On this edition of CrossTalk we consider only one question: Is Donald Trump’s “America First” policy in contradiction to the Washington Consensus idea of American Exceptionalism? The answer to this question will likely define Trump’s presidency and change the world in the process.
Most important thought: I’m sick and tired of this thing called “patriotism”.
The Japanese pilots who bombed Pearl Harbor were being patriotic. The German people who supported Hitler and his conquests were being patriotic, fighting for the Fatherland. All the Latin American military dictators who overthrew democratically-elected governments and routinely tortured people were being patriotic — saving their beloved country from “communism”.
The current mass exodus of people from Central America to the United States, with the daily headline-grabbing stories of numerous children involuntarily separated from their parents, means it’s time to remind my readers once again of one of the primary causes of these periodic mass migrations.
We should be very grateful to Francesco Duina for his new book, Broke and Patriotic: Why Poor Americans Love Their Country. He begins with the following dilemma. The poor in the United States are in many ways worse off than in other wealthy countries, but they are more patriotic than are the poor in those other countries and even more patriotic than are wealthier people in their own country. Their country is (among wealthy countries) tops in inequality, and bottoms in social support, and yet they overwhelmingly believe that the United States is “fundamentally better than other countries.” Why?
Americans have long embraced a notion of superiority, claims Howard Zinn. Governor Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony described establishing “a city on a hill,” to serve the world as a beacon of liberty. So far, so good. But driving this sense of destiny, says Zinn, was an assumption of divine agency—“an association between what the government does and what God approves of.” And too frequently, continues Zinn, Americans have invoked God to expand “into someone else’s territory, occupying and dealing harshly with people who resist occupation.”
In March of 1951, Jacobo Arbenz came to power in Guatemala after having been resoundingly elected by the people. A little more than three years later, he was forced to resign in the midst of armed intervention. His reforms to redistribute unused land to poor peasants had fallen afoul of the United Fruit Company, which owned and warehoused vast tracts of Guatemalan land. The American corporation solicited the US government to overthrow the populist president and the Eisenhower administration delivered with the help of the Department of State and CIA, which happened to be led by the Dulles brothers, who had strong ties to the company. Arbenz’ ousting put an end to democracy in Guatemala for decades and replaced it by military rule. A civil war followed several years later, resulting in the deaths of over 200,000 people. The country remains one of Latin America’s most impoverished to this day.
“Memorial Day is a time to remember, appreciate, and honor the selfless patriots who gave the ultimate sacrifice in service to freedom. At a time when our country seems so divided, we must not forget that it is because of their service and sacrifice that we live in the most free and prosperous nation on Earth.” —Congressman Tom Garrett
Writer and activist David Swanson discusses his new book Curing Exceptionalism, with TRNN’s Ben Norton, exploring how American nationalism and the myth of US superiority is used to justify hyper-militarism and capitalist oppression.
It feels as if world events are in overdrive, and sometimes it’s hard to escape the thought that that there is no longer much point in trying to analyse, or make sense of, a trajectory increasingly out of control.
Back in the 1890s those who believed conquering a continent was killing enough (without taking over Hawaii, the Philippines, Cuba, Puerto Rico, etc.) included Speaker of the House Thomas Reed. He clipped an article out of a newspaper about a lynching in South Carolina. He clipped a headline about “Another Outrage in Cuba.” He pasted the two together (fake news!) and gave them to a Congressman from South Carolina who was pushing for a war on Cuba. The Congressman eagerly read the article, then stopped, looked puzzled, and remarked “Why, this isn’t Cuba.”
There are good reasons for any good progressive to bemoan the presence of the childish, racist, sexist and ecocidal, right-wing plutocrat Donald Trump in the White House. One complaint about Trump that should be held at arm’s-length by anyone on the left, however, is the charge that Trump is contributing to the decline of U.S. global power—to the erosion of the United States’ superpower status and the emergence of a more multipolar world.