It’s amazing how often America’s politicians dismiss proposals that would benefit workers as “too expensive” (such as a higher minimum wage, or more affordable college education, or single-payer health care) versus how much they’re willing to approve for new weapons and wars. With little debate, this year’s “defense” budget will be roughly $750 billion, although the real number exceeds a trillion dollars, as Bill Hartung notes here for TomDispatch. Meanwhile, spending on education, infrastructure improvements, and so on withers.
It’s almost as if the impoverishment of America’s workers is deliberate (some would say it is). Four decades ago, I remember reading Crane Brinton’s “The Anatomy of Revolution” in AP Modern European History. Brinton noted how rising expectations among the lower orders can lead to revolutionary fervor. But if you keep people down, keep them busy working two or three jobs, keep them distracted with “circuses” like unending sports coverage and Trump’s every twitch and tweet, you can control them.
Thus the establishment sees a true populist politician like Bernie Sanders as the real enemy. Bernie raises hopes; he wants to help workers; but that’s not the point of the American system. So, Bernie must be dismissed as “crazy,” or marginalized as a dangerous socialist, even though he’s just an old-fashioned New Dealer who wants government to work for the people.
Related to keeping people under control (by keeping them divided, distracted, and downtrodden) is to keep them fearful. A foreign bogeyman is always helpful here, hence the demonization of Vladimir Putin. An old friend of mine sent me an article this past weekend about Putin’s strategy in reviving Russia. I confess I don’t follow Russia and Putin that closely. But it strikes me that Putin has played a weak hand well, whereas U.S. leaders have played a strong hand poorly.
In the article I noted the following quote by Putin:
[we] need to build our home and make it strong and well protected … The wolf knows how to eat … and is not about to listen to anyone … How quickly all the pathos of the need to fight for human rights and democracy is laid aside the moment the need to realize one’s own interests come to the fore.
Putin’s words are from a decade ago, when the U.S. still talked about fighting for “human rights and democracy.” Under Trump, “one’s own interests” are naked again in U.S. foreign policy under men like John Bolton and Mike Pompeo. Is this progress?
Overall, Russia has learned (or been forced) to limit its foreign burdens, whereas the U.S. is continuing to expand its “global reach.” Russia learned from the Cold War and is spending far less on its military, whereas the U.S. continues to spend more and more. It’s ironic indeed if Russia is the country cashing in on its peace dividend, even as the U.S. still seems to believe that peace is impossible and that war pays.
I wonder if Russia (joined by China) spends just enough on its military to present a threat to the U.S. for those who are so eager to see and exaggerate it. For example, China builds an aircraft carrier, or Russia builds a nuclear cruise missile, not because they’re planning unprovoked attacks against the U.S., but as a stimulus to America’s military-industrial complex. Because America’s reaction is always eminently predictable. The national security state seizes on any move by China or Russia as dangerous, destabilizing, and as justification for yet more military spending. The result is a hollowing out of the U.S. (poorer education, fewer factories, weaker economy, collapsing infrastructure), even as China and Russia grow comparatively stronger by spending more money in non-military sectors.
There are complicated forces at work here. Of course, Ike’s military-industrial-Congressional complex is always involved. But there’s also a weird addiction to militarism and violence in the USA. War, gun violence, and other forms of killing have become the background noise to our lives, so much so that we barely perceive the latest mass killing, or the latest overseas bombing gone wrong. (I’d also add here the violence we’re doing to our environment, our earth, our true “homeland.”)
I mentioned violence to my old friend, and he sent me this note:
On violence and American cultural DNA one place to start is Richard Slotkin’s trilogy, Regeneration Through Violence, The Fatal Environment, and Gunfighter Nation… The gist of what I have gotten about Slotkin’s thesis is that America’s frontier past trained settlers to think of violence (against natives and against each other) as forms of rebirth both for the individual and for the community.
My friend’s comment about violence and rebirth made me think of the film “Birth of a Nation” (1915) and the infamous scene of the KKK riding to the rescue. We in America have this notion that, in one form or another, a heavily armed cavalry will ride to the rescue and save us (from savage Indians, violent immigrants, etc.). In a strange way, Trump’s campaign tapped this notion of rebirth through violence. Think of his threats against immigrants – and his promises to build a wall to keep them out – and his threats to torture terrorists and even to kill their families.
Trump tapped a rich seam of redemption through violence in the USA, this yearning for some sort of violent apocalypse followed by a “second coming,” notably in conservative evangelical circles. For when you look at “end times” scenarios in evangelical settings, peaceful bliss is not the focus. Suffering of the unredeemed is what it’s all about. Christ is not bringing peace but a sword to smite all the evildoers.
