana republic” – and its implosion might even be the beginning of the end of “the west, as a political and strategic entity.
On the Other Side of the Atlantic
At the same time the United States is beset by a know-nothing regime, dangerous to its own country and to the rest of of the world. We must never lose sight of the fact that, given today’s rates of change in everything, the last chapter of the American decline could be rapid, not to mention cataclysmic, and its scope would not be limited to the United States. I won’t bother citing examples to substantiate the danger that President Donald Trump and his team represent. Just pick up any newspaper, any day, and look at the front page.
In both cases these uncomfortable post-imperial situations were brought on by the cynical manipulation of the myths of their histories. Both countries are paying the price today for centuries of government-induced mass delusion regarding their glorious pasts. We’re talking about the great tradition of American political folklore: nationalism and jingoism, exceptionalism, my-country-right-or-wrong patriotism, racism, militarism, and, of course, heroism in the defense of freedom for markets.
History sees George Washington indifferently, from a mediocre to merely competent military commander whose primary mission was to buy time for the French to intervene to turn the tide in the Revolutionary War. The truth is that Washington’s ragtag army incurred some brutal losses on the battlefield. Yet Americans have been taught to revere him as an exemplary lad who fessed up to chopping down a cherry tree and went on to become a war hero and “the father of our country.” Washington had no children.
All the rest of American history, as told to high-school students, is similarly rose tinted/tainted, a fact which is well documented in Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, a 1995 book by James W. Loewen, a sociologigy professor. The Goodreads.com blob says:
After surveying eighteen leading high school American history texts, he has concluded that not one does a decent job of making history interesting or memorable. Marred by an embarrassing combination of blind patriotism, mindless optimism, sheer misinformation, and outright lies, these books omit almost all the ambiguity, passion, conflict, and drama from our past.
Britannia Rules the Waves
The British are similarly addicted to their Rule Britannia traditions, and their neurosis has had more time to simmer. Their very name, “Great Britain,” is pretentious and overbearing. After all, we don’t refer to Great United States, Great Germany or Great China. Fair enough, Britain could have been construed as great until quite recently, but today it’s just a damp little island abandoned in the North Atlantic. But the Great British are having none of that. The last vestige of imperial Britain was Hong Kong, returned to China in 1977, in the living memory of older Brits–and the older they are the more they cling to their country’s imperial greatness. The area in square miles of Great Britain (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) is roughly the same size as the state of Indiana. Only 12 of the 50 states are smaller than the whole of Great Britain.
British greatness today, in the light of the current Brexit debacle, is based almost exclusively on imperial hauteur, the main ingredients of which are ignorance and arrogance. Prime Minister Theresa May’s leadership has been shown by methodical European negotiators to be intellectually, politically and morally deficient, incapable of navigating the complicated waters of a European divorce between sovereign nations. EU insiders affirm that May and her inexperienced negotiating team are driving them around the bend. The mediocrity of the Brits shines even brighter in the light of May’s arrogance on her way into the negotiations in 2016, declaring herself, “a bloody difficult woman.”
That might qualify her for a pub brawl, but certainly not for negotiating one of the most complex and delicate deals in British history against the best that 26 EU countries could set against her. Her now-resigned chief negotiator, David Davis, the self-styled “charming bastard” of Brexit, was seen entering into negotiating sessions without a single piece of paper. It’s not clear whether or not he was carrying a pencil or a pen. Whatever the case, European negotiators were amazed, and not in a good way. (The complete list of British Brexit negotiators’ boutades would fill a volume you wouldn’t want to carrry in your briefcase.)
Today, Saturday, April 6, 2019, with Great Britain teetering on the very brink of EU auto-exclusion, BBC News quotes British Chancellor Philip Hammond, affirming that he’s “optimistic” that Brexit discussions between the government and Labour can reach “some form of agreement”.
But, according to the same BBC.com story, Labour’s Diane Abbott says the government has made “no movement” in the talks on the political declaration, which outlines future UK-EU relations. Three days of talks ended on Friday without agreement and Labour said no more talks were planned this weekend.
