Thursday, July 31, 2014

What's wrong with normal?

I was listening to On Point on NPR yesterday and was treated (if you can call it that) to the bloviations of Dinesh D'Sousa on the subject of American exceptionalism. Mr. D'Sousa is a well-known conservative personality who I decided to start ignoring a few years ago -- he was too obviously playing to the rubes by indulging in hyperbole that made for good sound bites but lacked any meaningful content. In any case, his most recent endeavor is a documentary called "America: Imagine the World Without Her."

Odds are that I'll never see the movie -- I don't see many documentaries to begin with, and, given what I know about D'Souza's intellectual laziness, his films are unlikely to make the short list of the ones I do see -- but it sounds like his premise involves a lot of flag-waving and we're so special the whole world wants to be us nonsense. In other words, typical American jingoism and tautological reasoning, i.e., we're the best and the brightest and have never done anything to be ashamed of because we are the best and the brightest and have never done anything to be ashamed of. (I guess D'Souza's reading of American history glossed right over the bundles of smallpox-infected blankets handed out by Indian agents, Jim Crow laws, the Japanese internment camps, the Tuskegee experiments, and other skeletons in our collective closet. Every country, just like every person, has something in its past that inspires a wince and retrospective regret.)

In any case, I happened to catch D'Souza's dog and pony show while I've been reading a remarkably depressing book called Backfire. Backfire, which was published in 1984, makes the case that the reason we screwed up so badly in Vietnam is because too many people in this country, from the President on down to the ordinary person in the street, have internalized the myth of American exceptionalism. We are the shining city on the hill, the ideal, the model of a country that everyone else wants to emulate. And because we are that shining city, we're obligated to try to fix other countries' problems. We are supposed to stand as a bulwark against Evil with a capital E. In the 1960's we were standing strong against Communism. Because we are that shining city, we can do no wrong. We're not allowed to be like other countries; we have apparently become (at least in the minds of way too many people) the only thing that stands between Ultimate Evil and all that is good and true in the world. It is an extremely Manichean view of the world with, of course, the United States being on the side of Light. The fact that a big chunk of the world tends to view the U.S. as having gone over to the Dark side of the force quite a few administrations ago is, of course, irrelevant to D'Souza and his ilk -- after all, who really cares what the less enlightened peoples think? We know what's best for them; they need to just shut up and let us tell them what to do.

The book is remarkably depressing because, among other things, the more I read the more I had a "Christ on a crutch we haven't learned a damn thing!" response. The examples the author provided of the numerous ways we blew it in Vietnam could have been researched and written last year about the debacle in Iraq or the never ending headache that is Afghanistan. Backfire describes the American military's love affair with technology, its over-reliance on heavy bombing, napalm, defoliants, and other technical "solutions" to a military problem while choosing to ignore the fact that when you're fighting an insurgency all those killing-at-a-distance solutions do is create more insurgents. Fast forward 50 years to Afghanistan, Yemen, and other locations in the Arab world: every drone strike is a recruiting wet dream for the Taliban and/or Al Qaeda. Does that register at all with the Pentagon or the idiots in the White House? No.

But that's a digression. Back to D'Souza. After doing a lot of talking that effectively demonstrated an appalling lack of a knowledge of American history, he came out with a line that managed to startle even me. You know what his big fear is? That the United States will turn into a "normal" country, one that doesn't feel the need to serve as the world's policeman. That we'll become diminished by allowing President Obama to lure us into to becoming like . . . brace yourself; this is a frightening prospect. . . Canada.

You got it. Canada. The fate worse than death that D'Souza fears the evil Kenyan socialist in the White House is leading us into is normalcy, becoming like Canada, a country that doesn't feel obligated to meddle in other countries' affairs. Canada, a country with a collective reputation for being "nice." Canada, home of Tim Horton's coffee shops, hockey, and decent beer.

But Canada as the epitome of what we shouldn't be? Words fail me.

3 comments:

Kulkuri said...

I seem to remember a line from a song or something back in the 60s. "We're hairy and horny and ready to fight. We're the cops of the world."

the yellow fringe said...

D'Souza should still be happy, we are not inching towards Canada like niceness yet. Texas lets masked gunmen walk the border with machine guns to scare kids. And that's about as good as it gets for those guys, scaring people who are not armed, kids, little kids. We should be gathering those kids up and putting them in schools. When I was in highschool, cuban kids, I don't know how they got here but there were lots of them on thier own were brought to Wichita KS and put in homes and shelters. We had a number of them in my highschool, and guess what those little brown kids did great, one became the first brown mayor here, a number of them own businesses now. In a nation worried that social security will run out, the fix is more people working to pay into it, either you raise the birth rate or allow in more people to eventually work and pay in. Birth rate solution is a 25 year project, too long. Migration is the only way, or risk it fails and put higher burden on the few (proportionall to the baby boomers) who can pay to support it.

BBC said...

I drink with a few Canadians all the time, they prefer to live here as much as they can because it is so expensive to live in Canada.