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Tag Archives: AMERICAN CIVIC RELIGION

DANGEROUS FLAILING AND BELLOWING OF THE BEAST

John Chuckman

When I think of America’s place in the world today, the image that comes to mind is of a very large animal, perhaps a huge bull elephant or even prehistoric mammoth, which long roamed as the unchallenged king of its domain but has become trapped by its own missteps, as caught in a tar pit or some quicksand, and it is violently flailing about, making a terrifying noises in its effort to free itself and re-establish its authority. Any observer immediately knows the animal ultimately cannot succeed but certainly is frightened by the noise and crashing that it can sustain for a considerable time.

I think that is the pretty accurate metaphor for the situation of the United States today, still a terribly large and powerful society but one finding itself trapped after a long series of its own blunders and errors, a society certain ultimately to become diminished in its prestige and relative power with all the difficulties which that will entail for an arrogant people having a blind faith in their own rightness. America simply cannot accept its mistakes or that it was ever wrong, for Americanism much resembles a fundamentalist religion whose members are incapable of recognizing or admitting they ever followed anything but the divine plan.

America has made a costly series of errors over the last half century, demonstrating to others that the America they may have been in awe of in, say, 1950, and may have considered almost godlike and incapable of mistakes, has now proved itself indisputably, in field after field, as often not even capable of governing itself. The irony of a people who are seen as often unable to govern themselves advising others how to govern themselves brings a distinct note of absurdity to American foreign policy.

America’s establishment, feeling their old easy superiority in the world beginning to slip away in a hundred different ways, seems determined to show everyone it still has what it takes, determined to make others feel its strength, determined to weaken others abroad who do not accept its natural superiority, determined to seize by brute force and dirty tricks advantages which no longer come to it by simply superior performance.

Rather than learn from its errors and adjust its delusional assumptions, America is determined to push and bend people all over the world to its will and acceptance of its leadership. But you cannot reclaim genuine leadership once you have been exposed enough times in your bad judgment, and it is clear you are on the decline, just as you cannot once others realize that they can do many things as well or better than you.

In the end, policies which do not recognize scientific facts are doomed. Policies based on wishes and ideology do not succeed over the long run, unless, of course, you are willing to suppress everyone who disagrees with you and demand their compliance under threat. The requirement for an imperial state in such a situation is international behavior which resembles the internal behavior of an autocratic leader such as Stalin, and right now that is precisely where the United States is headed. Stalin’s personality had a fair degree of paranoia and no patience for the views of others. He felt constantly threatened by potential competitors and he used systematic terror to keep everyone intimidated and unified under him.

Stalin’s sincere belief in a faulty economic system that was doomed from its birth put him in a position similar to that of America’s oligarchs today. They have a world imperial system that is coming under increasing strain and challenge because others are growing and have their own needs and America simply does not have the flexibility to accommodate them. America’s oligarchs are not used to listening to the views of others. Stalin’s belief in a system that was more an ideology than a coherent economic system is paralleled by the quasi-religious tenets of Americanism, a set of beliefs which holds that America is especially blessed by the Creator and all things good and great are simply its due. Americanism blurrily assumes that God’s promise in the Old Testament that man should have dominion over the earth’s creatures applies now uniquely to them. Such thinking arose during many years of easy superiority, a superiority that was less owing to intrinsic merits of American society than to a set of fortuitous circumstances, many of which are now gone.

In Vietnam, America squandered countless resources chasing after a chimera its ideologues insisted was deadly important, never once acknowledging the fatal weaknesses built right into communism from its birth. Communism was certain eventually to fail because of economic falsehoods which were part of its conception, much as a child born with certain genetic flaws is destined for eventual death. America’s mad rush to fight communism on all fronts was in keeping with the zealotry of America’s Civic Religion, but it was a huge and foolish practical judgment which wasted colossal resources. In Vietnam, America ended in something close to total shame – literally defeated on the battlefield by what seemed an inconsequential opponent, having also cast aside traditional ethical values in murdering great masses of people who never threatened the United States, murder on a scale (3 million) comparable to the Holocaust. It used weapons and techniques of a savage character: napalm, cluster bombs, and secret mass terror programs. The savagery ripped into the fabric of America’s own society, dividing the nation almost as badly as its Civil War once had. America ended reduced and depleted in many respects and paid its huge bills with devalued currency.

