Thoughts on a Saturday Afternoon

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W.J. Astore

Weekends are a good time to sit back, reflect, and think.  Here are a few ideas I’ve been thinking about:

1. Remember 9/11/2001?  Of course you do.  Almost everyone back then seemed to compare it to Pearl Harbor, another date that would live in infamy — and that was a big mistake. In 1941, the USA was attacked by another sovereign nation. In 2001, we were attacked by a small group of terrorists. But international terrorism was nothing new, and indeed the U.S. was already actively combating Al Qaeda. The only new thing was the shock and awe of the 9/11 attacks — especially the images of the Twin Towers collapsing.

By adopting the Pearl Harbor image, our response was predetermined, i.e. the deployment of the U.S. military to wage war. Even that wasn’t necessarily a fatal mistake, if we’d stopped with Afghanistan and overthrowing the Taliban. But, as Henry Kissinger said, Afghanistan wasn’t enough. Someone else had to pay, in this case the unlucky Iraqis. And then the U.S. military was stuck with two occupations that it was fated to lose.  And millions of Afghan and Iraqi people suffered for our leaders’ mistakes.

But perhaps the most remarkable aspect of 9/11 was how no one in Washington took the blame for it.  I don’t recall any high-level firings. The buck stopped nowhere. Same with torture. The buck stopped nowhere. Officialdom looked the other way, including the next administration under the “change” candidate, Barack Obama.  He changed nothing in this area.  His mantra about “looking forward” meant learning nothing from history.

It’s this lack of accountability, perhaps, that made Trump possible. He lies constantly and blunders and blusters, yet (so far) there’s no accountability for that either. People just expect our government to be composed of con men and serial liars, so why not just elect one as president?

No accountability after 9/11 and torture led to “no accountability” Trump.

2.  Another thought on 9/11: The 9/11 war-driven response was part of American exceptionalism. What I mean is this: America is not supposed to be on the receiving end of “shock and awe.” We are supposed to be the givers of it. As Americans, we were totally unprepared, psychologically, for such a blow. (A Soviet nuclear attack, a million times more devastating, would have made more “sense” in that the danger was drummed into us.) An attack by hijacked airliners, a mutant form of airpower? Well, America is supposed to rule the skies. We bomb others; they don’t bomb us.  Right?

It was all so shocking and destabilizing, hence the “rally around the flag” effect and the blank check issued by Congress to Bush/Cheney for what has proved to be a forever war on terror — or something.  And now, with Trump and crew, is the new “something” Iran?

3.  In our military-first culture, projects like the B-21 stealth bomber are just accepted as business as usual — the cost of keeping America “safe.” We had more debate about weapons systems during the Cold War, when we truly faced an existential threat. Now, weapons ‘r’ us. It’s a peculiar moment in American history, a sort of cult of the gun, whether that “gun” is a bomber, missile, aircraft carrier, etc.

Put differently, our personal insecurities (due to debt, health care, jobs, weather catastrophes, fear of immigrants, etc.) have driven a cult of security in which guns and related military technologies have been offered as a palliative or even a panacea. Feel secure — buy a gun. Feel secure — build a new stealth bomber. Stand your ground — global strike. The personal is the political is the military.

4.  If Reagan’s motto was “trust — but verify” with the Soviet Union, Trump’s motto with North Korea is simply “trust.”  Yes — it’s a good thing that Trump is no longer threatening to bring nuclear fire and fury to the North Koreans, but his recent meeting with Kim Jong-un, large in image, was short on substance.  Will those verification details be worked out in the future?  Do the North Koreans have any intent to give up their nuclear weapons?  Both are doubtful.  So, does Trump deserve a Nobel peace prize?  About as much as Obama did.

5.  I’ve never witnessed a man destroy a political party like Trump has taken apart the Republicans.  It’s a remarkable achievement, actually.  And I don’t mean that as a compliment.  I was once a Gerald Ford supporter in the 1976 election, and I voted for Ronald Reagan in 1984.  (We make mistakes when we’re young; that said, Walter Mondale was an uninspiring Democratic candidate.)  I thought the Republican Party had principles; I think it did in the 1970s and 1980s.  Now, the only “principles” are money and power, as in getting more of both.  If that means kowtowing to Trump, so be it.  Kneel before Zod, Republicans!

