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Works and Days

America — Compared to What?

August 22nd, 2010 - 1:57 pm

While America debates whether a “bridge-building” Imam Rauf should erect his $100-million, 13-story outreach “Islamic complex” (is the name “Cordoba House” now officially to be dropped? And if so, could Mr. Rauf or the media explain why?) next to Ground Zero, Islam seems to be at war with most of the rest of the world, or perhaps vice versa.

Not So Nice Elsewhere

Time magazine has a rare essay on the brutal Russian response to Islamic-driven terror. Apparently, 3,000 “suspects” have disappeared since 2000. Tens of thousands of others were killed in the Chechnyan wars. There are only three mosques allowed in Moscow. In short, Putin is leading a right-wing, nationalist effort in what might be charitably called a genocidal war against Islam — brought on either by Chechnyan-inspired terrorism, Russian social injustice, or both, or neither. We don’t care much; I suppose our elites would say they expect as much over there.

Authorities in Hamburg closed down a mosque used by the 9/11 killers; there was good reason to do that. But it is the sort of preemptive action that had the U.S. done it, we would have earned another cowboy America story in the perpetually resentful Der Spiegel.

In France, the burqa is now banned. Imagine doing that in the U.S. Well, don’t. Europeans are so liberal that they do not even need habeas corpus or a Bill of Rights to protect them from tea party types. Heck, they don’t even have tea party types.

And then we come to the Chinese, who are systematically crushing the Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang province. Well, wait, we never quite come to the Chinese. They have so much of the world’s money, and are so well-known for tolerating no criticism, that our brave cadre of crusading journalists self-polices itself and sort of keeps quiet (I don’t think New York Times columnists will be writing much about another green revolution or entrepreneurial zone in Tibet or Xinjiang).

So Why the Double Standard?

Readers, you all know why none of these stories make much international news in comparison to our ongoing psychodrama of a self-described Sufi healer trying to gain stature, publicity, Middle Eastern money, and Western guilt by building near Ground Zero. Let us review the reasons once more.

Self-loathing

1) It starts at home. The so-called cultural elite — professors, those in the arts, the foundations, the establishment media, the Kerry-Edwards-Gore-Kennedy type, multimillionaire liberal politicos, the inherited Big Money, the doyens of the race industry — are now disconnected from material reality. Most have not a clue how hard it is to pump oil out of the ground, grow food, or build a bridge; all such largess is taken as givens, and produced by a money-grubbing distant “they” who like this sort of icky, retrograde work. (Had a young Barack Obama put away the Panama hat and the federal money for a summer, he could have apprenticed on an oil rig or picked peaches and learned something.)

The result is that millions of elites have the capital, the leisure, and the inclination to think utopia is within their grasp; that the blueprint of the Upper East Side, Palo Alto, Cambridge, Malibu, or Carmel can be extended throughout the world — if only there were just enough far-sighted caring people like themselves with clean fingernails, an exalted sense of self, and children at Amherst or Brown.

So they hold the U.S. up to a standard that indicts us as bad since we cannot possibly be perfect. And like medieval churchmen who crossed themselves on the way to sodomy, lucre, and graft, so too toss-off lines damning a Bush or Cheney or Halliburton are the new sorts of ritual entre necessary to join a faculty or work at a foundation or get hired at a newsroom.

Of course, most Americans do not follow these views as they appear in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the International Herald Tribune, CNN, MSNBC, CBS, NBC, ABC, NPR, or PBS. But the world, I think, does. So it takes its harsh-view talking points about the U.S. from our own harshest critics. (My favorite example was Dr. Zawahiri, an apparently avid Noam Chomsky aficionado, who railed at the U.S. for not signing Kyoto and not passing campaign finance reform — all hot topics of concern apparently in the debating caves of Waziristan.)

Note that the elite, secretly at least, understand that no one should take them all that seriously. A Guantanamo was a Stalag under Bush but now a mere complex dilemma, and not to be shut down under Obama (e.g., one of those released terrorists might show up in Brentwood).

Affirmative action means taking a law school spot from some hard-working white clueless guy from Idaho State or a nerdy straight-A Asian kid in San Mateo, not from a well-connected elite who has the contacts, family lineage, or money to side-step state-sanctioned discrimination. (Has anyone heard a wealthy liberal demand an end to legacy or other such special admittances based on criteria other than merit? Or for that matter, complain that tuition rises faster than the rate of inflation or that part-time lecturers are treated less well than Wal-Mart greeters?) Hating charter schools and teacher merit pay does not mean sending Johnny to the D.C. schools during a government sabbatical in the Obama administration.

For evidence of why we should not take this bunch as too principled, wait until the Obama tax hikes hit the lower tier of the cultural elite. (Not all are in the Kerry class — and even Kerry, remember, felt, for all his tax talk, that he could not quite resist skipping out on a $500,000 tax bite on his yacht.)

