If Naivete Is Required to Fight Hypocrisy So Be It

Glenn GreenwaldWhen I was very young, I was naive. I wondered why it was that so many countries seemed to hate us. Weren’t we the Good Guys™, after all? As I got a little bit older, I started to notice something: our country supported a lot of governments that were really terrible. Why did we hate Fidel Castro and love Augusto Pinochet? And then later, why did we hate the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and love the Salvadorian military government? These are the sorts of things that made me a liberal. If America really did stand for the things it claims, I’d probably be a conservative.

I always imagine that’s what went on with Chelsea Manning. She was a true believer — an American idealist. And the actual truth came as a shock to her and so she did what she could. And the attitude toward her is amazing. She was committed to our ideals. Those who blast her are cynical. They think that everyone is just supposed to know that all our rhetoric about freedom and democracy is just a cover — a way to further American corporate interests and empire. To me, the worst thing you can say about Manning is that she was naive. But we could use more of that kind of naivete.

If it is naive to want this country to live up to its stated ideals, then we need a lot more naivete.

I’ve written about this a lot. Our government really doesn’t care at all how any government treats its citizens, as long as it keeps its markets open to us. Just look at Venezuela, which has its problems, but which is most clearly a democracy. And we hate it and the media are all over it. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is a dictatorship that is simply awful, but they are our friends, so anything they do is a-okay — even when many rich people in the country provide financial support to terrorists who attacked us.

Glenn Greenwald published an article recently that pretty much sums up our hypocrisy on such matters, Two Short Paragraphs that Summarize the US Approach to Human Rights Advocacy. He’s referring to a 2013 article in The Washington Post where an anonymous senior government official was quoted as saying:

The countries that cooperate with us get at least a free pass. Whereas other countries that don’t cooperate, we ream them as best we can.

That’s right! That’s exactly what we do. And that’s what I’m not willing to support for a higher standard of living. Of course the irony is that our vile foreign policies do not provide me with a higher standard of living. They provide people who already have about as high a standard of living as one can have with even more money. And that is what it is all about: money. Venezuela is still more than willing to sell oil to us; they just aren’t willing to allow Exxon to suck out billions in profits. So we are hypocrites so that Exxon shareholders can make a bit more money.

But there was one thing that Greenwald wrote that I think nails the whole situation for me:

If one wants to spout the Kissingerian ‘realist’ view that only US interests matter and human rights abuses are irrelevant, then fine: one can make that argument cogently and honestly if amorally. But to take seriously US rhetoric on human rights abuses and freedom — we’re going to war against or otherwise sternly opposing these monstrous human-rights abusers — is totally mystifying in light of US actions.

But it is basically tribal. Chelsea Manning wasn’t supposed to focus on what we say about ourselves. She was supposed to support the US in whatever it did. You know the conservative’s favorite line, “My country, right or wrong.” Of course, what the great American Carl Schurz actually said was, “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” If it is naive to want this country to live up to its stated ideals, then we need a lot more naivete.

Tragedy as Political Opportunity

Jon SchwarzFor normal people, terrorism and wars are purely and only tragedies.

For our would-be “leaders,” however — in every country — the situation is different. Of course, they pretend to feel the same as normal people. They give teary-eyed speeches about sorrow and suffering.

And yet, behind their tears, there seems to be something else. When they think no one is looking, you glimpse another expression flitting across their face. You think it couldn’t be. But — yes, incredibly enough, they’re smiling. Because before the bodies are cold, before the mothers and fathers have stopped shrieking, our leaders are thinking:

This is really a fantastic opportunity.

And for them, it is. It’s an opportunity for them to do whatever they wanted to do before, but couldn’t get away with. It’s an opportunity for them to smear anyone who criticizes them as disloyal. It’s an opportunity for them to become much more powerful than they ever could be in peacetime, to implement whatever their favorite shock doctrine is. Leaders love war. That’s why there’s so much of it.

