Creator of Bracing Views. Contributor to TomDispatch, Truthout, HNN, Alternet, Huffington Post, Antiwar, and other sites. Retired AF lieutenant colonel and professor of history. Senior fellow, Eisenhower Media Network
So the FBI has raided Donald Trump’s compound in Mar-a-Lago, where Trump allegedly had classified material squirreled away. Apparently, Trump is being hounded under the Espionage Act passed by Woodrow Wilson during World War I more than a century ago.
Was Trump holding classified material? Was he being careless with this information, perhaps to the extent of endangering national security? I doubt that very much. A few boxes of files (mis)appropriated by Trump, perhaps in his usual careless manner, hardly pose a threat to America’s existence.
I’m much more concerned about the heavy-handed use of the Espionage Act against a former president, even a president I think was a chimp, and the precedent it sets for the future. Are we now going to see the FBI and other law enforcement agencies sent against political opponents in openly partisan attacks? If the Biden Justice Department can openly sic the FBI on the previous president, and Biden’s most likely challenger in 2024, then shouldn’t we expect Trump or some future Republican do the same to Biden? Or Kamala Harris? And on and on?
I can’t help but think this raid on Trump’s home will only help Trump in 2024. This only seems to confirm what Trump always says: that the Deep State is after him, and that only he can take it on, because only he is on your side against big government and its many abuses of power.
Ironically, the Espionage Act is typically used against honorable whistleblowers. People like Daniel Ellsberg, Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, Daniel Hale, and Julian Assange. To think that Donald Trump’s name might be linked to these principled people, however tangentially, beggars belief. Trump’s name shouldn’t be mentioned in the same galactic breath as these truth-tellers, but now it can be, impossible as that seemed a few days ago.
I don’t get it. Trump is a nincompoop who shouldn’t have been president, but this kind of politically motivated raid can only generate sympathy for him among so many people who are tired of a government that pays virtually no attention to their real needs and real security.
It’s safe to say that if Trump runs in 2024, he almost certainly will win (again), because of the stupidity of establishment Democrats who seem to think the only way they can beat him is to turn him into a pariah. Their actions, however, are much more likely turn him into a martyr. And few people deserve that status less than con-man Trump.
Back on June 1st, I noted that Ukraine couldn’t possibly absorb more than $54 billion in U.S. aid, most of it related to weaponry and munitions, given the country’s lack of infrastructure as well as the chaos inherent to a shooting war.
As I wrote back then:
The entire defense budget of Ukraine before the war was just under $6 billion. How can Ukraine possibly absorb (mostly) military “aid” that represents NINE TIMES their annual defense budget? It simply can’t be done…
From a military perspective, the gusher of money and equipment being sent to Ukraine makes little sense because there’s no way Ukraine has the infrastructure to absorb it and use it effectively. The U.S. approach seems to be to flood the zone with weaponry and assorted equipment of all sorts, irrespective of how it might be used or where it might ultimately end up. I can’t see how all this lethal “aid” will stay in the hands of troops and out of the hands of various criminal networks and black markets.
And so it goes. Recent reports suggest that only 30-40% of U.S. military aid is actually reaching Ukrainian troops. The rest is being siphoned off, lost, stolen, what-have-you. The response in U.S. media is to suppress this truth, per dictates from Ukraine!
Caitlin Johnstone does an excellent job of summarizing the case, and since she generously encourages her readers to share her posts, I thought I’d avail myself of her generosity. Without further ado:
Caitlin Johnstone, CBS Tries Critical Journalism; Stops After Ukraine Objects
Following objections from the Ukrainian government, CBS News has removed a short documentary which had reported concerns from numerous sources that a large amount of the supplies being sent to Ukraine aren’t making it to the front lines.
The Ukrainian government has listed its objections to the report on a government website, naming Ukrainian officials who objected to it and explaining why each of the CBS news sources it dislikes should be discounted. After the report was taken down and the Twitter post about it removed, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said this was a good start but still not enough.
