How to Prevent a Coup in Washington

W.J. Astore

Three retired Army generals recently wrote an op-ed at The Washington Post on their fears of a coup in the aftermath of the next presidential election in 2024. Their scenario: Biden gets reelected, but Trump or a Trump-like candidate refuses to concede. A hyper-partisan military splits, with some units throwing their support to the loser, leading to a coup attempt. The three generals further suggest that the military must act now to prepare for, and thus to prevent, such a coup.

I have several thoughts on this. First, and most obvious, is the military’s oath of office, which is to the U.S. Constitution. If the U.S. military, with all its authority in our society, and all the colossal sums of money we give it, can’t be trusted to honor its oath, then there is truly something fundamentally wrong with its leadership and its ethos. I would suggest immediate public firings and prosecution of any leaders who put political partisanship before the U.S. Constitution and the oath of office.

Second, what’s most striking to me is what these generals don’t say. They talk about partisanship and seem to assume the enemy is solely from the Trumpian wing of the Republican Party. If Trump would just disappear, along with his movement, America would be just fine. Really?

Here’s my take: Partisanship surely does exist, but it needs to be understood. It needs to be connected to America’s disastrous and dishonest wars and also to the greedy and dishonest behavior of the generals. If military veterans are dangerous, it’s because they feel betrayed. They believe their situation is hopeless — and thus many are alienated and angry. A Trump-like figure can exploit this alienation and anger precisely because the Democratic Party is doing so little to help the working classes, including military veterans. (Of course, Republicans are arguably doing even less.)

If you want fewer hyper-partisan veterans, give them something tangible, like higher wages, affordable health care, better job opportunities — some recognition that their sacrifices were not in vain. Show them you’re working to enrich all citizens, not just those who are already in the top 10%, or the top 1% for that matter. 

That said, I want to stress the culpability of the U.S. military in creating the potential conditions for a coup. The warrior ethos of today’s all-volunteer military is corrosive to democratic society. It’s the generals who advanced this warrior ethos, and it’s the generals who accepted, even applauded, the elimination of the draft. They didn’t want a citizen-military that would question the constitutionality of aggressive wars overseas. Now, a few of them admit to worrying about those demobbed “warriors” who’ve learned to believe less in the Constitution and more in the shock and awe of decapitating strikes.

These generals further fail to note the total lack of accountability within the senior leadership of the U.S. military for Iraq and Afghanistan, among other disasters. Indeed, the generals have, almost to a man, cashed in, none more so than General Stanley McChrystal, who actually was fired for cause. The vast majority of today’s generals retire with six-figure pensions and go immediately to work for the military-industrial complex. In place of Cincinnatus or George Washington, their role model is Gordon Gekko.

Want to stop future coup attempts? Admit to veterans that the wars they fought were based on, driven by, and perpetuated with lies. Unite to advance true democratic reforms. Act to ensure all future wars are defensive and authorized only by congressional declaration. And return to the citizen-soldier traditions of Cincinnatus and George Washington. Most of all, seek peace, among ourselves and with all nations.

Cincinnatus surrendered power and went back to the plow. George Washington has been called the American Cincinnatus. Today’s generals are much more fond of cashing in (Image courtesy of ohkylel @twitter)

The Herman Cain Award Subreddit and What It Says about America’s Political Crisis

Deaths from Covid-19 in the U.S. recently passed 800,000 with no signs of abating. The blame game is also not abating. Are corrupt elites exacerbating and exploiting a crisis for their own interests? Are “irrational” elements at lower levels exhibiting mass resentments at being bossed around? Why does everything seem polarized in America, even “common sense” steps to save lives during a raging pandemic? M. Davout uses the lens of the “Herman Cain Award” to take a closer look at America’s Covid dilemma. He reaches a conclusion that will challenge many. W.J. Astore

Learning from the Herman Cain Award

M. Davout

As America undergoes a series of overlapping domestic political crises—notably among them, determined attacks on democratic election processes, fierce resistance to public health responses during a deadly pandemic, reckless brinkmanship over federal government budgeting and debt payment—commentators often resort to the notion of political polarization as an explanation of our problems. A recent case in point is the disapproving mainstream media response to the Herman Cain Award (HCA) subreddit, which is devoted to showcasing the social media posts of anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers who get sick with Covid-19 and end up in hospital ICUs in need of breathing assistance.

