President Obama’s farewell address focusing on the state of our democracy offered a lofty perspective coupled with a homily on the responsibility of citizenship. Thrown in were elements of legacy seized upon by numerous commentators from the left and right.
The trouble is an aloof president on a lofty perch is unlikely to get much of anything done in the rough and tumble of American politics. One can recall the vivid counterexample of Lyndon Johnson and his personal arm-twisting to push through his ‘Great Society’ programs.
This president came into office in the wake of two disasters: an economic crisis caused by neoliberal policies of deregulation, and wars inherited from the neocons and George W. Bush. The first was handled with a gentle touch — no fraudsters went to jail — of weak regulation and copious financial largesse; the second with a surge in Afghanistan and eventual withdrawal of forces from Iraq.
The result has been a tepid economic recovery, its weakness allowing it to continue — the expansion not sufficient as yet to cause the usual contraction in an economic cycle. Median U.S. household income after undergoing a reduction has returned to the 2008 levels: $58,827 in 2008 to $58,221 in 2016. On the other hand, income inequality worsened as a disproportionate share of gains went to the top one percent.
On the war front, the surge failed in Afghanistan. At 15 years, the longest war in U.S. history continues as the Taliban display increased strength. Playing the ethnic card, as the U.S. did, unseated the Taliban quickly but delegitimized the central government in the eyes of the Pashtun population. It holds on ethnic plurality and an easy majority when including their kin in Pakistan across a notoriously porous and artificial Durand Line marking an ignored British colonial border. Afghanistan was part of the Mughal Empire, like India and Pakistan, before the British arrived.
Troops were withdrawn from Iraq at the latter’s behest but Special Forces are now back fighting IS/Daesh. In fact Special Forces were deployed in 138 countries globally in 2016.
This president might have inherited two wars but has bequeathed seven to his successor. An astounding 26,171 bombs were dropped last year or approximately three per hour. These are wars fought from the skies, safer in terms of U.S. military casualties, but by their nature, deadly on civilian populations.
Attempts to undermine the Trump presidency continue unabated. A dossier leaked to the press claimed the Russians had a hold on Trump through evidence of deviant sex, and in addition were going to offer profitable deals to the Trump organization. A simple question: Why would they need to offer financial inducement if they already had a hold on Trump?
Prepared by Christopher Steele, a former MI6 operative, for apparently Democrat and Republican opponents of Trump, the dossier contains almost no evidence of its assertions and was soon proven to be false. Mr. Steele meanwhile is in hiding. He believes his life to be in danger.
If all of the above is not enough, the Justice Department has announced an investigation of FBI Director, James Comey, by the Inspector General for his handling of the Clinton email affair just before the election.
While little can be remembered about Vice President Joe Biden other than plagiarism when he ran for president plus a capacity to endure the rudest insults and disrespect from Benjamin Netanyahu and his government, he has been awarded the Medal of Freedom by his dear friend Barack Obama — the nation’s highest civilian honor, becoming as depleted in value as the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to his boss. Bemedaled, he was dispatched to Ukraine. What could be more urgent than more trouble for Trump?
In the meantime, the odious and politically naive continue their confirmation hearings, proving to be either gutless or reversing Trump’s policy pronouncements in the case of Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State nominee. He is already issuing ultimatums to China and Iran seemingly unaware of their close relationship with Russia.
The old joke remains truer than ever: In America anyone can be president … and anyone usually is.
America’s Exceptionalism in Mass-Shooting and Its Culture of Rugged Individualism
Amid an unrelenting surge of gun massacres, many have wondered why the United States- the world’s leading country in mass shootings over the last century, is more prone to mass shootings than any other country. Gun violence, though, is prevalent in many parts of the world, for instance in most parts of Latin America. But in America, no form of violence is seen as more uniquely American than public mass shootings by “lone-wolf” gunmen. According to Gun Violence Archive, 39 mass shootings have already taken place across the country in just the first three weeks of 2023. Last year the country witnessed around 647 cases of mass shooting with the consequence of more than 44,000 death tolls due to gun violence overall.
