The Great American Obsession
America is great. America is the greatest nation on earth. Make America great again.
Is it an obsessive spiral of self-delusion, an illusory immaculate conception, or, nothing but repetitive, compulsive jingoism?
The Democratic National Convention in the summer of 2016 chose Hillary Clinton as the presidential nominee, with Barack Obama backing her against ‘socialist’ Bernie Sanders, who, was immensely popular, especially among the young and educated. She won 56 per cent votes of the delegates – he got 47 per cent, with the big money lobbies pitched against him.
Wrote Ron Fournier (The Atlantic, June, 2016): “Obama hopes to reframe the election for the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton. Voters are demanding radical change, but the former secretary of state is the emblem of status quo and Trump is living disruption. She represents a political system that most Americans don’t trust; that failed to protect their livelihoods in the shift from industrialism to globalism; that made promises it didn’t keep; that puts more value in the results of the next election than the needs of the next generation. She could lose that fight…”
Michelle Obama had earlier, as a rejoinder to Trump, asserted that she wakes up in a home built by slaves and yet her daughters—“two beautiful, intelligent, black young women”—take for granted that a woman can be president. “(D)on’t let anyone ever tell you that this country isn’t great, that somehow we need to make it great again,” she said.“Because, this, right now, is the greatest country on earth.”
Obama repeated: “America is already great,” he said at the convention. “America is already strong. And, I promise you, our strength, our greatness, does not depend on Donald Trump…What could be more American than what happened in this place?… What could more profoundly vindicate the idea of America than plain and humble people—the unsung, the downtrodden, the dreamers not of high station, not born to wealth or privilege, not of one religious tradition but many, coming together to shape their country’s course?”
This convention was touted as a radical rupture in the history of the Democratic Party because of the progressive influence of Sanders. In a country where the Left is either absent or derided, Sanders and his supporters created a parallel discourse. The convention thereby reflected a different mood: Wall Street reforms (inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement), curbs on obscenely rich capitalists, stringent financial regulations, $15 an hour minimum wage, social sector reforms, waiver of students’ loans, abolition of death penalty, criminal justice reforms, including the closure of the notorious private prisons, among other reforms.
ALSO READ: Can America Be United Again?
Crucially, despite Obama’s poetics and rhetoric, it was a pointer that he did little – including for the Black community, the unsung, the downtrodden, low station dreamers, among others. That, despite his noble intentions, the sublime discourse – he turned out to be a brilliant failure.
Joe Biden has seen it all from close to the ring. So, at 78, will he still hold on to the same silly old strings?
His popularity ratings dipped by around 53 per cent after the big botch-up in Afghanistan, which, of course, was begun by George W Bush. Hence, how is this botch-up pronounced in the self-righteous, self-proclamation of ‘greatness’?
Is it all always eyes-wide-open-wide-shut? So, what happened in Afghanistan and Vietnam? Or, what is happening right now in Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, among the Kurds? Or, whatever happened in Latin America for decades – and this was no magic realism!
Yet, are things changing on the ground?
In India, the prime minister has not faced a single press conference till date since the summer of 2014 when he took over. However, the White House does regular media briefings. Nothing is ever stage-managed. The president answer questions in a free and frank atmosphere. Difficult questions can be parried, but not blocked. Indeed, even Donald Trump faced a hostile media routinely – and he never crushed a query!
The White House Press Secretary, Jen Psaki, answers questions without any censorship. On September 20, she answered several uncomfortable questions on the drone strike in Kabul and the deportation of immigrants to Haiti. Since The New York Times and others exposed the killing of a family in the drone strike, this was perhaps the first time that she was talking on behalf of the American president. “This was done in error… Every loss is a tragedy,” she said, stating that investigations are on to make this mistake accountable. The journalists persisted.
Apart from this, her presentation marked what is perceived to be a paradigm shift in terms of the ‘progressive reforms’ being pushed by Biden. For those who have seen the homeless on the streets in New York, in freezing cold, this would be a pointer. The Press Secretary disclosed about a new initiative, ‘House America’: “Homelessness was on the rise before the pandemic, and the last couple of years have just exacerbated the problem. On any given night, more than half-a-million Americans were enduring the pandemic without the safety and protection of a home. Thanks to the President’s American Rescue Plan — and Congress’s — everybody’s American Rescue Plan — communities now have historic housing resources to help more Americans obtain the safety of a stable home, including 70,000 emergency housing vouchers, $5 billion in HOME grants, and significant investments to preserve and protect housing on Tribal lands. In addition, communities have $350 billion in state and local Fiscal Recovery Funds from the Department of Treasury to support many needs, including homelessness and housing instability…The initiative will promote the use of ‘housing first’ — the proven theory that the best way to stabilize the life of someone experiencing homelessness is to ensure that they have a home first without preconditions — and so we are moving forward with that…”
ALSO READ: The Hill Biden Has To Climb
Biden’s ‘build back better’ model has four anchors: racism, economy, climate change and Covid. His latest is compulsory vaccination of 100 million private sector workers, federal contractors and health care workers. In a country where almost 60 per cent people have got free double vaccination since he became president, this follows the ambitious 100 million vaccination target in the first 100 days since he took over. In any given circumstances, these are important achievements.
The Pew Research Centre has documented in June 2020 that unemployed Americans have increased by more than 14 million — from 6.2 million in February to 20.5 million in May 2020. The numbers must have grown substantially by September 2021. This is also many times worse than the Great Recession.
Biden appointed Bernie Sanders as chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, knowing what to expect in the face of Right-wing opposition from within the Democrats and Republicans. And Sanders has been demanding a $6 trillion package. Biden has committed a $3.5 trillion package, targeting the economic recovery of the marginalized communities. Said Sanders, “The bottom line here is this country faces crises… working families are struggling and it’s about time we paid attention to their needs.”
Now House progressives are pushing to stop a $24 billion boost to defense spending in 2021. The Pentagon is reportedly spending $740 billion per year. It seems there are no lessons learnt from the Afghanistan and Middle-east fiasco, even while the arms lobby remains entrenched.
“Despite trillions of dollars poured into our endless military spending, this budget has failed to meet the greatest threats that our nation and our world faces today, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis, and the needs of 140 million people living in poverty,” Representative Barbara Lee of California said in a letter to Representative Adam Smith, chair of the House Armed Services Committee. “Now is the time to shift our investments away from endless wars and toward addressing human needs.” (The Nation, September 21, 2021).
These are all signs of shifting social currents. An entire new generation is against war, inequality, racism, imperialism, capitalism, global warming, mindless consumerism. They refuse to proclaim that ‘America is the greatest nation on earth’. And they don’t really like the rich – including the ones who are indulging in space tourism these days with millions jobless, hungry and homeless.
New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wore a gown with the slogan ‘tax the rich’ at the Met Gala in New York recently. Her argument — push the debate on wealth redistribution in America!
“I thought about the criticism I’d get, but, honestly, I and my body have been so heavily and relentlessly policed from all corners politically since the moment I won my election that it’s kind of become expected and normalised to me,” she wrote on an Instagram story. “…Ultimately, the haters hated and the people who are thoughtful were thoughtful…But, we all had a conversation about taxing the rich in front of the very people who lobby against it, and punctured the 4th wall of excess and spectacle.”