The path you seek is in the heart you deny;
Go look there
You might be surprised at the treasure you find.
I remember being your age and completely blind;
Your compass is broken and it points to the sky
You’re always gonna wake in the hurricane’s eye
Jesse Roper, from “The Hurricane’s Eye”
Before we get started, a shout-out to local boy Jesse Roper for kicking things off; although he’s from just down the road, not 20 minutes drive from here, I have never seen him perform live. But that’s a deficit I plan to rectify.
I figured that since ‘gaslighting’ is a relatively new term, and although I already had a general idea what it meant from context, it would be best to look it up. I was surprised to learn the concept of ‘gaslighting‘ has been around since 1938.
“a form of psychological manipulation in which a person seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, making them question their own memory, perception, and sanity. Using persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying, gaslighting involves attempts to destabilize the victim and delegitimize the victim’s belief.”
In America’s case, gaslighting – like charity – begins at home, and the full force of US government efforts to convince the skeptical that America is more powerful and influential than ever, is still kicking ass and taking names, is felt by Americans.
Don’t be deceived by the headline in the referenced piece; “Adapting to American Decline”. You might get the impression that it is written from the standpoint of humility; that the author, recognizing America’s deteriorating standing in the world, seeks accommodation with it and is ready to listen to the advice of nations that were relatively far down the road of civilization when there was nothing much in America but beavers, trees and Indians. Not a bit of it.
Instead, the author refers to America’s allies as ‘adolescents’ only a couple of paragraphs after offering – reasonably – that treating allies like reckless teenagers is not the way to hold on to global leadership. Here’s the latter;
“Rather than treating allies like reckless teenagers who can’t be trusted without Uncle Sam’s constant supervision, or feckless weaklings that will jump at the chance to capitulate to rapacious neighbors, Washington should empower mature, like-minded states to deal with local challenges before they become regional or global crises.”
Washington should empower them, please note; there’s not a snowball’s chance in hell they could do it without assistance, of course. Nobody in the world could get off their dead ass without American show-how.
Here’s the former;
“Given their own domestic spending priorities and continued uncertainty about whether the United States will recommit to the old model, most American allies are likely to take a wait-and-see attitude. A gentle nudge might be needed to move them from comfortable adolescence to empowered adulthood.”
There’s that I’m-the-grownup-here tone again – America should provide the ‘gentle nudge’ required to turn global adolescents into functioning adults, although naturally they can never hope to have Washington’s maturity and good judgment. Tell me; what’s the difference between teenagers and adolescents? Well, apparently one label is insulting and patronizing and unlikely to win you much cooperation if used, while the other is just a reality that everyone should accept – the United States is an adult, and its allies lack its depth of experience and wisdom.
If you are not an American, that sort of talk might make you want to say something very rude. It certainly did me. In fact, people passing in the street inquired who was screaming, “Go fuck yourself!!” out the window, accompanied by the sounds of tearing clothing and smashing crockery. But let’s take a deep breath, and take a look at it. Donald Trump, variously referred to as “That #@&%ing Trump”, “Tangerine Jesus”, and “The Talking Yam”, was elected to his country’s highest office on a promise to Make America Great Again, a slogan now so recognizable it is employed using only its initials, MAGA. His contract is coming up for renewal – how has he done so far?
The author – Christopher Preble of the Cato Institute, one of the many think tanks sprinkled about America mostly to give bitter conservative introvert bigheads a job (the baby always needs new shoes) and to imbue Americans with an abiding sense of their own humble greatness – is quite candid that the USA’s share of global output was around 50% at the end of World War II. It had shrunk to less than half that by 1985, is about 15% today and is projected to be around 13% by 2023. At the same time, the USA’s defense budget has averaged $561 Billion annually since 2001, and the Trump administration intends to increase that to $757 Billion a year by 2023. So by that magic year, the USA’s share of global output will be a third what it was at the end of the Second World War, while its defense spending will rise from around 5% of GDP at that time to more than twice that at around 14%. The US national debt has ballooned to $22 Trillion and climbing, and the largely-meaningless ‘debt ceiling’ has just been raised again. As the author of that piece points out, if spending cannot be controlled, no amount of economic growth can reduce the debt.
Is America great again? Depends what you mean by ‘great’. If you mean “a great big financial liability which realizes much of its spending money from asset-stripping and dedicates it to making the top 1% of Americans ever-more-wealthy”, then yes. It’s so great you can hardly believe it. Some demographics have improved – unemployment is down to its lowest level since the beginning of the millennium. Advances have been made in prison reform, and union representation in countries outside the USA (this means Mexico). Donald Trump promised to donate his salary, and he has done that, to a variety of causes. But, as the writer of that reference opines, even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in awhile. Hugo Chavez reduced the poverty rate in his country by 20% in a single year, the last full year he was president of Venezuela. That was pretty great, but it didn’t even make the papers in Exceptional America, instead relegated to the navel-gazing records of the World Bank. Better not look for American Greatness in that sphere – while the American poverty rate declined for three straight years between 2014 and 2017 (as you’re aware, statistics lag, often until anything scary in them can be minimized or pass without notice), but at a total rate of 2.4%. Which is, when taken year-by-year, not statistically significant.
