10/20/08 — 10/26/08
I was born five weeks before Pearl Harbor. That means I have lived during the terms of twelve U.S. Presidents, from FDR onwards. I guess I'll make it to No. 13.
It also means that I have seen the death of Empire as a concept, & its replacement by the Superpower. Empire is a collective term; Superpower a singular noun though there has to be two. Yin & yang. A balance.
Superpower meant that the U.S. President — or, at least, the President as avatar — was one of the two most powerful people in the world. The other, obviously, was the President of the Soviet Union. One checked the other's moves, balanced them out. It was the political version of Newton's third law of motion— for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Equilibrium ruled.
With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, there was only one Superpower left. No longer any checks & balances.
Like many others around the world, I have long held a dualistic attitude towards the United States, splitting it, as it were, into a cultural aspect & a geopolitical aspect.
Culturally, I have admired & been influenced by much of the art, music, literature, dance, cinema & theatre that the U.S. has produced. Geopolitically, I regard it as a bully of the highest order — arrogant, self-serving & -centered, resorting to blackmail to force other world States to support its prevailing views, uninterested in the long-term consequences of its actions.
My perceptions of the U.S. were colored by comics, Hollywood, jazz, the crime novels of Chandler & Hammett, science fiction, rock; a composite milieu shaped by part of my parents' reading, my brother's library. It was a U.S., however unreal, that I felt comfortable with, that spoke to me.
It didn't mesh with the "factual" U.S. that appeared in Time & Life & the Reader's Digest, or with the glaze of Norman Rockwell on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post which were also part of my parents' reading & so of mine. They seemed too good to be true. What was it Ferlinghetti wrote? "I have read the Reader's Digest / from cover to cover / & noted the close identification / of the United States and the Promised Land."
But my brother also had — & I still haven't worked out why — dos Passos' USA trilogy, & Steinbeck. & they tended to confirm my suspicions by exposing another side of things, an underbelly. The beginnings of dualism.
If we take the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima & Nagasaki as the beginning of the modern age, we have seen, since then, the U.S. refuse to recognize Ho Chi Minh as the legitimate nationalist ruler of an entire country, an act which basically sowed the seeds of the Vietnam War; refuse to recognize the legitimacy of Castro's Cuba; refuse to recognize the Ayatollah Khomeini as a legitimate leader of Iran; support Saddam Hussein in Iraq's subsequent war with Iran; support Israel but not recognize the right of the Palestinians to their own state; support the Mujahideen against the USSR in Afghanistan & so essentially create & train the Taliban; support the corrupt regime in Saudi Arabia solely to ensure oil supplies were guaranteed & through that act trigger the resistance that eventually became Al Qaida; depose Allende in Chile. They are just some examples. More extensive lists, some of whose entries, I admit, I would quibble with, can be found with a simple Google search.
These acts were done by both major political parties, so there is no case for allocating blame to one or the other. & for much of the time, there was sufficient strength in the U.S. to be able to support a reasonably stable world, to support the view that the U.S. was genuinely interested in maintaining what it called democracy & that it, itself, was also a democracy. But the vision has been corrupted of late by greed; these days, war is perceived as a legitimate business opportunity; it is no longer the nation as a whole that is being looked after, just the loudest lobbyists.
When the Administration is strong, it can hold those groups at bay or, at least, in balance. But when the Administration is weak, & those lobby groups have extreme influence, or when the President is a puppet with a Svengali pulling the strings, then implosion is the likely outcome.
Had Al Gore challenged the 2000 election results in all the Florida electoral districts, instead of just selecting a few to dispute, then we might be living in a different world, with a stronger U.S. But he didn't; & ever since, Bush has been pursuing his — "I did what Daddy couldn't" — & his cronies personal agendas; & the result is we are living in a world that is terrorized & terrifying. Even now, yesterday in fact, with most world economies in turmoil, Bush is still bleating that a free market, without regulations, is the way to go.
McCain strikes me as being more of the same, & as for his running mate . . . . .& that brings me to the core of my concern: how can a significant portion of the population of the U.S. seriously believe that this pair are equipped to run the country, to halt the ever-gathering momentum of its slide into mediocrity?
I hate to say this, but, after the buffoonery & ineptitude of Bush, voting McCain/Palin in would confirm the ridiculousness of a once-great country. Plus plunge it into disaster. Obama offers the hope of change, & the potential to turn things around. It's going to be a tough ask, but I believe he has the ability & the goodwill of a goodly number of able people to be able to pull it off.
A Barack Obama hay(na)ku
righteous wind at
told his audience.
electoral college votes prediction hay(na)ku
McCain Palin, 179.
