“Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.”–Prometheus, in Longfellow’s The Masque of Pandora
”Men first feel necessity, then look for utility, next attend to comfort, still later amuse themselves with pleasure, thence grow dissolute in luxury, and finally go mad…-Giambattista Vico, in The New Science
The philosopher of history Giambattista Vico believed that human societies pass through stages of growth and decay. ”The nature of peoples,” he wrote, ”is first crude, then severe, then benign, then delicate, finally dissolute.” In short, as people make life better for themselves materially, they fall into moral, spiritual and intellectual decay. Three of the symptoms that Vico identifies as characteristic of a civilization gone mad are: the destruction of the family, of language and of religion, the very foundation of any sort of society, as primitive as it might be.
This powerful insight into the birth and dissolution of entire civilizations leads to this question: Is America slowly descending into madness? There are disturbing signs that this may actually be the case. The stories America now tells itself are not only vulgar and trivial but are also filled with cruelty, deceit, lies, legitimating all manner of corruption and mayhem. Refugees and hard-working immigrants are characterized as criminals, rapists and “rabid dogs,” Islamo-phobia is on the ascendance with calls for registration and surveillance, and those who disagree with those fascistic tactics are promptly demonized and politically destroyed, never mind truth and honor, justice, and the common good. Those stories as told by corporate liars and crooks do serious harm to the body politic, and the damage they cause together with the idiocy they reinforce are becoming more apparent as America descends into authoritarianism pre-shadowing tyranny, accompanied by the pervasive fear and paranoia that sustains it, to wit Donald Trump who within a year may well become our first mad president, the way Caligula became the first mad Roman Emperor, echoing all the aberrations of a society which is fast losing its democratic ideals and its very political sanity.
We find evidence of a culture of cruelty in numerous policies that make clear that those who occupy the bottom rungs of American society—whether low-income families, poor minorities of color and class, or young, unemployed, and failed consumers—are considered disposable, utterly excluded in terms of ethical considerations and the grammar of human suffering. This is not merely partisan politics; it is an expression of a new form of cruelty and barbarism now aimed at those considered disposable in a neo-Darwinian survival-of-the-fittest society.
To be sure, the roots of America’s current descent into madness can be traced back to a series of unresolved catastrophic traumas Americans experienced during the Bush Administration. In the short span of eight years, it suffered a collective loss of confidence in American leadership, in the ability of government to perform its most basic functions, and in the very essence of the American Dream which is progressively becoming the American nightmare. The stories we tell about ourselves as Americans no longer speak to the ideals of justice, equality, liberty, and democracy. There are precious few towering figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr. whose stories interweave moral outrage with courage and vision; stories which inspired us to imagine a just society and a more perfect union.
Polls have consistently established that both the Tea Party and “birthers,” those who consider President Obama illegitimate, about half of the Republican party, share some demographic characteristics. They are white, largely middle class and middle aged. They had been disproportionately impacted by the economic collapse and felt that the government’s response to the crisis had been to favor the rich and poor minorities — at their expense. They see themselves as victims of a failed government that misled them and let them down. The Trump and GOP appeals to “Make America great again,” to “stop us from losing”, or to “restore our honor” are in response to the still unresolved collective trauma experienced by the same group of voters who comprised the Tea Party. They are the anti-Obama message — appealing to fear and not hope, and looking backward, not forward.
For months now, the pundits and the GOP establishment have dismissed the dangers posed by the likes of Trump and Carson and Cruz. Trump, they said, would be undone by his insults and fabrications; Carson was a fad who would soon fade; and Cruz, because he was so disliked, would go nowhere. Most recent polls, however, show these three garnering between 50 and 60 percent of the Republican vote while their rhetoric becomes harsher, with naked ugly appeals to intolerance and even violence. Indeed, the clowns have had their saying and have entertained us for a while, but isn’t it time now to wake up from our nightmare before it becomes a sad and irreversible reality?
