More from the ABC’s chief propagandist on the weekend, Stan Grant:
I have missed America.
I have missed that surge of anticipation and excitement getting off a long plane ride and walking through the terminal of LAX or JFK airport.
I have missed waiting in the immigration queue and hearing foreign languages all around me, the people of the world drawn to this place of dreams.
I have missed the immigration officer telling me to “have a nice day”; that familiar, comforting sound of the American accent, the backdrop of my childhood in front of a TV screen.
It has been a couple of years since I last visited the US and, with COVID restrictions, it may be a couple more until I return. For now America lives in my memory: hours spent wandering the Strand bookstore in New York; sampling guitars in the best guitar shops anywhere in the world; people watching at Venice Beach; dinner at Stamatis Greek restaurant in Queens.
That’s what America is right now: a memory. Perhaps that’s what it will remain. The mythical America is fading — if it ever even existed.
Demons and prophets
There has always been another America: a counter to the Reagan “shining city on a hill”. It is the America of slavery, genocide, poverty, segregation and lynching: it is an America that has never atoned for its original sin.
America has always been in a battle between its demons and the better angels of its nature.
Mythical America has always had its prophets: from George Washington to Abraham Lincoln or John F Kennedy.
Woodrow Wilson built the American century after World War I with a belief that America was a nation chosen to lead others to liberty and democracy.
A man with white hair stands a podium saying Office of the President Elect wearing a blue suit and tie.
American Eden was built on the belief in progress — go west, young man — and manifest destiny.
As historian Greg Grandin wrote: “No myth in American history has been more powerful, more invoked by more presidents, than that of pioneers advancing across an endless meridian.”
Barack Obama bought into the same idea that “a skinny kid with a funny name” could become the first black President of the United States. There was no black America or white America, he said, as if casting a vote could absolve the nation of centuries of brutality and oppression.
Joe Biden apparently still believes it, endlessly repeating that there are no “red states or blue states just the United States”. Really? After the events of the past two weeks, he still believes that?
Is it time to challenge the myth?
It is the price of office: never challenge the myth.
Greg Grandin’s book The End of the Myth reveals how, after World War II, “the frontier became a central metaphor to capture a vision of a new kind of world order”.
Yet America has also had its true prophets: those who see the country for what it is and challenge it to live up to its creed.
W.E.B. Du Bois, the African-American scholar, said that America’s true faith was its “whiteness” and that belief in whiteness assumed “ownership of the earth”.
Martin Luther King Junior gave his life to hold America to account; his civil rights campaign set against the backdrop of America’s war in Vietnam, “the bombs in Vietnam explode at home”, he said.
And James Baldwin wrote that Americans were “unable to look into their own mirror”. White America, he said, was “in the grip of a weird nostalgia, dreaming of a vanished state of security and order”.
Little wonder Donald Trump’s brand of white nationalism took him to the White House.
These American prophets told us the truth of the country — a truth lurking just beneath the surface and now so devastatingly revealed.
Will the end of Trump revive democracy?
Yet old myths die hard. Even now with Trump impeached for a second time, political pundits have filled the airwaves, rushing to revive the nation’s faded glory, as if the end of Trump will renew the promise of democracy.
They cannot see what is before their eyes: it is America that is broken. These pundits are still blinded by their “weird nostalgia” for a country that to so many Americans, did not and does not exist.
As Greg Grandin writes, this was what Dr King warned America against, a “constant fleeing forward” that allowed America to avoid “a true reckoning with its social problems, such as economic inequality, racism, crime and punishment and violence”.
Grandin asks if Trumpism is a “rupture, a wholly un-American movement” or “the realisation of a deep-rooted American form of extremism”.
The answer is that Donald Trump is an American President: a wholly American creation.
Trump is absolutely a product of America’s myth of progress and endless expansion: a 21st-century version of the robber barons of America’s 19th-century Gilded Age.
