Perverted American Patriotism

Patriotism, the Old Shell Game

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 Those bland representations of patriotism have been largely out of date for centuries, perhaps as far back as the time when the ancient Greeks coined the word “patris,” meaning “fatherland,” in order to legitimize their own wars of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.

Students_pledging_allegianceI 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,” 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 Exceptionalism2    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?

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You’re Overlooking a Critical Issue: It’s Not Just Trump

Trump & Cabinet

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

73%

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

Sycophant_in_ChiefAs 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

Mike PompeoPresident 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

Louise_Linton_M_wifeSteve 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

Trump_DeVosElisabeth 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.

  1. The miraculous theological solution: Pray.
  2. 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.”

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What Went Wrong, America? 1/2

Wizard_America

Most Everything, Actually

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”