Connect with us

Americas

Dumb and Dumber

Published

on

Errors by the party in power can get America into trouble; real catastrophes require consensus.

Rarely have both parties been as unanimous about a development overseas as they have in their shared enthusiasm for the so-called Arab Spring during the first months of 2011. Republicans vied with the Obama Administration in their zeal for the ouster of Egypt’s dictator Hosni Mubarak and in championing the subsequent NATO intervention against Muammar Qaddafi in Libya. Both parties saw themselves as having been vindicated by events. The Obama Administration saw its actions as proof that soft power in pursuit of humanitarian goals offered a new paradigm for foreign-policy success. And the Republican establishment saw a vindication of the Bush freedom agenda.

“Revolutions are sweeping the Middle East and everyone is a convert to George W. Bush’s freedom agenda,” Charles Krauthammer observed in February 2011. “Now that revolution has spread from Tunisia to Oman,” Krauthammer added, “the [Obama] administration is rushing to keep up with the new dispensation, repeating the fundamental tenet of the Bush Doctrine that Arabs are no exception to the universal thirst for dignity and freedom.” And William Kristol exulted, “Helping the Arab Spring through to fruition might contribute to an American Spring, one of renewed pride in our country and confidence in the cause of liberty.”

They were all wrong. Just two years later, the foreign-policy establishment has fractured in the face of a Syrian civil war that threatens to metastasize into neighboring Iraq and Lebanon and an economic collapse in Egypt that has brought the largest Arab country to the brink of state failure. Some Republican leaders, including Sen. John McCain and Weekly Standard editor Kristol, demand American military intervention to support Syria’s Sunni rebels. But Daniel Pipes, the dean of conservative Middle East analysts, wrote on April 11 that “Western governments should support the malign dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad,” because “Western powers should guide enemies to stalemate by helping whichever side is losing, so as to prolong their conflict.” If Assad appears to be winning, he added later, we should support the rebels. The respected strategist Edward Luttwak contends that America should “leave bad enough alone” in Syria and turn its attention away from the Middle East—to Asia. The Obama Administration meanwhile is waffling about what might constitute a “red line” for intervention and what form such intervention might take.

The once-happy bipartisan consensus has now shrunk to the common observation that all the available choices are bad. It could get much worse. Western efforts have failed to foster a unified leadership among the Syrian rebels, and jihadi extremists appear to be in control of the Free Syrian Army inside Syria. Syria’s war is “creating the conditions for a renewed conflict, dangerous and complex, to explode in Iraq. If Iraq is not shielded rapidly and properly, it will definitely slip into the Syrian quagmire,” warns Arab League Ambassador Nassif Hitti. Iraq leaders are talking of civil war and eventual partition. Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, meanwhile, warned on May 1, “Syria has real friends in the region, and the world will not let Syria fall into the hands of America, Israel or takfiri [radical islamist] groups,” threatening in effect to turn the civil war into a regional conflict that has the potential to destabilize Turkey. And the gravest risk to the region remains the likelihood that “inherent weaknesses of state and society in Egypt reach a point where the country’s political, social and economic systems no longer function,” as Gamal Abuel Hassan wrote on May 28. Libya is fracturing, and the terrorists responsible for the September 2012 Benghazi attack are operating freely.

This is a tragic outcome, in the strict sense of the term, for it is hard to imagine how it could have turned out otherwise.

* * *

In January 2012, after the first hopes for Arab democracy had faded, former Bush Administration official Elliot Abrams insisted:

The neocons, democrats, and others who applauded the Arab uprisings were right, for what was the alternative? To applaud continued oppression? To instruct the rulers on better tactics, the way Iran is presumably lecturing (and arming) Syria’s Bashar al-Assad? Such a stance would have made a mockery of American ideals, would have failed to keep these hated regimes in place for very long, and would have left behind a deep, almost ineradicable anti-Americanism.

The neoconservatives mistook a tubercular fever for the flush of youth in the Arab revolts, to be sure, but they read the national mood right—as did the Obama Administration.

There were dissenters, of course. Daniel Pipes warned against pushing Islamists toward elections, writing in 2005:

When politically adept totalitarians win power democratically, they do fix potholes and improve schools—but only as a means to transform their countries in accordance with their utopian visions. This generalization applies most clearly to the historical cases (Adolf Hitler in Germany after 1933, Salvador Allende in Chile after 1970) but it also appears valid for the current ones.

Henry Kissinger excoriated the Obama Administration for toppling Mubarak, arguing that no other force in Egypt could stabilize the country. Francis Fukuyama broke with his erstwhile neoconservative colleagues in 2004, after hearing Vice President Dick Cheney and columnist Charles Krauthammer announce the beginning of an American-led “unipolar era.” “All of these people around me were cheering wildly,” Fukuyama remembers. “All of my friends had taken leave of reality.”

It is a widespread misimpression (reinforced by conspiracy theorists seeking the malign influence of the “Israel Lobby”) that the neoconservative movement is in some way a Jewish thing. On the contrary, it is a distinctly American thing. As the born-again Methodist George W. Bush said in 2003, “Peoples of the Middle East share a high civilization, a religion of personal responsibility, and a need for freedom as deep as our own. It is not realism to suppose that one-fifth of humanity is unsuited to liberty; it is pessimism and condescension, and we should have none of it.” The Catholic neoconservative and natural-law theorist Michael Novak put it just as passionately in his 2004 book The Universal Hunger for Liberty: “The hunger for liberty has only slowly been felt among Muslims. That hunger is universal, even when it is latent, for the preconditions for it slumber in every human breast.”

