I’ve mused on these pages before about how it feels in the moment to be part of a society that has lost its collective sanity. Did Germans in the 30’s grasp what was happening, or were they like the proverbial frog in the pot of boiling water?
Are those suffering the curse of “living in interesting times” aware they’ve been cursed?
Reflect for a moment on current events in the country that deems itself exceptional:
Mass shootings occur on a nearly daily basis. High school kids, reacting to the slaughter of their friends, demand change. They’re met by a president whose solution is to arm the teachers and politician after politician who defend the sale of assault weapons. At a time of extreme economic inequality, the tax laws are changed to benefit, almost exclusively, the ultra-wealthy. A major political party conspires openly to torpedo the investigation of a corrupt president. The media speculate endlessly whether and when that corrupt, autocratic president will attempt to shut down the investigation. As catastrophic climate change becomes ever more recognizable, the country’s leader thumbs his nose at the rest of humanity, while the media, and the masses, barely notice. Journalists pushed to the fringe by an obedient mainstream report in vain on a military presence in well over half the world’s nations, while politicians direct precious resources to arms manufacturers.
Yet through it all we go about our daily lives. Some, perhaps a third of us, believe we’re in the process of “making America great again.” Others, perhaps another third, are unaware of events taking place, as they focus on keeping their heads above water economically. The rest of us follow the events, but collectively under-react. Yes, some march on occasion. A precious few even engage in civil disobedience. But by and large we go about our lives believing deep down that it’s all just a passing phase that will end with the next election. Or maybe the one after.
I play golf every weekend. And write blog posts like this one, in the crazy belief that I’ll actually change a mind or two or heighten their awareness.
Few of us grasp consciously and consistently just how “interesting” these times truly are. But at varying degrees of consciousness, I suspect many of us do. In No Cards Left to Play but the Threat of Armageddon, Glen Ford captures a bit of the sometimes subconscious, sometimes conscious feeling we have:
Everyone smells U.S. defeat, inside and outside the empire. It is a stink that only Americans that were conscious in the Vietnam era can remember. It makes folks anxious—like the loss of a cocoon. Just as whites reaped a “psychological wage” from Jim Crow privileges, according to W.E.B. Dubois, even if they were poor, so do citizens of empire feel psychological benefits, even when the cost of the war machine is impoverishing the country. U.S. politics in the era of imperial decline will be nasty, stupid, petty and racist—just as we are already experiencing. There must be scapegoats for the national de-exceptionalization. The Russians fit the bill, for now, and so does anybody that talks like a Russian, or a Chinese—for example, people that would like to live in a “multi-polar world.”
Do not expect the Republicans or the Democrats to make any sense of a world of diminishing empire. The duopolists are incapable of seeing any future beyond their rich patrons’ vision—and the rich have no vision beyond continued accumulation of wealth, which requires a harsher and harsher austerity.
Most dangerous, they cannot imagine a world in which they are not on top. We will have to fight to keep them from blowing us all up, in rich man’s despair.
I’ve not before considered the analogy Ford makes, but I find it incredibly insightful. Racism extracts a horrific cost on poor whites in America. They could do so much better for themselves by finding common cause with minorities. Similarly, American imperialism extracts a horrific cost on the masses in America.
So, many of us on the political left, including the center-left, will rise up in the next election, as well we should. If all goes well, Trump will be removed from power, or at least neutralized.
But how, ultimately, will we conquer the giant triplets identified by Martin Luther King that plague our society: racism, militarism, and materialism?
In the half century since King identified it, the threat presented by those plagues has grown ever worse, as Ford makes clear. And I think Ford suggests that while we may not be able to confront racism or materialism directly, we damn well can confront militarism directly. And if we fail to do so, it will destroy us.