Following Vietnam, it has just been one calamity after another revealing the same destructive inability to govern, the same thought governed by zealotry, right down to the 2008 financial collapse which was caused by ignoring sound financial management and basically instituting a system of unlimited greed. The entire world was jolted and hurt by this stupidity whose full consequences are not nearly played out.

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were completely unnecessary, cost vast sums, caused immense misery, and achieved nothing worth achieving. We now know what was kept hidden that more than million Iraqis died in an invasion based entirely on lies. These wars also set in motion changes whose long term effects have yet to be felt. Iraq, for example, has just about had its Kurdish, oil-producing region hived off as a separate state.

America’s primitive approach to the Soviet Union’s collapse, its sheer triumphalism and failure to regard Russia as important enough to help or with which to cooperate, ignored America’s own long-term interests. After all, the Russians are a great people with many gifts, and it was inevitable that they would come back from a post-collapse depression to claim their place in the world.

So how do the people running the United States now deal with a prosperous and growing Russia, a Russia which reaches out in the soundest traditional economic fashion for cooperation and partnership in trade and projects? Russia has embraced free trade, a concept Americans trumpeted for years whenever it was to their advantage, but now for Russia is treated as dark and sinister. Here America fights the inevitable power of economic forces, something akin to fighting the tide or the wind, and only for the sake of its continued dominance of another continent. Americans desperately try to stop what can only be called natural economic arrangements between Russia and Europe, natural because both sides have many services, goods, and commodities to trade for the benefit of all. America’s establishment wants to cut off healthy new growth and permanently to establish its primacy in Europe even though it has nothing new to offer.

America’s deliberately dishonest interpretation of Russia’s measured response to an induced coup in Ukraine is used to generate an artificial sense of crisis, but despite the pressures America is capable of exerting on Europe, we sense Europe only goes along to avoid a public squabble and only for so long as the costs are not too high. The most intelligent leaders in Europe recognize what the United States is doing but do not want to clash openly, although the creation of the Minsk Agreement came pretty close to a polite rejection of America’s demand for hardline tactics.

The coup in Ukraine was intended to put a hostile government in control of a long stretch of Russian border, a government which might cooperate in American military matters and which would serve as an irritant to Russia. But you don’t get good results with malicious policy. So far the coup has served only to hurt Ukraine’s economy, security, and long-term interests. It has a government which is seen widely as incompetent, a government which fomented unnecessary civil war, a government which shot down a civilian airliner, and a government in which no one, including in the West, has much faith. Its finances are in turmoil, many important former economic connections are severed, and there is no great willingness by Europe, especially an economically-troubled Europe, to assist it. It is not an advanced or stable enough place to join the EU because that would just mean gigantic subsidies being directed to it from an already troubled Europe. And the idea of its joining NATO is absolutely a non-starter both because it can’t carry its own weight in such an organization and because that act would cross a dangerous red line for Russia.

Kiev is having immense problems even holding the country together as it fights autonomous right-wing outfits like the Azov Battalion in the southeast who threaten the Minsk Agreement, as it tries to implement military recruiting in Western Ukraine with more people running away than joining up, as it finds it must protect its own President with a Praetorian Guard of Americans from some serious threats by right-wing militias unhappy with Kiev’s failures, as it must reckon with the de facto secession of Donetsk and the permanent loss of Crimea – all this as it struggles with huge debts and an economy in a nosedive.

America is in no position to give serious assistance to Ukraine, just plenty of shop-worn slogans about freedom and democracy. These events provide a perfect example of the damage America inflicts on a people with malicious policy intended only to use them to hurt others. There is such a record of this kind of thing by America that I am always surprised when there are any takers out there for the newest scheme. One remembers Kissinger encouraging the Iraqi Kurds to revolt against Saddam Hussein and then leaving them in the lurch when the dictator launched a merciless suppression. I also think of the scenes at the end of the Vietnam War as American helicopters took off in cowardly fashion from the roof of the embassy leaving their Vietnamese co-workers, tears streaming down their faces, vainly grasping for the undercarriages of helicopters, a fitting and shameful end to a truly brainless crusade.