Herman Cain, you might remember, was a failed candidate for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination.  He attended a Trump reelection campaign rally in Tulsa, posted a photo of himself and his entourage at the rally unmasked while belittling concerns about Covid, and then died of the disease six weeks later.

Herman Cain

For any given recipient of the Herman Cain Award, the presentation of captured social media posts follows a typical arc. The early posts feature memes and images disparaging Fauci, Biden, the medical establishment, mRNA vaccines, and masked and vaccinated Americans (“sheep”), intermixed with memes and images exalting Trump, the healing powers of Jesus, the adequacy of their own unvaccinated immune systems, and their independent and courageous selves (“lions”). Then comes a series of posts notifying followers of their falling ill with Covid and their shock at the severity of the symptoms, their eventual hospitalization and need for prayers. Finally, posting duties fall to a relative or friend of the afflicted, who reports on the increasingly more radical medical procedures undergone, the almost inevitable decline in organ health, and eventual death. GoFundMe appeals for donations to cover the obscenely high medical expenses round out many of the HCA posts.

Many of the comment threads for each post could fairly be characterized as largely (though not exclusively) being exercises in schadenfreude. Some posters belittle the pleas for aid from “prayer warriors” and the all-caps invocations of divine intervention to heal failing organs. Self-proclaimed liberal commentators sarcastically express their “dismay” at being “owned” by conservatives who have scored ideological points at the cost of their lives. Accusations are often lodged against rightwing media celebrities and GOP politicians who amplify the conspiratorial memes which appear again and again on the social media accounts of the HCA recipients.

Occasional critical reference is made to the facilitating roles played by foreign disinformation campaigns in broadcasting lies and to Big Tech in channeling lies to those most susceptible to believing them. But, by and large, the commentators are unrelentingly hostile to the HCA recipients themselves for “shitposting” the lies to their family, friends, and other social media followers, and leaving family members bereft and financially devastated when they die.  

In a recent New York Times article, an academic psychologist is paraphrased as arguing that “these websites are an outgrowth of the nation’s extreme polarization.”

To my mind, application of the notion of polarization to a political crisis or conflict encourages one to withhold judgment about the truth claims and reasonability of each of the two sides to a dispute. Particularly in the case of the HCA, polarization is too simplistic a way of understanding the fierceness of the social media pushback against vaccine denial and the avoidable deaths such denial causes. For me, the HCA posts are better understood in the context of a perennial question in my academic field about political dysfunction: is political crisis more a product of the pursuit of unaccountable power by corrupt elites or is it more a product of mass resentments which often find expression in campaigns of scapegoating and demonizing people?

Political theorist Michael Rogin usefully framed this issue within a longstanding debate between “realist” scholars who frame historical episodes of political dysfunction (e.g., McCarthyism) as products of elite-driven programs of political repression serving the interests of capitalism, the state apparatus or other powerful institutions, and “symbolist” scholars, who emphasize the dangers of popular indulgence in conspiratorial thinking and paranoid fears of racial, ethnic, religious or cultural “others.”

In response to the needless prolongation of the Covid pandemic, many of the HCA commentators seem to have taken the symbolist position, blaming rightwing members of the polity for indulging and promoting paranoia (e.g., drawing parallels between public health measures against Covid and Nazi genocide) and conspiratorial thinking (e.g., the offer of free vaccines as a Trojan horse for socialized medicine). To be sure, there are voices among them that take the realist position of blaming rightwing political and media elites for instrumentalizing populist anxieties for their own power interests.

So rather than characterize HCA commentary simply as “cruel sentiment,” I see much of that commentary as lodging symbolist (and, in some cases, realist) critiques of a deadly form of political dysfunction afflicting our public life, namely the perverse resistance of an irrational minority to reasonable and time-tested public health measures aimed at protecting all of us from exposure to a disease that kills far too many and disables many more.

M. Davout is a professor of political science and an occasional contributor to Bracing Views.

Disagreeing Without Being Disagreeable: The Kyle Rittenhouse Verdict

W.J. Astore

Disagreements are part of life. And indeed my friends, and readers of this blog, have been known to disagree with me. And thank goodness for that! Who’d want obsequious toadies for friends? And, if I’m writing articles that are truly “bracing,” obviously I should expect disagreements. And I do, which is one of the best aspects of this site. We learn from people who disagree with us, that is, when they have reasons well supported by facts, or wisdom learned from their own life experiences, and so on.

