From email@example.com Thu Aug 24 07:32:07 2000
Date: Wed, 23 Aug 2000 21:47:42 -0500 (CDT)
From: Morgan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: The lesson from America is that Europe is our only hope
The United States has become insufferable as it has grown all-powerful
By Polly Toynbee, The Guardian,
Wednesday 23 August 2000
The land of the free now wields an absolute power, free of responsibility, such
as the world has never known. The rest of the globe watches
its elections with renewed anguish as powerless spectators and demi-subjects.
The two conventions displayed all that is most repugnant
and alien in a political system corrupted beyond recognition in the democratic
The $100m campaigns lift off in an obscene haze of sanctimonious, lachrymose
religiosity, oozing family unction and lies. With 77 days to
go and contenders neck and neck in the polls, George W Bush says that Jesus is
his guiding influence, Al Gore and Joe Lieberman share
a prayer with reporters and both campaigns promise instant gratification and no
sacrifice for anything or anyone ever. Dishonest fantasy
politics turn America into an out-of-control, self-absorbed, infantilised
The richer, stronger and more globally unaccountable America becomes, the more
self-centred its politics grows. The end of the cold war
should have brought great psychological dividends. Generous in global victory,
free of paranoia and with wealth beyond imagining, here at
last was its chance to become what it has always believed itself to be - the
brave, the beautiful, the free and so on.
The high-flown rhetoric of the conventions is echoed in every high school
valedictory speech, in every rotary and church, pledging allegiance
to a constitution that has lost any vision of society beyond the pursuit of
happiness. God's chosen people, uniquely blessed, nurture a
self-image almost as deranged in its profound self-delusion as the old Soviet
Union. The most advanced, knowledgeable, educated,
psychoanalysed, therapised nation on earth knows nothing of itself, irony-free
and blind to the world around it.
This is the indictment:
Global warming: both poles are now melting and the process can never be
stopped or reversed without America. The US federal
government report on climate change itself predicted a 5-10C heat increase this
century, with attendant fires, droughts and floods. A quarter
of the world's population consumes 80% of its energy, most in the US. At Kyoto
the US agreed to a very modest 7% cut in emissions by
2010. Congress refused to ratify it and since then America's emissions have
increased by over 20%.
The Republicans deny the cause of global warming, Democrats say nothing of cuts.
As a result other countries are now sliding out of Kyoto
promises, finding loopholes. Why should politicians in France or Germany take
huge political pain in demanding cuts from their voters
when the monster across the Atlantic goes on guzzling? With global power should
come global responsibility to lead, but it doesn't.
Defence: Congress's refusal to sign the comprehensive test ban treaty last
October virtually urges others to acquire their own weapons.
The Bush camp talks of tearing up the 1972 anti-ballistic missile treaty. Both
parties are committed to the insane national missile defence
system, putting the US under an umbrella protecting it from imaginary threats by
"rogue" states that might lob a missile across, presumably
unafraid of retaliation. It will end the old mutually assured destruction policy
by which the world survived the cold war. Costing $60bn, it
works even less well than the smart bombs of recent wars but still arouses fear
and anger in China and Russia. Zbigniew Brzezinski calls
it the mentality of the "internationally gated community".
Such isolationism will make the US role as a good global police force less
likely: already political cowardice at losing any US soldier's life
damaged its moral credibility in a genuinely unself-interested intervention in
The third world: the US promised $600m towards the relief of third-world debt,
with 25 countries partly aided by the end of this year. Not a
penny has been paid because Congress refused. The rhetoric was good - a recent
US poll showed half the population thought the
problem already solved - but even Uganda, the exemplary "good" poor country, has
still received nothing.
Following US parsimony, the EU and Japan have been dragging their heels too. If
the world's richest country, whose GNP has risen by a
third in five years, hasn't paid, why should anyone else? Then there are the
world trade negotiations, wrecked instead of saved by US
- Poverty: a nation that does next to nothing about its own poor is unlikely to
offer much to other countries. While US stock market values
have increased five-fold in a decade, with half of all shares owned by 1% of the
people, welfare has been cut to a five-year lifetime limit.
With 40% of the people not covered by medical insurance, Medicare for the
elderly is being cut by $115bn - and the Republicans promise
far worse to come.
Virtually all the income gains of the last five years have been enjoyed by the
top 20% of the population. The real value of the minimum wage
is still below what it was in John F Kennedy's day, income distribution as
unequal as in the 1920s. (Bill Gates' wealth is equal to that of the
entire bottom 40% of the nation). The poor go to jail in a country that
imprisons more than any dictatorship - 5% of adult males are under
"correction". Some 3,500 people await execution on death row; 580 have been
executed since the Supreme Court lifted its ban.
This is not the portrait of a civilised modern state. We are deceived by
history. We are deceived by the myriad rainbow wonders of America,
this mighty engine of invention and imagination, of creativity and enthusiasm
from sea to shining sea. Europeans visit New York, San
Francisco or Cape Cod, read the great American novelists and intellectuals,
revel in America's popular culture, films and art and admire the
super-sophistication of its academic discourse.
It's rather like visiting St Petersburg before the revolution, wondering at the
brilliance of Tolstoy, Pushkin, Chekhov, Dostoevsky or maybe
Fabergé, while trying to disregard the Tsar. The US constitution is kept on a
mighty altar and lowered into a bomb-proof shelter at night as if
it were indeed the guarantor of freedom: all it proves is that constitutions,
freedoms of speech or information are only a small part of a good
society. (The Soviet constitution was a pretty good document too.)
In elections there is always a better and worse. Bush is terrifying - in hock to
oil and arms, promising a $1.3 trillion tax cut to the exclusive
benefit of the top few. Gore is better. But whoever wins, America's dismal
failure to address the key questions with any realism must
strengthen European resolution on future unity. The life, views, values, ideas
and politics of any town or village anywhere in the EU feels
much more like home than any small town in middle America these days. The more
we look at alien America, the more European we feel
and the stronger we need to become.
Copyright Guardian Media Group plc. 2000