Dispelling Some American Delusions
We live in troubled times, that’s for sure. Terrorism, mass shootings, deadly viruses, and even more deadly presidential candidates dominate the headlines. It’s normal for people to be fearful and disoriented and, as Barack Obama said in 2008, to want to cling to our guns and Bibles. Historically in nations under psychic stress, people are vulnerable to demagogues promising simple answers; it’s the Jews’ fault, it’s the Muslims’ fault, or whoever is the designated scapegoat at the time. People fall prey to other superstitions, too, or gravitate back to traditional mores which may be based on fallacies.
For example, I keep hearing how America is the greatest country on Earth. What exactly does that mean? We’re the richest in wealth, and we have the greatest military power. But greatest country on Earth? Greatest third world country, maybe. If that sounds strange, consider some characteristics of third world countries, one being massive wealth inequality. Third world countries typically export raw materials and import finished goods, which is true of the U.S. I don’t think you get to call yourself the greatest country if a quarter of your children live in poverty. You don’t get to call yourself the greatest if you make up 4.4% of the world’s population, yet have 25% of the world’s prison inmates. You can’t call yourself the greatest if you can’t or won’t provide health care for 10% of your people, about 30 million of us. You can’t call yourself the greatest if you saddle the youngest generation — the ones tasked with building our future — with a lifetime of student debt amounting to indentured servitude, and with not much to offer them but low wage, low benefit jobs. I’m just saying let’s be realistic.
We the people are the government; I hear this from progressives, mostly. If that were ever true, and I have my suspicions, it certainly isn’t now. An article in the April 18, 2014 New Yorker, reported on a study by Martin Gilens of Princeton, and Benjamin Page of Northwestern, and was titled: “Is America an Oligarchy?” They looked at 1779 policy proposals between 1982 and 2002, and the results are sobering. If the elites (wealthy people and transnational corporations) favored a policy, it was enacted 45% of the time. If they didn’t, the number was 18%. Rather than bore you with numbers, let me simplify. They found that policies favored by even a vast majority of Americans, but not by elites, has as much chance of becoming law as background noise, about 3/10ths of a percent. For proof, all we have to do is look around. Between 60-70% of Americans, in countless polls, favor health care for all, tuition free college, nationwide background checks for guns, and a range of other progressive issues. That’s because America is a center-left nation, not center-right, a delusion constantly peddled by conservatives.
Your vote counts. No, sorry, it really doesn’t count for much, unless you’re voting for the school board or city council members. We are given the illusion of choice, but there really is no choice. In the presidential campaign, we can choose between two corporatists. Bernie Sanders is not invited. We all either vote on, or our absentee ballots are counted by, electronic voting machines that have been proven to be easily hackable, and whose organizations are run by conservatives. Thus, the software is proprietary, and immune to examination by federal election officials. How else can you explain that 33 states now are completely controlled by the Republicans, who have nothing but bad ideas when it comes to policies for all Americans? Well, it could also be that Americans are basically dumb-asses, I admit the possibility. Just know that you have no way to know if your vote was ever counted, or counted accurately.
The 2nd Amendment does not guarantee all citizens the right to own a gun. Read the first part, italics mine: “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” The language is very specific, and for good reason. State, not nation. It was worded this way to bring in the Southern states, who felt they needed guns for their militias, which is what they called their slave patrols. What guaranteed all citizens the right to own guns was the Supreme Court decision in Heller v. District of Columbia. Now it’s law, but I doubt it’s what the Framers had in mind.
Our troops are fighting over there (wherever that currently happens to be, in this case, Afghanistan and Iraq) to protect our freedoms. It’s nothing more than pure propaganda. Not only are our troops not protecting us over there, they’re actually endangering us by inflaming further hatred of invading and occupying Westerners. And we have only ourselves to blame for over a century of pillaging Arab resources and interfering with the way they choose to govern themselves.
“. . . and justice for all.” Yes, if you can afford it. But if you ain’t got the money, honey, you ain’t getting’ much justice. We’re guaranteed by the 6th Amendment “to have the assistance of counsel” for our defense. That’s been interpreted to mean that if you can’t afford an attorney, one will be appointed by the court — that’s your public defender. Fine. But with county and municipal budget cuts nationwide, thanks again to Republicans, many of them have been laid off. The reality is that if you’re too poor to make bail, you could be in jail for months before you even get 15 minutes with your assigned public defender, because he or she has a caseload of over a hundred. Even worse, many states, including my blue Washington, actually charge the defendant for use of their public defender, along with court costs and other fees (like private probation companies). Also, the 6th Amendment begins, “In all criminal prosecutions,” meaning if you’re sued, or wish to sue in civil court, no public defender. You’re on your own, pal. I hope you can afford a good lawyer.
The American Flag, the Stars and Stripes, means a great deal to all of us. It’s the symbol of the greatest country on Earth, right? When we look at that flag, it represents what we think of ourselves, or more properly, what we’d like to think of ourselves. But I’ll bet if you went to Guatamala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Haiti, Chile, or more recently, Honduras — and if you could ask the average people, and if they’d be honest with you — that flag might symbolize something entirely different to them. It might mean oppression, greed, imperialism, and death squads.
People like to believe things because they want them to be true — that’s called magical thinking. So when demagogues promise to “make America great again” we should press them for their definition of greatness. I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s when we had a robust, well-paid working middle class. But then I was male and white, two privileges that too many take for granted, if they’re even aware of them. We should remember that we are still a young country, in adolescence, if you will. Think of America as the surly teenager who borrowed his dad’s car, got drunk, and totaled it. As a country, we’re just a young, obnoxious punk. If I sound like one of those America-hating liberals, I love this country. I just hate what it’s become. And watching it die in front of me over the last 35 years has put me in a foul mood. Some of you may be saying, well if he hates America that much, why doesn’t he get the hell out? The answer is simple: I don’t want to become the victim of our foreign policy.