Category Archives: United States of America

“The Most Warlike Nation in the History of the World”, Hidden Empire, Propaganda, and Hope

Jimmy Carter (Wikipedia)

The U.S., Carter said, has been at war for all but 16 years of its 242-year history. (China and Vietnam actually fought a brief border war in early 1979, weeks after normalization of U.S.-China relations.)

He called the United States “the most warlike nation in the history of the world,” because of a tendency to try to force others to “adopt our American principles.”

The only US president to complete his term without war, military attack or occupation has called the United States “the most warlike nation in the history of the world.” . . .

Carter then said the US has been at peace for only 16 of its 242 years as a nation. Counting wars, military attacks and military occupations, there have actually only been five years of peace in US history—1976, the last year of the Gerald Ford administration and 1977-80, the entirety of Carter’s presidency. Carter then referred to the US as “the most warlike nation in the history of the world,” a result, he said, of the US forcing other countries to “adopt our American principles.”

On China and U.S.’s worry that China is “getting ahead of us”, see at point 39:40 Chomsky’s comment on just this point, the trade agreements with China, being “an effort to prevent China’s economic development”:

Which reminds me of a book I heard about via Mano Singham’s blog:

Hidden Empire

During the Second World War, the United States honed an extraordinary suite of technologies that gave it many of the benefits of empire without having to actually hold colonies. Plastics and other synthetics allowed it to replace tropical products with man-made substitutes. Airplanes, radio, and DDT enabled it to move its goods, ideas, and people into foreign countries easily without annexing them. Similarly, the United States managed to standardize many of its objects and practices—from screw threads to road signs to the English language—across political borders, again gaining influence in places it didn’t control. Collectively, these technologies weaned the United States off the familiar model of formal empire. They replaced colonization with globalization.

Globalization is a fashionable word, and it’s easy to speak of it in vague terms—to talk of increasingly better technologies drawing a disparate world together. But those new technologies didn’t just crop up. Many were developed by the U.S. military in a short burst of time in the 1940s, with the goal of giving the United States a new relationship to territory. Dramatically, and in just a few years, the military built a world-spanning logistical network that was startling in how little it depended on colonies. It was also startling in how much it centered the world’s trade, transport, and communication on one country, the United States.

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Curtain Falling on American Democracy

Christopher Browning

Many of you have read historian Christopher R. Browning‘s essay, The Suffocation of Democracy or at least Chauncey Devega’s interview with him about the essay on sites like Salon or Alternet. Many American readers will be very familiar with what follows. I found it helpful to set out these notes from Browning’s essay and I have (mostly) resisted temptations to intersperse them with any further commentary of my own.

Browning acknowledges broad parallels between what is happening in the United States today with her domestic and foreign courses in the 1920s, and even with 1930s Germany. But the differences are also stark, so stark and dramatic that it is easy to underestimate the seriousness of what is happening in the United States since Obama’s presidency and now under Trump. History rarely repeats, but it does echo and rhyme.

Comparing Foreign Policy

1920s:

  • US was isolationist; shunned League of Nations.
  • High tariffs crippled international trade.
  • Dramatic increase in “income disparity and concentration of wealth at the top”
  • “Congress and the courts eschewed regulations to protect against the self-inflicted calamities of free enterprise run amok”
  • Restrictionist immigration policy, bias against Catholics and Jews (Asians already banned by this time).

Today, President Trump seems intent on withdrawing the US from the entire post–World War II structure of interlocking diplomatic, military, and economic agreements and organizations that have preserved peace, stability, and prosperity since 1945. His preference for bilateral relations, conceived as zero-sum rivalries in which he is the dominant player and “wins,” overlaps with the ideological preference of Steve Bannon and the so-called alt-right for the unfettered self-assertion of autonomous, xenophobic nation-states—in short, the pre-1914 international system. That “international anarchy” produced World War I, the Bolshevik Revolution, the Great Depression, the fascist dictatorships, World War II, and the Holocaust, precisely the sort of disasters that the post–World War II international system has for seven decades remarkably avoided.

I sat in school learning about those post WW2 structures understanding that they were designed to prevent the a repeat of the chaos of the 30s and 40s. I had naively assumed we all knew the reasons for them and would never think of abandoning them.

Gravediggers of Democracy

Hindenburg

Hindenberg had been elected president in 1925 and given emergency powers to defend German democracy in the event of any crisis.

Enter the Great Depression and the “hyperpolarization of German politics”.

Hindenberg began appointing chancellors “who ruled by decree rather than through parliamentary majorities”, given the impossibility of forming ruling majorities in the fractured political landscape. Enter the appointment of Hitler.

The traditional conservatives believed they would by able to easily control the popular Hitler. And at the beginning they were getting all they could hope for and much more:

  • military rearmament
  • banning of the Communist Party
  • the suspension of freedom of speech,
  • ….. the press,
  • ….. and assembly
  • ….. and then of parliamentary government itself,
  • a purge of the civil service,
  • and the abolition of independent labor unions.

