Listening to the incoherent cries of the rebellious right, one phrase sticks in my mind: “We Want Our America Back!”
There’s not much doubt about the America they want. One look at their white faces and grizzled hair should be enough to make that clear.
They want the America they grew up in. And I can understand why.
Being white in America back in the Fifties must have been really easy to take. World War II had left the U.S. as the world’s mightiest superpower. Britain had been drained by the cost of fighting off Hitler’s hordes, and was deep in war debt (mostly to America). Russia was a distant threat. Black Americans were firmly “in their place” – at the back of the bus. And the white middle class enjoyed the fruits of privilege and international power.
I was in Jamaica back then, but my mother subscribed to Saturday Evening Post, and I could see how Americans – white Americans – were living. The magazine’s pages reflected an opulent lifestyle, manifested in ads for gleaming refrigerators and sleek automobiles.
I am not a historian, but for what it’s worth, I think white Americans could enjoy those luxuries because of the oppression of minorities at home and the intimidation of people in other countries. It seems relevant to me that the United States has consistently invested more in military might than the rest of the world combined.
But that America is long gone. The election of the nation’s first black president was a symbolic exclamation mark at the end of an era.
Whether by design or accident, the country’s media have kept Americans in the dark while the world has been changing – dramatically.
The civil rights revolution has been reported, of course, but out of context, exploited for its “drama” to sell newspapers and build radio and TV audiences. And the world beyond America’s shores has been ignored. American media have paid scant attention to a paradigm shift taking place in China, India and the Pacific Rim, for example. And events in Latin America have been – mostly – shrugged off as irrelevant.
The result is that many Americans are waking up to find themselves in a new and frightening global reality.
It’s not just “their” America that’s gone; it’s “their” world.
That reality was brought into focus today in an article by by Noam Chomsky. In “China’s Growing Independence and the New World Order,” the famous MIT professor alerts readers to America’s waning influence. Here are a few excerpts I found especially illuminating:
For the first time since the Spanish and Portuguese conquests 500 years ago, South America is moving toward integration, a prerequisite to independence. It is also beginning to address the internal scandal of a continent that is endowed with rich resources but dominated by tiny islands of wealthy elites in a sea of misery….
China is now the largest importer of Middle Eastern oil and the largest exporter to the region, replacing the United States. Trade relations are growing fast, doubling in the past five years….
Washington is reacting with a touch of desperation. In August, the State Department warned that “If China wants to do business around the world it will also have to protect its own reputation, and if you acquire a reputation as a country that is willing to skirt and evade international responsibilities that will have a long-term impact … their international responsibilities are clear”—namely, to follow U.S. orders.
Chinese leaders are unlikely to be impressed by such talk, the language of an imperial power desperately trying to cling to authority it no longer has. A far greater threat to imperial dominance than Iran is China’s refusing to obey orders – and indeed, as a major and growing power, dismissing them with contempt.
You can read the article here:
To those of us who take the trouble to look beyond our own neighborhood and ponder events in the wider world, Eisenhower’s America is a part of history, not an attainable goal for the future – even if it were (God forbid!) desirable. The “Tea Party” rebels and their sympathizers can scream as loudly as they want, but all the king’s horses and all the king’s men can never put that Humpty Dumpty together again.