For people who suffer toil and trouble daily, such apocalyptic visions are a powerful distraction and may serve as a potent reactionary tonic. Why fight for Bernie’s political revolution when Christ’s return is imminent?
That’s enough musing for one Monday morning. Readers, what say you?
17 thoughts on “Monday Musings About America”
I think all nations through all time have a desire for blood. The desire rises and falls but is always there. I use the word “nation” to mean not all residents of a state but the majority of people of common cultural and linguistic heritage, who form a pseudo mystical ‘people, the volk in German.
In any case the lust for the blood of enemies, external or internal is shared by many. Others, like those who visit here, don’t seem to have that.
So well said. Having grown up Catholic and travelled in evangelical circles during my ‘formative’ years, I’ve spent a lifetime bemoaning the fact that christians at large don’t get on board to fight for the big issues that threaten us all: violence, poverty, war, disease, over-population and contamination of the environment. Admittedly, there are plenty of examples of christians working quietly without fanfare to do the right thing but are they the norm or the exceptions to the norm?
We don’t hear much about Christian liberation theology, do we? Christ as a reformer is absent.
But Christ as Lord, Redeemer, and Victor at the End Times — that we do hear a lot about.
Well said. The unanswered question is what will turn around America’s preference for “guns over butter”?
Scores of Americans regularly coming home in body bags or bombing raids on American cities and UAV strikes on picnickers might make butter look more appealing than the gun. No empire in history has been able to wage widespread war and avoid paying a high toll for it in blood and tears and attacks on its “homeland.” For most Americans war is an abstract concept that happens to other people.
I remember reading about a high school class that communicated over the internet with a middle-class Iraqi girl in Mosul during the Anglo-American invasion of Iraq. She documented her thoughts and feelings about the war and the students could comment on them and ask her questions. At first she was hopeful that life after Saddam would be freer and less restrictive and that the fighting would be short lived. But as the invasion ground on and the number of civilians being shot dead by the American occupiers steadily increased, her mood and attitude began to change.
She was particularly incensed by the reckless and disrespectful attitude of the US troops. Everyone had stories of relatives and friends being killed while going about their daily lives. After her grandfather was shot and killed because a soldier thought he had a gun she remarked on how depressed she had become and wished the Americans would just pack up and go home. Some of the American students were very annoyed by this and said to her well, it’s too bad your grandfather was killed but it wasn’t deliberate and we are only there to help free you guys….you shouldn’t be so negative and depressed, after all we Americans went through 9/11 and didn’t let that get us down.
Only people who have no reference points for what it feels like to be on the receiving end of a war could be this tone-deaf and unable to empathize with someone who is. Americans naive and casual attitude towards war would quickly change if they had to suffer the same consequences as the people America is is constantly trying to “help.”
Speaking of ostensibly “Christian” End-Times political theology, how about the ugly truth of the matter:
Left Behind by Jesus
Jesus loves the rich, you know
Ask them, they will tell you so
Help the poor? Why that’s a crime!
Best to work them overtime
Off the books, though, lest they say
That you owe them extra pay
Jesus loves those tax cuts, too
Just for some, though, not for you
See a poor kid that’s a clerk?
Send him to Iraq to work
Jesus loves the army, see?
Just the place for you and me
Not the rich, though, they don’t serve
What a thought! What perfect nerve!
If you think this life’s a pain
Wait till Jesus comes again
Then on Armageddon Day
He will take the rich away
Sure, you thought that you’d go, too,
Not that you’d get one last screw
Just like your retirement
That the rich already spent
Jesus with the winners goes
Losers, though, just get the hose
What on earth would make you think
That your lord’s shit doesn’t stink?
After all he left you here
With the rich, so never fear
They’ll upon your poor life piss
In the next life and in this
Jesus loves the rich, so there!
Don’t complain it isn’t fair
Jesus said to help themselves
Then he’d help them stock their shelves
So they did and he did, too
What has this to do with you?
Jesus loves the rich just fine
Why’d you think he pours their wine?
Jesus votes Republican
Ask them: they’ll say “He’s the One!”
Still a few loose coins around
That the rich have not yet found
Gotta go now, never mind
If you end up left behind
Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright 2006
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Or, as I once thought of including in my Master’s Degree thesis in Religious Studies (with a concentration in Buddhism):
(from Fernando Po, U.S.A., America’s post-literate retreat to Plato’s Cave)
The Christians, Jews, and Muslims found
A way to test their wits
These Boobies hung themselves on poles
Or threw themselves in pits
To slash and stab and stone themselves
In atavistic fits
Domestic quarrels such as these
Have seldom led to peace
But only to more arguments
Which somehow never cease
Until divorce brings happiness
Or martyrdom’s release
The concept of the single “gawd”
Leaves little more to mock
Yet charlatans consider it
Their tawdry trade and stock:
No worse idea ever crept
From underneath a rock
The dabbler in theology
Ties thinking up in knots
And ends up “proving” theories with
Those Rorschach ink-stain blots
A schizophrenic exercise
In complicating plots
Mistaking recrudescence for
The Boobie brain has failed so let’s
Just stumble back in time
And live two thousand years ago
In darkness, plague, and grime
The priests and kings would love it, though.