Paul von Hindenburg had been given powers to protect democracy but abused them so that he saw the end of democracy in Germany.

Browning suggests some sort of analogy with U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

On February 13, 2016, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died. Later that day, McConnell issued a statement indicating that the U.S. Senate would not consider any Supreme Court nominee put forth by President Barack Obama to fill Justice Scalia’s vacated seat. “‘The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president,’” McConnell said. On March 16, 2016, President Obama nominated Merrick Garland, a Judge of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, to the Supreme Court. Under McConnell’s leadership, Senate Republicans refused to take any action on the Garland nomination. Garland’s nomination expired on January 3, 2017, with the end of the 114th Congress. In January 2017, Republican President Donald Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch to fill the Court vacancy; Gorsuch’s nomination was confirmed on April 7, 2017. (Wikipedia)

If the US has someone whom historians will look back on as the gravedigger of American democracy, it is Mitch McConnell. He stoked the hyperpolarization of American politics to make the Obama presidency as dysfunctional and paralyzed as he possibly could. As with parliamentary gridlock in Weimar, congressional gridlock in the US has diminished respect for democratic norms, allowing McConnell to trample them even more. Nowhere is this vicious circle clearer than in the obliteration of traditional precedents concerning judicial appointments. Systematic obstruction of nominations in Obama’s first term provoked Democrats to scrap the filibuster for all but Supreme Court nominations. Then McConnell’s unprecedented blocking of the Merrick Garland nomination required him in turn to scrap the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations in order to complete the “steal” of Antonin Scalia’s seat and confirm Neil Gorsuch. The extreme politicization of the judicial nomination process is once again on display in the current Kavanaugh hearings.

Result: judiciary can only be appointed when President and Senate belong to same party. Hence separation of powers (executive, judiciary, legislative) is in jeopardy.

Trump’s personal “idiosyncracies” do not detract from the benefits of his rule for those who have made their alliance with him:

  • huge tax cuts for the wealthy,

    McConnell
  • financial and environmental deregulation,
  • the nominations of two conservative Supreme Court justices (so far) and a host of other conservative judicial appointments,
  • and a significant reduction in government-sponsored health care . . .

Like Hitler’s conservative allies, McConnell and the Republicans have prided themselves on the early returns on their investment in Trump.

Inversion of Previous Political Orientations

Hitler and Mussolini were allowed to take power largely as a consequence of the virulent divisions of the leftist parties:

The Catholic parties . . . liberal moderates, Social Democrats, and Communists did not cooperate effectively in defense of democracy. In Germany this reached the absurd extreme of the Communists underestimating the Nazis as a transitory challenge while focusing on the Social Democrats—dubbed “red fascists”—as the true long-term threat to Communist triumph.

By 1936 in France and Spain

the democratic forces . . . had learned the painful lesson of not uniting against the fascist threat. . . . In France the prospect of a Popular Front victory and a new government headed by—horror of horrors—a Socialist and Jew, Léon Blum, led many on the right to proclaim, “Better Hitler than Blum.”

We are familiar with the Trump lines of defence:

First: claim there was no collusion; the claim is a hoax

Second: collusion is not a crime; Russia’s meddling had no effect read more »

I think this is about right…. (accounting for Right populism)

The ascent of Right populism is a direct consequence of the emergence of a profound crisis of political representation all over the West; the politics of identity erected as a new mantra; and the overwhelming power of social media, which allows – in Umberto Eco’s peerless definition – the ascent of “the idiot of the village to the condition of Oracle.”

Escobar, Pepe. 2018. “Future of Western Democracy Being Played Out in Brazil.” Information Clearing House. October 9, 2018. http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/50409.htm.

In the same article he refers to a sentence in Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies by Noam Chomsky:

It is only when the threat of popular participation is overcome that democratic forms can be safely contemplated.

And that reminds me of a set of essays I was required to study many years ago, the Federalist Papers. Number 10 by Madison has always stuck in my memory. In order to guarantee the privileged property status of the wealthy elites against the interests of the larger public it was decided that the ideal form of government would be “representative democracy” over a very large population. The idea was to guard against “participatory” democracy. The “system works” as long as the reality or the illusion can be maintained that the “representatives” represent the public rather than those in possession of the wealth and power.

 

 

American theocracy: the peril and politics of radical religion, oil, and borrowed money in the 21st century / Kevin Phillips (Viking, 2006). Review

If the details of the arguments of this work are not always persuasive the author nevertheless achieves his stated purpose: to demolish any illusion among his fellow Americans that the US is in any way “exceptional” in its place and role in the world. Rather, he argues that it is rapidly following in the wake of the demise of past imperial powers Spain, Holland and Britain. The extraordinary rise and influence of extremist religious tendencies; the financialization and extreme indebtedness of the economy as “real wealth production” is outsourced; and the inevitable decline and gradual replacement of the economy’s main fuel resource, are the three main streams that Phillips sees as once having broken their banks over previous leading imperial powers and that are now beginning to deluge the US. read more »