America is highly polarized today, and it seems as if people can no longer disagree without being disagreeable. Discussions quickly become arguments, which turn into shouting matches, with lots of name-calling and attacks on people and their alleged motives and leanings.

There’s nothing wrong with impassioned disagreement. But too many people start from there and quickly descend to being disagreeable, even violently so. The end result is that no common ground is discovered, nothing is learned, and any kind of concerted action to effect meaningful change is sabotaged.

Take the case of Kyle Rittenhouse. He was recently acquitted of murder after shooting three people during a Black Lives Matter protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, that turned violent. The jury found that there wasn’t enough evidence to convict him beyond a reasonable doubt. I’ve watched video from the protests, and it appears to me that Rittenhouse acted in self-defense. Other people may watch this video evidence and watch the trial and reach a different conclusion, and that’s OK. We should be able to discuss this reasonably and rationally, while putting some faith in the verdict reached by the jury.

Kyle Rittenhouse (SEAN KRAJACIC/PHOTOGRAPHER: SEAN KRAJACIC /GET)

Scanning my Facebook feed, however, I see polarization and vituperation about the verdict. It seems like if you agree with the verdict of “not guilty,” you’re obviously a white supremacist, a gun enthusiast, and a Trump supporter. On the other hand, if you disagree with the verdict, you’re obviously a libtard who hates guns and wants to defund the police. It’s a disagreeable mess with no common ground except mutual suspicion, even hate.

Even as I wrote those words, I got an email with an article on the verdict:

Kyle Rittenhouse, white supremacy, and the privilege of self-defense

Rittenhouse has the benefit of boyhood — white boyhood

By Jeneé Osterheldt

In this article, Osterheldt writes that the three white victims of Rittenhouse were “perceived to be fighting for Black lives to matter,” so their lives were “also up for grabs.” But Rittenhouse, also white, was supported by the system because he “believ[ed] in the authority of whiteness.” His life was apparently never “up for grabs.”

This author then authoritatively declares that: “Had he [Rittenhouse] been white and protecting Black lives in Kenosha instead of purportedly protecting cars, he’d be in prison. Or maybe cops would have pepper-sprayed him instead of giving him gratitude and water. Rittenhouse has the privilege of white power.”

Again, based on the video evidence and the trial, I don’t see this verdict as being driven by “white power” and privilege. Rittenhouse’s first victim was a man who chased him, threatened him, and tried to take his gun from him. The second victim was beating Rittenhouse with a skateboard. The third victim (wounded in the arm) was pointing a gun at Rittenhouse, as he himself admitted during the trial. The jury watched the videos, heard the testimony, and decided Rittenhouse’s actions did not constitute murder or attempted murder. From what I’ve seen and heard, I agree with the jury.

Now, it shouldn’t matter, but all three of Rittenhouse’s victims were white. Two of the three were attacking him before they were shot (the two he killed), and the other pointed a handgun at him (the one he wounded). The first man he shot was mentally unbalanced; video at the scene shows him shouting racial obscenities, including the N-word, at Blacks, daring them to shoot him.

So, I disagree that Rittenhouse’s acquittal is an example of white privilege and power. I shouldn’t have to say this, but I’ll add that I support the Black Lives Matter movement, that I’m not a “gun enthusiast,” and that I’ve never voted for Trump and never will. (I’m not a fan of Biden either.)

We can disagree based on evidence, reason, facts. We can disagree without being disagreeable. Can’t we?

Our National Health Care Plan

W.J. Astore

Fifteen years ago, I saw a bumper sticker on a colleague’s car:

Our National Health Care Plan — Don’t Get Sick.

That’s about as succinct an expression of U.S. health care as you can make. We have no national health care plan. Your only hope is not to get sick, or, if you do get a serious (read: expensive) illness, to die quickly before you and yours are bankrupted.

I often joke that health care is really wealth care in America, and an anecdote shared by a friend this morning confirmed it. He recently had a bad case of the flu, but he confirmed it wasn’t Covid-19 through home test kits. Since he travels to Germany, he bought several home test kits there that were on sale for the equivalent of roughly one dollar. Compare that to Covid home test kits at CVS here in America (assuming you can find one), which retail for $30.00. As my friend noted, “Your profit-driven health care industry at work!”