Let’s get back to the Times piece for a minute.
“The proliferation of various technologies — from crude explosives to advanced robotics — has made it easier for even relatively small and weak countries and nonstate actors to challenge the big and powerful United States. These days any truly determined country, even a very poor one like North Korea, can develop nuclear weapons to deter attacks.”
I should point out here that ‘challenge’ as the writer uses it apparently means ‘fend off a busybody country determined to reshape its political landscape to one more to its own liking, often with implicit commercial advantages for America that make it quite excited about the changes.’ Neoconservative freakshow John Bolton was quite upfront that the United States would like very much for its energy companies to take over production of Venezuelan oil, and what a banquet it would be for American and international investors. Let’s keep in mind also that the American idea of a democratic transfer of power these days is to call up the leader and order him to step down or else, and select his replacement. Ol’ John had that covered, too – the situation in Venezuela was so urgent that these radical steps just had to be done…to protect the people.
Do you think the Venezuelan government wishes it had nuclear weapons now? I think it might. Would it be fair to say the USA’s blundering social engineering and self-interested political maneuvering are fostering a desire in non-aligned nations for a nuclear deterrent? I think it might.
Difficult as it is to imagine, the solution proposed by Mr. Preble is that if you want American global leadership – and you do, the very notion that you don’t is too ridiculous to contemplate – then…you’ll have to help pay for it.
Let’s take a look, for a second, on how the United States is positioned to lead the world. Have you ever seen that great rant Jeff Daniels does in response to the question, “Why is America the Greatest Country in the World“? He kicks off his statistics section with, “We’re seventh in literacy…”. Ha, ha; if only; you can tell that’s just Hollywood. According to the World Atlas, the United States of America is 125th in literacy, at 86%, behind countries like Botswana, Libya, Myanmar, Panama and Trinidad. Far, far behind the Russian Federation, at a statistical 100%, in 21st place. In the 2013 OECD rankings in Reading, Science and Mathematics, the United States placed below the OECD average in every category. China, target of American sneers for its alleged human-rights abuses, predatory business practices and disrespect for the rule of law, placed first in every category. I doubt there has been an epidemic of stupidity there since. The USA’s funding for The Arts has remained static at $148 million for some time; but it spent over $245 billion – with a ‘b’ – bailing out banks and financial institutions. In a 2016 ranking of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) graduates, the USA was neck-and-neck with the Russian Federation (despite having more than twice the population) and so far behind China that its taillights were just twinkles in its imagination. Yet in the average American mind, they are still mostly bicycle-riding coolies in conical straw hats. Global leader? In anything? Please.
According to the Legatum Institute, an independent educational-charity think tank based in England, the USA ranked 11th in countries with the best government. Mind you, that was in 2017, before The Trumpkin’s social skilz had time to be truly felt. World governments were assessed with emphasis on the quality of governance – state of the public health-care system, educational programs, attention to levels of air and water pollution, freedom of speech, responsible exercise of self-defense, priority given to innovation, and economic stability. The category that torpedoed American chances – responsible exercise of self-defense – sort of jumps out at you there: you would be hard-pressed to name a war in the last 40 years that the United States has not either led or has been an enthusiastic participant. In this century alone, the United States has been involved in war in Afghanistan, Iraq, Northwest Pakistan, Somalia, Libya, Uganda, Syria and Yemen, where a US naval blockade in support of Saudi efforts to prevent arms from Iran from reaching Houthi rebels conveniently adds to Yemeni misery by interdicting shipping. During the Iran-Iraq war, the USA sold weapons to both sides. In Libya, the US-led coalition functioned as the de facto rebel air force, launching air strikes on the directions of flip-flop tribesmen on the ground. That culminated in the grisly murder of Gaddafi, and hasta-la-vista to the most progressive and secular country in Africa, in favour of fundamentalist religious nutjobs and a complete social collapse. Libya once again – to western shame, if it had anything like a conscience – features open slave markets in which West Africans are sold into servitude. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) describes modern-day Libya as ‘a vale of tears’. The United States, aided and abetted by ‘Sarko the American’, the Americophilic President of France, wrecked the most progressive and tolerant society in Africa – only one of the objectives George W. Bush’s administration identified for ruin.
