Friday, April 28, 2017

Losing It

Lately, I have been seeing a variety of vaguely catastrophic titles or subjects popping up in books, articles, and Facebook.  Chomsky’s latest book, Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power” is but one example. In an interview with EcoWatch, Chomsky noted that “On Nov. 8, the most powerful country in world history, which will set its stamp on what comes next, had an election. The outcome placed total control of the government—executive, Congress, the Supreme Court—in the hands of the Republican Party, which has become the most dangerous organization in world history.”

Hyperbole? Maybe, but if we simply look at the list of plans and executive orders being issued almost daily by Trump, none of which are challenged by his GOP Congressional cheerleaders, the assessment begins to look reasonable . . . awful but reasonable.  His latest assault on sensibility is his executive order directing his Federal staff to examine the country’s National Monuments, to see whether and how they might be, in his words, returned to the people.  My interpretation suggested the picture below:

Yes, yes, I know, it is silly to consider a Trump Tower being built atop one of the grand structures of that grand canyon, but is it really silly?  We have now become inured to stupid ideas flowing from his mouth or twitter feed. So many stupidities, so little time.

And his behavior would have provoked shrieks of outrage, had it been Hillary Clinton, or Barack Obama. Can you imagine the outrage that would have occurred among the GOP Illuminati had Obama appointed his wife, or an uncle, or even one of his kids to a top secret job in the White House.  What if Hillary were President, and she appointed Chelsea to oversee the reorganization of the entire Federal government?  Can you imagine Paul Ryan, or the billygoat Mitch McConnell?

And then we have the media silos, beginning with Fox, and others of that ilk. O’Reilly would be having such fun were all this happening under President Hillary Clinton. Even his multiple sexual predations would have been ignored by the Murdochians had they Hillary in their sights.

And that leads me to consider what is happening here in the formerly great America, now just a collection of silos, filled with angry people.

I think back to the 1940s, when I was a little kid, growing up in Brooklyn and Manhattan. We were a nation of immigrants. My grandfolks on one side came over in the 1890s from Scotland. From the other side, they hailed from Austria and Germany. Italians, Irish, Jews from many countries fleeing to escape poverty or the Third Reich.  They landed on Ellis Island and then scattered, some fled south into the Appalachians, some to Brooklyn, or Manhattan. Little Italy, Yorkville where East European and German immigrants lived. They arrived, scattered and then fled into enclaves in New York and in many other places in this vast country.  Initially, they stayed in their ethnic groups, speaking their original languages, but slowly their ethnic groups began dispersing, and gradually English became the language of choice.

Some were Catholic, some Protestant, some nothing or something else.  Then they just disappeared and became Americans.

Then came the War, the second war to end all wars (since WW I failed miserably at that grand idea). And some folks joined up or were drafted and went off to fight Hitler and Mussolini, or to fight in the Pacific. My mom and my teenage sister joined all the others who went to work to support their sons and daughters who had gone to fight.  There was something approximating a unity of purpose. Even people who disagreed politically, or spiritually, came together to support this grand effort.

This same spirit prevailed in the 1950s. We went to war in Korea, and it was the Nation that went to war.

Then we rested for a while, not long but a while. Few noticed but Ike, the man who oversaw the powerful forces that finally won the second Great War was now President.  The hot war had been replaced by the Cold War. And both the Soviets and the Chinese were moving to establish their regions of control.   Left and right wings within the country became captured by movements, such as “McCarthyism” during the 1950s, when Communists were seen behind every bush in America.  Pointing fingers and yelling labels at folks became commonplace, a substitute for intellectual thought. McCarthy was among the worst, but was far from being alone in these pursuits of inanity.

Enter that formerly unknown place called Vietnam. Vietnam became one of those contested regions. Initially, Ike remained outside, decrying even the possibility of committing troops to Vietnam, in which the French were busily trying to reestablish their days of Empire there. But he relented and committed support, but not troops. Then in 1954, the French army was beaten (as usual) and left their former colony in defeat. Only then did Ike decide that, well maybe we could support Ngo Dinh Diem in the South, so as to prevent the North, supported by China, from overtaking the whole country. So, there we were . . . on course for a new war. Enter LBJ and the invented tale of an attack on our warship and we were off to the races.

Now, here, for the first time perhaps since the Civil War, the US began to separate. It was not a regional thing as had been the case during the 1860s. Partly, it was young v. old. Many young people objected viscerally to a war in Vietnam. Partly, students and others of draft age simply did not wish to get drafted to fight in a war for which they had no stomach. See, they did not believe a hot war in Vietnam was the way out of the Cold War with Russia and China. Protests sprang up all around the country, and the great divide began. People suddenly became “lefties” or right wing fascists, or pinkos, or, later Libtards.  Protest movements against the war began and became a serious divide all around this nation.  In part, Nixon and the GOP won the election in 1968 because of the war, and because Nixon had a “plan” to end the war.  Turned out his “plan” to end the war included expansion of the bombing, including bombing Cambodia, a formerly neutral country.  And the war dragged on, until even Nixon gave up and we finally left in disgrace in 1973.

That war left scars and a divided nation.