I don’t know but I very much doubt that the present government of Ukraine can endure, and it is always possible that it will slip into an even more serious civil war with factions fighting on all sides, something resembling the murderous mess America created in Libya. Of course, such a war on Russia’s borders would come with tremendous risks. The American aristocracy doesn’t become concerned about disasters into which they themselves are not thrust, but a war in Ukraine could easily do just that. In ironic fashion, heightened conflict could mark the beginning of the end of the era of European subservience to America. Chaos in Ukraine could provide exactly the shock Europe needs to stop supporting American schemes before the entire continent or even the world is threatened.

I remind readers that while Russia’s economy is not as large as America’s, it is a country with a strong history in engineering and science, and no one on the planet shares its terrifying experiences with foreign invasion. So it has developed and maintains a number of weapons systems that are second to none. Each one of its new class of ballistic missile submarines, and Russia is building a number of them, is capable of hitting 96 separate targets with thermo-nuclear warheads, and that capability is apart from rail-mounted ICBMs, hard-site ICBMs,  truck-mounted missiles, air-launched cruise missiles, sea-launched cruise missiles, and a variety of other fearsome weapons. Modern Russia does not make threats with this awesome power, and you might say Putin follows the advice of Theodore Roosevelt as he walks softly but carries a big stick, but I do think it wise for all of us to keep these things in mind as America taunts Russia and literally play a game of chicken with Armageddon. I don’t believe America has a legitimate mandate from anyone to behave in this dangerous way. Europe’s smartest leaders, having lived at the very center of the Cold War and survived two world wars, do understand this and are trying very carefully not to allow things to go too far, but America has some highly irresponsible and dangerous people working hard on the Ukraine file, and accidents do happen when you push things too hard.

In another sphere of now constant engagement, instead of sponsoring and promoting fair arrangements in the Middle East, America has carried on a bizarre relationship with Israel, a relationship which is certainly against the America’s own long term interests, although individual American politicians benefit with streams of special interests payments – America’s self-imposed, utterly corrupt campaign financing system being ultimately responsible – in exchange for blindly insisting Israel is always right, which it most certainly is not. An important segment of Israel’s population is American, and they just carried over to Israel the same short-sightedness, arrogance, and belligerence which characterize America, so much so, Israel may legitimately be viewed as an American colony in the Middle East rather than a genuinely independent state. Its lack of genuine independence is reflected also in its constant dependence on huge subsidies, on its need for heavily-biased American diplomacy to protect it in many forums including the UN, and on its dependence upon American arm-twisting and bribes in any number of places, Egypt’s generous annual American pension requiring certain behaviors being one of the largest examples.

Here, too, inevitability has been foolishly ignored. The Palestinians are not going anywhere, and they have demonstrated the most remarkable endurance, yet almost every act of Israel since its inception, each supported by America, has been an effort to make them go away through extreme hardship and abuse and violence, looking towards the creation of Greater Israel, a dangerous fantasy idea which cannot succeed but it will fail only after it has taken an immense toll. Despite America’s constant diplomatic and financial pressure on other states to support its one-sided policy here, there are finally a number of signs that views are turning away from the preposterous notion that Israel is always right and that it can continue indefinitely with its savage behavior.

Recently, we have had a great last effort by America and covert partners to secure Israel’s absolute pre-eminence in the Middle East through a whole series of destructive intrusions in the region – the “Arab Spring,” the reverse-revolution in Egypt, the smashing and now dismemberment of Iraq, the smashing and effective dismemberment of Libya, and the horrible, artificially-induced civil war in Syria which employs some of the most violent and lunatic people on earth from outside and gives them weapons, money, and refuge in an effort to destroy a stable and relatively peaceful state.

I could go on, but I think the picture is clear: in almost every sphere of American governance, internally and abroad, America’s poor political institutions have yielded the poorest decisions. America has over-extended itself on every front, has served myths rather than facts, has let greed run its governing of almost everything, and has squandered resources on achieving nothing of worth.

I view America’s present posture in the world – supporting dirty wars and coups in many places at the same time and treating others as game pieces to be moved rather than partners – as a desperate attempt to shake the world to gain advantages it couldn’t secure through accepted means of governance and policy. America is that great beast, bellowing and shaking the ground, and for that reason, it is extremely dangerous.