A final pertinent caveat for all those anti-Americans on the other side of the Atlantic ocean who may find themselves gloating over the above-mentioned bad news scenarios. The news is bad for them too; for if the oldest of the modern experiments in democracy tragically fails, it will almost certainly mean that it will ultimately fail everywhere else too. The descend into madness will then become global, the lights will be out for all, and darkness will envelope the earth; we will have fought World War II for nothing. This may sound slightly apocalyptic, but it is more in the nature of a prophecy grounded in the historical-political reality described in Vico’s philosophy of history: once democracy is dead, these anti-Americans’ political and ethical dreams will also come to an end and the descend into a global madness will almost certainly ensue. Vico is yet to be proven wrong on the dissolution of advanced civilizations. Remember too that a prophecy is not necessarily a revelation of the future; it is more in the nature of an urgent appeal to sanity and a warning so that such a future will not come about. Let those who have ears, let them hear.
Democracy Rushing into the Abyss: The Insanity is Even Worse than it Looks
“The Republican Party has become an insurgent outlier – ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”-Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, in It’s Even Worse than it Looks (2011)
This is a sequel of sorts to the previous article where the controlling metaphor was that of the descend into insanity in the political milieu of American democracy. In this article the controlling metaphor is that of the abyss, or better, the rush into the abyss of a whole party and group of people who may well end up destroying two hundred years of American democracy, as we know it.
The Republicans seem to have decided that they will divide, degrade and secede from the Union. How will they do it? They will do it with bullying, lies and manipulation, a willingness to say anything that conforms to their ideology, never mind the truth of facts and events; by spending unheard of sums to buy elections with the happy assistance of big business and wealthy patrons for whom the joys of gross income inequality are a comfortable fact of life. By gerrymandering and denying the vote to as many of the poor, the elderly, struggling low-paid workers, and people of color as they can. And by appealing to the basest impulses of human nature: anger, fear and bigotry. Like the pronouncement of the Ministry of Truth in Orwell’s 1984, ignorance is strength, whether it’s casting paranoid fantasies about thousands of Muslims in New Jersey cheering 9/11, or warning about terrorists in refugees’ ragged clothing and Mexican rapists slithering across the border, to wit the Frankenstein created by the Republican party, Donald Trump, who is now ready to devour its makers.
The fever is pandemic not only among the party’s presidential candidates but throughout the House and Senate right down to state governments. Witness erstwhile GOP presidential candidate and current Wisconsin governor Scott Walker cutting off food stamps for the hungry and possibly bankrupting food pantries in his state just in time for Christmas – because many of those on the lowest rung of the ladder haven’t yet found a job. It’s a cruel and “uncivil war” against the poor and the indigent, a sorry spectacle to the rest of the world watching in bewilderment.
Even science is deniable if it furthers the party’s extreme social Darwinian ideology. Take the issue of climate change. While the climate talks in Paris could potentially mark a turning point in solving the problem of global warming, the “thought police” within the Republican party makes sure that the party orthodoxy on the subject is upheld: that orthodoxy dictates that there is no man-made global climate; which in effect means that the Republicans are perfectly willing to doom the whole world. They’re in fact on constant attack against the science of climate change, with the latest salvo two House bills passed December 1 that undermine Environmental Protection Agency rules (the president will of course veto them).
In a way, this is part of a long tradition: Richard Hofstadter’s famous essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” was published half a century ago but it remains relevant. And if that is not insanity then nothing is. Indeed, climate-denial orthodoxy doesn’t just say that the scientific consensus is wrong. Senior Republican members of Congress routinely indulge in wild conspiracy theories, alleging that all the evidence for climate change is the product of a giant hoax perpetrated by thousands of scientists around the world. And they do all they can to harass and intimidate individual scientists.
