Letter 2, Baltimore MD, USA, August 23, 2012
You know the old themes here: Unstoppable fires rage out west. The economy stumbles along. Inexplicable shootings take place in Colorado and Wisconsin. Obama hits the campaign trail. Romney chooses Ryan after returning from his awkward tour of Europe and Israel. Polls show Romney would handle the economy better. Polls show Obama, caring more about average voters. A hurricane is brewing off the coast of Florida that could make landfall during the Republican Convention in Tampa. Meanwhile, republicans chase around rogue candidate for Missouri Senate, Todd Akin, trying to force his resignation before his insensitive remarks on rape and abortion damage the party’s image….
At least it’s been entertaining. Doesn’t that feel strange to say? Whenever I open my web-browser to streamline NBC or CBS’s nightly program, I always laugh when I think in advance “tonight’s program ought to be a good episode.” I don’t know if my experience is commonplace. As a preview, I browse stories in the NY Times throughout the day. I read the New Yorker and blogs. Watching the news doesn’t rouse my anger like you suggest. On the contrary it is a passive experience.
Perhaps this is because I’m not looking to change my mind about the candidates or the issues. Remarkably, the polls indicate that most Americans have already decided how they will vote. If this is the case, we should have the election today. What is the use of allowing the two campaigns to continue blowing millions of dollars in each other’s faces for three more months? All they seem capable of doing is seizing on incendiary comments and flooding the airwaves with repetitive sound bites. Few ideas are being discussed and fewer minds are being affected by the discourse. Such raucous, ineffectual debate causes us to tune out. Meanwhile the people and the parties are deluded, assuming that the election will provide a mandate validating pursuit of their agenda.
This will be the third presidential election for which I will be eligible to vote. Unless the election is a rout I doubt there will be a true mandate. Majority opinions determined by the discrepancies of one day’s voter turnout will not change the political or social make-up of the country overnight. After the election, same as before, one party aligning roughly 50% of voters, will still face the other, momentarily defeated yet still equally powerful party. Whatever is deemed unacceptable in one organization’s platform will be the basis of the next campaign, and in the meantime, uncompromising argument will suspend the deadlock in Congress.
There is our shame. Congress is lame. The president is lame. Everyone, even the poor farmers in the Midwest whose lives have been destroyed by this summer’s drought, are sweating it out, waiting for elected officials to work together and provide relief. Afraid to compromise, our leaders are rendered extremists. Desperate to win reelection, they must fixate on inflexible opinions, pretend there is still time to spare and pursue the purest visions for America without losing face amongst their constituents.
Which brings me to your book, Good Muslim, Bad Muslim by Mahmood Mamdani. The author definitely makes a compelling argument validating his claim that Terrorism cannot be defined in black and white terms. His method is to steer through a jumbled Cold War history, highlighting the CIA’s nefarious agreements with fanatical groups, and the secret maneuvers of America’s privatized assault on the dubbed “Evil Empire,” the USSR.
Indeed, a long paper trail exposes the US feeding arms to untrustworthy allies like the Taliban, Iraq and even Israel. Mamdani uncovers the CIA’s endorsement of the drug trade in order to finance ambitious covert operations. His argument culminates in the admission that a giant opportunity to reform the world and spread democratic values was missed when the Soviet Union crumbled. Whereas their mechanism for governing satellite states and preparing for confrontation with the west was dismantled, America’s war machine remained intact. It would have simply been too costly for the US to disarm voluntarily, not to mention a hard sell to corporate America’s defense companies, who are sustained by arms sales to the third world.
The book jumps around a lot. One chapter we are in South Africa, the next we are in Vietnam or Afghanistan. The thread that runs constant is Mamdani’s exploration of America’s total political fixation on defeating the Soviets, no matter the political cost. He believes we sacrificed our democracy in the process and submitted to an extremist interpretation of events.
I understand how the points that Mamdani advances shock audiences. Nobody wants to hear that their government has lied to secure political outcomes. The sections discussing America’s manipulations of the United Nations in order to secure exemption on key world-policy issues, is particularly disheartening. It appears that there is no instance where the United States used its military, monetary or political influence to achieve a selfless goal. We are always entertaining ulterior motives and maneuvering to dominate a specific market.
Despite the overwhelming evidence of corruption, readers are apt to reject much of Mandami’s argument, or to at least admit that with regard to defeating the Soviet Union, the ends have justified the means. We might not be the all powerful super power we thought we were, but we are still an entity the world looks to in moments of distress.
And so the world awaits our election as anxiously as we do. You write that because we are free from the cold war and the immediate aftershock of 9/11 America is ready for an introspective discussion. I disagree. I believe that cultural memories extend much further than we commonly realize, and that many cold war battles are still being fought. If we are still in denial of our past failures and unable to accept that our strength is diminished then our democracy will not revive and that conversation you expect will not flourish. This election will reveal how desperate we are for resources, whether or not corporations have officially purchased the vote, and whether or not the American Dream has been reduced to a mass public need for “entertainment.”
Looking forward to your reply,