Barack Obama

The Wall

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Donald Trump signs Executive Order 13767. (Credit: U.S. Department of Homeland Security)

We will build a big, beautiful wall.

A great, great wall on our southern border. Big: thirty feet tall, six feet deep. Long: nearly two thousand miles, spanning mountains, canyons, rivers, lakes, floodplains, and desert lands. Strong: built to deter tunneling, prevent scaling, and withstand tampering. Beautiful: on the north side. Free: paid for by Mexico, or not, in the amount of twelve billion dollars, maybe twenty-one, maybe forty. Border secured. No more undocumented immigrants, criminals, or drugs. (more…)

Primer for the Trump Apocalypse: Napoleon the Pig

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Credit: Joanbanjo / Wikimedia Commons

Why should I be civil to them or to you? In this Palace of Lies a truth or two will not hurt you. Your friends are the dullest dogs I know.

Don Juan speaking to the Devil, in George Bernard Shaw’s Don Juan in Hell

To face the Apocalypse we must fix squarely in the mind what Donald Trump is and what he’s not. These days I have frequently revisited George Orwell’s dark fable Animal Farm as an emblematic text from which much can be learned. “Animal Farm,” said Orwell, “was the first book in which I tried … to fuse political purpose and artistic purpose into one whole.”[1]

Among the animals of Orwell’s dark fable—the heroic cart-horse Boxer and the “motherly mare” Clover, Muriel the goat, Benjamin the donkey and Moses the Raven—none stands out for me more than Napoleon the Pig. (more…)

Imperial Decline

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“Keying Up” – The Court Jester, oil on canvas, by William Merritt Chase, 1875. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Tom Engelhardt is an uncommonly keen observer of the imperial globe. His blog, TomDispatch.com, points critically at what mainstream media ignore or condone. The blog functions as an “antidote” to how the news typically is reported. He’s been at it since the beginning of the global war on terror. Before that, he wrote insightfully on US war culture in The End of Victory Culture: Cold War America and the Disillusioning of a Generation (Basic Books, 1995). Now he sees signs of the beginning of the end of US empire.

Engelhardt sees the decline of American imperial power reflected in the words of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign theme: “Make America Great Again!” The word “again” is revealing. Rhetoric makes and reflects political culture.

In the 1950s, US wealth and power were “too self-evident for presidents to cite, hail, or praise.” Their political vocabulary was devoid of superlatives such as “greatest,” “exceptional,” and “indispensible.” After Vietnam, though, things went the way of Rambo. (more…)

Born in the USA

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Panorama of Grand Canyon, Arizona, 2010. (Credit: chensiyuan / Wikimedia Commons)

Political discussions in the United States usually degenerate—sooner or later—into arguments about who is and who is not an American. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has pointed out: “the concept of being “un-American” is unique to the political culture and national identity of the United States.” Our tiresome, repeated claims of American exceptionalism are an outward expression of a deep insecurity—the product of a sense displacement created by the Stranger’s anxiety when confronted by a Strange land.

The Republican presidential primary campaigns have been rife with the politics of identity recently. Our fears and our confusion have been much in play. The US Constitution specifies that “No person except a natural born Citizen … shall be eligible to the Office of President” (Art. 2, Sec. 1). Since his election in 2008, the legitimacy of the presidency of Barack Obama has been questioned in conservative circles by accusations that he was born in Kenya, not in Hawaii. (more…)

Perish by the Sword

Sculpture of the massacre of the Holy Innocents, in the Abbey Saint-Pierre Brantôme, Brantôme (Dordogne, France). (Credit: Père Igor / Wikimedia Commons)

Sculpture of the massacre of the Holy Innocents, in the Abbey Saint-Pierre Brantôme, Brantôme (Dordogne, France). (Credit: Père Igor / Wikimedia Commons)

In the face of yet another massacre of young Americans, this time by a sick individual with guns in Oregon, some of our political leaders (Mencken’s Clown Dynasty) do not know what to do.

Others, like Pontius Pilate, are glad to wash their hands of the messy business. Jeb Bush summed up this attitude admirably the day after the shooting: “Stuff happens.”

If we are paralyzed into inactivity by the Second Amendment, by the NRA and its lobby, or by fellow Americans who worship guns and vote accordingly, perhaps we can find if not a new path, at least a new direction for a solution if we re-examine some of our premises about who we are, and remember what we claim to be.

First, President Obama presented the nation with this befuddlement in his address after the shooting: “We are the only advanced country on Earth that sees these kinds of mass shootings every few months.” The explanation for this puzzling conundrum is simple: despite our riches and our technical proficiency, we are NOT an “advanced country.” We are a nation of savages and barbarians who would rather see our children slaughtered than give up our guns. We believe in human sacrifice, and regularly offer up human victims to the natural law of the Second Amendment and to the bloody cult of the NRA. Any solution to the gun problem in this great country must begin with an acknowledgement of this sad fact. (more…)

Afterthoughts on the Iran Treaty

Apadana of Persepolis — in Persepolis, Iran. (Credit:  Wikimedia Commons)

Apadana of Persepolis — in Persepolis, Iran. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Is it not brave to be a King, Techelles?
Usumcasane and Theridamas,
Is it not passing brave to be a King,
And ride in triumph through Persepolis?