A few days ago the new Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, summed up his House Republican agenda – vowing to pursue legislation that would frame a stark choice for voters in 2016. “Our No. 1 goal for the next year is to put together a complete alternative to the left’s agenda,” he said. A series of retrograde ideas were put forth. Here are seven of them: 1. Reduce the top income-tax rate to 25% from the current 39%. This would be a huge windfall to the rich at a time when the rich already take home a larger share of total income that at any time since the 1920s. 2. Cut corporate taxes to 25% from the current 35%. A giant sop to corporations, the largest of which are already socking away $2.1 trillion in foreign tax shelters. 3. Slash spending on domestic programs like food stamps and education for poor districts. Already 22% of the nation’s children are in poverty; these cuts would only make things worse. 4. Turn Medicaid and other federal programs for the poor into block grants for the states, and let the states decide how to allocate them. In other words, give Republican state legislatures and governors slush funds to do with as they wish. 5. Turn Medicare into vouchers that don’t keep up with increases in healthcare costs. In effect cutting Medicare for the elderly. 6. Deal with rising Social Security costs by raising the retirement age for Social Security. This would make Social Security even more regressive, since the poor don’t live nearly as long as the rich. 7. Finally, let the minimum wage continue to decline as inflation eats it away. Wrong again. Low wage workers need a higher minimum wage.
Congressional Republicans have vowed to free Wall Street from oversight and accountability and to prevent children fleeing the Syrian civil war from coming ashore on US soil. And yes, they will once again be in full throat against gun control (despite the latest tragedy in San Bernardino, California). And believe it or not, once again they’ll try to scuttle Obama care, as in Kentucky where the self-financed, wealthy Republican governor-elect has vowed to cut loose hundreds of thousands of people from health insurance.
All of these sad examples, however, are but symptoms of a deeper disease – the corruption and debasement of society, government and politics. It is a disease that eats away at the root and heart of what democracy is all about. The opening phrase of the Preamble to the Constitution committs “We, the People” to the most remarkable compact of self-government ever – for the good of all. The Republicans are shredding that vision as they make a bonfire of the hopes that inspired it and, in the process, will reduce the United States to a third-rate, sorry excuse for a nation. They would tear the Republic apart, rip to pieces its already fragile social compact, and reap the whirlwind of a failed experiment in self-government. For a glimpse of this kind of world pick up George Orwell’s 1984 and David Lebedoff’s The Uncivil War. They are prophetic of where Western democracy may be heading. There is still time to turn around, but time is running out.
Note: These two related articles on the predicament of democracy first appeared in Ovi magazine: the first on 12/2/2015 and the second on 12/11/2015.
The weakness of the West
2020 looks set to be a historic year and it’s not over yet. The coronavirus pandemic in combination with the international geopolitical developments put what we have known the West to be up until now, in a phase of apparent weakness and gradual decline.
If 1990 was the year that marked the end of the Cold War, 30 years later we would be talking about the gradual end of Western domination. The United States, the main pillar of the Western world, is shaken by internal political polarization that is getting worse by the day, with unforeseen consequences. The US can no longer inspire people with its ideals internally, let alone externally. The end of the Soviet Union came with the symbolic fall of the statues of communism in the countries of Eastern Europe and in the USSR itself. In the United States and Europe, the statues of a guilty past, colonialism and exploitation are being torn down, constituting a sign of defiance and a new ideology that is gradually being born on the occasion of the movement for the lives of the black people, BLM, which was finally united with the LGBTQ, Antifa etc.
The ideological confusion and internal weakness of the West is also reflected in the increasingly violent reaction of immigrants and especially the Islamic element, which seems to be largely radicalized and unable to fully integrate into open western societies. A look only at the events of the last few weeks, at the dead count and the violent riots, in England, Germany, Sweden, etc., but also in the past, is indicative of the gradual reduction of internal social cohesion.
The economic consequences of Covid19, with unemployment, the economic downturn and the health crisis, will intensify more and more, and as the people say, “where there is poverty there is grief.” For the United States alone, the world’s largest economy, recession is estimated at 17% of the GDP in the first half, with a record unemployment rate of 16% due to the virus. At the same time, the public debt reaches a record high of close to $ 26 trillion, it will exceed 120% of GDP and public debt at the end of 2020!! — while it is not ruled out that the financial crisis will indeed turn into a financial (stock market bubble), even though three trillion dollars have been provided by from the central banks, the FED, the IMF, G’20 etc.
At the geopolitical level, the US is pursuing continued hegemony without respect to the rights of the Allies which will lead further to the relaxation and eventually rupture of transatlantic ties. At the same time, you cannot be an enemy of Russia, China and impose political and electoral policies on your allies in the EU and NATO at a time when you are being unraveled internally.
