I received a letter recently asking me what it is about America that I hated so much. Since its tone was polite, I replied at length. I don't hate anything - "hate" is an awfully strong word - but there are things I find disturbing about America, and, as it happens, these are things many others also find disturbing.
There's certainly no need for my services in the 24-hour-a-day orgy of noisy, self-praise that pours from television, radio, magazines, movies, sporting events, and even sermons in the home of the brave. This non-stop, drum-beating, national revival meeting has become the background noise of everyday American life, so much so that
many are not aware that there is anything unusual about it.
There is a wonderful scene in "The Gulag Archipelago." After a speech by Stalin, the audience applauds and applauds and cannot stop applauding. Everyone waits for his or her neighbours to stop before stopping, only the neighbours also do not stop. The applause threatens to continue forever. Why? Because NKVD men prowl the
aisles, looking for anyone who stops applauding. Without making any outlandish, inappropriate comparisons between Bush's America and Stalin's Russia, there is still a very uncomfortable parallel between that frightening historical scene and recent events in the U.S., especially the State of the Union address.
Even though the President said nothing demonstrating statesmanship or imagination or even compassion, everyone applauded and applauded and kept applauding. Some media commentators actually compared his feeble recitation of platitudes with the thrilling cadence and brilliant words of Franklin Roosevelt at a time of true darkness.
Several well-known television news personalities felt called upon to make odd, jingoistic personal statements as though they felt the need to prove their patriotic bona fides.
What a big fat disappointment America is today. An affluent, noisy, moral netherworld. A place where fundamentalist pitchmen in blow-dried coifs and pan-cake makeup plead to fill the moral void, but only add to the noise.
A place where jingoism and mediocrity are lavishly praised. A people bristling with demands about their rights and redress of grievances, but with no thought about their responsibilities. A people who brag of being freer than any other people without knowing anything about other people.
An insatiably-consuming engine of a country whose national dream has been reduced to consuming more of everything without a care for anyone else on the planet. A people without grace who always blame others for what goes wrong.
Americans, roughly 4% of the planet by numbers, gulp down more than half the world's illegal drugs, but in all the strident speeches and in all the poorly-conceived foreign policy measures, it is always the fault of Mexico or Colombia or Vietnam or Panama or the French Connection or someone else out there. Anyone, that is, but the
people who keep gulping and snorting the stuff down, and all the shady American officials who are so clearly necessary to keep the merchandise widely available.
One of history's great moments of insufferable posturing came with the creation of annual "report cards" on how well various nations were doing at controlling drugs, as though these other countries were unreliable children being assessed by their wise Auntie America, the same wise Auntie zonked out on a million pounds of
chemicals at any given moment.
America has a long history of vote tampering and rigged elections in many local jurisdictions. It is widely understood that vote tampering, especially in Chicago, gave John Kennedy a victory he did not win in the 1960 election. Biographer Robert Caro has revealed how Lyndon Johnson's political career in Texas had the way smoothed by
vote fraud. And now, two and a quarter centuries after the great republic's founding, she still cannot run a clean election for president.
On top of fraud and unwillingness to spend enough to assure proper ballots, America clings to the most corrupt method possible to finance election campaigns, defining private money as free speech. The more of it, the better. One would almost think that the billions in bribes paid out by the CIA over the decades to corrupt other
governments had influenced thinking about how things should be done at home.
Yet with a record like this, the State Department never stops passing public judgement on the inadequacies of democracy in other places. The State Department's views on democracy, about as deserving of serious consideration as the last Congress's idea of why you impeach an elected president, reduce to the same tacky business as the
drug report cards: it's always someone else who's wrong. Even worse, the sermons on democracy and rights frequently are used as wedges for trade concessions. It just doesn't get more hypocritical than that.
This article was first published in Yellow Times.org.