Like its political establishment, American public discourse has long firmly been divided over what causes this epidemic. The critics of this national sickness focus their fire on the second amendment of the American constitution and the nefarious political influence of the National Rifles Association (NRF). But here comes down to the question: will a mere constitutional amendment and the neutralization of special interest groups like the NRF lead to the solution to the endemic prevalence of lone-wolf mass shootings? The answer is: not likely, as the problem is deeply rooted in America’s culture itself: the culture of rugged individualism built on its deep-seated historical myth.
According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, rugged individualism is defined as “the combination of individualism and anti-statism … a prominent feature of American culture with deep roots in the country’s history of frontier settlement.” While individualism, as noted, may be conducive to innovation and resource mobilization, it can also undermine collective action, with potentially adverse social consequences. During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was seen how America’s rugged individualistic mindset fomented by its frontier culture hampered the state responses to the pandemic, with many Americans having defied mandatory mask-wearing and vaccination programs.
Likewise, the gun is a great emblem and lethal offspring of American individualism. The nation has long valorized masculine heroes –violent frontiersmen or Hollywoodized American Archetype “White Loners” – who impose their will on the community’s enemies with violence. Added to that deep-seated historical ideal and cultural sickness are the deteriorating trend in kinship traditions and ever-declining “rational mobility”- a condition that helps establish bonds of support beyond immediate families on the basis of socially engaging emotions such as empathy warmth, trust, affection, etc.
Self-serving politicians and gun advocates often ridiculously propose giving more arms into the hands of “the good guys” to thwart “the bad guys with guns.” The Americans’ dire wishes for gun possession, however, stem less from their sense of personal or communal security rather more from an egocentric individualistic cultural reasoning that lacks the prioritization of collective communal safety. The unshakeable emotional and individualistic values Americans attach to guns frequently override concerns about the nation’s collective health and safety.
The exercise of unfettered individualism is also seen in many parts of the western world, like in Europe; but nowhere in the world is this so infested by historical myth and pathological strains as in America- what the prominent criminologist Adam Lankford called “the uniquely American quality.” And where the United States is stunningly divergent from the rest of the world is the confluence of individualistic culture and the easiest access to guns. In no other part of the world gun access and rugged individualistic culture interact in the same way.
Although many European countries share the same cultural forces that produce aggrieved social outcasts. But those countries erect formidable hurdles on the way of purchasing guns legally that are quite unheard of in the United States: longer waiting periods, higher insurance costs, full-blown psychiatric evaluations, gun safety courses, etc. Resultantly, the country has more weapons than people: one in three adults possesses at least one firearm, and almost one in two adults resides in a home with a firearm.
But the prevalence of guns alone does not account for U.S. exceptionalism in mass shootings. For example, like the United States, much of Latin America is saturated with firearms but, despite high rates of gun violence, mass shootings there by a “lone wolf” gunman are exceedingly rare. And experts pointed to the cultural difference as a powerful factor playing out in creating a huge disparity in the number of mass shooting cases between the two regions.
In America, ever-increasing personal and economic struggles combined with the inherent state structural tension and identity crisis continue to produce aggrieved social outcasts. On top of this, the ever-exacerbating political climate plagued by partisan divide, racial toxicity, and xenophobic bigotry has also been influencing socially and politically aggrieved outcasts, due to the absence of alternative social redressing mechanisms, to seek recourse by resorting to mass violence. Here, rugged individualism works in creating the very roots of virile fantasy to violence, a toxic political milieu in fueling grievances, and finally easy access to guns in triggering off those grievances in the form of mass shooting.
American Democracy Remains Under Peril
The democratic system of government in the United States underwent an unprecedented test two years ago when supporters of President Donald Trump attempted to reverse his election loss—some through illegal schemes, others through a violent assault on the U.S. Capitol. American democracy has started to function better and its prospects have improved since that moment in history.