Developments in Libya, the Middle East (with the forthcoming annexation of occupied Palestinian territories by Israel) but also the US relationship with China (5G, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Asia, equipment, tariffs, etc.) and China with Europe show that the international system is entering a phase of destabilization and a fragmentation of the international order. Simultaneously, a multipolar world is emerging de facto as well as the need to build a new collective security architecture, which the great powers and especially the West will have to accept, in order to avoid international relations entering into anarchy with unforeseen consequences for the whole planet.
The USMCA Agreement: A New Era in Mexico-US-Canada Relations?
The agreement between the US Mexico and Canada (USMCA) entered into Force last 1st of July 2020 replacing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Although in many aspects the new treaty resembles the old one a lot, unlike the previous Trade Agreement, the USMCA focuses mainly on car exports, aluminum, and steel tariffs. It also increases environmental and work regulations while incentivizing domestic production of cars and lorries. This agreement also imposes a quota for Canadian and Mexican Automotive production. One could say that majority of the amendments that were made to the old NAFTA and that are crystallised in the USMCA benefit mainly the US than Canada and Mexico.
During all the negotiations that preceded the approval, ratification and enforcement of the new agreement, the Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) showed no interest in visiting any of his counterparts either in Canada or the United States.During his first 2 years as incumbent president, AMLO has not attended any international events so far, and he has focused on touring cities and regions of Mexico. In 2019, during his first year in office, the President declined to participate in at least three relevant international forums: the Davos World Economic Forum (WEF), which was held from January 22 to 25 ; the Group of 20 Summit (G-20), held on June 28 and 29 in Osaka, Japan; and the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN), which occurred on September 24.As outlandish and questionable that strategy was, it was consistent with the foreign policy approach he embraced ever since he took office: The best foreign policy is the domestic one.
For decades it was a common practice that the newly elected presidents of Mexico and the United States sought to meet each other personally, review the state of the relationship between the two countries, perhaps set an agenda of priorities, and send a signal of cordiality between the newly elected administrations. Very frequently both presidents preferred to meet at the border to avoid having to decide if they would do it in Washington or in the then Federal District, now Mexico City. Such visits have been held for 107 years. They began in October 1909, the first time that Porfirio Díaz and William Howard Taft crossed the border to meet in El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, at the inauguration of the international bridge that connects the two cities. During the presidential terms of Vicente Fox, Felipe Calderón and Enrique Peña Nieto, the first meetings were held in Mexico, just last week and after Trump let out that the Mexican president that had been summoned to meet him, AMLO does not only break with that custom, since now the first meeting will take place in the United States, but is also breaking his presidential campaign promise of focusing on domestic issues rather than international ones.
Donald Trump knows very well that the US is AMLO’s Achilles’ heel in his attempt to sell Mexico as an independent and sovereign country. That is why when Donald Trump threatened to bury the NAFTA, AMLO aligned himself with Trump’s wishes and became the southern wall to stop migration from Central America Trump had so long wished for. AMLO’s foreign policy and concessions to the US have reduced the Mexican diplomacy to the level of servility. The respect, dignity good faith and cooperation that should characterize all diplomatic relations among countries has been lost between Mexico and the US; not only because of Trump’s incendiary, populist, racist, anti-Mexican speech, but also by AMLO’s submission to Trump’s whims.
Last April during an OPEC+ Summit, Mexico refused to reduce its oil output endangering a global agreement to decrease oil production to tackle the oil price crisis. Donald Trump saw a golden opportunity here and did not miss it: he came to the rescue and he offered to cut American production further to make up for Mexico’s share, he went on to say that Mexico would reimburse the US back at a later date. It was obvious that Trump would not ask Mexico to pay back in one go, and this forced visit to the US might be the first of an unknown series of installments of a debt that Mexico is not even fully aware of.
One can already visualize the scene: both presidents shake hands and pose smiling for the media on the porch of the Oval Office in the White House. They declare having had an extraordinary interview where they share points of view on a variety of topics. Of course, they celebrate the entry into force of the renewed and improved Trade agreement which they describe as the trigger for investment, greater commercial exchanges and of course greater prosperity for the 3 countries that will translate into less poverty, less unemployment and a more equal distribution of resources.
