The Silliest Column I Have Ever Read
I rarely comment on the op-eds of others. And I try not to use ad hominem attacks in lieu of argument. Usually I reply forcefully on the principle of retaliation rather than preemption. So I hesitate to devote space to a single essay. But in the case of an article by one Jakob Augstein in the recent issue of Der Spiegel I’ll make an exception, since his asinine views are emblematic of the poverty of thought that now is so evident among the European Left. In what follows I quote the article, “Once Upon a Time in the West,” in italics, with a bracketed commentary following each paragraph.
Once Upon a Time in the West
A Commentary by Jakob Augstein
The word “West” used to have a meaning. It described common goals and values, the dignity of democracy and justice over tyranny and despotism. Now it seems to be a thing of the past. There is no longer a West, and those who would like to use the word — along with Europe and the United States in the same sentence — should just hold their breath. By any definition, America is no longer a Western nation.
[By referencing American democracy as a “thing of the past,” I expect the author now to demonstrate how the United States either does not hold elections or is not governed by its republican Constitution. Somehow, I expect in what follows to learn neither — and anticipate that Mr. Augstein objects not to the lack of democracy, but to the particular election results resulting from a quite vibrant democracy.]
The US is a country where the system of government has fallen firmly into the hands of the elite. An unruly and aggressive militarism set in motion two costly wars in the past 10 years. Society is not only divided socially and politically — in its ideological blindness the nation is moving even farther away from the core of democracy. It is losing its ability to compromise.
[By “elite”, does the author mean that those with certificates from particular Ivy-League universities, or with incomes far above the national average, or with children in prep schools, or with expansive mansions, or with tastes that are characterized by vacations in a Vail or Costa del Sol are inordinately represented in our legislative and executive branches? I would tend to agree. But somehow, I do not think that Mr. Augstein is too worried about the elite circumstances of a John Edwards, Al Gore, a late Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, or Barack Obama, who have occupied or run for our highest offices. Does an “unruly militarism” refer to responses to decades of unanswered terrorism, the 9/11 mass murdering, and violations of UN accords by Saddam Hussein, in which the U.S. took on two wars, both sanctioned by the U.S. Congress, against two mass-murdering regimes? Does the author believe that a Saddam Hussein was preferable to the current elected government in Iraq, or the Taliban to the Kabul government? And did an “unruly militarism” not once remove despots such as Slobodan Milosevic and Manuel Noriega, or force the collapse of the Soviet gulag? And how exactly is the U.S. moving away from its “core of democracy”? Do EU citizens have more say about the conduct of their continental-wide government? In fact, there have never been more active popular movements that have channeled grass roots enthusiasm into political representation. Web sites, talk radio, and cable news have given the public an unprecedented variety of viewpoints that transcend the traditional filters of the old corporate networks and big-city newspapers.]
America has changed. It has drifted away from the West.
[Even this simple assertion is wrong. America is drifting as never before toward Europe—the ostensible model for an Obama administration that has borrowed nearly $5 trillion in three years, federalized health care, assumed control of private companies, blocked new plant openings, is eager to increase taxation, and seeks to subordinate U.S. foreign policy to the United Nations, as we see in the case of Libya, where the Obama administration went to the Arab League, the United Nations, and its European allies, but not to the U.S. Congress for authorization.]
The country’s social disintegration is breathtaking. Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz recently described the phenomenon. The richest 1 percent of Americans claim one-quarter of the country’s total income for themselves — 25 years ago that figure was 12 percent. It also possesses 40 percent of total wealth, up from 33 percent 25 years ago. Stiglitz claims that in many countries in the so-called Third World, the income gap between the poor and rich has been reduced. In the United States, it has grown.
[Most of the extraordinary wealth of America’s richest — a Bill Gates, Jr. or Warren Buffett — is based on the advent of American-style globalization that opened up new markets for products and financial services, or brought in billions in foreign investment. In response, never has the top 1% paid a greater percentage of the aggregate income tax (the top 1% pays almost 40% of all income tax revenues collected; the top 5% pays almost 60%; the bottom 50% of households pays essentially nothing in income tax). But the barometer of national health should be not be found necessarily in income disparity, but rather in the per capita income of Americans. As American companies and financial institutions made unprecedented profits from global commerce and investment, so too did the standard of living of all Americans rise between 1980s and 2008. Per capita GDP reveals that the United States is the wealthiest large nation in the world, whether one uses average pre capita GDP or per capita national income, exceeded mostly by tiny oil rich or tax-exempt nations such as Norway, the United Arab Emirates, or Luxembourg. By measures of access of the poor and middle class to electronic goods, cars, or square footage of living space, the U.S. far exceeds the European mean. Such opportunity explains why some 10-15 million Mexican nationals, without legality, education or English, have flocked to the United States.]