They always have and will.
If science hadn’t come along,
We’d live in darkness still
Enslaved to kings and priests intent
On feeding us their swill
The frightened ones need pity but
That doesn’t make them king
With autocratic power to
Dictate the tune we sing
The choir has many voices and
Each one deserves to ring
So let us hear no more of “spooks”
Somewhere “up in the sky”
Not singular, not plural, not
A girl and not a guy;
And certainly not “sacred” which
Means only: Don’t ask “why?”
Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2006-2017
Mike: The so-called Prosperity Gospel is something to behold. Jesus favors His elect by showering them with money and worldly goods! Who knew?The total opposite of Biblical teachings about God versus Mammon, but so what? Preachers will run with what sells, and the prosperity gospel sure has proven to be popular.
Greed is not only good — it’s downright holy, a sign of God’s favor. So go for it, all ye capitalists, and screw the unfavored and unelect on your way to the top!
Can we address the elephant in the room regarding religion and Russia? Most religions tend to have the goal of converting members of all others to their doctrine (I know of very few exceptions). Prosperity doctrine is the absolute worst, since it seeks to bilk the entire world out of its wealth for the benefit of the, for lack of a better term, Prosperity Clergy. Russia is currently pissing off the Global Church of the Almighty Dollar (GCAD) by shrugging off sanctions and moving toward self-sustainability. The oil industry is growing rapidly there, and the Germans have been licking their chops at the prospect of getting cheap oil through Eastern Europe, but Putin himself has repeatedly ordered Russian oil tankers to turn round and come home whenever he finds out about a domestic fuel shortage. This takes a substantial chunk of tithe out of the GCAD. Saddam Hussein did the same thing when he tried switching from a Petrodollar to a PetroEuro system, and we all know what happened next. International coalitions of tree-huggers have also lambasted Russia for not using more green energy, citing the dubious claim that “China is now the leader in green energy,” but keep in mind that Russia has one-tenth the population of China (and the same as Japan, coincidentally), so pollution is not nearly as much of a concern there. Russia’s ways are not the world’s ways, and this irritates all those, both on the left and the religious right, who desire a one-world government. There is nothing they hate more than a nation, particularly one with a tremendous amount of natural resources, that just wants to be left alone.
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The doctrine I preach goes something like this:
The State is a social organism that self-reproduces through violence. The State has been around pretty much since the dawn of food surpluses, because once surplus is established you create an incentive for someone to try and secure it by force.
Over time, States – like all organisms, dependent on resources to survive, – evolved to become the most potent form of human organization the planet. Colonization exported the particular European model of the State across the globe, a massive extension of networks of violence aimed at securing resources needed to pursue expansion at home.
The State is all about perpetual warfare. Clausewitz got it half-right: War *is* policy carried out through violent means, but not only abroad – the State is inherently committed to deploying violence in the territory it controls, too. A robber gang settling down to farm taxes.
The State is always run by such an elite, which is sometimes displaced – but because the infrastructure remains, the State continues. And so does the violence.
The State is an organism, and we are its food. And States over time are inherently bound to seek out more food, produce more violence, because so long as insecurity exists, making people afraid another and more Predatory State will come along next, the State as a concept will have a niche to fill.
The American State has slowly expanded and evolved to consume first the American continent, committing genocide against the indigenous peoples, and then it consumed the American government.
Since the Second World War, the American State has embraced Empire – hence the unending global commitments, the endless search for a new enemy to fight, no matter how weak that enemy is in reality. World War Two is now the foundation myth of an American Empire, which seeks global domination – MORE so under Trump, who is simply shifting the network of alliances in order to blackmail and bully Europe.
If you want to make any progress against the violence sweeping our world, you have to figure out how to tame – or kill, the State. All States. Everywhere. Forever.
Which, incidentally, is why I think Sanders’ “socialist revolution” rhetoric is both doomed, and a historic mistake. The State is fine with socialism, though naturally the present set of elites see it as anathema – it threatens their interests.
Unless and until I see someone with a plan to challenge and dismantle the American State itself, I have little to no hope for the future of the United States.
Just back from a seven-week trip to the US and thinking about all those down-and-out homeless souls I saw in Portland, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco (although I realize that other major cities and small towns feature similar ugly sights):
Driving Money-Changers INTO the Temple
Jesus, we hear, had no use for the greedy
Changers of money: those wolves selling fraud.
