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.
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