“Welcome first step, but it is not enough,” Kuleba tweeted. “You have misled a huge audience by sharing unsubstantiated claims and damaging trust in supplies of vital military aid to a nation resisting aggression and genocide. There should be an internal investigation into who enabled this and why.”
“This article has been updated to reflect changes since the CBS Reports documentary ‘Arming Ukraine’ was filmed, and the documentary is also being updated. Jonas Ohman says the delivery has significantly improved since filming with CBS in late April. The government of Ukraine notes that U.S. defense attaché Brigadier General Garrick M. Harmon arrived in Kyiv in August 2022 for arms control and monitoring.”
CBS News does not say why it has taken so long for this report to come out, why it didn’t check to see if anything had changed in the last few months during a rapidly unfolding war before releasing its report, or why it felt its claims were good enough to air before Kyiv raised its objections but not after.
Someone uploaded the old version of the documentary on YouTube here, or you can watch it on Bitchute here if that one gets taken down. It was supportive of Ukraine and very oppositional to Russia, and simply featured a number of sources saying they had reason to believe a lot of the military supplies being sent to Ukraine aren’t getting where they’re supposed to go.
The original article quotes the aforementioned Jonas Ohman as follows:
“All of this stuff goes across the border, and then something happens, kind of like 30% of it reaches its final destination,” said Jonas Ohman, founder and CEO of Blue-Yellow, a Lithuania-based organization that has been meeting with and supplying frontline units with military aid in Ukraine since the start of the conflict with Russia-backed separatists in 2014.
“30-40%, that’s my estimation,” he said in April of this year.
“The US has sent tens of thousands of anti-aircraft and anti-armor systems, artillery rounds, hundreds of artillery systems, Switchblade armored drones, and tens of millions of rounds of small arms ammunition,” CBS’s Adam Yamaguchi tells us at 14:15 of the documentary. “But in a conflict where frontlines are scattered and conditions change without warning, not all of those supplies reach their destination. Some also reported weapons are being hoarded, or worse fear that they are disappearing into the black market, an industry that has thrived under corruption in post-Soviet Ukraine.”
“I can tell you unarguably that on the frontline units these things are not getting there,” the Mozart Group‘s Andy Milburn tells Yamaguchi at 17:40. “Drones, Switchblades, IFAKs. They’re not, alright. Body armor, helmets, you name it.”
“Is it safe to characterize this as a little bit of a black hole?” Yamaguchi asked him, perhaps in reference to an April report from CNN whose source said the equipment that’s being sent “drops into a big black hole, and you have almost no sense of it at all after a short period of time.”
“I suppose if you don’t have visibility of where this stuff is going, and if you’re asking that question, then it would appear that it’s a black hole, yeah,” Milburn replied.
“We don’t know,” Amnesty International’s Donatella Rovera tells Yamaguchi at 18:45 when asked if it’s known where the weapons being sent to Ukraine are going.
“There is really no information as to where they’re going at all,” Rovera says. “What is more worrying is that at least some of the countries that are sending weapons do not seem to think that it is their responsibility to put in place a very robust oversight mechanism to ensure that they know how they’re being used today, but also how they might and will be used tomorrow.”
A news outlet pulling a report because their own government didn’t like it would be a scandalous breach of journalistic ethics. A news outlet pulling a report because a foreign government didn’t like it is even more so.
We’ve already seen that the western media will uncritically report literally any claim made by the government of Ukraine in bizarre instances like the recent report that Russia was firing rockets at a nuclear power plant it had already captured, or its regurgitation of claims that Russians are raping babies to death from a Ukrainian official who ended up getting fired for promoting unevidenced claims about rape. Now not only will western media outlets uncritically report any claim the Ukrainian government makes, they will also retract claims of their own when the Ukrainian government tells them to.
It’s not just commentators like me who see the western press as propagandists: that’s how they see themselves. If you think it’s your job to always report information that helps one side of a war and always omit any information which might hinder it, then you have given yourself the role of propagandist. You might not call yourself that, but that’s what you are by any reasonable definition of that word.
