The United States is in crisis, and it isn’t only because of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic that has killed half a million Americans. Neither is it due to the threat of the foreign terrorist networks that for decades has vexed every US administration. It is because of the very real danger of terrorism from home-grown extremist groups, of which the Jan. 6 attack on the US Congress could only be the beginning.
And yet it was only a scant 12 years ago when the dawn of a new era of peace, stability and security in the US and the rest of the world had seemed, to many men and women of goodwill, so imminent.
They thought the election of Barack Obama as the first black President of the United States in 2008 signaled the beginning of a more enlightened age. It wasn’t only because it seemed such a repudiation of the racism that afflicts American society and taints US foreign relations. It was also because, implicit during the Obama campaign for the Presidency had been the promise that his domestic and international policies would be entirely different from those of George W. Bush’s.
Obama met much of the expectations of his supporters during his two terms in office (2009-2013; 2013-2017). He reformed the US healthcare system; pulled the economy out of recession; prevented the collapse of the ailing US car industry; provided millions of displaced Americans employment and tax relief; protected women and lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgenders and queers (LGBTQs) from discrimination in the work place; and strengthened Federal protection of the environment, among many other initiatives.
Obama put a stop to the George W. Bush era use of torture during the interrogation of foreign terrorist suspects. He negotiated an agreement with Iran for it to end its nuclear weapons program, committed the US to global protocols to halt climate change, and normalized relations with Cuba. But he also authorized more drone attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan than Bush did, and, in violation of US and international law, ordered the summary execution by US troops of Al Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden in the latter’s Pakistan haven.
In a telling indication that, far from ending racism, his election had instead driven racists out of the woodwork and provided them ammunition with which to stoke each other’s hatred of people of color, during his eight years in office Obama had to contend with false claims that he is Kenyan and not American, and with virulent personal attacks on himself and his family. It was an indication of how deeply-embedded is racism in US society, and helps explain the indifference to, and even contempt for other cultures and peoples implicit in its relentless campaign to defend and expand its global hegemony.
The election of Donald Trump in 2016 and his subsequent policies indicated clearly enough that the new era identified with Barack Obama was as fragile as the possibility that either a woman or another colored individual could be President of the United States, and that to reverse its gains, a demagogue need only tap into the reservoir of hate and racist violence that had only been partly marginalized during the Obama watch.
Trump did precisely that during his four brief years in office. Although he only partly succeeded in dismantling Obama’s legacy, he made the use of State and White supremacist violence against immigrants, minorities, the media and his critics so much a part of his rhetoric and policies that many analysts and observers were predicting before it occurred that his supporters were likely to contest his loss in the 2020 presidential elections with rioting and other acts of violence that could escalate into civil war. The Jan. 6 “insurrection” was not as unexpected and as unthinkable as many thought it to be. Neither is the emergence of the threat to national security posed by domestic terrorist groups.
While Trump and Republican Party collusion have been blamed for both, neither is solely of their own making. The many decades of US violence abroad, and the constant, unremitting celebration of war and glorification of militarist values by the US media industry have more to do with it than Trump and his self-aggrandizing coterie: they merely tapped into the already existing culture of hate, chauvinism, and unreason.
US intervention throughout the globe over the past 120 years in the defense and furtherance of its economic, political, and military interests has not only imbued most Americans with the arrogant presumption that they know best what’s good for everyone else on earth. It has also legitimized the use of force as the main instrument of State policy.
Once justified in the case of its invasion and conquest of the Philippines as a mission to “civilize and Christianize” the natives, US intervention abroad has since contrived other excuses. They have since morphed into “regime change” and the supposed crusade to “bring freedom and democracy” to the benighted countries of the planet. But whether it is really for access to Iraqi oil, in the defense and expansion of the “right” of its predatory corporations to exploit the world’s resources, or for “full spectrum dominance” on land and sea, in the air and in space, US meddling in the internal affairs of other countries has ensconced in the belief systems of much of its populace the supposed legitimacy of overthrowing “unfriendly” governments and invading sovereign countries to secure access to their oil reserves, or such other resources as copper and bauxite.
At the same time, the giant conglomerates that manufacture the films, the television and radio programs, the songs as well as the news reports and analyses that carpet-bomb billions of people daily with entertainment and information unceasingly celebrate war, echoing through what they popularize the same glorification of violence as the first and last means of achieving an individual’s, a group’s, a government’s, or a nation’s ends no matter how preposterous or fraudulent they may be. They’re still fighting the Vietnam war on television, for example, depicting it as a crusade by their super heroic soldiers against a ruthless enemy.
Many analysts have noted the link between US violence abroad and domestic violence and warned that the use of force internationally would eventually be replicated in the homeland itself. The presence of retired and active military personnel in the Jan. 6 mob’s motley company who were all waving the flag of the defunct pro-slavery Confederacy and screaming the need, though phrased differently, for “regime change” in the US itself suggests that that is exactly what is happening.
The rioters were apparently part of the millions (78 million — 48% of the electorate — voted for Trump last Nov. 3) who believe that as unreasonable, as absurd, and as idiotic as their cause may be, it can still prosper through the use of intimidation and violence rather than debate and reason.
The US drive for “full spectrum dominance” is no less problematic and is equally based on faulty reasoning and false assumptions as the Jan. 6 mob’s proclaimed reasons for their actions. But it is succeeding largely through repression and fear — the US has connived with, and supported the most vicious dictatorships on earth in furtherance of its economic and strategic aims — and the use of force abroad. Virtually the same outrage now confronts its own citizens and government. What the empire has long let loose on the countries of the world has come home to roost.
Luis V. Teodoro is on Facebook and Twitter (@luisteodoro).
Published in Business World
March 4, 2021