By contrast, Israelis were overwhelmingly pessimistic about the outcome of the Arab revolts and aghast at the celerity with which Washington dumped Mubarak. “The message to the Middle East is that it doesn’t pay to be an American ally,” a former Israeli intelligence chief told me in 2012. Although the prominent Soviet refusenik-turned-Israeli-politician Natan Sharansky believed in a universal desire for democracy, the vast majority of Israeli opinion thought the idea mad. As Joshua Muravchik wrote in 2011, the Arab Spring:

precipitated a sharp split between neoconservatives and hard-headed Israeli analysts who had long been their allies and friends. While neocons saw democratization as a balm to soothe the fevered brow of the Arab world, Israeli strategists (with the notable exception of Natan Sharansky) thought this utterly naive. Their message in essence was this: you do not know the Arabs as we do. Difficult as their governments are to deal with, they are more reasonable than their populations. Democratization of the Arab world would lead to radicalization, which would be a bane to you and us.

The Israelis are accustomed to living with long-term uncertainty; Americans want movies with happy endings. The alternative to the Bush Freedom Agenda or Obama’s proposed reconciliation with the Muslim world would have been ugly: the strategic equivalent of a controlled burn in a forest fire, as Daniel Pipes proposed—prolonging conflict, at frightful human cost, as the Reagan Administration did during the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s. It was one thing to entice prospective enemies into a war of attrition in the dark corners of the Cold War, though, and quite another to do so under the klieg lights. The strategy might have been correct on paper, but Americans are not typically in the market for pessimism.

The American public fell in love with the young democracy activists who floated across the surface of the Arab revolts like benzene bubbles on the Nile. More precisely, Americans fell in love with their own image, in the persons of hip young Egyptians who reminded them of Americans. Conservatives and liberals alike competed to lionize Google sales manager Wael Ghonim. Caroline Kennedy gave him the JFK Profiles in Courage Award in May 2011. He made Time magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people. The conservative Lebanese scholar Fouad Ajami kvelled in the Wall Street Journal:

No turbaned ayatollah had stepped forth to summon the crowd. This was not Iran in 1979. A young Google executive, Wael Ghonim, had energized this protest when it might have lost heart, when it could have succumbed to the belief that this regime and its leader were a big, immovable object. Mr. Ghonim was a man of the modern world. He was not driven by piety. The condition of his country—the abject poverty, the crony economy of plunder and corruption, the cruelties and slights handed out to Egyptians in all walks of life by a police state that the people had outgrown and despaired of—had given this young man and others like him their historical warrant.

Republican hawks advocated the furtherance of the Arab Spring by force of arms, starting with Libya. On Feb. 25, 2011, a month after Mubarak’s fall, Kristol’s Foreign Policy Initiative garnered 45 signatures of past officials and public intellectuals “urging President Obama, in conjunction with NATO allies, to take action to end the violence being propagated by the regime of Muammar al-Qaddafi.” Three weeks later a NATO force led by the United States intervened. By September, the Qaddafi regime was beaten, and Robert Kagan lauded President Obama in the Weekly Standard: “By intervening, with force, the NATO alliance not only saved the people of Libya and kept alive the momentum of the Arab Spring … the end of Qaddafi’s rule is a great accomplishment for the Obama administration and for the president personally. Furthermore, the president deserves credit because his decision was unpopular and politically risky.” A month later the victorious rebels put the cadavers of Qaddafi and his son on public view.

The national consensus behind the Arab Spring peaked with the Libyan venture. Elliot Abrams was in a sense right: To intimate that democracy might not apply to Arabs seems to violate America’s first principle, that people of all background have the same opportunity for success—in the United States. It seems un-American to think differently. Isn’t America a multi-ethnic melting pot where all religions and ethnicities have learned to get along? That is a fallacy of composition, to be sure: Americans are brands plucked out of the fire of failed cultures, the few who fled the tragic failings of their own culture to make a fresh start. The only tragic thing about America is the incapacity of Americans to comprehend the tragedy of other peoples. To pronounce judgment on other cultures as unfit for modernity, as Abrams wrote, seems “a mockery of American ideals.”

The neoconservatives triumphantly tracked the progress of what they imagined was Arab democracy. After Iraq’s March 2005 elections, Max Boot wrote:

In 2003, more than a month before the invasion of Iraq, I wrote in the Weekly Standard that the forthcoming fall of Baghdad “may turn out to be one of those hinge moments in history—events like the storming of the Bastille or the fall of the Berlin Wall—after which everything is different. If the occupation goes well (admittedly a big if), it may mark the moment when the powerful antibiotic known as democracy was introduced into the diseased environment of the Middle East, and began to transform the region for the better.” Well, who’s the simpleton now? Those who dreamed of spreading democracy to the Arabs or those who denied that it could ever happen?

Similarly, in April 2011, Kristol wrote:

The Arab winter is over. The men and women of the Greater Middle East are no longer satisfied by “a little life.” Now it’s of course possible that this will turn out to be a false spring. But surely it’s not beyond the capacity of the United States and its allies to help reformers in the Arab world achieve mostly successful outcomes. … And who knows? Helping the Arab Spring through to fruition might contribute to an American Spring, one of renewed pride in our country and confidence in the cause of liberty.