The difference now is that America is no longer on the rise. American horizons have narrowed and its global power and prestige is damaged. As Greg Grandin says, expansion can “no longer reconcile the contradictions” or “redirect the anger”.
Anger turning inward
America’s anger has turned inward, as Grandin says, it is “all-consuming and self-devouring”.
All nations are an invention: they are sustained by their own mythology. It has been so easy to believe in a mythical America that oversaw the post-war economic boom, gave us the computer age and put people on the moon.
Mythical America has drawn the world’s poor, huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.
If I close my eyes, that is the America I can still just about believe in. It is the America I miss — the America that lives in my memory or my fantasy.
I can visit that America on holiday while too many Americans exist in the nation off the tourist map: the urban wastelands, small towns, overgrown weeds, shuttered factories and rusted out cars.
Greg Grandin says America could believe it was exceptional, that it had escaped history; now it finds itself “trapped by history … prisoners of the past”.
With Donald Trump, he says, “America finds itself at the end of its myth”.
Fair enough. James Baldwin is an excellent writer and polemicist, part of the American literary canon. Greg Grandin is a long term critique of US meddling and defacto colonialism in Latin America, quite rightly.
American liberalism has a very mixed history. The crushing of the indigenous American population, slavery and foreign misadventures are often subsumed by a democratic progress that is, yes, largely white. If that’s what you want to focus on. I can only add the observation that America is, after all, an Anglo country, so being white is hard to avoid.
But is that all that it is? Of course not. It is a mess of reformation and counter-reformation that has left enormous scars across history in what should be seen on the broadest canvas as a march of progress. I hesitate to use Hegelian dialectal history to explain America but it is at least a useful analogy. America has oscillated between the rapacity described by Baldwin and Grandin and making great contributions to the cause of humanity. Large parts of American society did try (though largely fail) to mitigate the annihilation of its indigenous peoples in its great western push. It had one of the most violent civil wars in history to rid itself of slavery. It has often sought to build and enforce enlightenment institutions in its geopolitical wake: birthing the UN, destroying Nazism, Communism and nationalist Asian colonialism, installing largely free-market economies and democratic regimes.
In the history of empires, it has been remarkably successful and progressive and established a regime so powerful that every dictator on earth is trying to occupy its hegemonic position.
That is, America is not just its mistakes or, perhaps to put it in historical context, it is not just a colonial power intent of profiteering on the back of those that were considered morally or racially inferior. That is a preposterous reduction that is disproven by this very conversation, which is only possible, in the end, because the American empire does enshrine at its core the principles of freedom and that all men are born equal. The best critics of the long history of American racial and class conflict are in America and they have progressed it over time via appalling mistakes, great leaps forward and the occasional outburst of extreme violence.
We are passing through another of those contests right now. Recent decades in America have seen both progress and reaction. One can’t simply dismiss the election of Barack Obama and Kamala Harris as if they are meaningless for racial progress. Moreover, obsessing over race hides a basic truth about the Obama Administration. That although it progressed the American health care system of the working poor (which included many blacks) it failed utterly to hold Wall St to account for its pre-GFC treason and very clearly helped contribute to the anger manifest in US working classes today. That failure was appropriated by a populist right that does now include some white supremacism.
Likewise, the Biden Administration and its black Vice-President, who is now in the box seat to rule the country in four years, is an obvious repudiation of Stan’s claim that America is all about “whiteness” with the “myth” of American exceptionalism dead.
Moreover, for the point of this post, this is only the latest in a series of one-sided, anti-American rants from Grant and other analysts at an increasingly radicalised ABC. The US has made a turn for the better, with its democracy booting an angry mob from power, and its institutions holding up to enforce their exit, electing instead a multi-coloured government preaching unity, with the class policies to match, yet the ABC has radicalised entirely in the opposite direction.