In the interest of fairness, I’ll share with you a couple of pithy quotes from a recent article (Dec. 14, 2018) in the Washington Post:
“She was given a mandate beyond her control and did not have any leverage on her side.”
“In the last two decades, Britain has left much of that work to Brussels, which meant it didn’t have a team of seasoned experts ready to swoop in.”
It seems that the Great British, long accustomed to rule, are going to have to get used to occupying a humbler place in the world, either that or sinking into deep denial, which seems to be their current state.
Meanwhile Back in the USSA
Let’s include in our definition of “imperialism” not just countries taken over and ruled by viceroys, but also soverign nations that are “corrected” from time to time by means of invasions by imperial powers. This has been the modus operandi of the United States in Central and South America for more than a century in places like Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Panama, Grenada… Nor are they above organizing local reactionary elements to do the dirty work form them as in Chile and Argentina.
Since Imperial America was humiliated in Vietnam 44 years ago they have limped forward at a surprisingly slow pace despite their impressive high-tech military-industrial complex and their 1,000 military bases around the world, surrounding almost everybody. Though they had little trouble subjecting tiny countries like Panama and Grenada, they had a harder time digesting more substantial places like Afghanistan, Irak and Cuba.
The imperial mindset inevitably extends into domestic affairs. Great Britain’s own Lord Acton reminded us: “Power corrupts…” A prima facie case for this is evident today throughout the American government. The US Supreme Court’s Citizens United decisión was clearly corrupt, cynically tailored to the advantage of big industrial and financial institutions. Today’s American government has been virtually bought and paid for by special interests, a fact which logically disauthorizes any of its initiatives whether at home or abroad.
The handling of the firearms situation in the US is so egregious that is without paragon anywhere else in the world. That a thuggish interest group like the National Rifle Association should call the shots on such a vital question is seen as beyond the pale in all minimally civilized countries. As for the authority of the Second Amendment to the Constitution, it’s as irrelevant today as phrenology and the Supreme Court of any advanced country would interpret it as such.
If the máximum corruption is government power beyond democratic control, then the United States, with the Pentagon’s unaccounted-for $2-trillion, takes the prize. It’s not that the sinister dwarves at the Pentagon don’t know where that money went. They’re just not telling. It’s too, well, sinister. As for illegitimate power how’s about President Donald Trump boasting aloud that, if push comes to shove, he has the police and the military on his side?
Who Will Win the Trans-Atlantic Race to the Bottom?
Keeping in mind that it’s an unfair race, since the Great British had a head start, and is currently undergoing a serious setback with Brexit, it would seem that the UK is most likely to hit bottom first. However, considering the wild and anti-natural swings of the American pendulum, one could make a case for a probable American victory. They need a victory. But we can’t relax. Their imperial downfall would most likely affect us all, and not in a good way.
“Let’s have a lie-in tomorrow morning. It’s Sunday,” says Maureen. But I’m an incorrigible early riser so yesterday morning I was up at 5:30, lighting a fire in the bedroom fireplace and looking for a book. The first one to come to hand was Richard Hugo’s Selected Poems. I read it quite a few years ago but I was ready to give it another go. Books don’t change, but we do. The best example of that phenomenon that I can recall is my experience with Arthur Miller’s 1952 play, The Crucible, set in the 17th-century Salem witch trials, but universal in scope. The Crucible was required reading when I was in college but it made no impression on me. Then, when I was 30, I had to spend a month in bed with hepatitis. Toward the end of that time The Crucible was the only book left in the house that I hadn’t read. I was poleaxed by it. It’s one of the most intelligent and moving books, theater or otherwise, that I have ever read and my discovery that it was a commentary on McCarthyism only enhanced its value. It contains this line, for me, and in context, one of the most moving in literature:
Elizabeth, gently: “They press him, John.”
