America, we are constantly reminded, is the richest, most powerful, most industrious and inventive nation on Earth, a beacon of democracy, a model for those who aspire to lives of liberty, equal opportunity and material comfort.
To quote the tell-it-like-it-is singer, Cee Lo Green, "Ain't that some shit?"
How long can we remain in the thrall of this mass delusion? How long can this profoundly bankrupt nation -- with its dysfunctional government, economically devastated populace, environmental degradation, racial and gender inequality, and callously "pragmatic" foreign policy -- continue its struggle to be Dictator of the World and to scold others for not being more like us?
The Emperor Has No Clothes!! When will we stop drinking the Kool-Aid, and emerge from this deranged state of denial, and see ourselves for what we are: a failed "democracy" and a failed "free market" economy?
When will we gird up our loins, and become assertive Economic Populists?
We are still peacocking around as if we were the most desirable piece of tail on Earth.
We are not. As a nation, we are SICK in just about every possible way. Our consumer culture and idiot media keep us too distracted and stupefied to see or care about the truth.
It looks to me like Narcissistic Personality Disorder -- which involves having an inflated sense of self-importance and an extreme preoccupation with oneself -- and, of course, we have it on a grand scale.
The symptoms, according to the National Institutes of Health, are: reacting to criticism with rage; taking advantage of other people to achieve our goals; exaggerating our achievements and abilities; being preoccupied with success and power; having unreasonable expectations of favorable treatment; disregarding the feelings of others; and pursuing mainly selfish goals, through bullying, cajolery or force.
Finally -- an accurate diagnosis for our national psychosis.
. Like most bullies, America is weak at its core -- a Nervous Nellie, peeking into every corner to find the next "bad guy," a pathetically juvenile term that Our Big Strong Manly Leaders have been tossing about since 9/11. It is a term best suited to elementary-school recess: "This time, you're the bad guys." It is both dismissive and ominous, reflecting our chronic unwillingness to examine the world with a nuanced intelligence. We prefer to demonize and cubbyhole those we see as threats, which makes it so much easier to ignore their humanity and their point of view.
As a country, we live in constant fear, always watching our back. Being Number One fosters paranoia: Every little peep or twitter of pride or progress in another country gets our knickers in a twist. They're gaining on us! Our way of life is in peril! Scramble those fighter jets!
THOSE NAUGHTY CHINESE
When China began providing incentives for innovations in solar technology, for example, our leaders had a fit, claiming that there was no longer a "level playing field." We should have applauded China for continuing to take bold steps to address environmental issues, and we should have been inspired to follow its lead. To decry China's subsides is absurd -- we hand out billions to oil and gas, nuclear and biofuel companies every year. And we also subsidize solar innovation, just not as enthusiastically as China.
Bad China! She is obviously trying to hurt and humiliate us.
The U.S. is so deeply in debt to China that the Chinese have the ability to say what everyone else is thinking but wouldn't dare to express. Late on Sunday, China issued a scathing response to the annual U.S. State Department report on human rights around the world. In it, China called on the United States "to face up to its own human rights issues."
U.S. society is plagued by violent crime, poverty, race and gender discrimination, censorship and a host of other ills, Beijing said. It also criticized the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, civilian casualties and the use of torture. China's got some leverage. It's got some balls. And, as monstrously imperfect as it is, it is right to retaliate by noting our imperfections.
America has some greatness, but it is the most murderous, treacherous, condescending and hypocritical country on Earth, and probably in human history.
We anxiously examine everything, everywhere through the prism of, "What are the implications for us?" Whether it's popular uprisings, far-flung alliances, new-found natural resources or even honest democratic elections, we fret about how it might affect our supremacy and our economy. and how it might unsettle balances of power that we have painstakingly constructed to further our interests.
YOU PROBABLY THINK THIS SONG IS ABOUT YOU
To paraphrase Carly Simon: We're so vain.....we probably think the world is about us.