And, we must add that at the same time, these same commentators and journalists have embraced a truly desperate push for Australia to kowtow to the Chinese Communist Party based upon little more than economic ignorance and geopolitical naivety, while systematically editing out counter-balancing expert views. Even though such a surrender would intrinsically end our ability to ever have conversations such as these, not to mention utterly destroy the very American-backed liberalism that allows us to critique our imperial betters and push forward racial, class or any other form of progress in the first place.
What other conclusions can we draw than that the ABC has slumped into the grip of a radical worldview far outside of the norms of political discourse? This point-of-view appears to be some kind of whacko amalgam of post-structuralist theory and identity politics, Labor partisanship, anti-Murdoch hysteria, globalism and pro-China business interests that has no clue what side of the bread it is buttered upon.
Highlighting this radicalisation, are more sensible views in the wider press. The AFR’s Jacob Graeber made a thoroughly refreshing class war argument on the weekend:
The broader reality – away from the dismaying scenes in Washington under siege – means Biden has an opportunity to reset the country…Biden is already starting the process of mapping out his main agenda; getting the pandemic under control and bolstering the economy with more fiscal support.
…Those are just the opening measures. Biden’s first 100 days in office will likely see a heavy debate about a major infrastructure proposal, much of it to deliver new energy jobs and electrification of the nation’s transport fleets.
Within hours of his inauguration this coming week, Biden will announce that the US is rejoining the Paris climate accords. A flood of executive orders will rescind much of Trump’s deregulation agenda, from drilling in Alaska to vehicle emissions and even the kinds of light bulbs Americans should use.
Trade and alliance building will dominate the new administration’s focus, and tax reform will lurk in the background as he pushes ahead with plans to increase the top individual tax rate to 39.6 per cent from 37 per cent, as well as lifting the corporate rate to 28 per cent from 21 per cent.
Many of those plans were looking shaky at the start of this month, but the Georgia Senate wins means the Democrats now have the numbers to push ahead.
…If he plays the politics deftly, Biden may even pick up support from Trump voters in disaffected communities that have been crushed by the hard-edges of American capitalism and globalisation.
Poor working class urban and rural people are united across the political divide by the desire for more infrastructure, $US2000 emergency cheques and $US15 an hour minimum wages, says [Alex] Tureman [a Democrat and co-founder with Joe Hockey of Bondi Partners].
“I’m not saying it’s going to work out, but the ingredients are there,” he says.
Exactly. Class wars is what this is all about, not the culture or race wars that have occupied the ABC radicals. The Biden Administration does have the policies to address it with minimum wage hikes, infrastructure and MMT spending bombs. How much he can push through the senate is now the open question.
It is an encouraging sign that even the ‘trickle-down’ AFR can do a volte-face on the underpinning class wars that have brought America to this impasse.
There is more promising discussion from Labor at Nine’s metropolitan dailies, which have emerged in recent years as Australia’s best centrist publications. Dennis Glover is a Labor speechwriter and novelist:
…democracies everywhere need to heed the lessons. First, there must be no leniency. Had Hitler faced the full force of the law, he would not have been around to take power when the German state was shaken by the Great Depression of 1929.
Second, the conditions in which extremists flourish must be addressed. As happened in Germany between 1914 and 1933, democracy is most at risk when prolonged periods of inequality and economic discontent are followed by sudden and devastating shocks. In an America in which blue collar living standards have been declining for decades, creating the discontented army that now worships Trump, how well can democracy negotiate yet another global financial crisis?
…The redistribution of income is no longer a left-wing cause, it is a democratic imperative.
The article is replete with Hitler alarmism but its basic point is well made. The left created Donald Trump when it abandoned working people. America has elected Joe Biden to begin the swing back.
These are the voices that Labor and the radicalised ABC need to publish and listen to. Their merciless attachment to the CCP, commitment to mass immigration, and obsession with fighting culture wars only align them with the very forces that destroy working people, ripening the conditions for populist demagogues.