Out of the Temple he drove them, and speedy,
Cursing them as an affront to his God;
Preaching, instead, to take care of the needy:
Doctrine that Christians once found hardly odd.
Now Pence and Trump claim that Jesus loves money
Temples for gambling they claim He has built.
Wall Street, they say, flows with sweet milk and honey:
Taxpayer bail-outs untroubled by guilt.
Robbing the working class, they find quite funny,
Driving the shaft up their butts to the hilt.
Jesus now preaches “success” for the wealthy.
“Losers,” The Lord says, should just get the lash.
Out in the open and no longer stealthy,
Just grab it all and make off with the stash.
“Christians” in “Red” States find billionaires healthy:
Jesus now prays at their Altar of Cash.
Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2019
Mike: I love this scene from the 2nd “Wall Street”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Yv4bbOBo-U
“I once said greed is good — now it seems it’s legal.”
But I’d go even further than Gordon Gekko — now it seems greed is holy. We’re supposed to covet everything.
Greed has gotten greedier, with envy mixed in, even as there are homeless in the streets. And no one is responsible, as Michael Douglas says in this scene.
This popped up in my YouTube feed two days ago, and I just now got around to listening to it:
It’s called “God, Incorporated: the Big Business of Religion.” I recommend checking it out.
i just read through your web site, navy nuclear as well as languages, asian to boot … i was a 6 year old kid when you enlisted, my step dad had just finished his navy hitch wrenching on Phantom engines.
i grew up in silly con valley. for whatever reason i was a bit more aware of what was going on in the world than the other kids i grew up with. we had a very charmed existence, and obviously didn’t realize it. my step dad pointed that out to me from time to time.
thank you for keeping punks like me free.
it is my belief, that is ultimately what you were doing over there. imperfectly of course, everyone already had that figured out. but show me perfection in the affairs of men especially in the political sense. the shortage of angels is everlasting. and rarely are they appreciated when they show up.
the system will always be gamed by those able to do so. hopefully our system will continue to allow good people to remain good, and hopefully do more than just get by.
many groups of people in the world do much worse. for America to fail won’t do them any good either. i see extremely few good men in power elsewhere in the world. quite the opposite.
What does not seem to be realised is that Christianity was a pacifist religion during the first 300 years of its existence. Then the church of Rome did a deal with the devil, Constantine. He could send his troops into battle under the banner of Christ, and Catholicism would become the religion of the Roman Empire – hence the Holy Roman Empire.
How to square that with the preaching of Christ? The Bishop of Rome – Ambrose – and the Bishop of Hippo – Augustine – set to work to define ‘The Just War’. Everyone was much relieved and, of course, they could both be sanctified. Win-win.
Yes. Constantine’s Fatal Gift.
What passes for Christianity now, especially in the United States, more closely resembles Old Testament Judaism with a sloppy, slapped-on veneer of Apocalyptic “End Times” Revelation. A vengeful Jesus taking up Dad’s work of punishing and dispossessing non-believers — eventually to include the Jews themselves once they have all returned to “Israel” — in yet another periodic rendition of the Medieval Crusades, the most recent of which began in 1948 with the Zionist Occupation of Palestine and which continues to this day.
Constantine’s betrayal of the empire’s loyal pagans for a some questionable political support from squabbling Christians in Rome — and then moving the imperial capital eastward to Byzantium — set the stage for imperial collapse in the European West with a virulent, mutant “Christianity” waiting in scattered monasteries for some converted Vikings to emerge from five centuries of darkness, conflating “Heaven” with Valhala and killing for Christ instead of for Odin. “Kill them all,” said the Papal Legate of the barely distinguishable Cathar and Catholic Christians at Bezier in Southern France. “God will know his own.” See each successive US war on somebody for the American military’s rendition of that timeless order: “Kill them all and let […] sort it out.”
Crusading Judeo-Christianity, American style. Thanks a lot, Emperor Constantine. Your “gift” just keeps on giving.
Yes. Michael Murry you are correct. Many years ago I stayed at an Istanbul hotel & had a good conversation with an American Theologist. He laughed at my tour of “Mary’s House”. “Could be, but probably moved on to Syria”. Most important, he claimed the “End of Times” in the original Greek Bible was an ‘add on’ – written by some nut. When the scholars in Rome transferred Greek to Latin, they roared through the perfect Greek Gospels. “End of Times” was a sloppy translation, by some nut. The scholars had great difficulty translating it correctly! And admitted they couldn’t.
Here we are, 1000’s of years later, concentrating on questionable additions to the Bible. Yet His WONDERFUL Gospels are barely mentioned today.
No money in that! “End of Times” is profit centre for the MIC
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