And a great many western Zelenskyites honestly see this as the media’s role as well. They’ll angrily condemn anyone who inserts skepticism of the US empire’s narratives about Ukraine into mainstream consciousness, but then they’ll also yell at you if you say we’re not being told the truth about Ukraine. They demand to be lied to, and call you a liar if you say that means we’re being lied to.
You can’t have it both ways. Either you want the mass media to serve as war propagandists or you want them to tell the truth. You cannot hold both of those positions simultaneously. They are mutually exclusive. And many actually want the former.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan was a disaster. It angered China, provoking a military response (missile firings and the like) that could escalate into something far worse. It interfered with cooperative efforts between China and the U.S. on vitally important fronts such as climate change. And it featured a startlingly incoherent speech by the Speaker in which she implied Benjamin Franklin was an early U.S. president as she proceeded to misquote and butcher his sentiment on liberty and security. Jimmy Dore does an excellent job here of allowing Pelosi to slay herself with her own words:
So, why did she go to Taiwan? Putting aside her own conceit and vainglory, she went for two reasons. The first was domestic politics. Just as the Democrats have (falsely) accused Trump and the Republicans of being soft on Russia, the Republicans have (falsely) accused Biden and the Democrats of being soft on China. Pelosi’s trip was meant to inoculate the Democrats against charges of “softness” vis-a-vis China. Meanwhile, as both major political parties accuse the other of being “soft” vis-a-vis regional powers (China, Russia), the military-industrial complex continues to cash in with record-setting “defense” budgets.
The second reason is connected to the first. Pelosi’s trip has generated the response the military-industrial complex was looking for from China. Thus on NBC News today, you see the following article that touts a resurgent Chinese military and how it constitutes a major threat to U.S. imperial dominance in the Pacific. The conclusion you’re supposed to draw from this is simple: China is a big-time threat to America, therefore we must spend even more money to “rebuild” America’s military to meet that threat.
There’s possibly a third reason, and that is the unreliability of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as deliverers of a coherent message. Both Biden and Harris rely heavily on teleprompters; when they depart from the script, Biden is liable to blurt out inappropriate remarks that need to be “walked back” by aides, whereas Harris has a tendency to laugh inappropriately to cover her confusion. It’s doubly ironic that the Speaker of the House, sent to speak for America and the Democrats, spoke so poorly and confusingly.
This is no laughing matter, since diplomacy depends on clear communication. Certainly, the Chinese are speaking clearly with their military exercises and diplomatic warnings. That America’s leaders can’t speak clearly and exercise sound judgment is assuredly the clearest sign yet of U.S. decline, a decline that will not be arrested by throwing more money at the military.
Sound policy requires sound leaders. Whatever else one might say, the words of Biden, Harris, and Pelosi are unsound, marking them as not just ineffective leaders but dangerous ones.
Even as gas and diesel prices soar along with global temperatures, American vehicles continue to get bigger. In my first Air Force job in 1985, I had a friend who drove a classic Ford Bronco. It was a little bigger than a jeep and truly meant for off-road adventures in Colorado where four-wheel drive is a necessity. Nowadays, Ford trucks and SUVs are much more likely to resemble military vehicles like Humvees or even MRAPs. Bigger is better, especially for the truck makers and fossil fuel companies, who profit much more by selling and fueling steroidal trucks than Ford Escorts or hybrids.
But there’s a darker side to these steroidal, quasi-military vehicles on America’s roads, notes Stan Cox today at TomDispatch.com. They’re being used to intimidate, to bully, even to injure and kill people that the drivers of these vehicles don’t like. Typical targets are protesters for the BLM movement or women trying to protect abortion rights. When Dodge named their Ram pickup, I really don’t think they meant you should use it as a battering ram, but that seems to be crude animus motivating more than a few white male drivers today.
This phenomenon isn’t just limited to flyover states like Kansas, where Stan Cox lives. Here in Blue Massachusetts, I recently saw a pickup that was proudly flying a “Fuck Joe Biden” flag, modeled after Trump MAGA flags. Heck, I don’t much like Joe Biden, but I don’t feel the need to mount a giant flag on my vehicle to that effect. I guess I’m just too humble or shy — or sane.