Profiting from sickness is truly an “exceptional” feature of American capitalism. Isn’t it wonderful that you have the “freedom” to purchase private, for-profit, health insurance that costs you hundreds of dollars a month, with deductibles of $5000 or $10,000 or higher, with co-pays and various other costs and restrictions? Truly, freedom isn’t free!

A reminder: Joe Biden ran against Medicare for all and said he’d veto it if it ever reached his desk, which it obviously won’t. But he did promise a public (government-provided) option for health care, a promise he has failed to keep, just as Barack Obama failed to keep his promise for a public option in 2008-09. And the Democrats wonder why so many people either don’t vote or vote for an even more pro-business party.

The latest betrayal is the Democratic Party’s capitulation to Big Pharma. Instead of allowing Medicare to negotiate prices for all prescription drugs, the Democrats have decided to allow negotiation for only 10 drugs, the new prices of which won’t become effective until 2025. One of these drugs is insulin. So if your insulin costs too much and you need to ration it, thereby imperiling your health, never fear: maybe in four years it’ll be affordable again. Or maybe not.

And if you’re sick and you need an expensive drug that’s not one of the magical ten, well, too bad for you. Maybe you shouldn’t have gotten sick. Or maybe you should have gotten a job with better health care benefits. It’s most certainly your fault, not the government’s and certainly not that of the profit-driven health care industry.

Clint Eastwood, in “The Outlaw Josey Wales,” said that “Dying ain’t much of a living.” That may have been true about bounty hunting, but it turns out that many indeed are making a living, indeed a killing, off of health care in America. Hooray capitalism!

Are You Ready for Four More Years of Trump?

W.J. Astore

I had no idea America elected Joe Manchin and the Senate Parliamentarian as the two most powerful people in our country. Senator Manchin has been the convenient obstacle and scapegoat for the corporate Democrats. He’s allegedly blocked tougher action on climate change. He’s helped to defund efforts to make community college free, to extend Medicare, to lower prescription drug prices, and so on. The Senate Parliamentarian, meanwhile, who is in fact unelected and has no real power, ruled that hiking the minimum wage is something that simply can’t be countenanced under budgetary reconciliation rules. I think I got that right, not that it matters. It’s all a smokescreen, it’s all BS. The Democratic Party, like the Republican, answers to the owners and donors. It is doing exactly what it’s been told to do, abandoning all its progressive promises (it never had any principles) in the false name of compromise and bipartisanship.

And this is exactly why Donald Trump will be reelected in 2024.

Not that the corporate-owned Democrats care, mind you. Things are actually easier for them with Trump in office. They can raise more money off their fake “resistance” to Trump, and they can wash their hands of tax cuts for the rich and more and more corporate-friendly deals, blaming them on Trump when of course the Democrats too support all these things. For that matter, so too does the Supreme Court. Justices like Brett Kavanaugh, Neil Gorsuch, and Amy Coney Barrett weren’t just picked because they lean against abortion: they were picked because of their pro-business sympathies. Joined by Justices Roberts and Thomas and Alito, corporations can count on winning cases in their favor by at least a 6-3 margin. Corporations are people, my friends, and they rule us through the political parties they own and the court they have packed.

If many Americans don’t know this, they certainly sense it. They know politicians like Biden and Harris are phonies. They are so phony that people actually prefer a twice-divorced wife-cheater, con man, and reality TV host like Trump for his authenticity. At least Trump speaks their language and apes their grievances.

Former President Obama, meanwhile, gives speeches blaming the voters for not voting. He says with a straight face that we can’t always get what we want, but that if you don’t despair and keep voting blue no matter who, you may yet get a few crumbs after 2024. Who believes this anymore?

Hillary Clinton and the DNC were so bad in 2016 that America elected a failed casino owner with a fake university named after him. Biden/Harris and the DNC are so bad now that in 2024 America will elect a bloviating dictator wannabe and coup-plotter who threw his own VP under the bus as president. Yup, the same guy again. Maybe this time Ivanka will run the World Bank or possibly the State Department (can she be worse than Mike Pompeo?).

That blurry man is returning — and so too is his daughter. Not so sure about the guy on the right

America has become a very bad joke — worst of all, the joke’s on us.

Was Spock “Queer”?

W.J. Astore

Friendship? Bromance? Something more? Spock and Kirk in an “intimate” moment

Was Spock “queer”? Of course he was, by one definition of the word. He was unique. And he was (and remains) my favorite character on “Star Trek.”