I spent much of the day watching CNN. Even before I began, my optimism for a Democrat victory was high — witness the hay(na)ku above, uploaded an hour before the first state closed its polling booths. My optimism grew as the results came in, but one is never sure of such things. There was the classic Dewey "win"; &, closer to home, I remember an election here in 1974 where the Labor Party's lead which, shortly after the beginning of the counting, had seemed impregnable, was slowly whittled away & it was only in the wee small hours of the morning that it was confirmed they'd won. So it came as a relief when one of the anchors, in response to a Dorothy Dix question from their on-air partner & using the quite remarkable technology on show all day, demonstrated that there was no way, from that point on, that McCain could win. Shortly after, the polls in California closed. One minute later, Obama was unofficially named as the next President of the U.S. From then on in it was like a rerun of West Wing. McCain gave a remarkably eloquent, gracious & inclusive concession speech, Obama a Presidential oration, also inclusive, very little use of "I" — if any; lots of "we". No hubris or arrogance. A down to earth speech that evoked memories of orators of the past who put their actions into words, & the speech of a man who obviously is not going to shirk the enormous task he & his fellow politicians &, indeed, the entire U.S. population have in the upcoming years.
Since the rise of the U.S. to the status of the world power, an always significant but, dependant on the current realpolitik, shifting number of nations &/or political groups have used the U.S. as their muscle. There are subsequent trade-offs — economic, military, political, environmental — as payment for that "assistance", not all of them popular, & the perception of the world — friend or foe — was of an U.S. that was arrogant, self-righteous &, always, moved to act by self-interest. Sometimes that self-interest coincided with the self-interest of others, & so . . . . .
Bear in mind that it's the political rulers that I'm talking about here. No matter how many Dylans or Pollocks or Ginsbergs or Miles Davises the U.S. produce — or Paris Hiltons or Sons of Sam, for that matter — it's the actions of the Administration that shape the geopolitical landscape.
For better or worse, nearly all previous Administrations had the interests of the nation — or at least their vision of it — at heart. What George W. Bush did was to introduce personal greed & a level of hypocrisy never seen before to the mix. No longer "My Nation 'tis of thee" but "My Cronies 'tis for thee". Make no mistake about it: the Bush years have left the U.S. morally bankrupt in the eyes of most of the world. & now, economically bankrupt as well.
What the election of Barack Obama has done is restore much of the U.S.'s reputation instantaneously. The Democrats would probably have won no matter which of the two main contenders for the nomination had been chosen. I have no doubt that Hilary Clinton would have been a good President, but the need, & the universal mindset & necessary momentum, for major change would have taken longer to address, to bring about, perhaps eight years. The immensity of Obama's win has swept those eight years away. The symbolism of Obama's election cannot be overstated. It's not just the winds of change, but the winds of goodwill that are now blowing towards the borders of the U.S. from all directions. I have known only one act of similar symbolism in my lifetime; the release of Nelson Mandela from prison.
With Obama's victory speech, I felt two circles were finally complete. You could hear echoes of Martin Luther King Jr. resonating in the words, made more poignant by the sight of a weeping Jesse Jackson in the assembled crowd. The dream may not have yet become total reality, but it has a whole lot more substance.
& the last time I saw footage of people of goodwill gathered in Grant Park, just over forty years ago, they were being brutally dispersed by the billyclubs of Chicago's finest. Don't tell me it was coincidence that Barack Obama chose this venue.
Today I saw demonstrated the true meaning of e pluribus unum.
Finally, with the results of three states still in doubt, but with Obama leading in North Carolina & so likely to pick up at least another 15 electoral college votes, let me just say that I'm quite pleased with my predicted outcome.
A letter to my U.S. friends
What you will see in the post-Inauguration months is
a couple of highly symbolic acts —
Guantanamo Bay closed, the signing
of an international emissions protocol
a number of "liberal" laws enacted
& the non-repeal of a couple of "conservative" ones
to show that an Obama Administration
is center- not far-left
little visible change to the political landscape
so that you begin to wonder
just who you voted for
recession named outright instead of being the
word that dares not speak its name
money still remain tight
but the rich getting richer
Sarah Palin made-over
with a liberalizing moisturiser
& a trendy wardrobe
to hide the neocon underwear
that's emblazoned with 2012
U.S. forces still in Iraq at the beginning of 2010
more U.S. forces being sent to Afghanistan
& the first use of "surge" in that context
the phrase "that'll be done
in the next term of office"
being used more & more
disappointment, because things aren't moving as fast & as far as you'd hoped
(The above is taken from posts to my blog, gamma ways — http:"mhcyoung.blogspot.com.
Note that, because of the International Date Line, it was a Wednesday in Australia when
the election took place. )