We need for every duck to be in a row -- in our row, under our thumb -- or the pathetic hand-wringing begins. If we can't bribe you to do what we want -- which we usually can -- we blackmail you (which is just one reason we have CIA operatives all over the world), or we bring you to your knees with sanctions, or we galvanize, fund and arm an opposition force against you, or we find some reason to bomb the hell out of you.
To us, it's all a big zero-sum game: If someone else does well, we lose out. It is a petty, small-minded, neurotic outlook that makes us anything but a Great Nation. A great nation would celebrate the triumphs of others. I'm not a big fan of Oprah Winfrey, but she had the grace to remove herself from Emmy competition, because she kept winning. Way to go, Oprah -- that's some class. But we don't want anyone else to win. That would hurt our feelings -- and make us howl with rage and start plotting "payback" -- and it would hurt God's feelings too, since we are closest to his heart.
THEIR PAIN, OUR PLEASURE
As individuals, we display deep compassion and generosity when those in other nations experience natural disasters, but as a country we jump at the chance "to win hearts and minds" by tossing hygiene and MRE food kits out of helicopters. It's all about PR and power.
America loves foreign disasters because it sees them as an opportunity to embellish its image. We were especially thrilled about the catastrophe in Indonesia, which enabled us to create "a feeling of gratitude" in a Muslim nation. Thank you, Mother Nature, for giving us that handy inroad.
The 2911 earthquake/tsunami nightmare in Japan was a particularly great gift to us, because we knew that our aid would dampen, if not demolish, their efforts to get our military bases OUT of their country, now that World War II has been over for quite some time. They would be too busy bowing to say, "Scram!"
But then when the whole nuclear-reactor thing got going -- and the air and the water and the food got all radioactive -- we worried about what it would do to OUR grand plans for a nuclear-energy future. It's all about us, and now Japan is getting pretty irritating, throwing a wrench into our multibillion-dollar plan to subsidize the nuclear industry instead of giving safe renewable energy a real chance.
So -- all that anguish and devastation aside -- the whole Japan episode has been a wash. It helped us, and it hurt us. Kinda confusing.
The president's subsequent trip to three Latin American nations was another embarrassing example of our self-serving perspective toward even the poorest of nations.
“Latin America is a part of the world where the economy is growing very quickly. And as these markets grow, so does their demand for goods and services,” Obama said. “As president, I want to make sure these products are made in America. I want to open more markets around the world so that American companies can do more business and hire more of our people.”
Our businesses and our people. Get going, you Latin Americans, and help us solve our self-inflicted employment situation! We need y'all to buy our stuff! And eat more of our processed crap, so you can start having diseases that are more 'civilized' than what you've got now!
LOVE AMERICA -- OR ELSE
When Michelle Obama said her husband's nomination was the first time she had felt patriotic in her life, the full wrath of the nation rained down upon her. She was caricatured as some freaky African radical. How dare that uppity ingrate bitch diss our Godly nation, right?
I felt the same pride that Michelle did, also for the first time. (In the ensuing months, I've lost pretty much all respect for her husband as a political leader, but it was wonderful to feel good about America for a change, even though other countries have elected minority and female leaders for decades. The happiness of black people moved me to tears over and over. But you can feel some pride in your country without getting all jingoistic about it. You can have self-esteem without being an egomaniac.)
Patriotism, in general, is silly and immature -- akin to school spirit. Even if we did have a great country, why not just feel privileged to be a part of it, and go about our business keeping it great -- leading by example, instead of lording it over everyone else? Why do we feel that we always have to be Number One? Why don't we have the grace to root for other countries instead of regarding their every achievement, from Olympic gold medals to a rising GDP, as a "gathering threat"? We really are pathetic sissies, which is why we have to have a gargantuan military establishment and thousands of bombs, poised in silos, aimed and ready to go.