They will not talk about the future of the 11 million Mexicans living in the US, and there will be no talks whatsoever about the about the close to six million Mexicans who are undocumented and that are the target of Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric, who are constantly persecuted, discriminated against, abused, separated from relative, caged, and deported by the American government. AMLO will not question Trump about such policy and will not try to negotiate some sort of solution to end the violation of their human rights. AMLO will not demand the massive raids and repatriations of Mexicans who have been living in the US for years to be suspended during this health emergency. There will also be no joint statement from both administrations on how to deal with the increasing violence unleashed by drug trafficking in Mexico, and the millions of weapons that are smuggled yearly from the US and that conveniently end up in the hands of the Mexican drug cartels.
As opposing as they may seem, there are several striking similarities between Donald Trump and AMLO. This will explain the docility that will characterize the Mexican envoy this week. AMLO has been carefully crafting since late 2004, when he first started campaigning for the presidency, the image of a nationalist, left-wing advocate for social justice who is ready to stand up for anyone threatening Mexico’s sovereignty. Trump is a simply a racist and a demagogue. Nonetheless, both share a desire to make of the Executive the most powerful branch of the state; they both dismiss institutions and the rule of law; they both have consistently attacked free press and free speech; they both publicly humiliate those that disagree with their policies; they both have shown contempt for science, experts’ advice, research and academics; they have both pursued utterly shambolic policies that have made the pandemic effects worse in both countries; and they both show a high degree of disaffection, lack of empathy, narcissism and have created a sick cult of personality around their persona.
Just like in 2016, when Donald Trump visited Mexico, the visit of the 8th and 9th of July of AMLO will be used by Trump to harvest huge electoral and political gains. Trump is losing popularity rapidly, and he is in desperate need of a foreign policy boost before the November elections. All previous attempts to make him look good internationally have been a failure: he has not been able to kick-start the Middle East Peace Process; the visit to North Korea’s leader Kim Jung Un ended up as a media mess that benefited North Korea more than the US; and his attempt to bring down the government of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela has not yet materialised. Donald Trump will be looking to make of the USMCA his big highlight of the year. This will also help him divert attention from his disastrous domestic policies to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic and will allow him to again use Mexico as the centre of his next electoral rallies just like he did in 2016.AMLO’s decision to visit Donald Trump during electoral months in the US will also be perceived as Mexico publicly backing Trump’s reelection campaign over Biden’s. This will he detrimental to the bilateral relation should the Democrats win the presidency back in November.
AMLO, however, could turn this visit into a success if he would be willing to change course. One of his many unfulfilled campaign promises was to make the economy grow at an average of 4% annually. Ever since he took office the economy has remained stagnant and latest projects place Mexico to suffer a 10 to 11% contraction because of the global pandemic, one of the worst slumps in Latin America. AMLO could sell this visit as chance for Mexico to regain foreign investment his 60s inspired economic, hyper-centralised economic policies have scared away and have contributed to increased poverty, inequality, and unemployment. He is in serious need of an economic boost to help him regain his rapidly decreasing popularity just 2 years into his 6-year presidential term.
However, AMLO is not planning to potentially benefit from this meeting on any way. He is flying commercial without any delegation of representatives and he wants this visit to remain as low key as possible. He has given no indication about his willingness to change direction and promote Mexico’s foreign investment. One just must look at the symbolism of Trump’s declaration of the Mexican president to understand that this visit does not bode well for Mexico. Donald Trump boasted last Tuesday during a conference that AMLO, was to soon visit the United States after he travelled to Yuma Arizona to monitor the progress of the border wall. On the whole, this will be a zero-sum game in which Mexico will be the loser.
Socio-Economic Implications of Canadian Border Closure With U.S.
After doing a detailed analysis of situation emerging from the closure of the border between Canada and US, it could be assessed that how damaging the decision is for the Economy of Canada, and how beneficial, it will be for Canada, if it decides to re-open the Border which is closed over the fears of an outbreak of Covid-19 Pandemic.