Writing in the Weekly Standard in September of that year, Robert Kagan was so confident of the march of democracy that he proposed to throw the Jordanian monarchy under the bus after Mubarak, despite Jordan’s longstanding alliance with the United States.

Even when Islamists trampled the democrats in the aftermath of Mubarak’s fall, the foreign-policy consensus held strong. The Obama Administration courted Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, while Republican sages argued that Islamist rule, while suboptimal, nonetheless represented progress on the road to democracy. Joshua Muravchik pooh-poohed the risks of the Muslim Brotherhood role in a September 2011 essay: “[I]t seems unlikely that the Egyptians, aroused as they are and having lived through the Nasser experience, would succumb to a new despotism. The most likely force to impose it, the Muslim Brotherhood, has been having trouble keeping its own members in line, much less the rest of the country.” Muravchik wrote:

Perhaps the most important of the region’s hopeful signs is the rebellion in Syria. Who would have thought that Syrians, of all peoples, would have earned the world’s admiration? Yet it is hard to think of many cases in which nonviolent protestors have exposed themselves to shoot-to-kill security forces for months on end without being cowed into surrender. If these brave people persevere and drive the Assad dynasty from power, that itself would go far toward making the Arab Spring a net benefit for the region and the world.

But the democracy enthusiasts missed a crucial feature of the Arab Spring: The toppling of Hosni Mubarak and the uprising against Syria’s Basher Assad occurred after the non-oil-producing Arab countries had lurched into a dangerous economic decline. Egypt, dependent on imports for half its caloric consumption, faced a sharp rise in food prices while the prices of cotton and other exports languished. Asia’s insatiable demand for feed grains had priced the Arab poor out of the market: Chinese pigs were fed before Egyptian peasants, whose labor was practically worthless. Almost half of Egyptians are functionally illiterate, and its university graduates are unqualified for the global market (unlike Tunisians, who staff the help desks of French software firms). Out of cash, Egypt faces chronic food and fuel shortages and presently is on life support through emergency loans from its neighbors. The insoluble economic crisis makes any form of political stabilization unlikely.

Syria’s economic position is, if possible, even worse. Yemen is not only out of money, but nearly out of water. Large portions of the Arab world have languished so long in backwardness that they are beyond repair. After the dust of the popular revolts dissipated, we are left with banana republics, but without the bananas.

It is a salutary exercise to consider the views we hold with impassioned conviction and ask: “What would it imply if we are wrong?” Neoconservatives of all stripes believed with perfect faith that the desire for liberty is a universal human impulse, requiring only the right institutions to reinforce it. The Obama Administration believed that all cultures have equal validity and that—as Obama said early in his presidency—that he thinks of American exceptionalism the same way that the Greeks think about Greek exceptionalism. In both cases, Republicans and Democrats believe that there is nothing inherently unique about America—except that this country was the first to create the political framework that corresponds to the true nature of every human being.

Kristol’s 2011 assessment of the Arab Spring was erroneous, but he was right to link America’s state of being to events in the Middle East. We stumbled by national consensus into a strategic morass, from which there is no apparent exit, in the naïve belief that under every burka was a prospective American ready to emerge like a butterfly from a chrysalis.

But if large parts of the Muslim world reject what seemed to be an historic opportunity to create democratic governments and instead dissolve into a chaotic regime of permanent warfare, we might conclude that there really is something different about America—that our democracy is the product of a unique set of precedents, the melding of the idea of covenant brought here by radical Protestants, the traditions of Anglo-Saxon democracy, and the far-reaching wisdom of our founders. To present-day Americans, that is an unnerving thought. We do not wish upon ourselves that sort of responsibility. We eschew our debts to deep traditions. We want to reinvent ourselves at will, to shop for new identities, to play at the cultural cutting-edge.

What these events might teach us, rather, is that America really is exceptional and that there is no contradiction in cultivating our democracy at home while acting elsewhere in tough-minded pursuit of our security interests.

Continue Reading
Comments

Americas

Mexico and COVID-19: Is the President Ready?

Lisdey Espinoza Pedraza

Published

on

The world was caught by surprise by a virus that soon spread worldwide. The responses of countries to tackle it have been both diverse and contradictory. The American continent is one region that has recently seen such reactions to the current pandemic. While most of leaders of the continent have reacted similarly: closing borders, stopping flights, and imposing strict quarantines; there are 3 presidents whose reaction contrast sharply: the American Donald Trump, the Brazilian Jair Bolsonaro and the Mexican Andrés Manuel López Obrador.

These 3 leaders have had a rather lax approach regarding the COVID-19 pandemic that could create the ideal breeding ground for the virus. This has already become evident in the US, and Mexico and Brazil could well replicate the same results. The attitude of these leaders can have catastrophic consequences for the economy, the public health and the social fabric. As the pandemic threatens to collapse the global economy, Latin America is uniquely vulnerable to an even worse economic collapse.

In a very Trumpian style, both Obrador and Bolsonaro’s idea of government is to be seen and heard, rather than to translate their electoral promises into tangible policies. Let´s take Mexico as an example. Obrador has been severely criticised for his lackadaisical and nonsensical response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Mexico is on the way to a significant coronavirus outbreak and could well be on its way to become the new Italy or the new US.  Despite warnings, Mexico’s current administration insists that everything is fine, and people should not panic. The president still holds his morning press conferences, travels the country, greets people with a handshake, and encourages people to continue going out. Contradicting in this way, the advice given by his own deputy health minister.