Our fighter jets go screaming around the world, blowing things up, whenever we can rationalize it. Our soldiers hoot when they do this. Destruction -- the bigger and louder the better -- becomes their drug. It is positively orgasmic. For decades we have meddled in the affairs of other nations, ousting democratically elected leaders who refuse to get their marching orders from Washington. We have been installing and/or propping up dictatorships for decades, tolerating if not condoning the most hideous violations of human rights.
Despite our grotesquely overgrown defense establishment -- which, we are assured, could destroy the planet many times over -- we are the most scaredy-cat country there ever was. Anything that happens anywhere is a potential -- if not an urgent -- threat to our national security. The other nations of the world simply proceed with their lives while we plot ways to "cut off the head off the beast."
We talk about our goal of achieving a nuclear-free world. Do you think for one minute that we would give up our precious stockpile. No way! We're total hypocrites. We don't think anyone else should have them, even though no country but ours has ever been brutal and reckless enough to use them. When we tell intransigent nations that "all options are on the table," they know what we're saying.: "We will bomb you back to the Stone Age."
A DRUG CALLED VENGEANCE
We love vengeance so much -- it is such a rush -- and we get such a visceral thrill out of pushing a button and watching as a village is reduced to dust, that my immediate reaction to 9/11 was a sickening realization about what this Proud Nation's reaction would surely be. I knew that we would put the world through hell because we had been hurt. I was hardly able to focus on this trauma that had befallen us. All I could think of was the death and destruction that we would now unleash, and about how much more of a police state ours would become. What I saw on 9/11 was not three thousand people killed. I saw the tens of thousands who were next.
Country singer Toby Keith's post-9/11 song, sung in a snarling macho style, gave me the creeps, but the screaming exultation of his audiences scared me more:
Man, it's gonna be hell
When you hear Mother Freedom
Start ringin' her bell
And it feels like the whole wide world is raining down on you
Brought to you Courtesy of the Red White and Blue
Justice will be served
And the battle will rage
This big dog will fight
When you rattle his cage
And you'll be sorry that you messed with
The U.S. of A.
'Cause we'll put a boot in your ass
It's the American way
He was right, of course: It is the American way to put a boot in your ass, and the boot is just to open up your buttocks so we can put something really bad in there. (It's also the American way to punish those who dare to be disgusted by the stupidity of our leaders, as the Dixie Chicks found out).
SUIT UP, BOOT UP, MAN UP
There is a mass exhilaration as we suit up, boot up, man up, and then put on those cool shades and go roaring off to foreign lands to mete out savage punishment.
Of course, we don't care a whit about what the "bad guys" have to say. We ought to, though. What they have been trying to convey is that their countries and cultures will no longer tolerate America's meddling, its decades-long enabling of brutal dictatorships or its efforts to maintain easy access to whatever natural resources it wants. They have valid grievances. They will defeat us. In many ways, they already have. They have set in motion an evolution toward a police state that regards the rights of its citizens as secondary and sees a threat in every unattended briefcase or lunchbox, every odd scent in the air, every sprinkling of powder outside of the powder room and every swarthy man with eyes averted.
THE 'BAD GUYS' HAVE ALREADY WON
The "bad guys" have succeeded in making the "security" of the "homeland" our highest priority. We as citizens have sacrificed immeasurably in the grip of this anxiety.
Both our fear and our arrogance make us vulnerable. They cause us to do one counterproductive thing after another.
Even when I was in elementary school, I resented being required to "pledge allegiance" to the flag. We had been thoroughly indoctrinated about the sinister specter of Communism. Having to stand there with my hand over my heart and promise loyalty to a country that DID NOT have "liberty and justice for all" made me feel, ironically, like I was in the Soviet Union. One student, LaDonna Weldon, bravely refused to stand, on religious grounds. I will never forget her courage, or my shame in being afraid to join her.
In this flag-obsessed, ruthlessly domineering nation, it is a sin not to love our country. I don't love it, and I never have. I don't see how anyone who knows our history and knows current events can. Whenever I have contact with people from other nations (like calling Canada to get my medicine for a reasonable price), I apologize for American arrogance and hypocrisy. I say, "We're not really like that."