Steroidal trucks are nothing new in America, and I’ve seen plenty with stickers that say “No Fear” or even “Fear This.” (You learn quickly to give these idiots on wheels a wide berth.) But using these trucks to hurt people is truly cowardly. What kind of young men are we producing?
The wars are coming home again, America. Just look around at all the mini-tanks in America’s parking lots and driveways.
A final caution: Beware of bully boys with bull bars, coming soon (though I hope not) to a protest near you. If you stand your ground, they might just run you over — and in some states you’ll be to blame for blocking their way.
So use common sense and get out of their way. You’re not the coward: they are.
The first presidential election in which I voted was 1984 and Ronald Reagan got my nod. Back then, I was a Cold War officer-to-be and I wasn’t convinced that Walter Mondale and the Democrats had a handle on anything. Today, I’d be more likely to vote for Mondale, I think, but I still have some affection for Reagan, who dreamed big.
Reagan’s biggest dream was eliminating nuclear weapons, which he came close to doing with Mikhail Gorbachev. Apparently, the sticking point was Reagan’s enthusiasm for the Strategic Defense Initiative, or “Star Wars,” his misbegotten scheme to defend America against nuclear attack. It’s truly a shame that these two leaders didn’t fulfill a shared dream of making the world safer through nuclear disarmament.
Still, Reagan and Gorbachev did eliminate an entire class of nuclear weapons via the intermediate range nuclear forces (INF) treaty, as represented by the American Pershing II and Soviet SS-20 missiles as well as ground-launched nuclear cruise missiles. Sadly, I recall talking to a senior colleague in the early 1990s who relayed an anecdote that he (or someone he knew, I can’t quite recall) had talked to Reagan and praised the ex-president for that achievement, only to be met with a vague look because Reagan apparently couldn’t remember by that point. It appears Reagan did start to suffer from memory loss in his second term in office, and by the early 1990s it wouldn’t surprise me if he couldn’t recall details of nuclear treaties.
Even so, Reagan, despite all his flaws, had a bold vision motivated by human decency. He was something more than a bumbler, and indeed his energy and eloquence were leagues ahead of what Joe Biden exhibits today.
Which put me to mind of this classic “Saturday Night Live” of Reagan in action. Of course, it’s a spoof, but it’s well done and funny while capturing something of Reagan’s own sense of humor:
Please, dear readers, don’t tell me all the crimes of Reagan in the comments section. Nor do I want anyone to whitewash the man. Today, I just wanted to capture Reagan’s abhorrence of nuclear war, which got him to dream of SDI (“Star Wars”) and which almost produced a major breakthrough in total nuclear disarmament.
How shameful is it that Reagan could dream big with Gorbachev but that Biden can’t speak at all to Vladimir Putin?
When I was a college professor, whether civilian or military, I was told unironically that I was part of a “family.” I had an Air Force “family.” I had a Penn College “family.” But when these institutions wanted me to do something, often something I really didn’t want to do, the “family” talk went out the window and I was reminded I was an “employee” in the civilian world and “just another f*cking officer” in the military world. None of this surprised me because I never bought any of that “family” crap. I only have one family, thank you very much, and they are related to me by blood or by marriage. My “family” is not my boss, not my employer.
Management loves to talk about employees as if they’re “family” when they really think of us as “assets” or “products” or even simply “the cost of doing business” (and the quickest way to reduce cost is often to get rid of “family” members).
It’s especially telling to hear corporate/management talk in the sports world. Sam Kennedy, who’s the president of the Red Sox, talks openly about putting the best “product” on the baseball diamond. He doesn’t see his players as people, he reduces them to “assets” that are basically interchangeable. Winning only matters in the sense that it produces profit while elevating the value of the “product.”
Of course, this is nothing new. In Slap Shot (1977), an amusingly vulgar and perceptive movie about a minor-league hockey team starring Paul Newman as an aging player, we learn that the team is owned by a wealthy woman who decides to liquidate the team rather than sell it because it’s more valuable that way as a tax write-off. The players, the fans, all the employees, mean nothing to this absentee owner. All that matters is money.