While it is true that Mexico’s cases still remained relatively low if compared with the rest of the world, they are rising dramatically. These percentages may also be underestimated since almost no testing has been carried out. Mexico has not invested in tests or essential medical equipment to face a rising pandemic with devastating effects. The reforms that the current administration passed a few months ago, have also crippled the already strained public health system. In order to boost his ambitious social programmes aimed at the elderly, the students and those younger than 29 out of education and employment; Obrador reduced drastically the budget allocated to health spending by 44%. More than 10,000 health professionals were laid off and hospitals were left with no income to buy essential medical equipment and supplies.

Obrador also embarked upon an ambitious reform to change the way the government purchased medications. In the past, medicine was brought through distributors rather than directly from pharmaceutical companies. His reform established that purchases were to be made only from the firms and there would be no middleman involved anymore. While this, indeed was a good step to root out corruption, the deals were negotiated poorly, and in most of them costs of transportation and distribution were not calculated, making medicines more expensive and scarcity more widespread. He also modified drastically the Seguro Popular (Popular Health Insurance) that used to allocate money from the federal administration to each state in Mexico to cover some of the medical expenses of those that did not have any health coverage. The Seguro Popular covered almost 60 million people. To root out corruption, he centralised the programme, renamed is as INSABI (Institute for Health and Welfare). This modification made treatments more expensive and eliminated coverage for those within the lowest bands of income. Such reforms are consistent with his obsession with liquidating any policies and/or institutions designed by previous administrations.

These changes contrast starkly with the major moves previous administrations took when faced with a major health crisis. Obrador seemed to have learnt absolutely nothing from the way the 2009 HIN1 outbreak was handled and contained effectively. On the contrary, his reforms and policies may well have paved the way to a profound major crisis and a deeper, long-lasting economic collapse. The Mexican president suffers from a severe lack of leadership. Despite his highly centralised approach in politics, and his daily press conference to boost his popularity; he has been pretty much absent from the decision-making process. he is still seen campaigning around the country, but he tends to dangerously micromanage every aspect of his administration whenever there is a serious issue. He did not address the country when the migrant crisis hit Mexico; he hid when the army carried out its failed attempt to arrest the son of the Mexican drug dealer “El Chapo”; and he been absent in this current crisis. This is one of the major drawbacks of his administration as his inaction is the greatest obstacle to a swift and effective response.

This last trait is not excusive of Mexico’s Obrador; it is present in a lot of leaders around the world who similarly to Mexico’s president they dismiss the effect such pandemic will have on their economy. Mexico alone has experienced close to zero economic growth over the past year, and the 2020 economic outlook was already bleak before COVID-19. Mexico’s president needs to understand that the country needs more than promises and social programmes that will not solve the deep social inequality and extreme poverty that could lead to a serious health crisis. A wide sector of the population in Mexico do not have stable jobs; an even wider sector live from hand to mouth; and another important chunk of the population live in overcrowded slums in the outskirts of the capital, Mexico City, or in poor rural communities in Oaxaca, Chiapas, Michoacán or Guerrero with close to non-existent health care systems or basic facilities and services. How can social distancing and quarantine work under these circumstances? This scenario is also replicated in Brazil and in the United States.

Crises are, most of the times, seen as the start of new political and social eras just like it happened after the First World War, the Second World War, and the end of the Cold War. This pandemic has forced countries to revaluate the way they govern. The central question here is whether this pandemic makes or breaks the likes of Trump, Bolsonaro and Obrador. It can be argued that the 2008 economic crisis catapulted them to power, will this one finish them?

This crisis is still at its very early stages making it almost impossible to accurately predict how deep it will impact states, politics and decision-making processes. It has, however, complicated the populist speech: COVID-19 is an invisible enemy. Its fast spread cannot be pinpointed to previous administrations and it clearly does not fit their inflammatory anti-elite nationalistic rhetoric. There’s a downside to this argument, however. The fast and wide spread of the virus, the closure of borders even in long-standing democracies and the disruption this is causing economically, could be used by populists to further enhance their nationalistic entrenchment and vindicate their arguments for a less globalised world. Hopefully, this pandemic will result in a more critical and informed civil society less prone to being swayed by right-wing or left-populism.

Continue Reading

Americas

What Do We Do Now? Larger Lessons From The Pandemic

Prof. Louis René Beres

Published

on

“The enemy is the unphilosophical spirit which knows nothing and wants to know nothing of truth.”-Karl Jaspers, Reason and Anti-Reason in our Time (1971)

To survive and prosper after Covid-19 – a pandemic with pertinent political as well as biological origins – will require both courage and reason.[1] There is nothing new or insightful about such a prescription; nonetheless, it is well worth reiterating. After all, despite its apparent obviousness,  useful recommendations for seeking integrity and rationality in public affairs are frequently disregarded.

This is hardly a contestable proposition.

 There is more. In these starkly vital security matters, at least one thing is certain. Before this two-part requirement can actually be met, more will be needed than perpetually transient changes in American politics. Though still generally unacknowledged, the political sphere of human change is always epiphenomenal, in the United States and everywhere else. Always, it offers only an imperfect reflection of what lies far more meaningfully below.  

What matters most in all such dauntingly complex circumstances is an underlying willingness to seek what is best for the entire polity and its corresponding society.[2]

In the United State this rudimentary lesson has never been learned.[3]  Now, yet again, we seek some sort of idealized “change” in the upcoming presidential election. But sans a courageous and thinking electorate, this latest search will represent just another visceral exercise in misunderstanding and futility.[4] And all this despite a now primary obligation to rid the United States of a grimly corrosive and starkly injurious president.            

