American politics, I am starting to believe, has increasingly come to resemble a Hollywood B movie. Watching from the back row of the theater, i.e., Canada, I sometimes simply cannot believe what I am seeing. The sensation is similar in its way to what I experienced when I first learned about 9/11.
As I recount in The Big Lie: On Terror, Antisemitism, and Identity, I was vacationing at the time on the off-the-beaten-wake Greek island of Tilos. On the morning of September 12, sipping my coffee in one of the portside cafeneions, my attention was drawn to the television screen flickering over the counter. The camera tracked the flight of two passenger jets into the World Trade Center, culminating in the typical Hollywood pyrotechnics of soaring flames and billowing smoke, plummeting bodies, and hysterical crowds panicking in the streets. Another dismal Tinseltown product, I thought, some low-grade CIA thriller or lurid action feature. But then the image was replayed and then replayed many times over again, as if the film had snarled in an endless loop. Suddenly a commentator appeared on the screen and in solemn tones explained that terrorists had attacked New York and that thousands of people had been killed.
Though admittedly more diffuse, the sense of incredulity and apprehension I feel today as I survey the American political scene is not appreciably different. Of course, I am not observing carnage and mayhem, but what I seem to be witnessing is a towering country on the verge of disintegration. It’s become an all-too-familiar litany by now. Under the current administration, the United States is accumulating a national debt that is practically inconceivable and that can only lead to massive economic collapse if it is not checked. It is a country that has begun to target not its terrorist enemies but its own intelligence operatives working to keep the American people safe. It releases terrorist detainees back into the world where many revert to their old maniacal anti-American ways. Bulletins emerging from the White House consider its own dissentient citizens, protesting against the government takeover of its public and economic life, as traitors to the cause.
And in shaping his new foreign policy, President Obama — how bizarre this locution seems to a Western ear, President Obama — has stretched out an open hand to an Islamic world that envisages America’s eventual destruction. As the president said in his April 6 speech before the Turkish parliament in Ankara, “America is not — and never will be — at war with Islam.” This bit of prevarication, like the pap spouted in his Cairo address, has not prevented fundamental Islam from being at war — and always being at war — with America. Despite the ever-growing threat to American security and the need for the defense establishment to marshal its reserves in order to resolutely confront the menace, the retreat has been sonorously proclaimed. But then, the president has many other places where he can ripple his pectorals, democratic allies such as Honduras and Israel, for instance.
Perhaps what we are remarking is a deep, European-like resentment of American freedom, power, derring-do, entrepreneurship, swagger, and prosperity, in other words, of everything that comprises American exceptionalism. This is especially true of the young, recipients of a dumbed-down education bordering on a species of left-liberal indoctrination. One thinks as well of the president’s wife, who expressed pride in her country “for the first time in my adult life” only when campaigning for her much-lionized husband. The result of such antinomian sentiment is becoming more and more evident in the declining fortunes of a once-great nation.
As Thomas Paine asks in Common Sense, “Is the power who is jealous of our prosperity, a proper power to govern?” Paine then warns that revolutionary figures, like Thomas Anello of Naples, a.k.a. Massanello, “may hereafter arise … and by assuming to themselves the powers of government, may sweep away the liberties of the continent like a deluge.” Paine was writing in 1776 and in obviously different circumstances. But his admonitions of the time seem no less pertinent today.