Richard Hugo, the Personification of Bleakness
Maureen became friends with Richard Hugo in the mid-sixties when she was running a little hotel and restaurant in Nerja, a fishing village on the Mediterranean coast of Málaga province. The town was bucolic then and an eight-liter carafe of passable red wine cost less than a dollar. Barefoot children ruled the cobblestone streets. The village was ideally placed between the coastal mountains and the sea, with kilometers of beaches and 300 days of sunshine a year. Since then it has been devoured by industrial tourism. So it goes.
The poet was in his early 40’s during his three-month stay in Nerja. It was time enough for him to fall in love with a much-younger English girl. He bought her a ring. Her parents obliged her to return it. That was a typical Hugo ending. He was already a well-known American poet at the time and later went on to edit the Yale Younger Poets series, to have two of his books nominated for the National Book awards and to direct the creative writing program at the University of Montana.
A good poet can rearrange your chromosomes and Hugo is undeniably a good poet. But he’s a poet of constant sadness and unfulfilled lives. According to Maureen’s account Hugo fought in the Italian campaign during the Second World War. Several times while she was waiting to close the bar he recounted for her his grueling experiences in the 123-day siege of Monte Cassino where the Allies lost 55,000 troops. “He never looked up from his beer while he was telling the story,” she said. Could the origins of Hugo’s world view include a case of PTSD? Who knows. In any case, there’s very little glamorous Big Sky Country in his writings. What he perceives in Montana are its numbing cold and damp, its mining-town poverty and an irretrievable love affair. And he notes that there were people in Butte named “Grubski.”
Though Hugo grew up in Seattle and studied at the University of Washington he is more associated with Montana, perhaps the place he should have been born due to its unforgiving bleakness. You can’t grow many cash crops up there, but Hugo makes it look like a perfect place to cultivate despair.
Saved by the Contacts
I was on the verge of despair myself when a 4×6-inch sheet of glossy paper fell out of Hugo’s book. It was a sheet of what we used to call “contact proofs.” These were digital copies of black and white negatives and quite a bit smaller than standard 35mm contacts. So they were harder to read and for that perhaps more intriguing. So I got out the great magnifying glass that came with my condensed versión of the Oxford English Dictionary, 16 volumes shrunken down to two, still hard to read, even with that magnifying glass. Judging from the age of our dog, Pachi, in the pictures they must have been taken in the mid-80’s, about 35 years ago. It was a different world then and we and our friends, though still the same people, were younger. In the meantime everything has changed. The Spanish have a phrase for this: “Ha llovido.” “It has rained.”
The first three frames at the top left are images of the Gentle Young Poet (GYP), sitting at the base of the fig tree with Pachi lying placidly in the background. GYP had already won a national poetry prize by then and would go on to write many more books of poetry and to teach literatura at university level. One of his first collections of poems was entirely about his girlfriend’s anatomy, which he considered unique, as all young men do. Today he’s the director of one of Spain’s principal international cultural projects.
Next on this glossy little sheet of nostalgia come a few shots of my best friend (MBF) and his wife in bed with their newborn baby girl. She’s precious in the pictures, as all babies are, but as she grew up she began to show symptoms of instability such as screaming her way around the house, “Leave me alone!” Today she’s a perfectly normal Canadian engineer, married and with a family of her own. You never know.
I first met MBF when he was 17. Someone told me there was an American teenager living in Málaga who was writing articles for an English-language magazine there. I went down to do a story on him for a General Motors magazine called American Youth. He was a delightful, precocious kid and we hit it off immediately. Written on the front of his guitar was a quote from a Spanish poet (Antonio Machado?). It said (my translation): “Don’t identify yourself with the ‘you’ of my song, friend. That ‘you’ is me.”’American Youth paid $500 for the story, a small fortune in those days.
How Can I Be a Godfather?
When their second child, a boy, was born MBF asked me to be the godfather. I replied, “How can I be a godfather? I’m an atheist.” “That’s why we want you to be the godfather,” he said. So Maureen and I drove the 130 kilometers down to the ceremony on a 250cc Ducati 24 Hours. It was a great little bike but it was also the month of February and the thing I remember best from the whole experience of that day was stopping at the side of the road every 20 or 30 kilometers and flapping our arms to restore our circulation. MBF was a saint of a father and a friend. He died of lung cáncer at the age of 45. A lot of people miss him. Many of them will tell you he was their best friend.