And of course any Red Sox fan can cite “the curse of the Bambino,” when a century ago the owner of the Red Sox sold Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees to raise money (for a theater production, if memory serves).
Capitalism reduces everything to products, assets, profit margins, and the like. I don’t know about you, but this is not how I think of my real family.
There’s way too much fear mongering in America, which helps to drive the paranoid nature of U.S. foreign and domestic policy. This is the subject of my latest article at TomDispatch.com, which I’ve included below in its entirety. If you don’t read TomDispatch, I urge you to subscribe (top right corner on the home page). Tom Engelhardt has been running the site for 20 years (I’ve been writing for it for 15 of them), and I’ve found the content to be stimulating and thought-provoking. Many thanks for your continued interest in “Bracing Views” as well, which, I joke to Tom, is a little like a baby TomDispatch.
Dystopia, Not Democracy
I have a brother with chronic schizophrenia. He had his first severe catatonic episode when he was 16 years old and I was 10. Later, he suffered from auditory hallucinations and heard voices saying nasty things to him. I remember my father reassuring him that the voices weren’t real and asking him whether he could ignore them. Sadly, it’s not that simple.
That conversation between my father and brother has been on my mind, as I’ve been experiencing America’s increasingly divided, almost schizoid, version of social discourse. It’s as if this country were suffering from some set of collective auditory hallucinations whose lead feature was nastiness.
Of course, America continues to face actual threats to its security and domestic tranquility. Here at home that would include regular mass shootings; controversial decisions by an openly partisan Supreme Court; the Capitol riot that the House January 6th select committee has repeatedly reminded us about; and growing uncertainty when it comes to what, if anything, still unifies these once United States. All this has Americans increasingly vexed and stressed.
Meanwhile, internationally, wars and rumors of war continue to be a constant plague, made worse by the exaggeration of threats to national security. History teaches us that such threats have sometimes not just been inflated but created ex nihilo. Those would, for instance, include the non-existent Gulf of Tonkin attack cited as the justification for a major military escalation of the war in Vietnam in 1965 or those non-existent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq used to justify the 2003 U.S. invasion of that country.
All this and more is combining to create a paranoid and increasingly violent country, an America deeply fearful and perpetually thinking about warring on other peoples as well as on itself.
My brother’s doctors treated him as best they could with various drugs and electroshock therapy. Crude as that treatment regimen was then (and remains today), it did help him cope. But what if his doctors, instead of trying to reduce his symptoms, had conspired to amplify them? Indeed, what if they had told him that he should listen to those voices and so aggravate his fears? What if they had advised him that sanity meant arming himself against those very voices? Wouldn’t we, then or now, have said that they were guilty of the worst form of medical malpractice?
And isn’t that, by analogy, true of America’s leaders in these years, as they’ve driven this society to be ever less trusting and more fearful in the name of protecting and advancing their wealth, power, and security?
Fear Is the Mind-Killer
If you’re plugged into the mental matrix that’s America in 2022, you’re constantly exposed to fear. Fear, as Frank Herbert wrote in Dune, is the mind-killer. The voices around us encourage it. Fear your MAGA-hat-wearing neighbor with his steroidal truck and his sizeable collection of guns as he supposedly plots a coup against America. Alternately, fear your “libtard” neighbor with her rainbow peace flag as she allegedly plots to confiscate your guns and brainwash your kids. Small wonder that more than 37 million Americans take antidepressants, roughly one in nine of us, or that, in 2016, this country accounted for 80% of the global market for opioid prescriptions.
A climate of fear has led to 43 million new guns being purchased by Americans in 2020 and 2021 in a land singularly awash in more than 400 million firearms, including more than 20 million assault rifles. A climate of fear has led to police forces being heavily militarized and fully funded rather than “defunded” (which actually would mean a bit less money going to the police and a bit more to non-violent options like counseling and mental-health services). A climate of fear has led Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives who can agree on little else to vote almost unanimously to fork over $840 billion to the Pentagon in Fiscal Year 2023 for yet more wars and murderous weaponry. (Of course, the true budget for what is still coyly called “national defense” will soar well above a trillion dollars then, as it often has since 9/11/2001 and the announcement of a “global war on terror.”)