The divide began to differentiate. It was no longer anti-war and pro-war. Rather it became anti-war and anti-antiwar.  The people began to point fingers at one another, instead of at politicians.   Enter Ronald Reagan.  Reagan’s rhetoric, perhaps because of his training as a mediocre actor of some note, was fairly inflammatory.  While running to run the government, Reagan declared that government was not the solution but the problem.  He ran against Jimmy Carter, and ran behind the scenes to “resolve” the Iranian hostage crisis—remember Iran and the takeover of the American Embassy, when the grand Ayatollah overthrew the Shah (our former buddy)?  So, while Jimmy was trying to resolve that mess and at least get our people returned, Ronnie was negotiating behind his back with the Iranians. So, Ronnie won the election, and voila, the hostages came home, in exchange for a large arms deal.

Then Ronnie began his new GOP approach to government, which solidified his base of folks who love talking tough and dropping bombs.  The Democrats were a shattered bunch, as Ronnie charmed the Nation, while invading Grenada, so as to rescue some medical students from the awful regime there.  His supporters loved the toughness.

It may be that the Reagan administration really began the final process of dividing America into multiple camps of people, who didn’t simply disagree with one another, but who seemed viscerally to despise the other side.  But it was really after Ronnie left the scene to the Clinton’s that the separation began to become hardened. Enter Fox News.

In the old days, when dinosaurs still roamed the earth, our news came to us via things called newspapers, then the radio. I still remember the radio, from my earliest kid days, when Fiorella LaGuardia read the Sunday funnies (1945), and FDR broadcast his chats with the American people. But that was when we were still one people.  Walter Cronkite and the Huntley-Brinkley news hours competed with one another for accuracy and timely reporting of actual facts.

Slowly, but surely, in order to gain audience, first radio stations and then television stations began to cater to particular audiences. Then during Clinton’s terms in office, Murdoch and company began Fox News, and serious catering (some might say slanting) began.  Surely, Murdoch, a very rich man who made his money in Australia, England and then here in the US, was a man of the rightest of the right wing folks.  He tuned his audiences to his message.

Murdoch entered the “news” scene at the same time as people in the US were beginning to acquire and use computers in business and at home.  Murdoch tailored his messages to the right wing folks among us, with one result being that that message was treated by his growing following as Truth. Many, perhaps most people assumed that if they saw/heard something on a TV or radio news outlet, it must be true—that they were not allowed to broadcast things that were not true.

Slowly, the silos began to acquire hard walls, as folks separated themselves by their choice of news outlets.

Enter George Bush and his wrecking crew. George and his colleagues were a singularly hard-nosed group, apparently prepared to act at any and all opportunities.  Enter Osama and his gang of thugs. 9/11, numbers that will forever live in infamy.  Where were you when that first plane hit the World Trade Center? You know, I’m almost certain of it.   That attack galvanized the American people like nothing since the Pearl Harbor attack.  The silos crumbled as Americans united again against a common foe . . . but who was the foe again? Osama Bin Laden? Who the hell is he? Oh, he’s a Saudi Arabian who managed to escape the wrath of his king and took up residence in that forlorn place called Afghanistan—best known by that book, The Places In Between.

So, George and his buddies took up arms against, not Saudi Arabia, but Afghanistan, and our people cheered.  But many nations had taken this course to their regret. The Brits had been there during their Great British Empire days in India, and tried and failed during the mid-19th century.  Then the Soviets tried to move in and finally retreated, after we armed the opposition. George’s invasion was perhaps inevitable, if ultimately pointless.

George, unsatisfied with his successes (and failures?) in Afghanistan decided to rally the troops (and the public) behind yet another war. At that stage, war was the way to rally the public.  So Georgie launched his own war against Sadaam Hussein in Iraq, yeah the same Sadaam that George’s cabinet guys had been friends with in earlier and simpler times.  Now, the official dissembling began in earnest, with Bush and company lying through their teeth to justify a war in Iraq that eventually created chaos throughout the whole of the Middle East.  That war continues to this day, as does the disaster in Afghanistan.

Now, Americans do seem to love a good war, and will cheer on our troops whenever presented with a good opportunity.  But the Middle East is not now, nor has it ever been such an opportunity.  It is instead a place of barely controlled chaos at the best of times.

So, the silos re-emerged, with folks on different sides of the debates about the Middle East. With Fox News in charge of one side, the silos hardened even more.

Enter Facebook.

Well, to be fair, enter Facebook, then the myriad of other social networks that came into existence to make money by catering to audiences young and old as places to “chat” publically.

You could decide who would be your “friends” on these social information networks.  Curiously, our definition of “friends” began to shift, as we discovered what our friends actually believed, or were willing to support.  So, we began filtering our friends.  Happily, one can filter out one’s “friends” without offending any of the people we know. So, we built our own silos and hardened the walls. In this grand adventure, we were able to gain support via the “news” outlets to which we tuned.  Increasingly folks tuned to Fox, or to one of the remaining network news outlets for their news, with Fox on one side, and all the others on the other.

Now we could define our friends by which news pundits we admired and tuned in.  And so, little by little our nation began to separate into little bias groups. And so we now define ourselves. It is not a stretch to say that many folks actually hate the others, i.e., those folks who see the world differently than we do.

And as we all now have to come to grips with this apparent narcissistic moron whom the Nation “elected” to its highest office, our silos remain intact, filtering our thoughts daily, and hardening our views of the world and, mainly each other.

Since our politicians seem intent on gaining/maintaining power without regard to the effects of their decisions and actions on the body politic, our silos thicken.  So, who will see the light? Who will examine what God hath not wrought and say, “this shall not stand”. Who will say, “ we can, we must come together once again, or we are finished as a nation”.

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