The next three frames are photos of the Young Painter Who Wanted to Be Famous (YPWWTBF). He was the youngest of a talented and idealistic group of people, most of whom belonged to the Cultural Cell of the Granada Communist Party. A lot of them were well on their way to fame, GYP among them, as writers or musicians and he, not a bad painter, half expected to be joining them soon. It never really happened but his consolation prize is a lot of famous friends, all of whom esteem him.
Then come eight frames of our Great Dane, Pachi, the best dog we ever had. Why does he have more pictures than anybody else? Because he deserves them. He was big and beautiful, noble and as gentle as a lamb—except for one occasion when a rough English couple came down our entrance stairs shouting demands. Pachi accompanied Maureen out to see what the ruckus was, his right shoulder pressed against her left leg. The ingleses never made it to the bottom of the stairs because Pachi emitted a deep-throated growl that inspired them to turn around and scramble up the way they came. We never saw them again.
Tragic Poet, Girlfriend Two, Petite Bavarian Painter
Then three frames of Granada’s most talented poet since Federico García Lorca. Unfortunately he, the son of a prominent Granada doctor, drank and led a disorderly life and committed suicide at 35. Maureen had painted a near-life-size double portrait of him and his girlfriend at the time and given it to him as a gift. It was one of her best. One of his subsequent girlfriends—he had a few—shredded it with a knife in a fit of jealousy.
Next comes a single headshot of Maureen, wearing her painter’s squint, and then three shots of the suicidal poet’s former girlfriend, the subject of the ill-fated portrait. She wasn’t beautiful in a conventional way but she had a head of pitch-black hair like a stork’s nest, and beautiful breasts. She was nude in the double portrait. Perhaps that’s what motivated Girlfriend Two’s destructive rage.
The next three frames are identical bracketed (one on, one over, one under) photos of the bronze monument to Mariana Pineda—Granada’s Betsy Ross—in the plaza named after her in a quiet corner of the city. Bracketing is what photographers do when the light is tricky or when they’re insecure or just too lazy to expose carefully.
The last three photos are of the Petite Bavarian Painter (PBP) sitting in the extravagant wicker chair that figures in the aforementioned portrait, looking like a miniature Polynesian princess. The PBP has lived in Granada for some years now, running a bed and breakfast in the Sacromonte Gypsy caves, and is one of our favorite people. Before that she lived in a Bavarian town south of Munich surrounded by delightful gasthauses in the countryside where they served sausages with wonderful potatoes simmered ever-so-slowly in farmhouse-fresh butter. At one of them we could see deer bounding around the meadow below. And of course there was the beer, brewed according to the 1516 Reinheitsgebot rules, which permit only three ingredients: water, hops and malt.
We used to visit PBP and her Japanese mate almost annually during the 70’s and 80’s. PBP’s cooking—always the finest ingredients—was so good and occasionally her husband would prepare a Japanese meal. One time we stayed with them for two weeks. When they arrived in Granada to stay Maureen taught her etching. Those were the years when I covered most of Europe and North Africa for an American hotel guide. People always ask if that was an interesting job. Yes and no. The first time you see Belgrade and Skopje they’re interesting, but by the fifth visit you start to get the feeling that you’ve been there before. Yugoslavia had its charms, though. There were no advertising signs along the road, and people were so refreshingly naive. I asked the manager of a lovely little 40-room hotel on a lake if it was private or publicly owned. He looked at me pityingly and replied, “Public, of course. Nobody has enough money to own a hotel like this.” Also, I loved Ćevapčići and Yugoslave speeding tickets which, in those days, were like a dollar and a half. The war in Bosnia-Herzogovina changed everything there for me. Sarajevo used to be one of my favorite places. But I can never go back.