DECLINE OF THE AMERICAN EMPIRE

John Chuckman

The rise now of China, Japan, Europe, and others – India, Korea, and to some extent Russia and Brazil – means the United States must be relatively diminished on the world stage, much as an only child whose mother just gave birth to quintuplets.

The United States is loosing its capacity as supplier of many useful things to the world. This role is being seized by China and others. The American working class, which briefly achieved the status of world’s working-class aristocracy after World War II – industrial workers who enjoyed homes, cars, long vacations, and even boats – has seen real wages declining for many years. It works against rising competitors who can now deliver the benefits of their much lower costs to the world owing to the phenomenon of globalization. American manufacturing jobs are moving to the lower-cost places, replaced at home if at all by relatively low-wage service jobs.

The American establishment’s vision of the future, implicit in its behavior and policies, has been that traditional manufacturing jobs will pass to developing countries while greater value-added high-tech jobs and intellectual property rights will provide America’s economic strength.

But that is a somewhat arrogant vision, because competitors like China and India do not plan to do only lower value-added work, and they are uniquely gifted to succeed. The Chinese, Japanese, and Indians have an extraordinary reservoir of natural mathematical and engineering talent – every international competition or test shows this starkly – that is only now beginning to be harnessed. There is every reason to believe that over any substantial time the US will decline to a secondary role in high-tech. China or India each likely have something on the order of three or four times the natural mathematical endowment of the US. Their new high-growth economies and emerging modern infrastructure prepare the way for full application of this priceless talent.

There are more forces at work on the place of the American Empire than the emergence of other economic powers, important as that is. Major studies of the decline of empire – from Edward Gibbon to William Shirer – speak to the overwhelming importance of the moral dimension in a society and of the crucial role of capable and responsible leadership.

Polls show that three years after launching its pointless war in Iraq, nearly half of Americans still believed that Iraq was involved in making weapons of mass destruction. Five years after 9/11, better than forty percent of Americans believe Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11. Both of these ideas have been proved complete fairy tales. But the concentration of American media and their shared establishment interests with George Bush have produced a fabric of omissions and exaggerations as great as we might expect in a non-democratic society like China.

So-called liberal media, the New York Times being the best example, do almost nothing seriously to correct these misunderstandings. Indeed the Times helped drum America into Iraq, an unforgivable manipulation from people who had the resources to know better, and it did the same thing for horrific failures such as the war in Vietnam. The American people are desperately misinformed. What is the good of a ballot where grave ignorance prevails and is indeed actively promoted?

A menagerie of vitriolic radio and television commentators plus a vast apparatus of phony think-tanks, propaganda mills subsidized by right-wing interests, help greatly in the effort to confuse public understanding. The vitriolic commentators, little more truthful or civil in their speech than those doing the same job for third-world dictators, reinforce popular myths and prejudices, appealing to people’s lowest instinct to enjoy a good laugh at the expense of others. The phony think-tanks, much like the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain pulling levers to generate puffs of smoke and dramatic noise, offer what passes for learned analysis. Both groups receive an immense amount of broadcast time and publication space in the United States.

Going back to the beginning, it can be argued that many parts of the American Constitution – regarded by Americans with a reverence usually reserved for scripture and a document that is close to impossible to change in any meaningful way – are seriously flawed and promote neither responsible government nor democratic principles. The right-wing commentator and think-tank crowd always play up to the quasi-religious notion that the Constitution is the most perfect political document ever conceived. A disgraced, crooked, nasty right-wing politician, Tom DeLay of Texas, always bragged of having a copy folded in his pocket, almost like a priest carrying a bottle of holy water.

The Constitution’s flaws leave little optimism for substantial political and policy change in the United States. It’s as though all important political institutions were trapped in amber. Without changing the Constitution’s flaws, it is hard to see how America’s destructive policies at home and abroad can be altered. There are many such flaws, but I’ll mention just a few.

One is the Electoral College. Many Americans do not understand that their vote for president technically does not count. The Electoral College, besides being remarkably anti-democratic, promotes corruption in elections with its winner-take-all provision in states. It is amazing that a country more than two centuries old and making great claims for democracy still can’t hold honest national elections, both of George Bush’s victories, but especially the first, being as dubious as something in an emerging nation.

