Ann Jones’s Salon piece ‘Has America gone crazy?’ had a hypnotic effect on me that included at once agreement with her every observation, and some disappointment about her polite restraint in not driving home some of her points to conclusions or prescriptions. But maybe that exceeded the ambit of her intentions.
Nevertheless, I would wholeheartedly associate myself with her observations, and I presume here to write a coda of sorts.
In that sense reading my words in isolation from hers will make less sense than reading Jones first.
Who is Jones? A globetrotting journalist and author on humanitarian subjects now approaching eighty years of age. Still with a remarkable clarity about her subject that ought to be the envy of a blogging generation with patience for neither grammar nor critical thinking and synthesis.
And what do I think are the omissions in her commentary?
She mentions non-American confusion about America’s imperial wars, but not how that confusion might be laid to rest.
She mentions mutterings about the encroaching police state USA, but not what might be done about it.
And she doesn’t mention at all the deeply disturbing alliance of nominally religious fascists, plutocrats, and the extreme right rump of the Republican Party. Not mentioning it means no insight is offered on what to do about it.
Jones identified a view I find common here too: George W Bush’s wars were a disaster for everyone concerned, except, perhaps, American corporations who gained concessions and contracts to first destroy whole countries, and then to ‘rebuild’ them. All the while siphoning off billions of dollars of US taxpayer money in some of the most brazenly fraudulent practices in the history of corruption.
However, knowing this does nothing to address the problem. I’m not going to argue that America should cease to be an empire, nor that it should cease to pursue its own interests. What I propose is a more rational and competent basis for that pursuit. One that would not only benefit more Americans than the current model, but that would also be more readily understood outside America.
Re-professionalise the US military, including the re-introduction of conscription. Target not just ghetto poor young men, who face the option of goal, early death by drive-by, or the armed forces, but also the scions of higher income families. In conjunction with this, draft the press-ganged ghetto young men into élite officer training academies in much larger numbers than is the case presently. A leader in the streets can become a leader of men elsewhere.
Conscription targeting privileged white young men, and training non-white officers in large numbers, has the potential to rapidly make the US military a more professional fighting force, with a much greater chance of winning a few. And with fewer troops but much more brainpower.
Such a policy shift would also serve as a currently missing impetus to question the strategic objectives of wars and ‘police’ actions. If the wealthier families of the young men being sent overseas to kill and die cannot support a war that risks their children’s lives, then it probably shouldn’t be fought.
Right now, no one speaks for the ghetto blacks and Latinos who die and return to poverty and disrespect, so supporting a stupid war is not much of an immediate risk to influential American families.
The bottom line is that a re-professionalised US military might also resemble the armed forces of allied countries more closely, and dispel the concerns about ‘cowboy’ misdeeds outside the USA.
The second issue, about the widespread perception that the USA no longer has a rule of law, is related to the third issue discussed below, but can be discussed without mentioning the American taboo of critiquing fascism cloaked as religion.
How can Americans seriously propose that America is a free country, and its president the leader of the free world, when its laws are never enforced against rich criminals. Yet slavery has been re-introduced by way of private, for-profit gaols stocked with overwhelmingly black Americans forced to act as chain-gang labour for private corporations?
Moreover, how can there be a two tier system of laws without the abandonment of the rule of law? The second tier? Some state courts are now offering legal protection to criminals if they can prove they broke some federal law because of deeply held beliefs.
And no amount of scare-mongering will persuade observers in countries that are still free that the US benefits at all from a massive police state apparatus that not only fails to prevent terrorism and crime, but overtly breaks, stretches, or circumvents black letter American law to persecute its own citizens.
Taken together, these subversions of a legal system compatible with the ideals and principles of democracy should concern not just foreign observers, but those inside the USA as well.
Unfortunately the resolution of the decline of lawful America is tied to the no-go area in American politics: Christofascism.
It may be dangerous for many Americans to speak out against the barbarian luddites who call themselves fundamentalist Christians, but actually have no understanding of anything resembling traditional Christianity, and far more closely resemble the Taliban or ISIS than any other Western social and political force.
