Looking at America from Far Off
I should have written this long ago. It might have headed off some misunderstandings regarding what I’m up to with this blog I’ve been writing over the past three years. You may have noticed that all my articles are critical of your country. I owe you an explanation. I write out of concern for what a series of American politicians and big military, religious, and business leaders are doing to your country and the world, with the acquiescense of a majority of American citizens. Seen from here–I’m writing from Spain where I have lived for the past 50 years–the scene over there looks grave and getting graver.
That’s what set me off on this writing project. I can’t just stand by passively. But what can I possibly do from here? I’m nobody. I’m far away. I embrace unpopular left-wing political views. I’m not even a billionaire. But I feel I have to do something. The “what” is a foregone conclusion. I’ll do the only thing I know how to do: write it up. I’ve got books, an internet connection, time on my hands, and a desire to make a positive contribution. I may not make a big difference, but I might make a little one.
My basic premise is simple. There’s something gravely wrong with a country that glorifies its snipers and despises its peacemakers, whose answer to war is more war and whose response to racism is more racism. That country needs help. Therein lies our first great question: is that country–the USA–beyond help? Have many decades of twisted history, old-time religion, and pumping up with patriotic nonsense created a populace that is unresponsive to any thought but standard American ideology. You know, rugged individualism, iron-clad racism, forever war, privatization of everything and knee-jerk justification of American iniquity, however horrendous, however conspicuous.
Disclaimer: If you haven’t noticed already, my point of view is conditioned by the fact that I have lived in Europe for a long time.
The Implacable Bottom Line
One would like to think that there was a time when the USA rested on more humane pillars, starting with common sense and equally common decency, then honesty, fair play, even a sprinkling of generosity. But that was before the invention of the spread sheet, with its cold, incontrovertible accountant’s logic and implacable bottom line. There’s not much room left in America’s business as usual for humanity or honesty to prevail. Those values have been replaced by greed and ruthless self deception. Do you need evidence of the ruin? Take a look at any member of the United States Congress’s voting record and collate it with the entities that financed his or her latest campaign. Out the window with the environment, the climate crisis, health care for all, the peace initiatives, fair voting practices, and your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. By the way, who’s going to chisel that subversive little poem off the base of the Statue of Liberty?
I think it’s relevant to point out that there’s nothing secret about this evolution of American society. Twenty-five years ago the New York born astrophysicist and science paladin, Carl Sagan, published The Demon-Haunted World, Science as a Candle in the Dark. Among other brilliant observations in this book, he wrote this prediction of America’s future, which is to say, today:
I have a foreboding of America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time–when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all of the manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness. The dumbing down of American is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30-second sound bites now down to 10 seconds or less, lowest-common-denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance.Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World
That was 25 years ago and I find nothing there I could take issue with today. Do you disagree? Turn on your television.
America as Snuff Film
The United States has problems that are unknown to countries that are not currently living in outright war. These problems, unique in the advanced world, are grave and entirely of the Americans’ own making, home spun dystopia. The first problem that comes to everyone’s mind when looking at the United States from abroad is the lack of gun control. In any civilized country, this problem is absurd to the point of silliness. Everybody, everywhere knows that firearms must be regulated. If not, grave problems will arise in any society. Everywhere, that is, except the United States, thanks to an interested interpretation of an arcane clause in the country’s Constitution, specific to the era of the war of independence against the British more than two and a half centuries ago. This clause, the second amendment, gives rise to a pretext, held by gun nuts and manufacturers, that all American adults are entitled by law to bear firearms. The only exceptions to that constitutionally-backed right are US military bases, where firearms are strictly controlled. Why has no one over there noticed that this state of affairs is silly–and also dangerous?
The other issue that strikes normal foreigners when they think about American life and society is racism. They don’t understand it, they deplore it, and they wonder what diabolical mechanisms keep it alive. And it’s not just Mississippi. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, legislation to make it complicated for racial minorities to vote has recently been enacted in 17 states around the country, and similar initiatives are afoot that bring the potential total of voter-blocking states up to 48. The Brennan Center’s Voting Laws Roundup updates the figures to June 21, 2021.
As of June 21, 17 states enacted 28 new laws that restrict access to the vote. With some state legislatures still in session, more laws will certainly follow, which we will track in the next roundup later this year. More restrictions on the vote are likely to become law, as roughly one-third of legislatures are still in session. Indeed, at least 61 bills with restrictive provisions are moving through 18 state legislatures. More specifically, 31 have passed at least one chamber, while another 30 have had some sort of committee action (e.g., a hearing, an amendment, or a committee vote). Overall, lawmakers have introduced at least 389 restrictive bills in 48 states in the 2021 legislative sessions.brennancenter.org
What kind of a country is this, where elements in 48 of 50 states want to block minority voters? That, though it’s hard to believe, is the least of the problems minorities face in the US. What about the American police routinely shooting black and brown men and women, seemingly for sport, and getting off free or almost free? How does one explain these anomalies to people who have grown up in normal countries? One can’t. Why doesn’t the United States government enact federal legislation to eliminate these raging abuses? They can’t. The political backing in the electorate for such action is conspicuously lacking. In short, a majority of Americans prefer things the way they are.
If the politicians can’t or won’t do anything, there must be someone else strong and decent enough enough to take action. America is profoundly Christian. What about the churches? That won’t work, either. An article by Robert P. Jones, author of White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity, cited by NBC News on July 28, 2020, explains:
A close read of history reveals that we white Christians have not just been complacent or complicit; rather, as the nation’s dominant cultural power, we have constructed and sustained a project of perpetuating white supremacy that has framed the entire American story. The legacy of this unholy union still lives in the DNA of white Christianity today–and not just among white evangelical Protestants in the South, but also among white mainline Protestants in the Midwest and white Catholics in the Northeast.nbcnews.com
The word for these singular situations, I believe, is “evil.” How does a great society deal with such widespread, ingrown evil? There aren’t enough exorcists to go around.
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