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WHITHER AMERICA? August 29, 2011

Posted by wmmbb in US Politics.
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In this sense America is the United States founded in 1776 and soon after constitutionally entrenching a Bill of Rights with later amendments.

Thus  it seems America was founded as a nation state not just to live well, but to live better. To quote Dr Martin Luther King from his speech at the Lincoln Memorial on 23 August 1963:

Now, I say to you today my friends, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: – ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’

And Dr King was duly shot on a balcony in Memphis as he knew he would be without the protection of the Secret Service. Dr Cornel West quotes the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel:

“The whole future of America depends on the impact and influence of Dr. King.”

Rabbi Heschel spoke those words during the last years of King’s life, when 72 percent of whites and 55 percent of blacks disapproved of King’s opposition to the Vietnam War and his efforts to eradicate poverty in America. King’s dream of a more democratic America had become, in his words, “a nightmare,” owing to the persistence of “racism, poverty, militarism and materialism.” He called America a “sick society.” On the Sunday after his assassination, in 1968, he was to have preached a sermon titled “Why America May Go to Hell.”

King did not think that America ought to go to hell, but rather that it might go to hell owing to its economic injustice, cultural decay and political paralysis. He was not an American Gibbon, chronicling the decline and fall of the American empire, but a courageous and visionary Christian blues man, fighting with style and love in the face of the four catastrophes he identified.

Militarism is an imperial catastrophe that has produced a military-industrial complex and national security state and warped the country’s priorities and stature (as with the immoral drones, dropping bombs on innocent civilians). Materialism is a spiritual catastrophe, promoted by a corporate media multiplex and a culture industry that have hardened the hearts of hard-core consumers and coarsened the consciences of would-be citizens. Clever gimmicks of mass distraction yield a cheap soulcraft of addicted and self-medicated narcissists.

Racism is a moral catastrophe, most graphically seen in the prison industrial complex and targeted police surveillance in black and brown ghettos rendered invisible in public discourse. Arbitrary uses of the law — in the name of the “war” on drugs — have produced, in the legal scholar Michelle Alexander’s apt phrase, a new Jim Crow of mass incarceration. And poverty is an economic catastrophe, inseparable from the power of greedy oligarchs and avaricious plutocrats indifferent to the misery of poor children, elderly citizens and working people.

The age of Obama has fallen tragically short of fulfilling King’s prophetic legacy. Instead of articulating a radical democratic vision and fighting for homeowners, workers and poor people in the form of mortgage relief, jobs and investment in education, infrastructure and housing, the administration gave us bailouts for banks, record profits for Wall Street and giant budget cuts on the backs of the vulnerable.

President Obama has extended the war legacy he inherited from the Bush Administration, and while the crisis related to the debt may be a political fabrication, the budget deficit and trade deficit are large and real. While reducing the burden on military spending would seem obvious, it may not be politically easy even though the technologies that create weapons might be transformed into means to create ends of public benefit.

Charleston is not without significance in the context of the American Civil War, so it is interesting to note the Charleston Gazette editorial of 25 August 2011 arguing:

-America is the most militaristic nation on Earth, spending $1 trillion of taxpayer money yearly for warmaking — outstripping all other nations combined. Why? What’s the point of trying to police the entire planet, when other democracies don’t feel this compulsion? Especially when the policing doesn’t really work?
. . .
Washington is convulsing over the colossal national debt. But that debt easily could be curbed if militarism were reduced. The “official” Pentagon budget was $680 billion last year, but the total soars to $1 trillion when veteran care is added, plus interest on past military spending done with borrowed money, plus other off-budget outlays.

America is bankrupting itself to remain an armed superpower. Other nations don’t do it. Why does America damage itself in this manner?

Both rational and spiritual arguments might be persuasive for reducing the burden of militarism so as to live out the true meaning of the creed adopted in 1776. Such a revolution in thought and action might as good for the rest of us on this planet as those confined within those boundaries in North America.

ELSEWHERE:

The argument is well made by E J Dionne, via Truthdig, although the implication is that human rights are universal.

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