Christopher Hitchens used the term Islamofascism to denounce a hatred for progress, a cult of violence against imagined enemies, leader worship, heavy doctrinal reliance on a single book, and the disgustingly misogynistic sexual repression of women. These all apply to a virulent strain of extremism in American politics that covers its fascist impulses in the false claim that it is Christian. Hence my terminology of Christofascism, which may offend real Christians, but does not seek to include them.
It’s not just that these extremists promote and demand the imposition of an affected cretinism, denying fact, reality, and science whenever it doesn’t suit their agenda (but not when they drive expensive cars, fly private jets, or use flushing toilets). They are made a hundred times more dangerous for being affiliated with a rainbow coalition of other sociopaths and anarchists, including especially plutocrat money-men seeking to dismantle democracy, and even destroy their own country rather than let it be governed by someone else.
Paul Krugman, writing in his New York Times column almost nailed the definition of how Christofascists and their allies fail the USA, and actually subvert it instead. He illustrated that proof of what works, and what doesn’t, comes a distant tenth place as an influence to an ideological doggedness to prevent the state from helping its citizens. What Krugman doesn’t say is that this failure in democracy is driven by the greed of those superwealthy Americans who want the tax dollars other Americans pay to flow solely to themselves. They are not anti-tax or big government at all. They just don’t want any benefits to flow to anyone but themselves.
Whether all Christofascists understand this is doubtful. The screeching at the far right is sometimes so incoherent it is compelling to believe that GOP candidates and representatives aren’t affecting, so much as reflecting, a real genetic cretinism.
Nevertheless, these extremists have managed to so thoroughly infiltrate and control the Republican Party that it now almost seems like a fifth column in the USA, working openly to paralyse the country, financially ruin millions of Americans, destroy the US education system, enslave blacks and women, and create a permanently destabilised geopolitical climate.
How could ordinary Americans vote for such nihilists and not expect astonished raised eyebrows from even America’s allies?
Foreign observers should be rightfully expected to be not just appalled, but astonished that real Christians and sensible, decent Americans allow this to happen.
Much worse, though, is that such developments encourage America’s enemies by providing an American example, or justification, for murdering people, torturing and raping children and women, publicly beheading hostages, and generally creating mayhem. After all, if this behaviour is legally endorsed in the USA, what fault can Americans find in such behaviour elsewhere?
There is no easy solution for this problem that doesn’t involve the hard work of a grass roots political effort, sustained for years, to root out and silence the Christofascists. This is not an endorsement of the Democrats, whose feckless pursuit of their own corrupt interests allowed this imbalance to take root in the first place. But any grass roots political movement that can take on and oust the extremists, even in initially small numbers, will soon find itself in a position to demand terms from those who might be next to be exposed as frauds and lunatics.
If all this sounds too far fetched, let me just encourage American readers to look to European and other examples of free liberal democracies where this kind of thing is already the norm.
Looking at my home in Australia, we have a modest and professional army of people signing up voluntarily. We have been staunch allies to America, but never at the expense of using police state tactics to crush opposition to war in our streets or the press (although that may be changing with newly repressive ‘security’ laws probably dictated by American authors).
We have a rule of law which is under attack by reactionary twits right now, using models of tyranny emulated from Republican originals, but I think our legal system is too robust to fall under their spell just yet.
And the status quo in Australia is that we are a majority Christian country, but any idiot who starts spouting theology or doctrine as politics is quickly shouted down by myriad voices, including real Christians, and politicians from all sides. The secular state remains unchallenged, and creationism for school syllabi is not remotely on the agenda.
We have gun control and relatively low, declining crime rates.
We have a public health system whose costs are rising and therefore targeted by the reactionary right, but, again, I think it is generally supported across partisan lines in the population, and I think it will yet survive. Particularly if the parallel private health insurance system is regulated more effectively to reduce the most egregiously price-gouging profiteering.
I believe there are actually better examples of how improved America might be if sanity were re-imposed, but I am less familiar with them than my home.
My apologies in advance to all Americans who might be offended by what I have said here. All I can suggest is that you take to heart what Jones had to say. And that you remember you are not alone in a world which has unprecedented insights into what is said and done in the USA via an always on, massively influential American media (including the internet).
Many people, in the Western world particularly, sincerely wish Americans all the best. But we are also selfish: every time America sneezes, we catch flu.
I do so hope you restore order in your house.
Good luck and good night.