Another ugly flaw in the Constitution is the power of the Senate. It can veto the more democratic House’s legislation. It must approve all major Presidential appointments and treaties. It is a fundamentally anti-democratic institution, for much of American history not being elected at all, but even now being elected in a staggered fashion that insulates its membership from issues of the day. Its internal sixty-percent rule for debate is plainly undemocratic. You only have to look at photos of American Senators to see the swollen, crinkled faces of arrogant (mostly) men, faces of bloated entitlement, grasping power into their seventies and eighties. They resemble the faces of heads of powerful families in the 16th century or, what is almost the same thing, Mafia godfathers. Surprisingly often sons, or other relatives, follow fathers as though they had inherited fiefdoms or money-minting American evangelism ministries.

The Senate’s two members for each state is an archaic nonsense that makes members from large states virtually unreachable demigods. The two senators from California each “represent” sixteen million people. The huge expense of mounting media campaigns in large states, where a member could never hope even to offer a live smile to most constituents, turns senators into full-time Fuller Brush salesmen soliciting funds. The expense creates two classes of constituents, those who give and the rest. Lobbyists naturally exploit the situation, meaning policy reflects virtually only the interests of the small group with meaningful access.

Dependence upon advertising means tight control over what is disseminated, with voters expected to believe the actor posing in a white lab coat on a patent medicine commercial is giving genuine information. Advertising and brief appearances on favorably-rigged talk shows generates attitudes of aloofness and celebrity dangerous to the public interest. Thoughtfulness and real debate at the national level have become uncommon.

The designation of the President as commander-in-chief has proved an unfortunate provision with effects the founders never foresaw. Many Americans do not realize that it was the Parliament of Great Britain against which the early Patriots railed. They saw the British Parliament as acting without the beneficent King’s full knowledge, understanding fully that the King’s powers were already heavily curtailed by the evolution of British parliamentary government. The idea of the King as tyrant was built up later during the Revolutionary War as a propaganda device, and it has been played on by elementary text books since.

So in America’s constitutional arrangements, command of the armed forces was granted to the new king-substitute, the President (many founders had favored a lifetime or long-term president who would be “above politics”). This authority was supposedly offset by Congress’s having the only authority to declare war. But as we all know, over the last sixty years not one of America’s many colonial wars has been formally declared. The power to declare war has become almost meaningless, but the power of America’s Frankenstein armed forces taking orders from a president-commander (often not even honestly elected) is anything but meaningless.

The President does not himself suddenly launch a war, although he clearly has at hand intelligence and other agencies of limitless resources, whose leaders serve at his pleasure, capable of constructing compelling myths for what he wants done. He consults with key Senate and Congressional leaders, all under the intimidating shadow of being branded as cowards (or almost worse in America, poor patriots) in a fashion that is little different to what a late-eighteenth century monarch would have done with key parliamentary figures.

For that matter, few Americans realize that even a dictator with such dreadful power as Hitler, for the most part, did not summarily order dire events. Hitler consulted and argued with other prominent members of government concerning major turns in policy. Factions and other centers of power exist even in dictatorships. It is just the people who are not effectively consulted.

The United States, under George Bush, has spent itself silly on the military and security. It has also foolishly spent much, if not all, of its moral authority in the world – something derived from the many world institutions and arrangements established at the end of World War II when America felt generous and expansive – by going ahead with pointless destruction, ignoring world opinion, as though the very act of doing so were the same thing as bold leadership rather than the bullying it is. Bush is almost a parody of poor leadership, believing himself a convincing figure with his jaw squared, his eyebrows knit, while he mumbles what millions recognize as platitudes and bald-faced lies.

The business of Bush wearing a radio device concealed under his jacket for debates or press conferences or important meetings – an indisputable fact from pictures of his back taken at many angles – is a damning revelation of how under the American system an incompetent can serve two terms as President. It is damning, too, of the mainline media which never pursue such matters, choosing never to embarrass a man who has done a great deal of harm to the nation.