Extreme election deniers suffered defeats in crucial swing states like Arizona and Pennsylvania in the 2022 elections, which were successfully performed. The riots that attempted to overturn the results of the 2020 election and the role that former US President Donald J. Trump played in inciting them were thoroughly documented by the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the US Capitol. Elections for president were held peacefully in Colombia while candidates with questionable commitments to democracy were rejected in Brazil and France.
The most powerful authoritarian governments in the world are currently having difficulties. The idea of a resurgent Moscow was dispelled by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s disastrously planned and carried out war in Ukraine. China’s attempt to overtake the United States as the world’s greatest economy and most powerful nation has failed due to President Xi Jinping’s poor mismanagement of the COVID-19 outbreak. Xi’s domestic popularity has been further weakened by China’s real estate boom, a 20 percent young unemployment rate, a politically motivated crackdown on the private sector, and soaring local government debt.
However, despite their diminished power, Beijing and Moscow continue to constitute a significant threat to democracy. They will need to disparage other forms of administration and criticize their democratic rivals more and more as their domestic issues get worse. Beijing and Moscow are launching a campaign of deception that targets and amplifies the vulnerability of American democracy as a result of this. Russia and China both, This propaganda campaign tries to delegitimize Western-style democracy in order to quell calls for democratic reforms. In the long run, it aims to establish a new, fragmented international order that prioritizes “national sovereignty” over human rights. It also aims to oust and support friendly governments, as well as combat the growing perception that cooperating with Beijing and Moscow has negative effects on local citizens.
Because Western democracies are weak, Beijing and Moscow are supported in this endeavour. Trump keeps questioning the validity of the 2020 election, and he might soon be charged with a crime. Gridlock, partisan investigations and impeachment attempts, as well as cynical new initiatives to erode rather than restore confidence in the American voting system, may well dominate Capitol Hill for the next two years. Conspiracy theories and misinformation continue to abound on social media, and corporate content moderation attempts have fallen short. With the quick development of generative AI software, which can create deep fakes in which famous personalities appear to be talking and doing things they never said or did, the assault on reality is likely to get exponentially worse. For the two superpowers of disinformation in the world, China and Russia, all of this is a blessing. The propaganda is more effective the more reliable the content.
The decline of democracy in the US aids in the delegitimization of democracy by Beijing and Moscow. American democracy must be strengthened at home if it is to once again serve as a model that may inspire others. The fight for global soft power can only be won by Washington at that point.
Both domestic and foreign security issues are raised by the state of the American democracy. Principal authoritarian rivals of the United States, China and Russia, have taken advantage of (and made worse) America’s democratic divides and struggles in the race for world leadership. In order to recover the upper hand, the United States must simultaneously strengthen its own democracy and raise its profile as an advocate for democracy abroad. The democratic movement needs to attack.
A significant investment in American soft power will be needed for this. Public diplomacy spending in the United States peaked at $2.5 billion in 1994 (inflation-adjusted) and nearly surpassed that amount in 2010 and 2011. However, since then, as new problems have emerged, American efforts have remained unchanged, with total expenditures only amounting to $2.23 billion in 2020.
Washington must reenter the struggle for international soft power in a way that upholds American ideals. It must convey the truth in ways that appeal to and influence people around the world. The objective must be to advance democratic values, concepts, and movements in addition to effectively combating misinformation with the truth. Multiple trustworthy streams of information are required to combat misinformation and report the truth that autocracies repress. Additionally, they must be independent; even though the US government may give them financial support, they must run without editorial oversight. They will appear independent, which they are, in this manner.
One option would be to change the Voice of America to resemble the British Broadcasting Corporation more closely. Its goal should be to serve as a role model for the values of the American democratic experiment by offering completely unbiased news on all nations, including the United States. Truth, independence, and expertise in reporting are necessary, but they are not sufficient to win the information battle. A decentralised, pluralistic web of high-quality media is also necessary. In autocracies, local media are ideally situated to collect and distribute evidence of corruption,
Serious policy mistakes and violations of human rights. In order to report the news and provide critical commentary in the absence of media freedom, the United States and its democratic allies must elevate and strengthen the underfunded local media. Funding for public interest media will be needed in the billions of dollars, much of which should go through the nongovernmental International Fund for Public Interest Media (including media operating in exile). The fund is a nonpartisan alliance of multinational foundations that can provide funding for regional independent media while preserving their independence.
