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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Of Course America Is In Disarray - The Consequences Of Our Inevitable Cultural Revolution

Every arrogant fool gets his comeuppance, say America's critics, and it is about time that the United States pay for its exceptionalism, moral arrogance, and self-importance.  Not a few Americans and untold thousands of foreigners are shouting, “It’s about time! 

Finally discredited as ‘the leader of the free world’, America has had this coming for a long, long time.  How much self-righteous hectoring should any country take, ask those allies, adversaries, and Third World countries who for decades have, in return for political and economic favors, put up with America's posturing? How much insistence  about transparency and legitimate, representative government should they have to bear when America's example has been long tarnished?

Now that Donald Trump is in office, comparisons with present and former dictators and tyrants from Putin to Duterte to Mobutu are increasing.  The President according to the foreign and increasingly national press is an unhinged poseur with nationalist pretensions but corrupt designs. 

More temperate critics, however, understand that he is quintessentially American, and a long-awaited political messiah for the thousands of voters who have been frustrated, resentful, and marginalized for decades.  Voters who are not simply economically middle class but culturally so - impatient and increasingly angry with East and West Coast elites who neither represent the Old America or the new.  America in their minds is not what it is cracked up to be, certainly not what it pretends, nor what it should be, and Trump is the perfect leader for the times. He by nature and they by aspiration are children of Hollywood, Las Vegas, and reality television. They are middle-brow in taste, preference, and attitude.   The world can now finally see in its most expressive form, the real America.  They knew it all the time, but now it is on display. 

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Anyone paying attention knows that this particular political denouement was coming. Client states knew that ‘paper tiger’ had little to do with ineffectual military power - although that is indeed true - but with an exaggerated sense of national self-worth.  The new America now continues to claim the universal legitimacy of American values but is no longer shy about displaying the culture that underlies them.  Gone are any pretenses to old world rationalism, duty, responsibility and honor.  America still wants everyone to pay attention and listen, but now the voice comes from the big top. 

America seems to be falling apart. While the Dow Jones Industrials are at record high levels, unemployment rates approaching full employment levels, and GDP accelerating, the country is fractured, fractious, divisive, and chaotic.  How could such a great nation have fallen so far ask both national observers and international critics?

‘Falling’ is not quite the right word, because this state of affairs was preordained ages ago.  It was only a matter of time before the unintended consequences of a revolution which upset decades of conservative morals, mores, and social behavior, would be realized.  How can a country whose people are encouraged to put individual and group sovereignty above the commonweal possibly survive let alone be an example to the world? National sovereignty is a matter of social, cultural, and moral cohesion - pulling together for the same goals, purpose, and objectives.  Acting in concert. Disagreeing and even rebelling when it is necessary, but doing to only within the context of national integrity. When individualism and identity take precedence over the commonweal, trouble lies ahead. A country with such personalized ideals, one which values the process of 'freedom' over the substance of nation and culture cannot survive. 

America is now not one country but many.  Citizens have forgotten if not dismissed Jefferson’s insistence that ‘the pursuit of happiness’ has nothing to do with personal pleasure or satisfaction, but is a function of individual enterprise productive for community well-being. 

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The cultural revolution is indeed a denial of our first revolution and the principles of Jefferson, Hamilton, Adams, Franklin, and Lincoln. How could such a Donald Trump possibly become Chief of State? More importantly, how could we the people have been responsible for electing a man an such anti-originalist principles?

Of course our Founding Fathers could have seen it coming.  Hamilton especially was wary of popular democracy and the will of an uneducated, rural, rube, and uninitiated electorate; and even idealists such as Jefferson could have seen how the pawns of American society – we the people – could and would influence the course of democracy. 

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They could not have anticipated Hollywood, Las Vegas, Wall Street, prime mortgages, and securities exchange swaps; but they certainly would have been able to extrapolate.  The new Americans – ambitious, resentful of Old Europe, and impossibly tempted by the riches of the New World – could never be adherents of classic moral philosophers like Cato the Elder who taught the principles of rectitude, compassion, honesty, courage, and discipline to the future leaders of Empire.  

No, Americans would eventually reject classicism, traditional morality, and especially guilt-immured Judeo-Christian principles.  This was a new world, a new ambitious empire, and nothing would stand in its way. 

Progressives, for all the reformist energy and communitarian principles, missed an opportunity. They believed in a better class of human beings who would respond to racism, sexism, homophobia, and nativism and beat back middle-class, retrograde ambitions; and were shocked at the results of the 2016 election and are still nonplussed that an uncultured street fighter ever ascend to the most powerful office in the land? Yet they never realized that their message was exactly the one that would drive voters into the arms of Donald Trump.  The disaffected middle class might well have been willing to moderate their radical demands if Democratic politicians moderated theirs.  A call to harmony, principle, and national purpose might have annealed growing political splits.

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The point is not that conservatives and liberals disagree on public policy; nor that there are significant divides on political philosophy; but that the cultural tide has turned in America. 

No longer are we an 18th century nation, nor even a 19th.  Our ambitions are modern, our communication social and viral, and our leanings even more individualistic than in the Wild West.  We are anti-intellectual, scornful of the academic elite, proud of our populist roots and expressions, delighted in the national prominence of Hollywood and Las Vegas and the renewed legitimacy of image, glitz, and beauty. 

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It was no surprise to anyone that the Balkans erupted after the fall of Tito, that centuries-old animosities and jealousies resurfaced, or that historical mistrust, hatred, and suspicion resurfaced.  Why should it be a surprise that nationalist, animist, and anti-social sentiments reemerge now?  Just as in the Balkans where perceived historical injustices were never resolved, so in America the Civil War is far from over.  Why should we be assumed capable of reform when Europe has never forgotten?

Many Americans consider Donald Trump an illegitimate interloper – a political poseur with no right to be President.  Others feel that he is a latter-day savior, anointed to rescind oppressive progressive policies and programs and to restore America’s traditional greatness. Most others are simply concerned.  While the cleaning of the Augean stables has been a long time coming, and while the raw, native, and uncompromising American populist revolution is necessary and essential, the risk to global peace and security is significant.  While we Americans may appreciate the rise of ‘one of us’, the risk to the international status quo is high.

There is no turning back the tide of history; and the new American populism is here to stay.  There is nothing new to radical right-wing extremism nor extreme progressive hyperbole.  The battle lines are drawn, and the eagerness for engagement palpable. Let the games begin. 

There is no predictable outcome to this, the Trump Revolution, or any other.  The Soviet experiment lasted 70 years.  The French Revolution far fewer.  The American enterprise began well, foundered in the early 20th century, regained its footing mid-way, but has fallen on hard times now.  

It is likely that America will ever go back either to an idealistic progressivism or to an 18th century optimism.  We are a populist nation, hopelessly middle class, anti-intellectual, born of unlikely ambition and fueled by People, Hollywood Today,  and E! magazine. 

It’s not that we deserve Donald Trump.  We are Donald Trump.

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