America’s history is important to understanding the attitudes of its people, although we perhaps should judge American democracy today more by its external actions which include invading pretty much any country it chooses, violating the free elections of other countries, toppling democratically-elected leaders, supporting the oppressive regimes, assassinating leaders, frequently imposing destructive economic sanctions, and generally behaving the way you would expect a bully to act who happened also to be the richest kid in town.

Even an honestly elected government which behaves without regard for those outside its territory, which treats others as though they had no rights, can hardly be called democratic in any meaningful sense.

The War in Iraq has been called by an American expert the worst strategic mistake ever made by the United States, and I believe that will prove a deadly accurate assessment. How do all those American patriot types, clutching their private arsenals in paranoid fear of government tyranny, fail to see how millions of others, like the Iraqis, view American government tyranny abroad? The enemies America has made in destroying and occupying Iraq will engage it for many years in totally needless war and terror.

The Middle East has become more unstable and less predictable for decades thanks to George Bush. All recent American policies have been almost the opposite of what would have proved appropriate and effective to a better future.

The glaring injustice of giving Israel its way in almost anything, including bombing women and children in Beirut, while the U.S. invades Muslim lands can only generate frustration and despair beyond measure. Israel has become a garrison state, a grossly inefficient economy, subsidized by the United States, that maintains a nuclear arsenal and one of the world’s most powerful armies, spending an extraordinary portion of its GDP on unproductive military and security apparatus. It is now walling itself in and preparing to carry on with little or no reference to the millions with which it shares its part of the world, except to bomb and rocket them whenever it feels rankled. This is a national vision from hell. The vision has no long-term viability without endless subsidy, an indefinite drain on American resources and the world’s patience and a painful injustice for millions of the region’s people.

Condoleezza Rice’s disgusting words about children and others torn apart by Israeli cluster bombs in Beirut representing the birth pangs of a new Middle East pretty much speaks for itself. Democracy? Democratic values? Human values? Nonsense. Rather, they are words about as far removed from these values as you can get.

I do not believe that any nation which ignores the serious flaws in its democracy and treatment of others can maintain the moral authority in the twenty-first century required for leadership in the world. The world generally is evolving towards democracy and respect for human rights. This is not a result of American policy, it is the natural evolution of human affairs, it is what happens as countries grow and prosper.

It is true, too, that any nation which spends so much on its military, holding dear the anti-democratic and anti-human rights values of any military, cannot maintain that same moral authority. Eisenhower’s predicted military-industrial complex is not a friendly face on the world, but it is indisputably the face of America today.

Just consider, as one tiny aspect of this, the disgraceful relationship between Vice-President Cheney and Halliburton Corporation. Halliburton has prospered mightily from Cheney’s role as a powerful advocate of war, and Cheney, the company’s former CEO, has openly prospered from Halliburton with all kinds of special payments since first running for office. It is an open disgrace, but no more of a disgrace than the way money runs American elections. The world outside America sees all this clearly, and what else can the knowledge generate but cynicism and disgust? How on earth can a man of this quality address the great principles of humanity without causing listeners to snicker? How can anyone be expected to take America’s high-sounding rhetoric seriously?

The American international structure carefully built up after World War II is beginning to crumble, although it is not always obvious yet since good appearances are carefully maintained. A prime example is the crumbling of NATO. The grass is still kept well-trimmed at headquarters, but America’s insistence on making unnatural demands on this alliance, such as those it has made in Afghanistan, are surely destroying what was once a powerful international organization.

It may be just as well, for Europe has a future more independent of the U.S., and perhaps the decline in NATO only reflects an unavoidable changing reality. Europe’s commercial know-how and technology make a natural marriage with Russia’s vast natural resources. America has for a couple of decades worked to suppress this development, especially with respect to Russian natural gas exports, but it must in the end prove a losing battle.

Britain’s Tony Blair has been exploited by the U.S. to spike European aspirations, much as Margaret Thatcher was previously. Because of a shared history with the former colonies, a good deal of residual xenophobia regarding people on the Continent, plus a sense of its own special importance engendered by memories of empire, Britain remains confused about its role in Europe, and the United States keeps playing on this confusion to avoid a more cohesive E.U. Such American policies in the long run can leave only bitterness over manipulating Europe’s affairs, and they cannot prevent what physical facts and natural self-interests dictate as destiny.