Together with its democratic allies, Washington should explore fresh geopolitical and technological avenues for assisting closed regimes to overcome Internet censorship and social media surveillance. Autocracies will be less stable when those living in them have easier access to unbiased information and more secure means of communication with one another. In order to prevent autocracies from seizing control of international Internet standards and protocols, democracies must engage in active and coordinated diplomacy. The biggest flagrantly false and dangerous content must be removed. Social media companies must also take more action to combat the malicious manipulation of their platforms by foreign governments. And by tightening social media regulation, the US and other democracies should support these initiatives. TikTok should be removed from American devices as a first step.
But the democracy in America is not secure. The last Congress failed to pass legislation aimed at reducing the influence of money, strengthening and expanding voting rights, ending gerrymandering, ensuring ethical standards for elected officials, and enhancing election security, and there is little chance that it will succeed in the following one. Even worse, numerous states have taken action to limit voting rights and make it more challenging for minorities to cast ballots. Most concerning, several state legislatures with Republican control, led by North Carolina, are attempting to construct a doctrine of “independent state legislatures,” which would allow these bodies to rig election results and even draw partisan gerrymandered voting districts.without being subject to judicial, executive, or redistricting commission oversight. If domestic politics in the United Nations turn into a collection of one-party states, the country will be unable to confront autocracies on a global scale. The revival of American democracy and domestic achievement will be key to countering autocratic deception.
Friction Between United States & Iran: The Tension and Its Impact
The relationship between the United States (US) and Iran has a long and complex history. In the early 20th century, the United States (US) played a key role in the overthrow of Iran’s democratically elected government and the installation of a pro-Western monarchy under the rule of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. This led to a deep mistrust of the United States by many Iranians. In the 1970s, the Shah’s regime was overthrown in the Iranian Revolution, led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The new Islamic Republic of Iran was deeply anti-American and took 52 American hostages in the US embassy in Tehran. The hostage crisis lasted for 444 days and severely damaged US-Iran relations. In the following decades, the US has had a policy of economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation towards Iran, citing its support for terrorism and pursuit of nuclear weapons. Iran has also been known to support groups like Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which are designated as terrorist groups by the US.
In recent years, there have been some attempts at improving relations between the two countries. The Obama Administration negotiated a nuclear deal with Iran in 2015, which lifted some sanctions in exchange for limits on Iran’s nuclear program. However, the Trump Administration withdrew from the deal in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions on Iran. Currently, the US and Iran are in a situation of high tension, with both sides engaging in a series of hostile actions against each other, such as the killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad by a US drone in 2020. The US has continued to put sanctions on Iran and labelled several Iranian organisations as terrorist organisations. In summary, the relationship between the United States and Iran has been characterized by a long history of mistrust, hostility and mutual accusations, with both sides engaging in actions that have escalated the tensions between them.
There are several accusations and actions that have contributed to the high tension conflict between the United States and Iran.
From the perspective of the United States, the main accusations against Iran include:
Supporting terrorism: The US government has long accused Iran of providing financial and military support to groups like Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad, which the US has designated as terrorist organizations.
Pursuit of nuclear weapons: The US has accused Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, despite Iran’s claim that its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes.
Human rights abuses: The US has also accused Iran of widespread human rights abuses, including the repression of political dissidents and minorities, and the use of torture and execution.
Threat to regional stability: The US has accused Iran of destabilizing the Middle East through its support for groups like the Houthi rebels in Yemen and the Assad regime in Syria.
From the perspective of Iran, the main accusations against the United States include: –
Interference in Iranian internal affairs: Iran has long accused the United States of attempting to overthrow its government and interfere in its internal affairs.
