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.
There can be little question that something is desperately amiss in the United States as it veers sharply to the left. A learned friend, whom I have long admired for her political astuteness and intellectual sobriety, seriously believes there is “a mole in the White House.” Another acquaintance, an American businessman transplanted to Canada, who follows events in his former country with expatriate fidelity, fears that within a year or two there will be violence in the streets, “some kind of popular uprising.” Are they overreacting?
For that matter, am I overreacting? I am as concerned with the fate of America as any red-state-blooded American citizen for I spent several years in the U.S. as a graduate student, where I developed an abiding regard for the country, visit from time to time as a lecturer on the university circuit, and, most importantly, know that the well-being of my own country is intimately tied to the American destiny. Thus I cannot help but feel involved with what transpires south of our border and have grown increasingly alarmed at the clearly socialist trend that “progressively” dominates American politics. Indeed, unless I am egregiously mistaken, what I appear to be seeing is a kind of renovated Marxism permeating the structure of an administration that seems less American with every passing day.
Ron Radosh informed us, correctly, that there was a communist in the White House, by whom he meant green jobs bolshi Van Jones, who has just resigned. Without being overly facetious, one wonders if there may not be another, at least crypto-communist, the American president himself, who has, unfortunately, no intention of resigning. And if the word “communist” is too strong in this context, how about “socialist radical,” which is, I respectfully submit, close enough, and certainly rather too close for comfort. Let us count the ways.
This is a president who cut his teeth as a “community organizer” (code for shaking down the “system”), who gives every indication of playing by Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals (whose methods he taught at the Developing Communities Project in Chicago), who enjoyed a close relationship with Weather Underground alumnus Bill Ayers, who is far too cozy with the trade unions and apparently approves their bullying tactics at town hall meetings and elsewhere, who supports the Honduran leftist and would-be strongman Manuel Zelaya and is disturbingly chummy with leftist Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez, who believes in “spreading the wealth” or economic distributionalism (code for managerial socialism), and who wishes to ram through various pieces of nation-changing legislation without proper study, consultation, or plebiscitary review. It is not far-fetched to conclude that, though a Democrat, he is surely no democrat.
And he is surely no quintessential American, given his syndicalist antecedents, paternalistic convictions, and dubious affiliations. Moreover, the current occupant of the Oval Office is not a man who has proved himself in any meaningful way but seems lacking in almost every major respect. He has neither military nor executive experience and nothing to his credit but a few ineffectual years in Congress and two poorly written, self-congratulatory autobiographical books that were, to put it gently, somewhat premature. Add to this an oddly shrouded past with every significant document held under seal or otherwise kept from public view and one may legitimately wonder what is going on. Who exactly have Americans elected to steer the nation through these tumultuous times?
We do not have public figures as cinematic as Obama in Canada but we do have our share of minibamas: for instance, the leader of the New Democratic Party, Jack Layton, head honchette of the Green Party, Elizabeth May; and Jennifer Lynch, our very own Nancy Pelosi, who presides over our free-speech-hating human rights commissions, to all of whom we have long been inured. It is therefore easy for a Canadian to recognize a member of the phratry, a fellow traveler who has assumed his position at the head of the pack.
What is not so easy for a Canadian to imagine is a socialist revolutionary, a contemporary Massanello “sweep[ing] away the liberties of the continent,” assuming his position as the president of the United States of America. This has to be a bad movie, like a parodic version of Last Action Hero in which characters enter the celluloid reality and mingle with the actors of the movie-within-a-movie. Not to worry, though. This is only a hypothesis, a figment of exaggerated speculation. We will all leave the theater shortly and return to normal life as we know it, Canadians back to a rather innocuous nation and Americans back to a real country. Well, maybe not quite. Things may not turn out as well as they do in the film — which, if the events we are observing are anything to go by, could plausibly morph into The Terminator with a bad ending.
Canadians have the advantage of being able to exit the theater and return to a troubling if less devastating world. But Americans, I’m afraid, do not yet enjoy the Canadian option and are now living inside the theater or, even worse, inside the screen itself. They have become part of the B movie, willy-nilly conscripted into the mediocre but nonetheless terrifying spectacle they have created for themselves.
And if they don’t find a way out, instead of “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” or “The Star-Spangled Banner,” they may one day find themselves singing “I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night” or “The Internationale.” Stranger things have happened.