So, too, with respect to Europe’s relations with the Middle East. Israelis sometimes talk of Europe as being anti-Semitic simply because Europeans are more critical of Israel’s policies. But Europe simply sees the problem of Palestine/Israel in a clearer light than the U.S. where religious fundamentalism and other powerful factors blur vision. Europe also naturally wants to cultivate the best commercial relations with the owners of the world’s great reservoirs of crude oil, so commercial incentives add to the force of the moral view. Not only must Europe look to its future energy supplies, but the E.U. is expanding, and Western Asia is becoming a next-door neighbor.

These are just some of the reasons we can expect a decline in the relative influence and importance of the United States over the next decades. A more balanced, multi-polar world is emerging. Unfortunately, the people who seem least ready to deal with it are Americans.

REFLECTIONS ON THE ORIGINS AND MEANING OF AMERICA’S INDEPENDENCE DAY

Why no on should be surprised when America behaves as an international bully

If you relish myths and enjoy superstition, then the flatulent speeches of America’s Independence Day, July 4, were just the thing for you. No religion on earth has more to offer along these lines than America celebrating itself.

Some, believing the speeches but curious, ask how did a nation founded on supposedly the highest principles by high-minded men manage to become an ugly imperial power pushing aside international law and the interests of others? The answer is simple: the principles and high-mindedness are the same stuff as the loaves and the fishes.

The incomparable Doctor Johnson had it right when he called patriotism the last refuge of scoundrels and scoffed at what he called the “drivers of negroes” yelping about liberty.

Few Americans even understand that Johnson’s first reference was to their sacred Founding Fathers (aka Patriots). I have seen a well known American columnist who attributed the pronouncement to Ben Franklin, a man who was otherwise admirable but nevertheless dabbled a few times in slave trading himself.

Johnson especially had in mind history’s supreme hypocrite, Jefferson, with his second reference. Again, few Americans know that Jefferson kept his better than two hundred slaves to his dying day. I know a well educated American who sincerely believed Jefferson had freed his slaves. Such is the power of the myths of the American Civic Religion.

Jefferson was incapable of supporting himself, living the life of a prince and being a ridiculous spendthrift who died bankrupt and still owing money to others, the man of honor being a trifle less than honorable in paying back the money he often borrowed. When a new silk frock or set of shoes with silver buckles was to be had, Jefferson never hesitated to buy them rather than pay his debts.

The date we now celebrate, July 4, is based on the Continental Congress’s approval of the Declaration of Independence, but in fact the date is incorrect, the document was approved on July 2.

Jefferson wrote the first draft of the declaration, but it was edited by the redoubtable Benjamin Franklin, and later was heavily amended by the Continental Congress. Jefferson suffered great humiliation of his pride and anger at the editing and changes.

Despite the document’s stirring opening words, if you actually read the whole thing, you will be highly disappointed.

The bulk of it has a whining tone in piling on complaint after complaint against the Crown. Some would say the whining set a standard for the next quarter millennium of American society.

In Jefferson’s draft it went on and on about Britain’s slave trade. The ‘slave trade’ business was particularly hypocritical, trying to sound elevated while in fact reflecting something else altogether. At the time there was a surplus of human flesh in Virginia, and prices were soft.

The cause of the Revolution is also interesting and never emphasized in American texts. Britain’s imposition of the Quebec Act created a firestorm of anti-Catholicism in the colonies. They were afraid of being ruled from a Catholic colony.

The speech and writing of American colonists of the time was filled with exactly the kind of ugly language one associates with extremist Ulstermen in recent years.

This combined with the sense of safety engendered from Britain’s victory in the French and Indian War (the Seven Years War)and the unwillingness to pay taxes to help pay for that victory caused the colonial revolt.

Few Americans know it, but it was the practice for many, many decades to burn the Pope in effigy on Guy Fawkes Day along the Eastern Seaboard. Anti-Catholicism was quite virulent for a very long time.

The first phase of the revolt in and around Boston was actually something of a popular revolution, responding to Britain’s blockading the harbor and quartering troops in Boston.

The colonial aristocrats were having none of that, and they appointed Washington commander over the heads of the Boston Militias who volunteered and actually elected their officers.