The lessons are plain. Left unmet, the conjoined obligations of  courage and intellect could signal not only extended disease pandemics, but also nuclear terrorism and/or nuclear war.[5] Like  any genuinely terminal disease, the only “cure” for such unprecedented political violence must lie in prevention.

Such grievously destructive prospects of terror-violence and war are not in any way inconceivable. Nor are they necessarily mutually exclusive, of each other or of any ongoing disease pandemic. In an absolutely worst case scenario, these sorts of extreme human aggressions would intersect with assorted biological aggressions and economic crises, perhaps to the point of becoming synergistic. By definition, in that hard-to-face kind of interaction, the “whole” of any insidious effects would exceed the arithmetic sum of its myriad “parts.”

There is even more here to consider. Still lacking both courage and intellectual commitment or mind, we the people of the United States ought not express surprise or incredulity at the  sheer breadth of our collective failures, staggering by any measure, whether  past, present or future. Over too many years, the casually seductive requirements of wealth and “success” were allowed to become the presumptive foundation of America’s economy and society. Although seemingly plausible pillars of national reassurance, these requirements have turned out to be very high-cost delusions.

In essence, over these many years, American well-being and “democracy” have sprung from a self-defeating posture of engineered consumption. In this wrongheaded derivation, our core marching instructions have remained clear:  “You are what you buy.” It follows from such persistent misdirection that the country’s ever-growing political scandals and failures are the predictable product of a society where anti-intellectual (Jaspers’ “anti-reason”) and unheroic lives are actively encouraged and even taken for granted. More insidiously, these dreadfully unambitious lives are measured not by any rational criteria of mind and spirit, but dolefully, mechanically, absent commendable purpose and without “collective will.”[6]

There is more. What most meaningfully animates American politics today  is not a valid interest in progress, but rather a steadily-escalating fear of  personal defeat and private insignificance. Though most readily apparent at the presidential level, such insignificance can also be experienced collectively, by an entire nation. Either way, its precise locus of origin concerns certain deeply-felt human anxieties about not being valued; that is, about not being “wanted at all.”[7]

 For any national rescue to become serious, unblemished candor must first prevail. Now, ground down by the hammering babble of pundits and politicos, we the people are only rarely motivated  by any elements of insight or courage. To wit, we are just now learning to understand that our badly injured Constitution is subject to dissembling increments of abrogation by an evidently impaired head of state who “loves the poorly educated,”[8]  who proudly reads nothing at all, and who yearns openly not to serve his country,[9] but to expand its fractionation and be gratifyingly served by its suffocating citizens.

In brief, this president openly abhors genuinely challenging  thought and wants desperately to be an emperor. For the United States, it is a lethal and unforgivable combination.

There is more. To understand the full horrors of both the Corona virus and Trump presidency declensions, we must first look soberly behind the news. Accordingly, in these United States, a  willing-to-think individual is now little more than a quaint artifact of some previously-lived or previously-imagined history. At present, more refractory than ever to courage, intellect and learning, our American mass society displays  no decipherable intentions of  ever taking itself seriously.[10]

“Headpieces filled with straw…,” is the way poet T S Eliot would have characterized present-day American society. He would have observed, further, an embittered American herd marching insistently backward, cheerlessly, too often incoherent, and in dutiful but pitiful lockstep toward ever-greater levels of serious illness and unhappiness.

 What next for the imperiled American Republic? We the people may wish to slow down and smell the roses, but our self-battering country now imposes upon its exhausted people the breathless rhythm of some vast machine. Before Cocvid-19, we witnessed, each day, an endless line of trains, planes and automobiles, transporting weary Americans to yet another robotic workday, a day too-often bereft of any pleasure or reward , possibly even of any hope itself. Now the economy has been largely shut down, perhaps irremediably, and we the people are even forced to yearn for prior levels of hopelessness. The ironies here are staggering, and sorely discomfiting.

Could it possibly get any worse than this?[11]

Until now, we the people have lacked any dignifying sources of national cohesion except for celebrity sex scandals, local sports team loyalties and the comforting but self-perpetuating brotherhoods of war.[12] As for the more than seven million people stacked cheek to jowl in our medieval prisons, increasingly infected by the Corona virus, two-thirds of those released will return promptly or slowly to crime and mayhem. At the same time, the most senior and recognizable white collar criminals – essentially, those who have transformed  personal cowardice into a religion – look forward to Trump presidential pardons.

They can do so with real confidence.

 Credo quia absurdum. “I believe because it is absurd,” said the ancient philosophers. Why?

Oddly, we Americans inhabit the one society that could have been different. Once we displayed unique potential to nurture individuals to become more than just a “crowd.”[13] Then, Ralph Waldo Emerson had described us as a people animated by industry and self-reliance, not paralysis, fear and trembling.  Friedrich Nietzsche would have urged that Americans “learn to live upon mountains” (that is, to become willfully thinking individuals), but today an entire nation remains grudgingly content with the very tiniest of elevations. In Zarathustra, Nietzsche warned civilizations never to seek a “higher man” in the” market place,” but that is precisely where America discovered master-of-ceremonies Donald J. Trump.

He was, after all, seemingly very rich. How then could he possibly not be both smart and virtuous? As Reb Tevye famously remarks in Fiddler on the Roof, “If you’re rich they think you really know.”