That’s enough for my Saturday afternoon.  Fire away in the comments section, readers!

Dystopias Are All the Rage

W.J. Astore

The historian Jill Lepore has an interesting article at The New Yorker on dystopic novels and their popularity today.  Dystopias are all the rage, which is not surprising given the politics of fear that rules us.

Consider the stark contrast between the Republican Party of today versus that of the 1980s.  Remember the sunny optimism projected by Ronald Reagan?  The idea it’s “morning again” in America?  Now we have the dystopia of Trump.  Mexicans are rapists!  Muslims are terrorists!  They’re coming to get us!  Build a wall!  Torture and kill them!

I’m not suggesting Reagan was a saint.  Reagan was, however, a gifted communicator and an inspiring symbol for many. There was substance there as well.  As a young man, he served as a lifeguard and helped to save lives.  I find it intriguing that he was somewhat of an introvert, somewhat of a dreamer.  He worked with the Soviets and Mikhail Gorbachev on the elimination of nuclear weapons, a dream that did not come to pass.  For all his flaws, there was a fundamental decency about him.

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Contrast Reagan to Trump.  With Trump, it’s all about him.  Trump’s favorite way of communicating is with insults, bluster, threats, and tweets.  Reagan dreamt of eliminating nuclear weapons; Trump insists America will remain “at the top of the [nuclear] pack,” at a cost of a trillion dollars over the next generation.

Reagan and his wife Nancy were quirky as well (astrology, anyone?), but seeing how they looked at each other and treated one another, no one could doubt their love.  Trump and Melania?  In public, at least, they come across as ill at ease, uncomfortable with each other.  Small potatoes, perhaps, but part of being the “First Family” is projecting harmony, or so it has been in the past.  Nowadays, such symbolism seems unimportant as Trump himself dominates the scene, his wife seemingly a bit player in his life.

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There’s a toxicity to Trump that’s consistent with the emergence of all these dystopic novels.  The Victorian author Samuel Smiles once wrote that a man should be what he seems or purposes to be.  By this Smiles meant that a man must demonstrate, by his behavior, uprightness of character.  A quaint expression, that.  When people think of Trump today, “uprightness of character” doesn’t exactly spring to mind.  Rather the reverse.

Though I wrote early on that Donald Trump had a serious chance at the presidency, by early November of last year I thought the negativity of his message – his bundle of hate – would not prove compelling enough to carry him to victory.  I was wrong, of course.  Trump, with his dystopic rhetoric as well as his actions, captured as well as amplified a prevailing mood.

It’s not morning again in America.  Under Trump, darkness and dystopia prevail.

The Winners of Putin’s Aggression: The U.S. Military-Industrial Complex and Big Oil

There's a bear in the woods ...
There’s a bear in the woods …

W.J. Astore

There’s a new bear in the woods and his name is Vladimir Putin. Remember that Reagan campaign ad from 1984 that showed a menacing, obviously Soviet, bear patrolling the woods, with ominous music in the background? Fast-forward thirty years and a bare-chested Putin is that new bear, marauding in the Crimea and threatening Ukraine.

Our mainstream media has entered a time warp and we’re back to 1984.  No, not the 1984 of George Orwell and of constant monitoring by Big Brother – our media is not concerned by that.  Instead, they’re concerned with a revived Soviet Union, a new Cold War, and the notion that America is unprepared and weak.

The big winner of this collective (and selective) exercise in time travel is obvious: the U.S. Military-Industrial Complex as well as Big Oil and Gas.  We can’t make significant cuts to “defense” spending now that the Russian bear is on the loose again.  Right?  And the best way to neutralize the bear’s threats of cutting off gas shipments to Europe is by surging oil and gas drilling in the U.S., chiefly by hydro-fracturing or fracking.  Right?

Never mind concerns about rising CO2 levels and global warming.  It’s 1984 again, not 2014.  We need to corral that Russian bear before he emasculates us.  Deploy our military!  Drill baby drill!  Show the Russkies who’s boss!  Before they go all “Red Dawn” on us.

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And when was the cheesy “Red Dawn” originally released? You guessed it: 1984.