If you’re a fan of the show, you may have heard of a rich literature that suggests Kirk and Spock were something more than friends. That they were, in some sense, lovers. And indeed there apparently exists plenty of imaginary pornographic imagery of such a relationship, which, to be honest, I have not checked out. I’ll use my own imagination here.

The whole idea of Spock as queer was revived for me by this article at Tropics of Meta:

When I watched “Star Trek” in reruns in the 1970s, I never thought of Spock as “queer” in this way.  I viewed him as exceptionally loyal and in such a close friendship with Kirk that it transcended our limited sexual categories. But just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so too can be other forms of attraction.

The notion of Spock’s “queerness” strikes me as part of the richness of “Star Trek.”  That it’s open to multiple interpretations.  That it had complex characters who couldn’t be reduced to one type.

As a character, Spock was truly a stroke of genius.  Half Vulcan, half human.  Always alien — and always conflicted. Spock is a friend and inspiration to anyone who doesn’t quite fit in. Anyone who feels himself or herself (or themselves!) to be “alien” in some way.

His superior, Captain Kirk, seems to be a conventional ladies’ man, but you get the sense they’re all disposable.  Kirk is in love with his ship, with his command, and the only “human” who’s truly indispensable to him is Spock, or so it seems to me.

They had a “queer” relationship in the best sense of the word: rich, complex, special, and unique. They could (and did) risk their lives for each other. May we all have more of such “queer” relationships in our lives!

The Military and Conformity — and Democracy

Officers’ Wives’ Club in 1967. In the mid-1980s, I belonged to a bowling league with my military unit in Colorado. Good times.

W.J. Astore

Few people will be surprised to learn that the U.S. military is about conformity. Uniformity. Heck, it’s one reason why we wear uniforms to begin with. To a certain extent, individuality is tolerated but only if it’s harmless and doesn’t interfere with unit cohesion or performance — and, not just performance but image.

I can’t count the number of times I heard about my Air Force “family” when I wore the uniform, with the message I had to go along to get along; we’re all family, so stop grumbling and enjoy your “family” time.

A heavy stress on conformity can be a particular burden to civilian spouses, however, who didn’t necessarily think they were enlisting when their partner signed up and donned a uniform. In the bad old days, wives of officers were especially burdened with expectations. If they didn’t join officers’ wives’ clubs and otherwise “support” their husbands, they might find themselves ostracized from the “family.” Their husbands might see their careers suffer as well, not exactly a dynamic that promotes family values and amity at home.

Those bad old days are not entirely over, notes Andrea Mazzarino at TomDispatch.com, and being the wife of a U.S. Naval officer, she should know. I urge you to read her article here at TomDispatch. Nowadays, pressure takes new forms, notably on social media, that crazy 24/7/365 world, with email, Instagram, and Facebook posts (among other social sites) being scrutinized incessantly for right-thinking and right behavior, as judged by the self-anointed keepers of conformity and uniformity.

Militaries, again you won’t be surprised to learn, are not known to embrace criticism and non-conformity, which is why they should be kept as small as possible within a democracy that is supposed to celebrate or at least tolerate critiques and eccentrics. But here’s the rub: The more America celebrates its military and feeds it with money. the more it reinforces anti-democratic forces and tendencies within our larger society. And that’s not a good thing in a country where money is speech, i.e. where the richest already rule. (Which is no surprise to military members, as we all know the Golden Rule: He who has the gold makes the rules.)

Here’s an excerpt from Mazzarino’s article. Believe me, she knows of what she speaks.

Eyes Are Always On You

Andrea Mazzarino

I know what it means to be watched all too carefully, a phenomenon that’s only grown worse in the war-on-terror years. I’m a strange combination, I suspect, being both a military spouse and an anti-war-on-terror activist. As I’ve discovered, the two sit uncomfortably in what still passes for one life. In this country in these years, having eyes on you has, sadly enough, become a common and widespread phenomenon. When it’s the government doing it, it’s called “surveillance.” When it’s your peers or those above you in the world of the military spouse, there’s no word for it at all.

Now, be patient with me while I start my little exploration of such an American state at the most personal level before moving on to the way in which we now live in ever more of a — yes — surveillance state.

A Navy Wife’s Perspective on Military Life, Post-9/11

“The military sounds like the mafia. Your husband’s rank determines how powerful you are.” That was a good friend’s response, a decade or so ago, when a more experienced Navy wife shamed me for revealing via text message that my husband’s nuclear submarine would soon return to port. Her spouse had been assigned to the same boat for a year longer than mine and she headed up the associated Family Readiness Group, or FRG.

