I am not an American. I am a New Zealander -from that small south pacific country which in the 1980s banned American nuclear powered and nuclear armed warships from its ports; a ban which is still in place some 28 years later-despite pressure from the United States to influence the New Zealand government’s legislative processes and revoke the ban. But, like many people throughout the world I watch with a keen eye the developments on the U.S political scene. Why? Well it doesn’t take a 5th grader to tell us that the economic and foreign policies of the United States of America have profound affects and effects on the rest of us.
On the one hand, when I listen to the current political debate leading up to the US general election on November 6th I yawn with astonishment at the marketing of the Republican candidate as an ordinary man who is loyal to the ordinary people of his country, and a protector of the free world (whatever this term is meant to mean). Recently, I watched clips of that party’s political convention, and its soft sell of a multi-millionaire as a man of the people, begot from humble ordinary folk, who when married ate meals off an ironing board as a substitute dining table, and used a door on two saw-horses as a desk. I shed no tears on hearing this and was incredulous at the audacious script writing and the theatre of it all. Similarly every key-note speaker used a storyline of humble, struggling origins, and proclaimed how they survived on a pittance in an attempt to become successful in life. Perhaps there were resonances of truth in their stories; but in the glamorous, privileged world of the US political elite each tale seemed disingenuous when measured against those who genuinely attempt to make it in today’s cut-throat world of advanced capitalism, to etch out a living for themselves-the unemployed, the homeless, the disillusioned working and middle classes, the poor and disenfranchised; and the 58% of the US population who will probably exercise their right to vote. Moreover it desensitizes the rest of humanity to the day-to-day suffering and struggles of ordinary people, and reinforces the Ann Rand myth of selfishness as a virtue where the individual should “exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself”.
On the other hand, this great example of democracy at work is full of bizarre paradoxes. For example, the US Supreme court ruled that Corporations are people paving the way for unlimited expenditure and corruption in political campaigning. Elections and how they are financed are unregulated through these kinds of judicial decisions and lead to media monopolisation and manipulation by rich and influential US oligarchs. In another ruling, the US Supreme court overturned a California Supreme Court State ruling and decreed that violent video games should be available to children under 18 and are protected under the first amendment as free speech. This was in the face of mounting evidence suggesting that violent behaviour on television and in other forms of violent entertainment contribute to a decline in care and compassion between children and adults who watch, use and participate in them, towards their peers who do not. And, the second amendment of the US Constitution declares the right of every citizen to bear arms; yet the number of guns per capita in the US is one of the highest in the world along with figures suggesting a correlation between freely available high powered weapons and gun crime massacres. The homeless number up to 900,000 yet the number of empty houses, flats, apartments, office buildings and other dwellings are almost treble that number. Abortion on demand is marketed as a fundamental right and a form of contraception while there are waiting lists for adoptions from couples, straight and Gay who have a genuine wish to have children of their own and are unable to do so. Art and entertainment imitate life or vice-versa, and celebrities drive social issues and often undermine informed rational and intellectual debate. Nowhere was this more apparent in Clint Eastwood’s recent rambling monologue to an empty chair at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida. And science is eschewed in favour of various forms of outdated superstitious belief that when it enters the public discourse to review essential moral issues like abortion, leads to the most insane conclusions. The Republican politician Todd Akin’s scientific and moral ignorance on rape astounded and shocked the world.
Yet, throughout its short history the United States has continued to contribute significantly to Western Civilisation. It gave us a blue-print for non-monarchical constitutional democracies. It rebuilt Europe after World War 2. It led the way for social change through the Civil Rights movement, the Gay rights movement, and political organizations for social and political justice like Human Rights Watch (whose primary donor incidentally is the George Soros Open Society Foundation). It has given us one of the most fascinating, endearing and entertaining Art and Film industries ever-which is mimicked throughout the rest of the world. Intellectuals like Mary Daly, Barbara Ehrenreich, Susan Faludi, Noam Chomsky, Michael Apple, Henry Giroux and the late Edward Said, and Gore Vidal among many more have contributed significantly to the US local and global narratives, and political discourse on human rights, social justice, science and education.
One of my favourites from my primary school days was on science history and Benjamin Franklin’s experiments with electricity. Thomas Morgan Hunt’s seminal work on fruit flies in the 1930s led to him receiving a Nobel Prize, and paved the way for the extraordinary human genome project and the mapping of the human DNA sequence. Edwin Hubble’s contributions to Cosmology and the study of astronomy have lead to many theories on the origins of the universe. NASA’s pioneering missions into space and to the moon gave us a fresher, newer and more humble perspective on our place in the universe and helped us to appreciate the personal and public sufferings and struggles of Galileo a lot more! The current Technology revolution sweeping the world grew out of collaborative work between the US department of Defence and the National Science Foundation in the 1960s. And then there was the late Steve Jobs and his vision of telecommunications which has forever changed the way we now communicate with one another in both a formal and informal setting. There’s no doubt we have a lot to be thankful for through the positive contributions the people of the US continue to give to the world in the fields of Education, Science , Technology and the Arts.
However, in politics the picture is not so rosy. For the first elected African American President, the odds for re-election are stacking up against him. In the wake of Enron, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers and the staggering financial mayhem of September 2008 history is being rewritten for the US electorate; the man who promised change yet tough times ahead is being cast as the Darth Vader of economic, social and political reform. He is the antagonist in a cast of neo-saintly telletubby characters (minus Tinky Winky who Jerry Falwell once cast as Gay and a bad influence on children-sigh), like Carl Rove and David and Charles Koch who will do everything in their sphere of vast financial and political influence to return to a nexus of power which disenfranchises the middle classes, working classes, poor, homeless and disenfranchised, and favour a small clique of the rich and elite who are intent on pushing a neo-conservative social, economic and political agenda.
In 1961, President Dwight Eisenhower issued a warning about what he described as a threat to US democratic government. He coined the term military-industrial complex, and described a closely guarded nepotistic union between defence contractors and the armed forces. In the early stages of the 21st century; the Bush-Cheney years continued to be an enduring testament to this. The cosy relationship between the military industrial complex and the corporate world bought us Gulf Wars, the Iraq Invasion, and deregulation of the corporate banking sector which precipitated the worst economic crisis the modern world has faced since the great depression of the 1930s. And this isn’t about to change too soon unless the current White House incumbent and Nobel Laureate is re-elected, and given more time to defend America’s fine achievements within its liberal and progressive traditions especially in Politics, Economics, the Arts, Science and Education and to pursue the continuing need for Social Justice in the world.