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From mango.uno@virgin.net Thu Aug 24 07:32:07 2000
Date: Wed, 23 Aug 2000 21:47:42 -0500 (CDT)
From: Morgan <mango.uno@virgin.net>
Subject: The lesson from America is that Europe is our only hope
Organization: http://extra.newsguy.com
Article: 103285
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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 world.

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 monster.

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 Kosovo.

  • 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 political selfishness.

  • 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

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