Let me begin with an observation that I think is obvious even if it is rarely noted. It is this: There is no separating politics and psychology. This seems to me an especially useful truth as we explore our topic this evening, and I go to Fromm and Jung to explain it. People, individuals, make societies, but societies, just as truly, make individuals. This evening I will look to the latter side of this matter more than the former. Americans have made America, true enough, but I am more interested for now in how America has made Americans—how it has shaped the psychology that defines Americans—the consciousness that marks them out, indeed, so distinctly from others.
Nineteen years ago, the U.S. had the strongest military in the world, but the economy was showing signs of weakness. Back in March of 2000, the stock market bubble burst, resulting in the NASDAQ or “dot com bubble” crash. Still at that time, most of the country believed Reagan as he referred to the country as, “…the shining city upon a hill…” Due to its military might the U.S. was able to project its power and impose its will upon the world. Rove’s arrogant assertion that “…when we act, we create our own reality…” is a major part of the problem that the U.S. empire is facing today. What gets lost in this assessment is the historic reality that all empires run their course.
Like Cicero in the Roman Republic, there are always a handful of chroniclers who can see and articulate clearly the social, cultural, and political realities of empires in terminal decline. They call out the bankruptcy of an inept and corrupt ruling class, blinded by hubris, as well as a populace that has checked out of civic life and is entranced by bread and circus spectacles. In his trilogy Blowback, The Sorrows of Empire, and Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic, Chambers Johnson does a masterful job of showing how and why we are disintegrating. So does Andrew Bacevich, who, in his newest book of essays, On Shedding an Obsolete Past: Bidding Farewell to the American Century, writes about the debacles that have beset the American empire since the Vietnam War, a conflict he fought in as a young army officer.
The way that the wording rules-based order is bandied about makes it sound like it has worldwide acceptance and that it has been around for a long time. Yet it comes across as a word-of-the-moment, both idealistic and disingenuous. Didn’t people just use to say international law or refer to the International Court of Justice, Nuremberg Law, the UN Security Council, or the newer institution — the International Criminal Court? Moreover, the word rules is contentious. Some will skirt the rules, perhaps chortling the aphorism that rules are meant to be broken. Rules can be unjust, and shouldn’t these unjust rules be broken, or better yet, disposed of? Wouldn’t a more preferable wording refer to justice? And yes, granted that justice can be upset by miscarriages. Or how about a morality-based order?
July 30 will be the 57th anniversary of the passage of Medicare, widely celebrated as Medicare's birthday. People are taking action across the country this week in support of a National Improved Medicare for All single payer healthcare system culminating in a national march and rally in Washington, DC on Saturday (find info at M4M4All.org). Clearing the FOG speaks with Dr. Ana Malinow, a leader of the group National Single Payer, about the growing privatization and corporatization of the US healthcare system and how people are organizing to fight back and win a system in which everyone in the US will have the care they need without fear of financial ruin. She also discusses how American Exceptionalism is an obstacle to changing the system.
The United States is an empire. It has 800 military bases around the world . More than $840 billion has been set aside for the latest Pentagon budget, a sum bigger than the military expenditure of the next nine countries combined. U.S. military operations, whether overt or covert, have devastated more than eighty countries since the end of World War II and killed more than 30 million people. And these numbers are likely undercounts since the U.S. national security state is far from transparent. The American Empire is protected by a series of lies otherwise known as the ideology of American exceptionalism. American exceptionalism has normalized imperialist violence by rendering it nothing more than a crusade for “democracy,” “liberty,” and “freedom.” Innocence is bestowed upon the American empire through the creation of “enemies” and scapegoats.
American soldiers born decades apart in the state of New York, Ron Kovic and Maj. Danny Sjursen, are two crucial dissenting voices that have experienced firsthand the futility and brutality of America’s interventionist wars. Kovic, a Marine veteran who was paralyzed in the Vietnam War, has spent the rest of his life fighting against the U.S. war machine. The film “Born on the Fourth of July,” starring Tom Cruise, was based on his book, a work he hoped would combine with his activism to dissuade young people from buying into the toxic patriotism that leads Americans to fight destructive, ultimately pointless wars. In the latest installment of “Scheer Intelligence,” Kovic tells [ScheerPost] editor-in-chief Robert Scheer, “I couldn’t stop speaking against that war. I was arrested a dozen times."
