Sunday, September 09, 2012

The Greatest Country?



They all said it -- Michelle, Barack, Bill -- at the Democratic National Convention in North Carolina this week, and no doubt every speaker at the other party's gathering in Florida echoed this claim: America is the greatest country on earth (adding the request for God to send a blessing that this sanctimonious country certainly does not need).  Obviously no one invited Jeff Daniels, the actor who plays the fictitious anchor Will McAvoy in Aaron Sorkin's new TV drama, "The Newsroom" that just finished its first year run on HBO.  In this clip, McAvoy, a self-proclaimed Republican who's heard enough and can't take it anymore, answers a trite question with a denial of that civil religious claim.  That a real TV celebrity might discover honesty is only a fantasy, but the well-researched facts from Sorkin's writing team made the "greatest country" trop sound ridiculous.  Does anyone still believe it?

Yes, judging from the scripted hoopla along with patriotism, jingoism and nationalism on display by the politicians, delegates for the TV audience.  Misty-eyed representatives from every significant demographic group could be seen in photos from the two events -- I live on the other side of the globe and have no cable tv to watch -- giving their all for the candidate of their choice.  A good friend told me on Facebook I was cynical when I posted a link referring to Michelle's studied stutter and slick sincerity, but I was hesitant to reveal my own feelings, that her highly praised speech was worthy of an Oscar but not the adoration heaped on her by liberal commentators.

The vast majority of my social network friends today are liberals and progressives, Obama supporters all.  But most of my friends from the high school we attended in Southern California who I am still in touch with are Republicans.  A few have shunned me; but at least one is tolerant of our differences and we play word games online together.  There is no accounting for political (or religious) tastes.  George Lakoff thinks that liberals represent nurturing mothers while conservatives emulate autocratic fathers.  Both sides love their children and pets but only those on the left seem to love the children of the Other; the right is more limited in their definition of who they care about (certainly not gays, Muslims, immigrants and abortion doctors).  The people in my high school circles came from the upper middle class and stayed there, while I early on yearned to associate with musicians who took drugs and often were of a different color.

A bit of a confession here: Even though I'd supported Democrats since beginning with Kennedy in 1960, I voted for Reagan to be re-elected in 1984 over the Democrat, Walter Mondale.  I did it because I figured another four years of his cartoon rule (an actor was president of the U.S.?) would hasten the revolution I fervently wished for America.  I was wrong.  And in 2008, after moving permanently to Thailand, I made no effort to get an absentee ballot because I was certain Obama would carry northern California where I remained registered.   An expat then for only a year, the doings back in the U.S. still concerned me personally, and it was easy to see that an Obama administration would be light years away from the devastation that George W. had left in his wake.  I rejoiced at his victory.

Patriotism for one's nation is a difficult passion to resist.  It's inculcated from an early age, passed down from relatives and neighbors and reinforced by civil religious ceremonies like the 4th of July with its parades, barbecue sacrament and fireworks displays.  Historically, nationalism is a fairly recent phenomena, as Benedict Anderson details so well in his masterly Imagined Communities. Before nations, there was loyalty to one's tribe which took the communal form of ethnicity and religion, or the flag waved would belong to the ruling dynasty.  Nations, as Anderson points out, required printing and newspapers, along with centralized education and military service.  Modern technologies like radio, film, TV and now the internet, hastens the process which glues disparate people together.

Which does not explain why some people are repelled by "the last refuge of a scoundrel," Samuel Johnson's definition of a patriot.  I feel as if I were born to rebel (which doesn't account for why my more conventional brother the lawyer has similar political views, even though our parents voted Republican and our mother loved her "Tricky Dick" Nixon.  The people I know who settled down close to where they grew up have leaned toward conservatism while those who traveled far afield seem more liberal in their opinions. My former colleagues from journalism, publishing, entertainment PR and education have broader perspectives I think which encourage tolerance for difference  (the reason why Democrats appear more tolerant of Republicans than vice versa; viz. Obama's numerous failed attempts at bipartisanship).  Most of all, I think travel gives you a unique slant on the rhetoric "back home" and mutes knee-jerk patriotism.

I left America not so much because of my dissatisfaction with "Democrapublican" politics and the expansion of Empire and its wars for oil but because it was cheaper to live abroad and I could survive better outside the U.S. on my Social Security pension.  Abandoning family and long-time friends was no easy decision, despite the convenience of the internet which today allows us to keep in close touch.  If my second marriage hadn't failed I would probably still be there.  The need to reinvent myself led to several years of travel which opened my eyes and doors of opportunity.  Never in my youthful dreams had I ever imagined moving to Asia (Paris was the goal of choice in the 1950s, Mexico in the 1960s and 1970s).  Once ensconced in my expatriate palace in Bangkok, I joined the local branch of Democrats Abroad (who still send me email despite my lack of attendance at their meetings) and discovered that Google News and other sources kept me fully informed about the American scene. There are two English newspapers here with adequate coverage of overseas activities (although strongly biased toward the Thai military royalist elite). Even without TV cable news in English, I can get live telecasts from Russia Today and Al Jazeera on my iPad (which I trust more than similar digital offerings from BBC and CNN).

The longer I lived away from the "greatest country" rhetoric, the more dissatisfied I became with American politics.  Obama has been a huge disappointment.  He quickly sold his soul to the bankers and corporate CEOs, not to mention the military industrial complex and the Jewish lobby.  His policies resemble those of a modern Republican before that party was abducted by aliens.  Of course, Clinton before him was not much better.  In fact he set the trend of abandoning the base for the goals of his corporate backers.  It's a cliché to say that America has the best government money can buy, but it's true.  The rank-and-file in each party blunder along, swallowing the mythical American dream (try selling those lies to the Native Americans and the Mexicans that owned California and Texas before the Europeans took over).  Following the news that is so profoundly and continuously disturbing is clearly an addiction, one that is very difficulty for this long-time news junky to shake.  Time and again I've vowed to break the habit.  I'm an active Facebook user and post frequently, but I've tried to avoid items about the conventions and the upcoming election, choosing to focus instead on stuff of interest about Thailand, Asia and the world in general.  But the monkey on my back keeps biting and refuses to let go.

America Anonymous:  I will not now nor will I ever again vote in another American election, not for Obama and not against Romney/Ryan.  A plague on all their houses.  Since 1960 I've been told to vote for the lesser of two evils.  While I wouldn't call Obama evil, he is clearly a fraud, a snake in sheep's clothing.  That he is clearly a better choice than R/R who wil revisit Bush's efforts to strangle government in a bathtub makes no difference to me.  The Empire is rotten to the core and ultimate doomed (although not, hopefully, until I am gone from the scene since I depend on the continued existence of Social Security).  I'm neither an investigative reporter nor a very wise man, but I've participated in the political process since 1960 and I don't see much change.  Sure, blacks are a little more equal as well as women, but the fat cats are firmly in charge now and the U.S. is the most dangerous threat in the world to global peace.  Democracy and the politics that pretends to sustain it is a failure.

No, America is not the greatest country in the world.  And if I thought there was an Old Testament God, I am certain that he would curse rather than send his blessings.  Hell has a very special place for those politicians who have trashed the American dream. (Thank you, Howard Zinn, for educating me!)

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1 comment:

AB Cordellion said...

Hey fella, thought I'd give you my tuppence worth... as an Englishman, If nothing else, the ones who hate the place, they're still OF it - I'm thinking of Henry Miller, Salinger, Fitzgerald etc etc. So it doesn't live up to its own hype, but would you prefer China or Russia being allowed to throw their weight around?