donderdag 10 januari 2019

Ian Buruma's Gebrek aan Logica 11


Op The World’s Opinion Page van 8 januari 2019 beweerde Ian Buruma dat:

In the age of Trump, America is no longer so dependable… the US has also ceased to be a model of freedom and openness… it has become an example of narrow nationalism, xenophobia, and isolationism… In the past, the US, despite all its own flaws and criminal conflicts, still stood as a force for good.

Met andere woorden: het presidentschap van Trump is een breuk met de Amerikaanse geschiedenis. Van de ene op de andere dag is het van ‘betrouwbaar’ veranderd in onbetrouwbaar, van een model van vrijheid en openheid in een ‘voorbeeld van benepen nationalisme, vreemdelingenhaat en isolationisme.’ Terwijl de VS ‘in het verleden, ondanks al zijn gebreken en misdadige conflicten’ een 'force for good' was, is het door de komst van Trump een kwade demon geworden. Hoe die plotselinge omslag te verklaren is, verzwijgt mijn oude vriend, want dan zou hij structurele kritiek moeten leveren op de hegemonie van Washington en Wall Street, en daarvoor is de mainstream-opiniemaker Buruma niet ingehuurd. Wanneer hij verder gaat dan zijn  manicheïsche voorstelling van zaken zou dit het einde betekenen van zijn carrière in dienst van de Amerikaanse elite. Om de werkelijkheid beschreven te zien, dient de lezer serieuze waarnemers te raadplegen, in dit geval bijvoorbeeld de oud New York Times-correspondent en auteur Chris Hedges. Mei 2018 zette hij uiteen dat het leiderschap van de Democratische Partij, onder wie:

the Clintons, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Tom Perez, are creations of corporate America. In an open and democratic political process, one not dominated by party elites and corporate money, these people would not hold political power. They know this. They would rather implode the entire system than give up their positions of privilege. And that, I fear, is what will happen. The idea that the Democratic Party is in any way a bulwark against despotism defies the last three decades of its political activity. It is the guarantor of despotism.

Trump has tapped into the hatred that huge segments of the American public have for a political and economic system that has betrayed them. He may be inept, degenerate, dishonest and a narcissist, but he adeptly (vakkundig. svh) ridicules the system they despise. His cruel and demeaning taunts (vernederende spot. svh) directed at government agencies, laws and the established elites resonate with people for whom these agencies, laws and elites have become hostile forces. And for many who see no shift in the political landscape to alleviate their suffering, Trump’s cruelty and invective (gescheld. svh) are at least cathartic.

Trump, like all despots, has no ethical core. He chooses his allies and appointees based on their personal loyalty and fawning obsequiousness to him. He will sell anyone out. He is corrupt, amassing money for himself — he made $40 million from his Washington, D.C., hotel alone last year — and his corporate allies. He is dismantling government institutions that once provided some regulation and oversight. He is an enemy of the open society. This makes him dangerous. His turbocharged assault on the last vestiges of democratic institutions and norms means there will soon be nothing, even in name, to protect us from corporate totalitarianism.

But the warnings from the architects of our failed democracy against creeping fascism, Madeleine Albright among them, are risible (lachwekkend. svh). They show how disconnected the elites have become from the zeitgeist. None of these elites have credibility. They built the edifice of lies, deceit and corporate pillage that made Trump possible. And the more Trump demeans these elites, and the more they cry out like Cassandras, the more he salvages his disastrous presidency and enables the kleptocrats pillaging the country as it swiftly disintegrates.

The press is one of the principal pillars of Trump’s despotism. It chatters endlessly like 18th-century courtiers at the court of Versailles about the foibles (zwakke punten. svh) of the monarch while the peasants lack bread. It drones on and on and on about empty topics such as Russian meddling and a payoff to a porn actress that have nothing to do with the daily hell that, for many, defines life in America. It refuses to critique or investigate the abuses by corporate power, which has destroyed our democracy and economy and orchestrated the largest transfer of wealth upward in American history. The corporate press is a decayed relic that, in exchange for money and access, committed cultural suicide. And when Trump attacks it over ‘fake news,' he expresses, once again, the deep hatred of all those the press ignores. The press worships the idol of Mammon as slavishly as Trump does. It loves the reality-show presidency. The press, especially the cable news shows, keeps the lights on and the cameras rolling so viewers will be glued to a 21st-century version of ‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.’ (een horrorfilm over een krankzinnige hypnotiseur die een slaapwandelaar gebruikt om moorden te plegen. svh). It is good for ratings. It is good for profits. But it accelerates the decline.