And they say, "We know."
(But really, we kind of are like that.)
THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS
All over the world, people are willing -- for some reason -- to distinguish between us and our government. "We love Americans, hate America," is a common remark, even in Iran.
But we don't deserve to get off that easily. In a democracy, or in a representative government, WE ARE RESPONSIBLE for what our government does. We can't just sit on our couches like the Germans did and expect to be exempt from blame.
Our form of government will never work unless we are willing to put some time and effort into it. Very few people do, and I am not one of them. I love these people who attend meetings (and stand up and raise hell), organize protests, write op-eds, launch activist organizations, go door-to-door to build constituencies, and flood officials' mailboxes with demands for accountability, integrity and enlightened policies. Most of us just don't want to bother. In our system, we get the government we deserve. We have a horrendous mess. It's all falling down around us.
Meanwhile, we are watching "Dancing With the Stars."
LET'S CALL IT FANTASYLAND
Maybe we need to devise a new form of government that takes into account the fact that we don't give a shit as long as we get lots of government services and handouts without having to pay for them. We could call it "Magical Realism," or maybe just "Fantasyland."
So few people even bother to vote in many of our elections that we would declare them "invalid" if they took place in another country.
We are facing the prospect of the first billion-dollar presidential campaign, as Barack Obama disappoints and betrays us in yet another way. The corporate and special-interest funding that taints our electoral process renders the claim of "free and fair elections" to be asinine. Our elections are bought, and our public officials are paid for.
NO TRUTHINESS ALLOWED
In yet another example of the fear and paranoia of our leaders, the number of new classified documents rose 75 percent between 1996 and 2009, according to the Washington Post, and the number of documents using those secrets went from 5.6 million in 1996 to 54.6 million last year. The annual number has since nearly doubled.
There are 6 million documents being classified Top Secret by our government every year. Last June, the New York Times reported that in Obama's first 17 months as president, he had already surpassed every previous president, even George W. Bush, in pressing for the prosecution of those who leaked documents to the media.
In September. 2010, the Obama Justice Department opened the way for us to send suspected terrorists to other countries to be held and tortured.
Is this "change we can believe in"?
No: It's the lack of change that we deserve, because we haven't worked for change.
IMPOTENCE, PARALYSIS, GRIDLOCK
We ARE NOT a model of democracy. It is is a government that is by the wealthy and for the wealthy. Our "democracy" is so impotent, so paralyzed, so gridlocked that it almost makes benign dictatorship seem refreshing.
We have failed to lead on climate change, too nervous and short-sighted to consider anything except for the immediate effects on our economy. Other countries might get some sort of advantage! The world has proceeded without us. We have failed to lead on the prosecution of human rights abuses -- rejecting membership in the U.N.'s International Criminal Tribunal -- because we don't want OUR officials to be subject to the justice to which others must submit.
We denounce torture and then we do it. We castigate trade barriers and then throw up our own at the slightest provocation. We demand fiscal prudence from poor countries while being the global model for imprudence.
We are rapidly acquiring the demographics of a Banana Republic or Third World Country as our wealth becomes ever more concentrated in the top one percent of the population. Millions are slipping of the middle class, losing their jobs and homes and getting in line at the food bank. Every year, our schools fall farther behind those in other countries. Our infrastructure has been left to rot. Our infant mortality rates and our rates of incarceration are way up there with the most backward countries on earth.
By almost every measure, we are losing. We are losing the battle to be The World's Only Superpower, but that's not important. It's about time world power became more equitably distributed and more able to restrain America's condescending manipulations.
What a relief it would be to just be a kind, responsible, peaceable, cooperative nation -- just one among many kindred countries -- that focused its energies on the well-being of its people instead of leaving all of us to decline while the wealthy and the military-industrial complex enrich themselves and devastate the globe.