Inexcusably, the true enemy faced by the United States is still We the People. Accordingly, as we may learn from Nietzsche’s Zarathustra: “The worst enemy you can encounter will always be you, yourself; you will lie in wait for yourself in caves and woods.” And so we remain today, poised fixedly against ourselves and our survival, in the midst of an unprecedented biological crisis nurtured by multiple US presidential policy forfeitures.

 Bottom line? In spite of our proudly clichéd claim to “rugged individualism,” we Americans are shaped by harshly demeaning patterns of cowardly conformance. Literally amusing ourselves to death with illiterate and cheap entertainments, our endangered society fairly bristles with annoying jingles, insistent hucksterism, crass allusions and telltale equivocations. Surely, we ought finally inquire:  Isn’t there more to this suffering country than abjured learning, endless imitation and expansively crude commerce? However we might choose to answer, the actual options are plainly and increasingly limited.

There is more. “I celebrate myself, and sing myself,” observed the poet Walt Whitman, but today the American Selfis generally created by stupefying kinds of “education,”[14]  by far-reaching patterns of tastelessness and by a pervasive culture of unceasing rancor and gratuitous obscenity.

 In fact, only a rare “few” can ever redeem courage and intellect in America,[15] and these quiet souls typically remain hidden, even from themselves. You will not see them engaged in frenetic and agitated self-advertisement, whether to maintain control over a deeply-corrupted White House or to capture it for themselves in the next election. To be sure, our necessary redemption as a people can never be found among the crowd, or mass, or herd or horde. There is a correct way to fix our fractionating country, but not while we the people insistently inhabit pre-packaged ideologies of anti-thinkers, that is, by rote, without mind and without integrity.[16]

Going forward, inter alia, we must  insist upon expanding the sovereignty of a newly courageous and virtuous[17] citizenry. In this immense task, very basic changes will first be needed at the individual human level.  Following the German Romantic poet Novalis’ idea that to become a human being is essentially an art (“Mensch werden ist eine Kinst“), the Swiss-German author/philosopher Hermann Hesse reminds us that every society is a reflection of unique individuals.[18] In this important regard, Swiss psychologist Carl G. Jung goes even further, claiming, in The Undiscovered Self (1957), that every society represents “the sum total of individual souls seeking redemption.”[19]

Looking to both  history and logic, it would be easy to conclude that this monumental task of intellectual and moral reconstruction lies beyond our normal human capacities. Nonetheless, to accede to such a relentlessly fatalistic conclusion would be tantamount to collective surrender. But this would be unconscionable. Far better for the citizens of a sorely imperiled United States to grasp for any residual sources of national and international unity, and exploit this universal font for national and international survival.

Today, of course, this universal and unifying source for an indispensable coming-together is the worldwide Corona virus and its palpably unspeakable harms. Sometimes, out of a commonly-faced horror, humankind can turn tragedy into gain, and build something unique, welcoming and durable. This is potentially just such an ironic but promising transformative moment, but only if it is first duly recognized and suitably exploited.


[1] To recall Karl Jaspers on opponents of Reason, such an unphilosophical spirit gives currency “to everything that is inimical and alien to truth. That is, it serves to sustain and magnify all “perversions of truth.”

[2] Consider, in this regard, the relevant observation of Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in The Phenomenon of Man: The egocentric ideal of a future reserved for those who have managed to attain egoistically the extremity of `everyone for himself’ is false and against nature.”

[3] Freud was always darkly pessimistic about the United States, which he felt was “lacking in soul” and was  a place of great psychological misery or “wretchedness.” In a letter to Ernest Jones, Freud declared unambiguously: “America is gigantic, but it is a gigantic mistake.” (See: Bruno Bettelheim, Freud and Man’s Soul (1983), p. 79.

[4] German philosopher Karl Jaspers warns presciently in Reason and Anti-Reason in our Time (1952): “Conscious of his emptiness, a man tries to make a faith for himself in the political realm. In vain.”

[5] The ancient Greeks and Macedonians were fond of calling war a struggle of “mind over mind,” rather than one of “mind over matter.” To be sure, similar sentiments animated ancient Chinese

military strategist, Sun-Tzu, and much later, Prussian military thinker, Carl von Clausewitz.

For authoritative early accounts by this author of nuclear war effects, see: Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980); Louis René Beres, Mimicking Sisyphus: America’s Countervailing Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1983); Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: U.S. Foreign Policy and World Order (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1984); and Louis René Beres, Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass., Lexington Books, 1986). Most recently, by Professor Beres, see: Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (New York, Rowman & Littlefield, 2016; 2nd ed. 2018).

[6] The origin of this term in modern philosophy lies in the writings of Arthur Schopenhauer, especially The World as Will and Idea (1818). For his own inspiration (and by his own expressed acknowledgment), Schopenhauer drew freely upon Goethe. Later, Nietzsche drew just as freely (and perhaps still more importantly) upon Schopenhauer. Goethe also served as a core intellectual source for Spanish existentialist Jose Ortega y’ Gasset, author of the prophetic work, The Revolt of the Masses (Le Rebelion de las Masas (1930). See, accordingly, Ortega’s very grand essay, “In Search of Goethe from Within” (1932), written for Die Neue Rundschau of Berlin on the occasion of the centenerary of Goethe’s death. It is reprinted in Ortega’s anthology, The Dehumanization of Art (1948), and is available from Princeton University Press (1968).

[7] “It is getting late; shall we ever be asked for?,” inquires the poet W H Auden in The Age of Reason. “Are we simply not wanted at all?”