Soon we shall read sophisticated and contorted reasoning how and why a Manhattan or Chevy Chase $500,000 a year income is not that much when one has to buy a brownstone, or send Buffy to Sidwell Friends (cf. the Michelle “raise the bar” trope of 2008). Remember, there will be no IRS law that says those who voted for Obama do not get hit with 40% on their upper bracket income, or can opt out on the health care surcharge, or can get out of California’s or New York’s 10% state tax (will there be an article soon suggesting those who live in such caring, high-tax blue states already do enough for world justice so as to be exempt from the new federal tax hikes?), or can receive exemption from the cap on income exposed to FICA taxes being lifted (that will be the largest tax hike in U.S. history)? Is it really fair that a caring and committed progressive in high-tax San Francisco or Manhattan has to pay at the same federal rates as a Neanderthal reactionary in selfish, low-tax Boise or Carson City?

We Hate What We Want

2) We are held to such Orwellian standards also because of a foreign elite that loves to be educated here. Now this is weird, so bear with me. I have had, here and abroad, a zillion conversations with America-hating elite Greeks, Mexicans, Arabs, Iranians, and Koreans. Without pause or worry of sounding insane they (1) tell me how bad my country is and (2) how they went to Stanford or Yale, and not Texas Tech or UC Riverside.

I have been lectured to by European elites how horrific the U.S. is for (1) its global crimes and (2) making it harder than ever to enter and stay. I cannot count the number of Mexican nationals residing here who (1) praise Mexico and (2) damn the U.S. for even considering sending their less fortunate compadres back to a much praised Mexico.

I am always amused by the Indian, Pakistani, Arab, or South American journalist, who comes to the U.S. to be educated, stays, marries an American, begins writing in places like Time, Newsweek, the New York Times, or the Washington Post, starts lecturing red state/middle America about its blinkered prejudices, praises in the abstract his godforsaken and long since abandoned homeland — and since arrival has mastered the proper phraseology and referents to please an entrenched elite left who hired and alone reads him. America is always to be judged in the abstract, never in the sense of “compared to what?”

Envy?

3) Then there is the oldest and strongest of emotions, envy — what the Greeks (Hesiod in particular) called the instinctual, the really bad type, phthonos (anguish induced by the good fortune of others). We talk of American decline, yet our military remains more powerful than the next ten combined. We talk of American recession and an emerging China, yet 1 billion Chinese in booming times account for an annual gross product of under $5 trillion, while 300 million Americans in a deep recession created nearly $15 trillion last year. In other words, a third as many people produce three times as many goods and services. In terms of culture — sports, entertainment, the arts, the media, etc. — there is almost no rational explanation why five percent of the world’s population dominates global attention. Or as another Greek intellectual once told me, “I am so sick of America — American money, American sports, American movies, America this, American that. I have America on the brain and it’s driving me crazy!”

We simply do not understand our gargantuan footprint, being mostly inward looking and not too worried whether a guy in Peru or a professor in Belgrade likes us or not. (Most out here in Selma would shrug and say something like, “OK, the guy in Peru and Belgrade hate us, so what the f—?”)

Unlike the professor or correspondent who makes his money by often going abroad and so wants to be liked by the envious (that makes cappuccino time far easier), the farmer, welder, and clerk don’t much care, at least in comparison to financing the boat, getting a rug, or ensuring that at least one kid somehow makes it through college. Do you wish to get a Frenchman, Greek, Mexican or Iranian angry? (I know, I’ve done it.) Then simply in the midst of his normal dressing down of America, meekly reply, “Well, er, I don’t think Americans much like your country either.” Anguish, shock, real hurt all follow — as in “How could you be so cruel to say that?”

In other words, imagine a 3-bedroom, 2-bath house-type neighborhood in a so-so location. Suddenly this new mega-salesman moves in (1776-2010 is new). He tears down about four tract houses, and plops down in their place a faux-Florentine palazzo McMansion, as crass as it is comfortable. It towers over the rest and is full of glitzy appliances, with a five-care garage and pool, fake columns and domes — the whole bit. Then the proud new owner walks nightly down the neighborhood sidewalk with his white tennis shoes and a baseball cap, and smiling with his hand out-stretched, blaring out now and then to strangers — in sincere and heartfelt fashion as the nice guy he is — “How are you fellows doing? Real nice to meet you. Call me if I can help at all.”

I doubt the impressed neighborhood crowd would say, “Thanks so much. Please show me how you made such money to buy such an impressive house.” More likely at night, local youths would throw trash on the lawn, and spray graffiti on his stone wall — while during the day their parents would finagle how to marry at least one of them off to the rich salesman’s pom-pom daughters.

That’s sort of America — and the world. End of story.

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