Martin LeFevre: On July 4th the United States celebrates its 247th Independence Day. Or I should say, millions of people celebrate by trying to get away, resulting in many Americans voluntarily locking themselves up in crammed airports for days because of flight delays. As a leading pundit asks, “Is America toast?”
The best thing one can do for humanity is the worst thing one can do to one’s country: tell the truth about it. And the truth is that America has been toast for 30 years, ever since the USSR collapsed externally and the US collapsed internally.
In fact, being toast, which means “someone or something is no longer important or powerful,” is the least of it. Yet the Biden Administration is hell bent on disproving the fact, demonstrating, beyond all evidence and reason, that “America is back” after the purported Trump anomaly.
Domestically, the vast majority of Americans would agree with a conservative who ran down the list: “Congress: broken. Public education: broken. The I.R.S.: broken. The Roman Catholic Church: broken. The immigration system: broken. Cities: broken. Civil discourse: broken. Families: broken. Race relations: broken. And the most broken thing of all: public trust. Trust in government, in news media, in police, in the scientific establishment.”
Internationally, America’s geopolitical machinations are portrayed as contests between freedom and tyranny, between good vs. evil, even as the USA slouches toward authoritarianism and American culture is saturated with darkness and deadness.
Even so, the old fiction of American exceptionalism is dying a hard death. Much of the madness of recent history can be traced to US hubris after the collapse of the Soviet Union. “We won the Cold War” became the unquestioned proof of American exceptionalism. History will record that both sides lost the Cold War and the chance for peace.
Well before 9.11, America had turned the Pyrrhic victory of the Cold War into a confrontation with Russia by expanding NATO (a military alliance against the USSR suddenly without a mission) into expansionist idiocy. How would Americans feel if they had Russians breathing down our necks in Canada and Mexico?
Even small openings had to be closed in the need to renew old enemies to “make America great again.” As recently noted, Biden continued with Trump’s policies, and “Cuba and Iran didn’t swerve toward Russia and China because they realized they hate democracy. They swerved because the United States spurned their overtures and drove them into the arms of America’s great-power foes.”
The failure to seize the window of opportunity to work together after the dissolution of the USSR belongs to both Americans and Russians. But it was American arrogance through the wasted Clinton years, when politicians, academics and the media believed the United States sat astride the world during “the end of history,” that set the stage for the present hellishness at home and abroad.
Decency, fairness and respect have become exceptions to what used to be their rule in the United States. You can still come across good people, but when we meet, we bemoan the erosion of basic character that people once took for granted in the United States.
The exceptions become exceptional. On the hottest day of the year, when the temperature rose to 104F/40C, the air conditioning went out in the house late in the afternoon. At 8:30 on a Saturday evening, a very competent fellow fixed the outdoor unit as the temperature hovered at about 100 degrees. It took him an hour and a half. On Sunday morning he called to make sure the unit was working properly.
I was appreciative, to say the least. When I mentioned how rare it is these days to get that kind of service, he said he was “old school.” Then he spoke of how many people have been stiffing his company, from small jobs like mine to thousands of dollars on big contracts.
Turning on the news late Sunday afternoon, the nation numbingly marked another mass shooting, this one at an annual 4th of July gala in Baltimore, where at least two people were killed and 30 injured as multiple gunmen opened fire on a crowd containing many children. Mass shootings in America have become as predictable as the weather, with people feeling just as incapable of doing anything to stop them (a mindset that also applies to climate change).
Recently I watched a short interview, irresponsibly conducted on a national news show, featuring the “entrepreneur” of a new start-up. He was shilling for his AI program that detects school shooters “when they first enter the school, so police can respond more quickly.” When did America become a country where everything, no matter how dreadful, is monetized?
Rather than face the rot at the core of a nation and culture that subjects its children to mass shootings in schools, they are given bullet-proof backpacks and taught duck and cover drills like kids used to for a nuclear attack. Most schools now have armed guards, and now billions of dollars in AI systems are being hawked.
This is the true state of the American nation on this 4th of July. And yet we’re still told, “there is no substitute for American leadership in the world.” Enough politicians in Europe believe that bullshit to risk being zapped when the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant melts down, or all hell breaks loose when Putin uses tactical nukes if Ukraine begins to retake Crimea.
What can the individual, no matter where we live, do in the face of the atavistic stupidity of nationalism, American, Russian, Ukrainian or Liechtensteinian? Cease identifying with anything or anyone — not a country, a leader, a religious teacher, or even one’s precious self.
Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He welcomes dialogue. email@example.com
Published with permission of the author. All copyright remains with the author.