The idea that enemies are everywhere is, of course, useful if you’re seeking to create a heavily armed and militarized form of insanity.
It’s summer and these days it just couldn’t be hotter, so perhaps you’ll allow me to riff briefly about a scene I’ve never forgotten from The Big Red One, a war film I saw in 1980. It involved a World War II firefight between American and German troops in a Belgian insane asylum during which one of the mental patients picks up a submachine gun and starts blasting away, shouting, “I am one of you. I am sane!” In 2022, sign him up and give him a battlefield commission.
Where fear is omnipresent and violence becomes routinized and normalized, what you end up with is dystopia, not democracy.
We Must Not Be Friends but Enemies
At this point, consider us to be in a distinctly upside-down world. Reverse Abraham Lincoln’s moving plea to Southern secessionists in his first inaugural address in 1861 — “We must not be enemies but friends. We must not be enemies” — and you’ve summed up all too well our domestic and foreign policy today. No, we’re neither in a civil war nor a world war yet, but America’s national (in)security state does continue to insist that virtually every rival to our imperial being must be transformed into an enemy, whether it’s Russia, China, or much of the Middle East. Enemies are everywhere and must be feared, or so we’re repetitiously told anyway.
I remember well the time in 1991-1992 when the Soviet Union collapsed and America emerged as the sole victorious superpower of the Cold War. I was a captain then, teaching history at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Those were also the years when, even without the Soviet Union, the militarization of this society somehow never seemed to end. Not long after, in launching a conflict against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, this country officially kicked ass in the Middle East and President George H.W. Bush assured Americans that, by going to war again, we had also kicked our “Vietnam Syndrome” once and for all. Little did we guess then that two deeply destructive and wasteful quagmire wars, entirely unnecessary for our national defense, awaited us in Afghanistan and Iraq in the century to come.
Never has a country squandered victory — and a genuinely global victory at that! — so completely as ours has over the last 30 years. And yet there are few in power who consider altering the fearful course we’re still on.
A significant culprit here is the military-industrial-congressional complex that President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned Americans about in his farewell address in 1961. But there’s more to it than that. The United States has, it seems, always reveled in violence, possibly as an antidote to being consumed by fear. Yet the intensity of both violence and fear seems to be soaring. Yes, our leaders clearly exaggerated the Soviet threat during the Cold War, but at least there was indeed a threat. Vladimir Putin’s Russia isn’t close to being in the same league, yet they’ve treated his war with Ukraine as if it were an attack on California or Texas. (That and the Pentagon budget may be the only things the two parties can mostly agree on.)
Recall that, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia was in horrible shape, a toothless, clawless bear, suffering in its cage. Instead of trying to help, our leaders decided to mistreat it further. To shrink its cage by expanding NATO. To torment it through various forms of economic exploitation and financial appropriation. “Russia Is Finished” declared the cover article of the Atlantic Monthly in May 2001, and no one in America seemed faintly concerned. Mercy and compassion were in short supply as all seemed right with the “sole superpower” of Planet Earth.
Now the Russian Bear is back — more menacing than ever, we’re told. Marked as “finished” two decades ago, that country is supposedly on the march again, not just in its invasion of Ukraine but in President Vladimir Putin’s alleged quest for a new Russian empire. Instead of Peter the Great, we now have Putin the Great glowering at Europe — unless, that is, America stands firm and fights bravely to the last Ukrainian.
Add to that ever-fiercer warnings about a resurgent China that echo the racist “Yellow Peril” tropes of more than a century ago. Why, for example, must President Joe Biden speak of China as a competitor and threat rather than as a trade partner and potential ally? Even anti-communist zealot Richard Nixon went to China during his presidency and made nice with Chairman Mao, if only to complicate matters for the Soviet Union.
