Last night, I finished the late Alan Bullock's magnificent book, Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives. It's a reminder that no matter how much one has studied a topic, he or she can have vast new landscapes opened by the best historians as tour-guides. The book was completed just as the Soviet empire that Stalin built was falling apart, and the moment was marked by the greatest hope. Yet Bullock also reminded us of the bloody paths that contingency can create, particularly when broad social, economic and cultural forces and destabilization ("history from below") are harnessed by evil genius ("history from above"). The book ends with a deeply moving coda of promise. But that comes after a thousand pages examining the two greatest mass murderers in history; worse, men who could move nations to do their killing.
I think about all this as we sit seemingly becalmed, summer opening. Americans could be forgiven a moment of desire for, as Frank Fukuyama put it, the end of history after the long standoff of the Cold War. But this is not 1989-90. Now we are a nation of simpletons in denial. Thus, President Obama could make a speech about Afghanistan where the media report it as if we're actually leaving this hopeless morass. He can say, "it's time to focus on nation-building here at home" but he lacks the conviction to build even one — just one — segment of true high-speed rail. We treat Randian ravings as serious policy options and allow the cruelest policies to be passed by those who also brandish their "Christian" values at every speech. One of our two major political parties' platforms is essentially based on returning America to the 1880s, without a frontier and with more than 300 million people in a complex society.
As I write this morning, I see headlines for stories saying the United States and its allies will "release 60 million barrels of oil to offset supply disruptions caused by unrest in Libya." And presumably also to help keep gas prices down for the trip to Wal-Mart (recent acquisition: the U.S. Supreme Court). And they note oil prices fell. I want to scream, "America uses 20 million barrels of oil every day and China is fast catching up, you fools! Prices are falling because of fears of a new recession!" But, in a calmer state, I think, maybe it's me. I don't understand the new rules of engagement:
2. Do worry intensely about "the debt" and "the deficit." But by no means discuss historically low tax rates and revenues, or the resources available to the richest nation in history. By all means inveigh against the "welfare queens" and other "takers" as you go off to pick up your food stamps, unemployment benefits, Social Security check or use Medicare, of which "government hands" must be kept off.
3. Do not mention the Military-Industrial Complex, its astounding cost, distortions of our policies or subversion of democratic government. It would make you sound like an unpatriotic socialist with no respect for "our men and women in uniform" and no service experience yourself — you know, somebody like Dwight David Eisenhower, five-star general and Liberator of Europe. No wonder Ike didn't wear a flag pin in his lapel.
4. Do look the other way as Mr. Obama gets America involved in wars in Libya and Yemen. These are small colonial spats, after all, and why does the Constitution matter — except for the parts of it that make America "a Christian nation" and the Second Amendment the only right that is absolute, trumping all others.
5. Join the cheering chorus about "free enterprise" and "economic freedom." Pay no attention to the men behind the curtain.
6. Don't be troubled when you read the occasional discomforting story in the newspaper. Remember, the "mainstream media" have a liberal bias. No wonder newspapers are dying. You will find the real truth in the comments section, or when you turn on Fox "News," talk radio or visit a conservative blog.
7. If you're a Democrat, remember the most important issues facing the country are the debt/deficit, over-regulation and "entitlements." The size of government must be cut. Investment such as high-speed rail is socialist, even communist — just look at western Europe and China. You must be civil and compromise.
8. Dogma is a wonderful thing. Thus, the loss of millions of jobs and persistent unemployment are a result of high taxes and regulation. What are libraries, parks, "government schools" or the availability of good college education to all but costly fluff? "Social compact"? That sounds like SOCIAL-ISM. Our men and women in uniform need to be in some 160 countries because might does make right, it's a dangerous world, and if we don't fight them over there (say, in Germany), we'll have to fight them here.
9. This is a Christian nation and the rich need to be richer because Jesus wants them that way, they are the elect. When Jesus said, "the poor you will always have with you..." this justifies policies liberals claim are harsh and immoral, but such moves are actually godly. The context of the comment was certainly not Jesus' trying to focus the apostles on the idea that they would not always have Him with them. Jesus never commanded his disciples to especially care for the poor, nor did he focus his ministry on them and eat with "sinners." Nor was the Lord's anger kindled in the Old Testament when Israel mistreated the poor, widows and orphans, and strangers. Liberals made that stuff up.
10. Do not read history. It is a liberal art.
Do you feel better now?
Toward the end of the book, Bullock notes what was then the breaking apart of Yugoslavia, reminding us that age-old divides are difficult to heal. And indeed, the War Between the States never ended. For now, the South has won, with some concessions given up when liberals briefly ran the country. God help us when reality really starts to tear apart this nation of boobs, charlatans, tattooed sociopaths and "I Got Mine" geezers.
Note to readers: Book and newspaper obligations are weighing on me, and I am considering doing Rogue once a week. I'd be interested in your feedback on this. Jim Kunstler can get away with it, but I'm no Jim Kunstler.