[8] Said candidate Trump in 2016, “I love the poorly educated.” This strange statement appears to echo Third Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels at Nuremberg rally in 1935:  “Intellect rots the brain.”

[9] This brings to mind the timeless observation by Creon, King of Thebes, in Sophocles’ Antigone: “I hold despicable, and always have….anyone who puts his own popularity before his country.”

[10] “The mass-man,” we learn from Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’ Gasset (The Revolt of the Masses, 1930), “has no attention to spare for reasoning; he learns only in his own flesh.”

[11] In this connection, cautions Sigmund Freud: “Fools, visionaries, sufferers from delusions, neurotics and lunatics have played great roles art all times in the history of mankind, and not merely when the accident of birth had bequeathed them sovereignty. Usually, they have wreaked havoc.”

[12] War, of course, is arguably the most worrisome consequence of an anti-intellectual and anti-courage American presidency. For the moment, the most specifically plausible area of concern would be a nuclear war with North Korea. https://mwi.usma.edu/theres-no-historical-guide-assessing-risks-us-north-korea-nuclear-war/

[13] “The crowd,” said Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, “is untruth.” Here, the term “crowd” is roughly comparable to C.G. Jung’s “mass,” Friedrich Nietzsche’s “herd,” and Sigmund Freud’s “horde.”

[14] In an additional irony, these already unsatisfactory kinds of education will be supplanted by even more intrinsically worthless forms of learning. Most notable, in  this regard, is the almost wholesale shift to online education, a shift made necessary and more widespread by the ongoing disease pandemic, but unsatisfactory nonetheless.

[15] The term is drawn here from the Spanish existential Jose Ortega y’ Gasset, especially his classic The Revolt of the Masses (1930).

[16] “There is no longer a virtuous nation,” warns the poet William Butler Yeats, “and the best of us live by candlelight.”

[17] As used by ancient Greek philosopher Plato, the term “virtuous” includes elements of both wisdom and knowledge as well as morality.

[18] Says Carl G. Jung in The Undiscovered Self (1957): “The mass crushes out the insight and reflection that are still possible with the individual, and this necessarily leads to doctrinaire and authoritarian tyranny if ever the constitutional State should succumb to a fit of weakness.”

[19] Carl G. Jung eagerly embraced the term “soul” following preference of  Sigmund Freud, his one-time mentor and colleague.

Continue Reading

Americas

A Proposed Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

Eric Zuesse

Published

on

The U.S. President will be elected by means of a standardized physical and personally signed mail-in ballot, which, starting in the first month of the election-year, is mailed out to all registered voters, who are broken down into 100 different and all-inclusive randomly assigned daily batches of 1% of the electorate (5% of the electorate per week), and which asks each such person “Whom do you wish were America’s President right now? (Name a living American.)” Each of the top two chosen named persons that is Constitutionally qualified and willing to serve as President — both of them naturally being publicly well-known — will then, within 30 days of having been publicly announced as having been selected by the voters for the second-round voting and willing to serve, post online that individual’s proposed Presidential policies; and each of these two contenders will, then, after yet another 30 days, together face a town hall, with 100 randomly selected Americans, at which event ten of them who would like to ask questions will randomly be selected, each one of these ten questioners to ask only one question (secretly held by that randomly selected individual), which they want to be answered by both of the contenders, and allowing each such questioner up to 5 successive follow-up questions on that one question, to ask that question of each one of the two contenders, but allowing no other question, and no time-limits. (That will, at a maximum, be 10 main questions, plus, for each question, 10 follow-up questions, or 110 questions total, as an absolute maximum, at this event, which will be the one and only Presidential-campaign town hall during the entire election-season.) After that town hall, each of the two candidates will have a half hour of free and federally financed air-time on all networks each week, so as to be able to address any issues that may have arisen. 100 days after that town hall, a second standardized physical mail-in ballot will be mailed out, this time all-at-once, to all registered voters and listing as options only those two identified individuals. All of the returned and personally signed ballots in each of the two rounds will be permanently stored for possible recounts. The candidate who receives the majority of votes will be the next President. The loser will be the Vice President. 

The twenty-second Amendment to the United States Constitution is hereby nullified.

The twelfth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is hereby nullified.

Article II, Section 1, Clauses 2 & 3, of the U.S. Constitution, are hereby nullified.

THIS PROPOSED AMENDMENT WOULD ESTABLISH A MEANS OF AVOIDING THE MAIN SOURCES OF PROBLEMS THAT ARE IN THE EXISTING SYSTEM OF SELECTING A U.S. PRESIDENT, such as:

Nominees being selected entirely by means which enable billionaires and other top political donors collectively to control the outcome by eliminating candidates whom they all oppose.

Major newsmedia, which themselves are controlled by billionaires, coloring or ‘interpreting’ candidates’ assertions so as to sway voters toward their preferred candidates.

Staged ‘debates’ with only shallow questions that have been pre-approved by representatives of the billionaires, which representatives have negotiated, in advance, what questions will and what won’t be allowed to be publicly debated at these ‘debates’.

Replacing the Electoral College and eliminating the role that superdelegates play in the Presidential-selection process.

Eliminating the argument for term-limits on the Presidency (because no arbitrary requirement will be placed on whom the President should be, other than the requirements that were imposed in the 1787 Constitution itself).

Temporally spreading the initial selection-process, out to 100 weekdays, or 20 weeks, will prevent any one news-event or scandal or emergency from over-influencing the first-round choices of whom will be the two individuals competing in the second round.

