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Works and Days

Reflections On an Age Now Fading…

May 27th, 2009 - 1:48 pm

Take the economy: the liberal attack on Bush as a reckless spender who increased the debt by $2 trillion is now replaced by ‘stimulus’ groupies, who are silent about a staggering $9  trillion of Obama debt to come. Cannot the country, the media-anyone!-see that the amounts of borrowing are so gargantuan that we are talking about massive changes in the US economy and lifestyle? The size and inefficiency of the government will grow. We will have soon some sort of national sales taxes on top on state, local, and federal higher rates, the point being threefold: more recipients and distributors of entitlements mean larger liberal permanent constituents-an institutionalization of the welfare state. The debts are so large that it will require a redistribution of income through higher taxes. When a Paul Krugman writes seriously that California’s financial meltdown (9% sales, 10% income taxes) is due to too low taxation (as hundreds of thousands of overtaxed skilled professionals flee the state), then one can see how the power of ideology in the present age so easily trumps empiricism. Three, the debts will end American exceptionalism abroad, and severely curtail our options. In other words, we are seeing the much waited for multilateralism-but by financial default! What depresses is the fact that debt is now being used as a political tool-to reconstitute American culture and society, both at home and abroad.

National security. We are seeing the erosion of the old Israel alliance that goes the way of others flattened beneath the Obama bus. In terms of attention, it is better to be a neutral or enemy of the US than a reliable friend-the Muslim world gets interviews and an upcoming address, the Brits get a bust back and some unwatchable DVDs. In their defense, they mostly favored Obama and so surely are happy that they get contextualized and so go the way of white colonialists with a Churchillian imperial past.

 The wages of apology are now due, as nuts line up to fill the vacuum-America either too broke or too ambiguous to do much about it. This is a very dangerous time-somewhere there is a nutty cadre of Islamists who in their twisted minds collate the Obama apologies, the al Arabiya interview, the serial denunciation of Bush, the airing of the interrogation processes, the demonization of Guantanamo, the constant evocation of Abu Ghraib, and conclude that this particular government either cannot or will not unpredictably strike back at Islamic extremism, and therefore this is now a moment of opportunity not to be missed. I worry we are in for some very dangerous times, as we begin to get a glimpse of a world in which the U.S. allows natural forces to work their way to the surface. 

On matter of race, one detects beneath the therapeutic calls for inclusiveness, an unfortunate renewal of identity politics with a new harder edge-we saw that in the campaign with the slips about reparations and oppression studies, the clingers speech, Rev. Wright, and the ‘typical white person’ put down. Then with Eric Holder’s blast about Americans  as “cowards” and now with the Supreme Court nominee’s somewhat derogatory remarks about the proverbial white male judge. We are not hearing praise of the melting pot ideal of intermarriage, assimilation, or integration-even if such elites in their private lives do not predicate their daily regimens in terms of racialism. I spent 21 years in a university in which quite affluent elites sought any multicultural patina possible for an edge in professional advancement and general leverage–the hyphenated name, the addition of the accent mark on the name, the non-American accentuation, occasional ethnic dress, the relabeling of one as a designated minority who otherwise had not previously emphasized race, etc.—that would suggest they were not part of the popular capitalist culture-supposedly centered on the white male-around them. Yet I left sensing the industry of race was doomed, due to the power of popular culture, the unworkable labyrinth of racial identification due to intermarriage, the laughable contradictions (the jet-black immigrant from India got no favored treatment, the light-skinned Costa Rican name Jorge piggy-backed onto the Mexican-American experience), the son of the Mexican father who used his name Gomez was authentic, the son of the Mexican mother who carried his non-Mexican father’s name Wilson was not. And on and on with this ridiculous neo-Confederate practice of adjudicating percentages of race to the  sixteenth, and drops of targeted minority blood—a racist enterprise to the core. The only constant? The white male was fair game. It mattered little that more women were graduating than men, that under the racial spoils system we were beginning to see white males in less percentages than those found in the general population at the university; instead, it was sort of OK to trash, as in the manner of Sotomayor’s comment, the proverbial white male, as if we are collectively ashamed of everyone from the Wright Brothers to Lincoln to John Wayne to JFK.

In a weird way, I don’t think we’ve seen officials of a government as racially conscious since the days of the 1930s.  Surely in the last three decades one’s race has never been so emphasized as it is now-and large numbers of all races will begin to resent that once again we are not talking about the content of our characters, but our racial pedigrees and the degree to which we can all showcase the modern populist version of being born in a log cabin. There is a feeling I think that every Obama appointment for some reason either will fit some desirable race/class/gender rubric, or, if not, will soon have to  be “offset” one-for-one, by another PC selection to come: sort of Obama’s racial version of Al Gore’s carbon offsets. This is very disturbing, and one is surprised that sensible people seem to be happy with seeing people in terms of racial profiles rather than simple human beings with a common humanity.

Here in the eastern Mediterranean, one should remember the story of the last 3,000 years is the escalation of such tribalism into mayhem, as those of different races and religions went at it ad mortem. Why emulate the former Yugoslavia, or Kurd/Shiite/Sunni, or Rwanda, when the US alone had created the basis for a multiracial culture under the aegis of a shared Western paradigm?

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