One year into the Joe Biden administration and most of the world has accepted two realities. First, America is not back, and Biden’s slogans notwithstanding, there simply is no going back to the pre-Trump era. Secondly, whether America keeps troops in various parts of the world or brings them home, America’s will to fight is by and large no longer there. Its implications for the trans-Atlantic relationship will be profound. Europe would be wise to pro-actively adjust its defense policies accordingly. American decision-makers have long warned allies and partners that the United States must reduce its security obligations, lighten its military footprints in certain regions and that greater burden-sharing is inescapable.
History is being written in the United States today. Even the most pessimistic about the prospects of American democracy have rarely ventured out this far while offering a bleak analysis of America’s future, whether in terms of political polarization at home or global standing abroad. As shocking and, certainly, telling as the images of thousands of American protesters taking over the symbols of America’s federal, representative democracy in Washington DC on January 6, it was only a facet in a far more complex and devastating political trajectory that has been in the making for years. While mainstream US media has conveniently attributed all of America’s ills to the unruly character of outgoing President Donald Trump, the truth is not quite so convenient.
Washington, DC - “That is not who we are,” insists the U.S. political class after the grave events of January 6 when a mob of Trump supporters brutally invaded the Capitol here in Washington, DC, leading to the loss of five lives. An entire nation, if not the whole world, has been traumatized, unable to believe that these images came from a developed country in North America. The key questions are simple, “Why” and “How?” The answer is visible in the raw emotions on the demonstrators’ faces, strategically veiled in the concept of “American Exceptionalism” that has done so much damage throughout the history of the country’s democracy.
The COVID-19 pandemic has not made the planet any safer from the threat of U.S. militarism. Nothing encapsulates the inhumanity of the U.S. social order more than the loss of tens of millions of jobs and nearly 200,000 lives occurring alongside the expansion of U.S. aggression around the world. For seven months, the majority of the planet has been busy engaging in high level cooperation to contain the pandemic. The U.S. has done the exact opposite, focusing instead on scapegoating China to deflect attention away from its own shortcomings.
Once again, this Fourth of July, Americans will celebrate — to the unwitting militarist racist tune that is the “Star Spangled Banner” — more than just the nation’s Independence Day. Though most folks will, if at a reasonable social distance, focus more on the backyard beer and brats, U.S. jingoism and exceptionalism will invariably be on the menu. That last sentiment, particularly amidst the COVID- and mass protest-exposing era of forever war at home and abroad, deserves a closer and critical look. For exceptionalism is truly a national disease that ravages American bodies and democratic institutions alike. This malignancy must be named and shamed in pursuit of precisely the “participatory patriotism” the holiday purports to celebrate. As the (late) man said, “Always look to the language;” so let us begin there:
Data from around the world on how nations are handling Coronavirus makes clear that, as in most things (this claim is documented below), the United States is exceptionally awful. Among wealthy countries, only Sweden, which has chosen to intentionally allow the disease to spread, has done worse. A handful of countries in Latin America and the Middle East are doing worse than the United States, though some are doing better. As in many world rankings, as documented below, the United States looks fair to middling as a third-world country, but off-the-charts terrible as a wealthy country — much less as a country that endlessly (albeit falsely; see below) calls itself the wealthiest country on earth ever. The United States’ handling of Coronavirus is not a fluke. It’s not an exception. It’s not a case of a country that’s generally competent and well-run screwing up.
The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the contradictions of U.S. imperialism, including those that continue to render the American left politically isolated and ineffectual. China has found itself at the center of this process. U.S. imperialism has successfully convinced many of its so-called “citizens” to believe that the U.S. government is the principle arbiter of bourgeois freedoms such as the right to individual liberty and free speech. China, on the other hand, has long been depicted by the U.S. ruling class as an “authoritarian regime” where the rights of individuals are crushed under the weight of a centralized state. This Cold War era dichotomy persists into the present day. A strong yet often unspoken belief in the ideology of American exceptionalism within the American Left has created a massive double standard when it comes to China.
Washington, DC - What if the real “invisible enemy” is the enemy from within — America’s very institutions? When the coronavirus pandemic came from distant lands to the United States, it was met with cascading failures and incompetencies by a system that exists to prepare, protect, prevent and cut citizens a check in a national crisis. The molecular menace posed by the new coronavirus has shaken the conceit of “American exceptionalism” like nothing big enough to see with your own eyes. A nation with unmatched power, brazen ambition and aspirations through the arc of history to be humanity’s “shining city upon a hill” cannot come up with enough simple cotton swabs despite the wartime manufacturing and supply powers assumed by President Donald Trump.