If imperial America were willing to share the world on roughly equal terms, Russia and China could be “near-peer” friends instead of, in the Pentagon phrase of the moment, “near-peer adversaries.” Perhaps they could even be allies of a kind, rather than rivals always on the cusp of what might potentially become a world-ending war. But the voices that seek access to our heads prefer to whisper sneakily of enemies rather than calmly of potential allies in creating a better planet.
And yet, guess what, whether anyone in Washington admits it or not: we’re already rather friendly with (as well as heavily dependent on) China. Here are just two recent examples from my own mundane life. I ordered a fan — it’s hot as I type these words in my decidedly unairconditioned office — from AAFES, a department store of sorts that serves members of the military, in service or retired, and their families. It came a few days later at an affordable price. As I put it together, I saw the label: “Made in China.” Thank you for the cooling breeze, Xi Jinping!
Then I decided to order a Henley shirt from Jockey, a name with a thoroughly American pedigree. You guessed it! That shirt was plainly marked “Made in China.” (Jockey, to its credit, does have a “Made in America” collection and I got two white cotton t-shirts from it.) You get my point: the American consumer would be lost without China, the present workhouse for the world.
You’d think a war, or even a new Cold War, with America’s number-one provider of stuff of every sort would be dumb, but no one is going to lose any bets by underestimating how dumb Americans can be. Otherwise, how can you explain Donald Trump? And not just his presidency either. What about his “Trump steaks,” “Trump university,” even “Trump vodka”? After all, who could be relied upon to know more about the quality of vodka than a man who refuses to drink it?
Learning from Charlie Brown
Returning to fears and psychiatric help, one of my favorite scenes is from “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” In that classic 1965 cartoon holiday special, Lucy ostensibly tries to help Charlie with his seasonal depression by labeling what ails him. The wannabe shrink goes through a short list of phobias until she lands on “pantophobia,” which she defines as “the fear of everything.” Charlie Brown shouts, “That’s it!”
Deep down, he knows perfectly well that he isn’t afraid of everything. What he doesn’t know, however, and what that cartoon is eager to show us, is how he can snap out of his mental funk. All that he needs is a little love, a little hands-on kindness from the other children.
America writ large today is, to my mind, a little like Charlie Brown — down in the dumps, bedraggled, having lost a clear sense of what life in our country should be all about. We need to come together and share a measure of compassion and love. Except our Lucys aren’t trying to lend a hand at the “psychiatric help” stand. They’re trying to persuade us that pantophobia, the fear of everything, is normal, even laudable. Their voices keep telling us to fear — and fear some more.
It’s not easy, America, to tune those voices out. My brother could tell you that. At times, he needed an asylum to escape them. What he needed most, though, was love or at least some good will and understanding from his fellow humans. What he didn’t need was more fear and neither do we. We — most of us anyway — still believe ourselves to be the “sane” ones. So why do we continue to tolerate leaders, institutions, and whole political parties intent on eroding our sanity and exploiting our fears in service of their own power and perks?
Remember that mental patient in The Big Red One, who picks up a gun and starts blasting people while crying that he’s “sane”? We’ll know we’re on the path to sanity when we finally master our fear, put down our guns, and stop eternally preparing to blast people at home and abroad.
Two images of American exceptionalism to mull over today. The first shows how exceptional the U.S. is with its military spending:
Of course, U.S. military spending is projected to rise in FY 2023 to $840 billion or so. Note how most of the countries that spend significant sums on their military are U.S. allies, such as Germany, the U.K., Japan, and South Korea. Russia is weakening due to its war with Ukraine, yet U.S. military spending continues to soar because of alleged threats from Russia and China.
The second image is a spoof sent by a friend, but it wouldn’t entirely surprise me if it did become the official seal of the Department of Education:
Jesus riding a dinosaur: Why not? We have serious museums for creationists in the U.S., where dinosaurs wear saddles and Adam and Eve are depicted as cavorting with creatures dating to the Jurassic and Cretaceous eras. I’m not sure how they all fit on Noah’s ark, but the Lord does work in mysterious ways.