—Jon Schwarz
An “Enormous Opportunity”: A Short, Awful 9/11 Quiz

We Don’t Know What Happens in the General Election; Let the Primary Go on

Bernie SandersForgive me for ranting, but I’ve just got to get this out. I am really angry at the way many liberals are responding to the election of Jeremy Corbyn to lead the Labour Party in the UK. Apparently, the correct approach to four decades to rightward march — on both sides — is to push for a minor correction to the left. I believe it was most likely be that the new Labour Party leader would be proto-Tory Liz Kendall if Corbyn hadn’t radically changed the race. As it was, she ended up with less than 5% of the vote. Corbyn got almost 60% of the vote. How is that so bad?

For a lot of liberals here in the US, this brings to mind Bernie Sanders. And of course, all good liberals know that Sanders just can’t win the general election. And so a lot of people are freaking out that the Democrats just might nominate someone who actually represents its base. And I’m not immune to that thought. I’m aware that Sanders is likely a weaker general election candidate than either Clinton or Biden. I also know, of course, that who wins is going to be determined primarily by the state of the economy and not the mythical swing voters.

Jeremy CorbynThe conservative movement has had an unending string of victories over the last 40 years — both here and in the UK. And that is despite the fact that Democrats and Labour have been in control for a lot of that time. It was not a Republican president who ended welfare. It was not a Republican president who repealed Glass–Steagall. It was not a Republican president who turned the Espionage Act into his own little play thing. This is how politics works. And it is something that liberals seem to be clueless about. It doesn’t matter if your candidates are elected if they lead within the context of the other side.

At this point, I just wish that people would shut up about all of this. We are months away from our first primary. We are a month away from the first debate. I’m a Sanders supporter, but I like Clinton just fine. I’d like to see how the debates go. I’d like to see how the candidates go about distinguishing themselves. In other words: I’d like to have a primary. But I think a lot of liberals don’t want to have a primary. I think they are so convinced that they know what will happen in a general election, that they don’t want to allow the process to work. They must stand up and announce, “Danger, Will Robinson!”

Political scientists have found that 40% of the results of presidential elections are determined by the economic trend of the three quarters leading up to the election. In Lynn Vavreck’s book The Message Matters: The Economy and Presidential Campaigns, she found that the only exceptions to that occur when a challenger changes the conversation from its default: the economy. And even then, the challenger only manages to get the weakest of victors. Think Jimmy Carter in 1976.

With Corbyn, I think a case can be made that he is too liberal. But that is not because of his economic policies; it is about his foreign policies. That’s not true in Bernie Sanders’ case. So the only thing that the Republicans are going to have to complain about Sanders with regards to his being a “socialist” are a bunch of really popular policy positions. But even if they manage to use this against him, will it be enough to throw the election to Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio or Donald Trump? It’s possible.

But the main thing that we don’t know. But I feel like I’m in a hell of a lot better a position to talk about this than most liberal ranters. That’s because I actually take the political science seriously. And it appears that liberals continue to be afraid of their own shadows. I don’t intend to blow this election. I also don’t intend to surrender over a year before it happens.

Lots of Americans Support Military Coup

YouGovTed McLaughlin at Job’s Anger brought my attention to some very disturbing information, 43% Of GOP Say They Could Support a US Military Coup. It is taken from a YouGov poll. And it includes a lot of information about what I’ve come to think of as the casual cynicism of the American people. So on that level, maybe we shouldn’t be too concerned.

Let me back up a bit. YouGov asked people the following question, “For each of the following groups please indicate whether you think that they generally want what is best for the country or what is best for them personally.” More people thought that federal civil servants are more interested in themselves than in the country. And the numbers are just embarrassingly bad for local and federal politicians. I don’t necessarily have a problem with that. Fundamentally, everyone is looking out for themselves. That doesn’t mean that they don’t do their jobs as best they can.

“The military knows better how our country should be run than either our representatives or our people!”

But the two groups that a large majority of Americans thought put America before themselves are just ridiculous: police officers and military officers. So the two groups that have been used by despots all over the world to oppress their people are the ones that Americans are most sanguine about. It really boggles my mind. Some scientist working at the FDA is likely to release a drug he knows is dangerous for a bribe from a chemical company? But police officers are just out there serving the community without a thought to pay and job security?