Say – if you aspire to be the leader of the world, shouldn’t you at least pay lip service to international law? Like Maxwell in ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’, the USA paints testimonial pictures of violations of international law when it is describing the ‘annexation’ of Crimea by the Russian Federation (not at all like the NATO creation of an independent Kosovo, oh, no), but completely ignores international law when embarking on another of its madcap military adventures to rain misery on the local population. In Syria, the United States first invited itself in – because the human-rights situation was so tragic, of course, that it could not wait for approval from the stodgy UN – and then began supplying the rebel opposition with arms, money and training.
Let’s recap. Going back for a moment to the Legatum Institute’s criteria for good governance, from the viewpoint of the USA’s assumption that nobody else is fit to lead the world. State of the public health-care system – according to the agency which regularly ranks health care across developed countries, that of the USA is the worst and has been for 20 years. Educational programs? Can’t be too good, if the USA is 125 in literacy and below the OECD average is all assessed categories of the PISA test. Attention to environmental stewardship? Although individual states have some excellent programs and pursue responsible co-existence with admirable zeal, on a national level…well, just read the first line of this New York Times piece;
“In just two years, President Trump has unleashed a regulatory rollback, lobbied for and cheered on by industry, with little parallel in the past half-century.”
Freedom of speech? Sure, if it’s defending it somewhere else because it likes the rhetoric of some dissident who is insulting the government of a nation targeted for regime change. Otherwise, not so much. Zealots have seized control of the First Amendment and co-opted it to their design; free speech is challenged daily by activists, on the grounds that it is ‘racist’. If you speak out against the deliberate and planned exclusion of white people from a public event, for example, based solely on their skin colour, you may be attacked.
“In an even more sensational confrontation, campus authorities at Evergreen State College refused to protect biology professor Bret Weinstein from physical threat by angry student activists after Weinstein, a self-avowed progressive in politics, questioned the wisdom of a day of racial “absence” that excluded white students from the Evergreen campus. In a foreshadowing of Rouse’s Constitution Day rationalization, the Evergreen activists insisted that Weinstein’s questioning violated the norms of Evergreen’s culture. “He has incited white supremacists and he has validated white supremacists and Nazis in our community and in the nation. And I don’t think that should be protected by free speech,” said one student in a Vice News interview on the protest.”
For the first time, a majority of American students surveyed believed the First Amendment does not protect free speech, and 20% of respondents maintained it acceptable to inflict physical harm on those deemed to have made “offensive and hurtful statements.”
We’ve already covered responsible use of the self-defense proviso; the United States routinely abuses it as an excuse to go to war against a country whose government it has already failed to topple by other means, and then proclaims wide-eyed innocence and avers it must be excused because its aims were noble. The best example is, of course, the Second Gulf War against Iraq, in which the US Secretary of Defense famously claimed to know exactly where the Weapons of Mass Destruction which were America’s cassus belli were located: “We know where they are. They’re in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat.” Which is as similar a phrasing of “They could be anywhere on planet earth, but almost certainly not underwater” as I’ve ever seen. The US government later – eventually – admitted it had made up the claim. But that’s not an outlier. The USA regularly introduces a panicky scenario it knows full well is highly unlikely, presenting it instead as a virtual certainty to justify rapid action which will result in the momentum it seeks. Occasionally it results in farce which would be sidesplitting in less-destructive circumstances, such as the claim that Saddam Hussein was issuing crates of Viagra to his troops, so that they could maintain constant erections and rape more women. Completely unabashed, the US Ambassador to the United Nations tried to resurrect it in her drive to get a coalition together to wipe out Gaddafi and destroy Libya, an effort which was ultimately a wild success.
Any US claims to economic stability – the stock market is roaring like a chained tiger, unemployment is at near-record lows – must be balanced against the fact that the country owes its entire GDP plus a considerable amount in accumulated debt. And growing, if the source is reliable, at 36% faster than the US economy.
Look, we can bat this over the net a few more times, but I don’t see the point. Where I am going with it is probably abundantly clear – America’s claim to global leadership is based entirely on its perceived entitlement to the position by virtue of its exceptionalism. That’s it. What it brings to the table are its bloated military, which it is apparently willing to contract out as a mercenary force against anyone who ‘challenges’ it – and who will promptly be named ‘evildoers’ – and its stranglehold on international banking which enables it to sanction the shit out of anyone who defies its orders. A worse candidate to lead the world could hardly be imagined, and nations who support such a bid should be laughed out of the room for their naivete and willful stupidity. If the world actually needs a leader, it should spell out its terms; must be responsible, compassionate, fiscally solvent and financially conservative. Ten demerits each for pugnacity, lying, and advancing self-interest over the common good. Extra consideration potential for verifiable empathy, inspiration and advancement of cooperation over truculent use of force.
The Exceptional Nation would not even make the short list.