Such FRGs, led by officers’ wives, are all-volunteer outfits that are supposed to support the families of the troops assigned to any boat. In a moment of thoughtless excitement, I had indeed texted another spouse, offering a hand in celebrating our husbands’ imminent return, the sort of party that, as the same woman had told me, “All wives help with to thank our guys for what they do for us. It’s key to command morale.”

She had described the signs other wives had been making under the direction of both the captain’s wife’s and hers, as well as the phone chain they had set up to let us know the moment the boat would arrive so that we could rush to the base to greet it. In response to my message, she’d replied in visibly angry form (that is, in all capital letters), “NEVER, EVER INDICATE IN ANY WAY OVER TEXT THAT THE BOAT WILL BE RETURNING SOON. YOU ARE ENDANGERING THEIR LIVES.” She added that I would be excluded from all boat activities if I ever again so much as hinted that such a return was imminent.

Alone in my apartment in a sparsely populated town near the local military base, my heart raced with the threat of further isolation. What would happen because of what I’d done?

And yes, I’d blundered, but not, as became apparent to me, in any way that truly mattered or actually endangered anything or anyone at all — nothing, in other words, that couldn’t have been dealt with in a kinder, less Orwellian fashion, given that this was a supposedly volunteer group.

It was my first little introduction to being watched and the pressure that goes with such surveillance in the world of the military spouse. Years later, when my husband was assigned to another submarine, an officer’s wife at the same naval base had burst into tears telling me about the surprise visit she’d just been paid by three women married to officers of higher rank on other boats stationed at that base.

Sitting across from her in their designer dresses, they insisted she wasn’t doing enough to raise raffle money to pay for a military child’s future education. Am I really responsible for sending another kid to college? That was her desperate question to me. Unable to keep a job, given her husband’s multiple reassignments, she had struggled simply to save enough for the education of her own children. And mind you, she was already providing weekly free childcare to fellow spouses unable to locate affordable services in that town, while counseling some wives who had become suicidal during their husbands’ long deployments.

I could, of course, multiply such examples, but you get the idea. In the war-on-terror-era military, eyes are always on you.

Married to the Military (or the Terror Within)

On paper, the American military strives to “recognize the support and sacrifice” of the 2.6 million spouses and children of active-duty troops. And there are indeed gestures in the right direction — from partnerships with employers who have committed to hiring military spouses to short-term-crisis mental-health support.

READ THE REST OF THE ARTICLE HERE.

We’re Mad As Hell — And Fighting Each Other

Peter Finch in “Network”

W.J. Astore

In the movie “Network” from 1976, a TV news anchor played by Peter Finch builds a mass following by promising to kill himself on the air while declaring that “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore!”  The network execs are all too happy to encourage him – as long as his outrage is good for ratings and doesn’t threaten the system.  But when Finch starts to step on corporate agendas, he has the riot act read to him by Ned Beatty, who explains “There is no America.  There is no democracy” and that “The world is a college of corporations.”  A visibly shaken Finch realizes he’s in over his head.

I’ve always liked that catchphrase from the movie, for we the people should be as mad as hell, and we should refuse to take it.  We should act.  But what’s interesting is how our anger is redirected before we can act.    

We’re not supposed to be mad at the oligarchs – that “college of corporations” – who own it all and who push all the buttons. No — our anger is supposed to be tribal. We’re supposed to hate Republicans, or Democrats, or anti-vaxxers, or Trump supporters, or someone — someone ultimately like us, without much power. The anger is ginned up to encourage us to punch down while keeping us disunited.

Being mad can be good if the anger is channeled against the exploiters; it’s not good when it’s exploited by the powerful to keep us divided and weak.

America’s two-party system is designed to deflect anger away from the moneyed interests and toward each other.  What we need is a new political party that truly represents the people rather than the oligarchs.  Neither major party, Republican or Democrat, seems reformable.  Both are captured by moneyed interests.  After all, if money is speech, who can yell louder: you and me, or Lockheed Martin and Amazon? Even the “anti-establishment” voices in either major party have largely been neutralized. Or they get sicced on the enemy of the day, whether it’s evil woke Democrats or evil unwoke Trumpers.