The best you can say about the people who give these kinds of answers is that they don’t think before they answer. I’m sure when asked about “federal civil servants” all some people think of is Lois Lerner (who I don’t think did anything wrong — not that you would know that based on the coverage of the IRS “scandal”). But really: when was the last time an IRS agent killed an innocent person? Shouldn’t we as a nation be more concerned about the kind of power that people have and how they use it?

This all leads us to the stunning finding that 43% of Republicans think that they might support a military coup. But it isn’t just them. Here is the breakdown:

US Support for Military Coup

It’s good to see that a strong majority of the American people are against a military coup under any circumstances. But it is still shocking in a country that prides itself on the idea of representative democracy that almost a third of the people would think that a military coup ought to be an option we hang onto. We’re not even talking about revolution here. This isn’t Americans saying, “The people should rise up because the government isn’t doing the will of the people!” This is, “The military knows better how our country should be run than either our representatives or our people!” That is a basically fascistic mentality.

Note that neither Democrats nor independents have a plurality in favor of an eventual military coup. But the Republicans have a strong plurality in potential support of a military coup. This is not as shocking as it may seem. Over the last couple of decades, I’ve seen a very anti-democratic trend in the conservative movement — to the point where it is now openly discussed. There are still many old school conservatives who are committed to democracy, but there are even more who have given up on the idea. The arguments go something like this, “The people just don’t understand that you can’t raise the minimum wage because it will cost jobs, so what we need is a strong leader to just come in and get rid of it.”

This is what is at the bottom of the 43% of Republicans who would support a military coup. Obviously, they wouldn’t support just any military coup. They would only support a military coup that enacted their policy preferences. It speaks to a general belief among conservatives that they can’t win a normal fight; their policies are just too unpopular. It’s very disturbing because it means that a lot of them have given up on the American project. They don’t believe in the process — just the results. If fascism brings about a ban on abortion, that’s fine.

Meanwhile: Liberals ♥ Democracy!

Morning Music: One of These Things First

Bryter LayterToday, we move onto Nick Drake’s second album, Bryter Layter. It is his most upbeat work. Some are downright pop, like “Hazey Jane II.” And it’s amazing how well they work. Joe Boyd produced Drake’s first two albums, but on this album, it meshes; it becomes part of the music rather than spice dumped on top, which is how the first album feels to me.

Let’s listen to Drake’s take on one of the great pop song genres: “I could have been different for you if you had just let me know.” The song is, “One of These Things First.” What I most like it is the resignation: he doesn’t seem too keyed up about it. What the hell? “A whole long lifetime could have been the end.” That’s a great, incisive line.

Anniversary Post: Zond 5

Zond 5On this day in 1968, Zond 5 was launched from the earth. It then flew around the moon and came back to earth seven days after its launch. On board where a number of biological specimen, specifically two Russian tortoises. Everyone survived the journey. It’s very cool. The space program is great and I’m glad that it isn’t quite as politicized as it once was. (Although it still is.)

But this mission actually has a special meaning to me. I discussed my favorite joke when I was a kid in a recent article, My Solution for Saving the Racist Joke. It has to do with astronauts from different countries discussing what great things they’ve done. The Russian says, “We were the first in space.” But when I was a kid, that was not how I told the joke. I said, “We were the first to orbit the Moon.” Because, you know how it was: everything was about the Moon then. I thought about this when I saw this was the anniversary of the Zond 5 launch.

Technically, the Luna 10 was the first spacecraft to orbit the Moon. And Zond 5 didn’t get into a stable orbit around the Moon. But it had tortoises. And it came back home. It also shows how close the Soviet Union was to beating us to the Moon. Of course, landing on the Moon is primarily a big deal to us because we did it. If it had been the Soviet Union, we would tend to put less emphasis on it. As it is, landing on the Moon was just one step of many in our exploration of space. And by “our,” I mean humanity’s.