Christopher Marlowe, Tamburlaine

Now that the U.S. Congress cannot block the nuclear treaty between Iran, the United States and other world powers, one can exclaim along with Mark Twain, without fear of imperiling the agreement: “There are times when one would like to hang the whole human race, and finish the farce.” (A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, chap. XXXI).

I have not read the agreement. One of the lessons to be learned from this recent process is that our politicians—and therefore we—do not need to read or know anything about anything before forming an opinion. Even before the agreement was drafted, 47 senators (all Republicans) wrote “an open letter to the leadership of Iran, warning them that any nuclear deal signed between Iran and U.S. President Barack Obama might not last beyond his presidency.” All we need now in these United States—if ever we needed anything else—is to consult God, and/or (the god) Money, not necessarily in that order, and our clear, firm opinion is given unto us. In that spirit, I offer the following maxims: (more…)

Tripping the Demonization Trap

“The Great Satan” by Brazilian cartoonist Latuff, 1 October 2003. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Does US Representative Seth Moulton slip or trip war culture’s demonization trap when he endorses the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran?

As mentioned in the preceding post, the congressman allows that the deal does not require the US to trust Iran and concedes that Iran is a determined enemy of the US and Israel that supports international terrorism and violates human rights. The basic premise of the case for rejecting the nuclear accord and its underlying Manichean mythos of good versus evil remains unremarked and unchallenged.

War culture remains rhetorically intact, whether one decides to support the nuclear accord on the congressman’s terms or reject it. The perseverance of war culture on this matter is reflected in the expression of public opinion. (more…)

An Unremarked Metaphor

Grand Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, 10 April 2008. (Credit:  Seyedkhan / Wikimedia Commons)

Grand Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, 10 April 2008. (Credit: Seyedkhan / Wikimedia Commons)

Opposition to the nuclear accord with Iran is yet another occasion for putting US war culture on display. And what we see—if we choose to look—is a rationale for militarism grounded in an unrecognized and unremarked metaphor. We see a culturally compelling, naturalized image of the devil with whom we should never make a deal. The logic of opposing a nuclear deal rests on (and rhetorically derives from) this demonological image as if it is terra firma. Remarking critically on the image is taboo.

This self-justifying image appears in a video of a wounded soldier released in August by a group called Veterans Against the Deal. “Rather than refute the administration’s talking points or rehearsing specific objections to the deal, this [moving and powerful] spot speaks to the very nature of the Iranian regime,“ writes Guy Benson, who is Townhall.com’s political editor. (more…)

One Nation Among Many

President Obama delivered remarks at American University on the significance of the Iran nuclear agreement and the consequences if Congress rejects it. August 5, 2015. (Courtesy:  whitehouse.gov)

President Obama delivered remarks at American University on the significance of the Iran nuclear agreement and the consequences if Congress rejects it. August 5, 2015. (Courtesy: whitehouse.gov)

Barack Obama’s capacious case for the nuclear accord with Iran (address at American University) contains an interesting treatment of the myth of exceptional America. “What separates us from the empires of old, what has made us exceptional,” the President declared, “is not the mere fact of our military might” but our advancement, since World War II, of an evolving system of international law “to prevent the spread of deadly weapons, to uphold peace and security, and promote human progress.”

It is unclear whether President Obama means the US in not an empire or that the American empire, unlike others, is a force for good. This point of ambiguity marks a tension between diplomacy and military force that persists throughout the speech. The President manages this tension in a way that makes the US more alike and interdependent with other nations than independent, distinct, above, or apart from them. In his words, “we live in a complicated world” where, despite our power, “we are one nation among many.” (more…)

Unmaking the Devil

Saddam Hussein and Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi during the Algiers agreement, 1975. (Credit:  Wikimedia Commons)

Saddam Hussein and Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi during the Algiers agreement, 1975. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The Obama administration’s nuclear accord with Iran is drawing rhetorical fire. That’s not surprising. Conjuring the devil is a ritual that sustains the war state. It rehearses the narrative of good versus evil. Without the threat of evildoers, the country’s motivation to fight degrades over time.

Congressional war hawks and their neoconservative allies, observes James Carden, warn against being snookered by a despicable Iranian regime. Alluding to the Holocaust, Presidential aspirant Mike Huckabee insists that the deal would march the Israelis “to the door of the oven.” Senator Lindsey Graham adds that the religious views of Iran’s Supreme Leader compel him to destroy Israel and attack the US. Iran is the devil incarnate, Hitler de novo.

Senator Dan Coats summarizes much of the critique that follows from the basic premise that they are evil and we are good. In a guest column published by various Indiana newspapers, the Senator says the more he reads through the text of the Iran deal, the more his concern grows. Why? Because “the deal will not permanently stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions” and “the negotiators conceded [far too much] in order to reach an agreement with a regime that calls America its enemy, brazenly violates U.N resolutions, sponsors terrorism, threatens Israel’s existence and is responsible for more than 1,000 American military deaths since Sept. 11, 2001.” (more…)