Hence nothing really changes … and that’s the point.

America needs an anti-imperial party, a “Come home, America” party, a party that puts domestic needs first as it works to downsize the military and dismantle the empire.  Yet, in the spirit of Orwell’s 1984 and the Two Minutes’ Hate, Americans are always kept hating some putative enemy.  Russia!  Radical Islamic Terror!  China!  Immigrants at the gate!  Maybe even an enemy within.  We’re kept divided, distracted — and downtrodden

If we continue to be at war with each other while punching down, we’ll never turn righteous anger against the right people.  We’ll never effect meaningful change.

It’s said that power never concedes anything without a demand.  Why do we demand so much from the powerless and so little from the powerful?  Isn’t it high time we reversed that?

Time for a Real Peace Dividend

W.J. Astore

On “Two Minutes to Midnight,” I talk about some of the themes I’ve developed at this site. Produced by Catalysta, the idea behind the series is to encourage fresh thinking on the challenges confronting us in a rapidly changing world.

Here is the Youtube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTc7Qj4AXWU&t=59s

In this interview, I explain how and why America spends way too much on weaponry and wars, and how we can shift the narrative and revive the idea of peace. Echoing George McGovern, it’s time to “come home, America,” to invest in our country and ourselves, rather than to fund more weaponry and more overseas wars.

Near the end of the video, I make an appeal to younger generations of America to lift their voices against the military-industrial-Congressional complex. I urge them not to be intimidated and to speak their mind, explaining that many veterans are just as fed up as they are. Collectively, we need to act. And perhaps the first and most critical step is getting big corporate money out of politics even as we work to make major cuts to the U.S. war budget.

Special thanks to Edward Goldberg at Catalysta.net for inviting me and offering me a chance to share my views with a wider audience.

Never Forget — What?

W.J. Astore

The 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks has come and gone. The theme I often heard was “never forget.” Never forget what, exactly? That we were attacked? All of us of a certain age remember 9/11. We remember where we were when we first heard the news. We remember the shock, the confusion, the sense of loss. We really don’t need to be reminded to “never forget.”

A similar phrase is “always remember.” Like “never forget,” it’s remarkably labile, much like Obama’s slogans of “hope” and “change.” And that’s the point. It’s vague while being emotive. It plays on our emotions without encouraging us to think.

So, let’s think critically for a moment. What should we “never forget”? We should never forget the victims, of course. The heroes. The first responders who gave their lives. And, by the way, why is Congress always so reluctant to provide health care to those first responders who worked so tirelessly in the dangerously unhealthy rubble of the Twin Towers? Let’s not forget them in their moments of need.

But what else shouldn’t we forget and “always remember”? I think we should remember the colossal failure of the Bush/Cheney administration to act on intelligence that indicated Al Qaeda was determined to strike in the U.S. We should remember the chaos generated by those attacks, and how our government responded so slowly, and with a measure of panic. And we should remember how quickly men like Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld deflected any blame and took no responsibility for what can only be described as a massive defeat.

Also, it’s important to recall that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi nationals, yet America’s leaders chose to invade Afghanistan and Iraq after announcing a global war on terror. In short, they used 9/11 as a pretext to embark on wars that they wanted to fight, wars of choice that proved disastrous, and for which they’ve largely evaded responsibility.

As a military historian, I’m also taken aback by our leaders choosing to rebrand 9/11 as “Patriot Day.” When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, America’s leaders didn’t rebrand that day as an occasion for patriotism. They recognized it was a date of infamy and declared war on the attacker.

It’s almost as if 9/11 has become a date of victimhood for the U.S. An old Air Force buddy of mine put it well recently in a message to me:

“It felt like it wasn’t about remembrance as much as just wallowing in self-pity. Interesting you bring up Pearl Harbor. Back then we went off and fought a 4-year war, beat our enemy, and helped them rebuild. For 9/11, we went off and fought a 20-year war, came home with our tails between our legs, and left our enemy more empowered. A celebration of victimhood, but not of honor.”

I like my friend’s appeal to honor. It’s an old-fashioned word that you hear rarely in America’s offices and corridors of power. Where is the honor in turning the 9/11 calamity into some kind of celebration of victimhood and patriotism?

As a historian, of course I want 9/11 to be remembered. But let’s not allow propaganda and cheap sentiment to shape our memories. And let’s “never forget” the failures of our leaders both before and after that date of infamy.