Given the emphasis on gun rights, babies, and Jesus in America, perhaps the bald eagle isn’t our best national symbol. Perhaps it should be the Baby Jesus holding an assault rifle. It certainly would give new meaning to “love God” and “love thy neighbor.”
It seems the Vietnam War may as well be the Punic Wars for most Americans, i.e. ancient history. Yet it was a scant 50 years ago that America finally pulled out of that disastrous war, leaving a horrific legacy of towns and villages bombed, burned, and poisoned.
High explosive, napalm, Agent Orange, and other ordnance was dropped in massive quantities by U.S. warplanes, yet North Vietnam remained unbowed. The self-serving lesson the U.S. military took from this was twofold. First, it obviously couldn’t be the military’s fault. Blame was most often pinned on alleged civilian micro-management; more bombing, with fewer limits, would have worked, so airpower enthusiasts argued. The second lesson was to hide or otherwise obscure or deny civilian casualties in future wars, a cynical approach lacking in integrity but one we’ve seen used with considerable success in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other places.
These were not the lessons that leaders with integrity would have drawn. But they are the lessons that a system designed to protect itself did draw.
U.S. leaders refuse to consider the costs of war, not only on foreign peoples but also on ourselves. The words of James Hildreth remind us of the costs of war as well as the seductiveness of destruction and of lies.
It’s a lesson to bear in mind, whether with the Russia-Ukraine War or possible future wars, e.g. current talk of a possible war with Iran.
One day, a village of roughly 1200 people in South Vietnam ceased to exist. The U.S. Air Force destroyed it, and the report read “Target 100% destroyed, body-count 1200 KBA (killed by air) confirmed.”
It wasn’t an “enemy” village. It was a village that had failed to pay its taxes to a South Vietnamese provincial commander, a lieutenant colonel and ostensibly a U.S. ally. He wanted the village destroyed to set an example to other recalcitrant villages, and the U.S. Air Force did what it does: It put bombs and napalm on target.
At Seventh Air Force headquarters, the brass knew this village’s “crime.” As a brigadier general said to then-Lieutenant Colonel James Robert “Cotton” Hildreth, “Damn, Cotton, don’t you know what’s going on? That village didn’t pay their taxes. That [South Vietnamese] lieutenant colonel … is teaching them a lesson.”
The other day, a friend asked if I was watching the January 6th hearings about Donald Trump’s role in the Capitol riot. I had to admit I wasn’t.
I’m really not interested in what Trump did or didn’t do on January 6th. I already know he’s guilty.
Guilty of what, you may ask. Guilty of being a colossal narcissist. Guilty of being a sore loser. Guilty of putting himself and his ego before country and comity. Guilty of throwing his own obsequiously loyal Vice President under the bus. Guilty of promulgating the big lie that the election was stolen from him and that, if all the votes were counted, he would have won. Guilty of poor judgment, of meddling. Most of all, guilty of acting liked a spoiled brat who throws temper tantrums when he doesn’t get his way.
In short, he’s guilty of being unqualified by personality and temperament for any public position of trust, let alone of the highest public position in America.
The January 6th hearings aren’t going to teach me anything new here.
Saying all this about Trump doesn’t make me a Joe Biden fan, of course. As I argued before Biden was elected in 2020, he was too much of an establishment tool, too deeply compromised by special interests, and, to be blunt, too old to be president. But people keep telling me he’s the lesser of two evils and that I must vote for him again if he runs in 2024 because Trump or DeSantis or some other Republican is likely to be far worse.
I don’t want to see the January 6th hearings in “prime time” on TV. I want to see what Congress and the President are doing for people struggling to pay their bills, to find affordable housing, to get the medical care they need. What are we doing to control inflation? To raise wages? To make prescription drugs more affordable? To rein in a militaristic empire that is spending wildly on wars and weapons?
What are they doing to bring Americans together? That’s what I want to hear. I don’t need to hear more about Trump. I already know he’s a loser.