Supporting Iran’s enemies: Iran has accused the United States of supporting its regional rivals, such as Saudi Arabia and Israel, and of providing military and financial support to groups that seek to overthrow the Iranian government.
Violation of human rights: Iran has also accused the US of violating human rights, pointing to actions such as the use of drone strikes and the detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.
Economic sanctions: Iran has accused the US of imposing economic sanctions on Iran, which it claims have caused significant harm to its economy and people.
In terms of actions that have escalated tensions, from the US side:
- The killing of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad by a US drone in 2020.
- The US has continued to put sanctions on Iran and labelled several Iranian organisations as terrorist organisations.
- Increasing military presence in the Gulf region.
From the Iranian side:
- Continuing to develop its nuclear program, in spite of the US sanctions.
- Seizing of foreign oil tankers and ships.
- Attacks on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia that were blamed on Iran.
- Shooting down of a US drone in 2019
It’s worth noting that the situation is complex and multifaceted and both sides have taken actions that have escalated the tensions between them.
The tension between the United States and Iran has had a significant impact on the international community. It has led to increased instability and uncertainty in the Middle East, with both sides engaging in actions that have the potential to escalate into a larger conflict. This can disrupt the oil supplies and lead to an economic crisis. The tension has also had an impact on the security of other countries in the region, as many of them are allied with the United States or Iran and could be caught in the middle of any potential conflict. This has also affected global oil prices due to the potential disruption of supplies from the Middle East. This has also had an impact on the ongoing negotiations and agreements between other countries and Iran, such as the Nuclear Deal. The US withdrawal from the deal and imposition of sanctions has affected other countries’ ability to do business with Iran and has also affected the ongoing negotiations regarding Iran’s nuclear program.
Moreover, many countries have had to navigate the delicate balance between maintaining good relations with both the United States and Iran, as both countries are major powers with significant economic and military influence. This has led to some countries, particularly those in the Middle East, to align more closely with one side or the other, potentially damaging their relationships with the other. Secondly, the tension between the US and Iran has also affected the ability of countries to engage in business and trade with Iran, as the US has imposed economic sanctions on Iran. This has led to some countries to scale back their trade and investment with Iran, or to find ways to circumvent the sanctions. Thirdly, the tension has also affected the efforts of countries to mediate and resolve the conflict. Many countries have tried to act as intermediaries to de-escalate the tensions and find a peaceful resolution, but the deep mistrust and hostility between the US and Iran have made this a difficult task. Fourthly, the tension has also affected the security of other countries in the region, as many of them are allied with the United States or Iran, and they could be caught in the middle of any potential conflict.
Overall, the tension between the United States and Iran has had a significant impact on the formulation of foreign policies in the international borders, as many countries have had to navigate the delicate balance between maintaining good relations with both countries, while also addressing the economic stability and security implications of the tension.
The tension between the United States and Iran is a complex and longstanding issue, and there is no easy solution to melting down the tension. However, some steps that could potentially help to alleviate the tension include:
Diplomatic negotiations: Direct talks between the United States and Iran could be an important step in resolving the tension, provided that both sides are willing to come to the table with open minds and a willingness to compromise.
Support from the international community: Other countries could play a role in mediating talks between the United States and Iran and in putting pressure on both sides to de-escalate the tension. The support of other countries in the region would be particularly important.
Lifting of economic sanctions: The lifting of economic sanctions on Iran could help to improve the country’s economy and reduce the impact of the sanctions on the Iranian people, which may reduce some of the hostility towards the United States.
Addressing mutual concerns: The United States and Iran have many concerns about each other’s actions, such as human rights abuses, support for terrorism, and destabilizing activities in the Middle East. Addressing these concerns in a direct and honest way could help to build trust between the two countries.
De-escalation of military activities: Both sides should avoid any action that could escalate the situation into a military conflict.
Evidently, these steps would likely be difficult to achieve, but they could help to reduce the tension between the United States and Iran, and provide some relief to the international community.
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