By limiting the final choice to the individuals who were the two top chosen persons in the initial choice and willing to serve, that final choice will not only be between two individuals both of whom are highly regarded by a substantial portion of the population and willing to serve, but in the second (the final) round will allow each of them to present the individual’s case for him/herself and against the opponent; and this natural adversarial process will produce the polarity that is necessary to be accentuated in any meaningful election, so as to expose not only the strengths, but also the vulnerabilities, in each of the two electoral options (persons) that are being offered to the public in the final stage. 

Since this Amendment would eliminate the influence of Party-organizations (because the voters would be choosing on their own and not guided by the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee), it would introduce a new type of Presidency — one which, for the very first time in American history after the election of George Washington, would produce Presidents who are not answerable to any Party-organization but only directly-and-only to the electorate. The balance of powers between the Executive and the Legislative branches would then be much closer to what the Founders (who had wished to avoid any political Parties from forming in America) had intended to be the case, regarding the selection of the President. The Founders opposed political Parties because they knew such Parties to result inevitably in, and to encourage the development of, corruption. They wanted the President to represent only the public, no Party organization. The Founders also knew that any admixture between the Legislative and the Executive functions will greatly exacerbate corruption, by means of reducing the separation-of-powers. This proposed new U.S. Constitutional Amendment would restrain corruption because it would separate the President not only from the Party-system that controls the Legislature, but from the Legislature itself. This double-insulation would amplify the President’s “bully pulpit” (by institutionalizing adversariality, competition, between the Executive and Legislative branches) and simultaneously diminish the President’s direct influence (which, under the current system, a President exercises via his own Party-organization) over the Legislature. Politically, the President will therefore then be competing against both the House and the Senate, and will cooperate with the Legislature only so as to produce legislation that both the Executive and the Legislative branches will want to take to the electorate in their respective re-election campaigns. The objective here is to maximize the Government’s electoral accountability to the public.

The 22nd Amendment to the Constitution (setting a term-limit upon the Presidency, at no more than two four-year terms) was instituted during 1947-1951, under President Truman, in order to reduce democracy (eliminate the public from choosing the President) when an incumbent in the Presidency has proven to be so good that the public will probably always be happy for that person to continue on in that office until that person either dies or quits — such as was the case with Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who had died as the President in his fourth term, on 12 April 1945. Historians rank FDR as the 2nd-greatest President, after only Abraham Lincoln. Though he was popular as President, he is even more admired in retrospect by historians. In his own time, America’s wealthy were hostile toward him. The first-ever U.S. Presidential-election poll was taken by the conservative Literary Digest during the Great Depression in 1936 and only amongst middle-and-upper-class Americans, and it showed FDR likely to obtain only 43% of the vote, but in the actual election, he won 61%, and that magazine then died in 1938. Months after the Literary Digest poll in 1936, George Gallup mocked that pollster’s methodology and correctly predicted FDR’s win (though likewise under-estimating it, at 56%), thus creating the first scientific polling-organization, which still exists. The 1940 pollings showed FDR as being almost certain to win, which happened; and, then, in 1944, likewise. Republicans didn’t want that to happen ever again and thus forced through the 22nd Amendment so as to prevent it from happening. They sensed that they could never get a Republican as President who would be so popular for so long. However: that Republican 22nd Amendment is inevitably an invitation to corruption because it reduces the incentive for a sitting President to govern so that the public will be and will remain supportive of that incumbent’s continuance in office. The 22nd Amendment was thus part of the degeneration of American democracy — not part of its enhancement. If FDR had been held to the standard that the Republicans succeeded at imposing upon the country in 1951, with the 22nd Amendment, then in 1941 when the U.S. was attacked at Pearl Harbor and America’s economic recovery from the Republicans’ Great Depression was already blossoming in full force since 1938, the Republican Wall-Street lawyer and proponent of regulated monopolies, Wendel Willkie, would probably have become President, and America’s degeneration into extreme corruption would likely have begun four years before it ultimately did. Willkie wouldn’t have kept America out of WW II, but he had zero record in public office and there was nothing in his public record which would indicate that he would have served America and the world better in WW II and afterward than FDR and even Truman did. The 22nd Amendment was just a thinly rationalized power-grab by the Republican National Committee, as soon as FDR died. But merely eliminating it wouldn’t be enough to make America’s Presidential-selection process truly and directly democratic. Parties must be removed entirely from that process. This Amendment would do that. 

The 12th Amendment to the Constitution, as well as Clauses 2 & 3 of Section Two, all deal with the Electoral College, and thus likewise would be eliminated by the proposed Amendment. Those provisions, too, had been introduced by conservatives, especially the slave states. Particularly, during the U.S. Constitutional Convention, “southern Convention delegates, who personally thrived on the institution of slavery and represented others who also did so, forced the compromise establishment of our bipartite constitutional scheme for presidential elections.” The Amendment which is proposed here would replace all of that. This Amendment would, in fact, at the Presidential level, end the institutionalized rule of America by its former slave states. The Civil War didn’t do this, but only held the Union together while outlawing outright slavery. Some of the Deep South’s stranglehold against democracy remained even after the 14th Amendment ended the overt commerce in human beings. Moreover, slavery continued in Alabama right up to WW II, when FDR, on 12 December 1941, ordered it finally to be ended.

Consequently, this would be a very important Amendment.

Continue Reading

Publications

Latest

Trending