Zeven van de tien rijkste Congresleden zijn Democraten.


All this will soon be compounded by financial collapse. Wall Street banks have been handed $16 trillion in bailouts and other subsidies by the Federal Reserve and Congress at nearly zero percent interest since the 2008 financial collapse. They have used this money, as well as the money saved through the huge tax cuts imposed last year, to buy back their own stock, raising the compensation and bonuses of their managers and thrusting the society deeper into untenable debt peonage (horigheid. svh). Sheldon Adelson’s casino operations alone got a $670 million tax break under the 2017 legislation. The ratio of CEO to worker pay now averages 339 to 1, with the highest gap approaching 5,000 to 1. This circular use of money to make and hoard money is what Karl Marx called ‘fictitious capital.’ The steady increase in public debt, corporate debt, credit card debt and student loan debt will ultimately lead, as Nomi Prins writes, to ‘a tipping point — when money coming in to furnish that debt, or available to borrow, simply won’t cover the interest payments.’

In tegenstelling tot Buruma wees Hedges er nog eens op dat:

An economy reliant on debt for its growth causes our interest rate to jump to 28 percent when we are late on a credit card payment. It is why our wages are stagnant or have declined in real terms — if we earned a sustainable income we would not have to borrow money to survive. It is why a university education, houses, medical bills and utilities cost so much. The system is designed so we can never free ourselves from debt.

Dit neoliberaal systeem is mogelijk gemaakt door zowel Democratische als Republikeinse Congresleden, van wie meer dan de helft miljonair zijn. Allen hebben financieel geprofiteerd van dit corrupte systeem. Nogmaals Hedges:

As a foreign correspondent I covered collapsed societies, including the former Yugoslavia. It is impossible for any doomed population to grasp how fragile the decayed financial, social and political system is on the eve of implosion. All the harbingers (voorbodes. svh) of collapse are visible: crumbling infrastructure; chronic underemployment and unemployment; the indiscriminate use of lethal force by police; political paralysis and stagnation; an economy built on the scaffolding of debt; nihilistic mass shootings in schools, universities, workplaces, malls, concert venues and movie theaters; opioid overdoses that kill some 64,000 people a year; an epidemic of suicides; unsustainable military expansion; gambling as a desperate tool of economic development and government revenue; the capture of power by a tiny, corrupt clique; censorship; the physical diminishing of public institutions ranging from schools and libraries to courts and medical facilities; the incessant bombardment by electronic hallucinations to divert us from the depressing sight that has become America and keep us trapped in illusions. We suffer the usual pathologies of impending death. I would be happy to be wrong. But I have seen this before. I know the warning signs. All I can say is get ready.

Hierin zit het wezenlijke verschil tussen enerzijds een gerenommeerde kritische Amerikaanse journalist/auteur en een Hollandse mainstream-opiniemaker die als broodschrijver moet zien te overleven samen met een vrouw en een jong kind. Hedges heeft een eigen niche, en is niet genoodzaakt zijn kritische publiek te behagen, terwijl Buruma zich gedwongen weet zijn publiek -- en daarmee zijn opdrachtgever -- te behagen, wil hij tenminste financieel overleven. Eerstgenoemde kan in een samenleving waar alles om geld draait zich de luxe permitteren om de werkelijkheid te beschrijven, terwijl Buruma zich alleen met propagandistische kitsch kan staande houden. Overigens is Hedges geenszins de enige journalist van naam die zijn eigen cultuur scherpzinnige bekritiseerde. In zijn 160 pagina’s tellende meesterwerkje The Next Century (1991), een New York Times Bestseller, beschreef bijna drie decennia geleden de prominente Amerikaanse journalist en auteur David Halberstam dat

it was finally the grinding nature of the Cold War that began to exhaust us and our economy, which eventually in no small part made us vulnerable to competitors less burdened by the myth of empire.

Tegelijkertijd gold dat:

our educational system was seriously malfunctioning. We were producing a generation of young people ill equipped to deal with a complicated and challenging future. 