Since, some people think that given the maximum number of Covid-19 cases and several deaths worldwide, the decision should stay as there are thousands of cases and deaths over covid-19 in the US. They deem it a good step to keep the border shut over the fears of Novel Corona Virus with the US and Mexico.
Though some sections consider the move as a right decision based on the covid0-19 statistics some experts term it very dangerous for Canadian Economy as it will be affected as major industries such Tourism and Travel, Immigration affected very badly and economic cannot be put on hold for long as the numbers show that 75% to 80% Canadian exports go to the US while 30% to 40% US exports make their way in Canada.
Thus the economy has been hit very badly due to this prolonged closure and shutdown of Economic activities will ultimately pose a grave threat to falling in Recession and Falling of Reserves.
The Canadian authorities will have to swallow a hard pill to re-open the b border for essential and non-essential travel since both types of entries in the country contribute to the economy of the country.
At the moment, Canada has limited Covid-19 infections as compared to the US that has a massive number of infections in the world.
According to the Border Management Experts, this could be the only problem that might have prompted Canadian Prime Minister to extend the closure for another month until some SOP’s may be developed to ensure on border covid-19 Testing and Scanning so that preventive measures should be taken to keep the infection ratio low in Canada.
The World economies are affected very badly over the lockdowns announced to prevent Covid-19 outbreak and their economy has been under pressure already and the financial experts predict the worst type recession shortly.
The people of both countries are of the view that the Prolonged border closure has caused an economic crisis and several Industries such as Hotel Industry, Travel Tours and Immigration, Food and beverages Industry, sports Industry, Education have been affected very badly and both Canada and the US cannot afford to sustain more jolts to their economy as economic activities have dropped to almost 80% and ring the alarm bells for the leadership to decide immediately what their next plan will for the border.
Whether they will reopen it in phases or provide restrict access to essential travel such health workers, Airline Crew, Food and Goods services, People visiting ailing relatives and other related activities that fall within the purview of “ essential”.
Although, the global Pandemic has created a situation like recession which is going from bad to worse each Passing day, yet in such scenario “keeping borders Closed” for trade and Business Opportunities and other travel, entertainment industry, will incur an irreparable loss to the Economy of both Canada and US as both countries have signed several Trade Agreements and US has been losing millions of Dollars in terms ” US Entry Waivers” and this is putting pressure on world’s biggest economy.
Even it is a great blow to the Immigrants who wish to travel to neighbouring countries.
Both Canada and the United States are providing millions of dollars to people as relief package, Health and social security and other procurements such Covid-19 testing kits and establishing new isolation and Quarantine centres as the infections surge in the US and worldwide.
In such circumstances halting economic activities are suicidal for Canada and Virus affected the US by keeping borders close for non-essential or optional purposes despite putting some curbs on essential travels such putting immigrants in 14 days quarantine and other immigration-related curbs.
The economists fear that what would be the consequences if the covid-19 vaccine was unavailable till the end of the year 2021, will they still keep the border closed, sounds like insensible and disastrous for all types Industries and Sectors including Immigration and Border services.
So, it would be prudent on the part of Both Canada and US to think over the re-opening of their border so that people intending to visit their relatives on both sides of borders may have uninterrupted access and they must be facilities at the border checkpoints for covid-19 so that the fears of Canadian authorities about getting soaring infections may be dispelled by assuring them safety measures at border crossing points.
Furthermore, the fears cannot be treated with medicines but they could be soothed with confidence-building measures as the statistics show that 65% Canadian fear to get contracted by Virus while over 60% US people have a similar situation for contracting virus.
Despite all this, nobody knows that when these borders will reopen for general people apart from essential travel as most people are in the grip of fear and prefer staying at home as per WHO guidelines, that may be the issue that both Canadian and US Governments are lingering on the issue and prefer extending closure as both nations enjoy cordial relation and the closure is a mutual decision of both countries.
Recently, though some Tour industry groups recorded their protest and demanded to re-open the border. The decision could not be influenced until the general public presses their respective Governments to review the decision and take some bold steps to save their economies falling to prey to this pandemic.
Both Canada and the US cannot afford to lose millions of Dollars in border trade and border revenues such as Entry waivers, customs etc to boost their economies.
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