Washington, who had always wanted to be a British regular commander but never received the commission, imposed his will ferociously. He started flogging and hanging. In his letters home, the men who actually started the revolution are described as filth and scum. He was a very arrogant aristocrat.

The American Revolution has been described by a European as home-grown aristocrats replacing foreign-born ones. It is an apt description.

Washington, Hamilton, Adams, and many other of the Fathers had no faith in democracy. About one percent of early Virginia could vote. The president was not elected by people but by elites in the Electoral College. The Senate, which even today is the power in the legislature, was appointed well into the 20th century.

The Supreme Court originally never dared interpret the Bill of Rights as determining what states should do. It sat on paper like an advertising brochure with no force. At one time, Jefferson seriously raised the specter of secession, half a century before the Civil War, over even the possibility of the Bill of Rights being interpreted by a national court and enforced.

The Founding Fathers saw popular voting as endangering property ownership. Democracy was viewed by most the same way Washington viewed the “scum” who started the Revolution around Boston. It took about two hundred years of gradual changes for America to become anything that seriously could be called democratic. Even now, what sensible person would call it anything but a rough work still in progress.

It is interesting to reflect on the fact that early America was ruled by a portion of the population no larger than what is represented today by the Chinese Communist Party as a portion of that country’s population.

Yet today we see little sign of patience or understanding in American arrogance about how quickly other states should become democratic. And we see in Abu Ghraib, in Guantanamo, and in the CIA’s International Torture Gulag that the principles and attitudes of the Bill of Rights still haven’t completely been embraced by America.

Contrary to all the posturing amongst the Patriots – who few were a minority at the time – about tyranny, the historical facts indicate that Britain on the whole actually had offered good government to its North American Colonies.

Everyone who visited the Colonies from Europe noted the exceptional health of residents.

They also noticed what seemed an extraordinary degree of freedom enjoyed by colonists. It was said to be amongst the freest place in the known world, likely owing in good part to its distance from the Mother Country. A favorite way to wealth was smuggling, especially with the Caribbean. John Hancock made his fortune that way.

Ben Franklin once wrote a little memo, having noted the health of Americans and their birth rates, predicting the future overtaking of Britain by America, an idea not at all common at the time.

Indeed, it was only the relative health and freedom which made the idea of separation at all realistic. Britain was, of course, at the time viewed much the way, with the same awe of power, people view America today. These well-known facts of essentially good government in the Colonies made the Declaration of Independence list of grievances sound exaggerated and melodramatic to outsiders even at the time.

The combination of the Quebec Act, anti-Catholicism, dislike of taxes, plus the desire to move West and plunder more Indian lands were the absolute causes of the Revolution.

Britain tried to recognize the rights of the aboriginals and had forbidden any movement west by the Colonies.

But people in the colonies were land-mad, all hoping to make a fortune staking out claims they would sell to later settlers. The map of Massachusetts, for example, showed the colony stretching like a band across the continent to the Pacific. Britain did not agree.

George Washington made a lot of money doing this very thing, more than any other enterprise of his except for marrying Martha Custis, the richest widow in the colonies.

The tax issue is interesting.

The French and Indian War (the Seven Years War) heavily benefited the Colonists by removing the threat of France in the West. Once the war was over, many colonists took the attitude that Britain could not take the benefits back, and they refused to pay the taxes largely imposed to pay the war’s considerable cost.

And Americans have hated taxes since.

By the way, in the end, without the huge assistance of France, the Colonies would not have won the war. France played an important role in the two decisive victories, Saratoga and Yorktown. At Saratoga they had smuggled in the weapons the Americans used. At Yorktown, the final battle, the French were completely responsible for the victory and for even committing to the battle. Washington had wanted instead to attack New York – which would have been a disaster – but the French generals then assisting recognized a unique opportunity at Yorktown.

After the war, the United States never paid the huge French loans back. Some gratitude. Also the United States renounced the legitimate debts many citizens owed to British factors (merchant/shippers) for no good reason at all except not wanting to pay.

It was all a much less glorious beginning than you would ever know from the drum-beating, baton-twirling, sequined costumes, and noise today. And if you really want to understand why America has become the very thing it claimed it was fighting in 1776, then you only need a little solid history.