Terwijl liberal en neoconservatieve commentatoren hun publiek én elkaar wijs maakten dat de VS de Koude Oorlog had gewonnen, dat ‘the end of history’ was aangebroken, dat de toekomst zou worden bepaald door de Amerikaanse culturele, economische en military macht, beseften intellectuelen als Halberstam dat er sprake was van een Pyrrusoverwinning, en dat een ‘imperium’ in ‘the modern era burdens,’ dat het meer kost dan opbrengt, dat ‘imperial overstretch’  het lot van elk imperium is, dat hoogmoed ten val komt. Hij waarschuwde toen al dat in ‘America there have been those who write of the recent events in Eastern Europe as if they were victories of the American way or for capitalism,’ maar ‘Victories for our side they are not.’ Halberstam realiseerde zich als één van de weinigen dat ‘we built up a dynamic that depended on the Soviet threat for its very existence, we always magnified the threat,’ dat nu de rechtvaardiging van het alomtegenwoordig militair-industrieel complex — waarvoor president Eisenhower in 1961 had gewaarschuwd — was weggevallen, de elite op zoek zou gaan naar een nieuwe vijand om haar bestaan te rechtvaardigen, en dat, zoals Richard Helms, het toenmalige hoofd van de CIA, verklaarde 

‘I would say that since the war, our methods, our techniques, that is, and those of the Communists have been very much the same… Yes, I mean occasionally we have had to do wicked things, indeed, but you can’t be less wicked than your enemies simply because your government’s policy is benevolent.

Halberstam had de intellectuele moed om erop te wijzen dat de Amerikaanse veiligheidsdiensten ‘looked at the Soviet Union and found strengths it demonstrably lacked and ambitions it did not manifest. A hard look at the Soviet Union would have revealed weaknesses everywhere,’ maar dat de Amerikaanse beleidsbepalers geen belang hadden in een dergelijke analyse. Intussen was duidelijk dat de: 

dynamic of the Cold War became ever more damaging to those two nations most caught up on it. They were forced to pay an ever-higher price at the expense of their own economic health; even when it was clear that the policy of containment in Europe had worked, we extended it to parts of the world where for historical and cultural reasons it was hardly appropriate,

waaraan Halberstam de diepzinnige conclusie verbond:

Most American critics, trying to judge the damage of those years, look at the enormity of Defense Department spending as the crux of the problem. I see it as only the tip of the iceberg. The real damage was in the corruption of political dialogue — of the confusion between what was real and what had been mandated (opgedragen  krijgen. svh) as real. 

Met andere woorden, al tijdens de Koude Oorlog, toen de VS volgens Buruma ‘zo betrouwbaar’ was, ‘a model of freedom and openness’ en ‘a force for good,’ voltrok zich ‘the real damage,’ te weten: ‘the corruption of political dialogue,’ waardoor het nepnieuws van de ‘vrije pers’ de werkelijkheid verdrong. Hoewel de commerciële media erop bleven hameren dat de VS ‘the new modern classless society’ was ‘cut loose from the social and political shackles of the past’ beschouwde de meerderheid van de Amerikaanse bevolking deze aanname als niets meer dan een groteske illusie. Halberstam zette 28 jaar geleden uiteen dat:

Vietnam made us understand in some terrible way that we were no longer a mere democracy; we were a superpower, a democracy become empire. A democracy functions on the basis of shared truths, but an empire is far grander, it is about power, and truth often becomes an obstruction… The American Century, Taft (Amerikaanse president van 1909-1913. svh) said in the spring of 1943, ‘is based on the theory that we know better what is good for the world than the world itself. It assumes that we are always right and that everyone who disagrees with us is wrong.

Een halve eeuw eerder had Mark Twain de elites in Washington en op Wall Street gewaarschuwd dat ‘you cannot maintain democracy at home while conducting an authoritarian empire abroad.’ Dit was rond 1900 toen de VS druk doende was met een ‘blood-soaked invasion and occupation of the Philippines,’ en de grote Amerikaanse satiricus schreef dat ‘[i]t was impossible, to save the Great Republic. She was rotten to the heart. Lust of conquest had long ago done its work; trampling upon the helpless abroad had taught her, by a natural process, to endure with apathy the like at home.’ Vandaar ook dat Twain zichzelf een ‘anti-imperialist’ noemde. Daarentegen looft mijn oude vriend Ian Buruma nog steeds ‘het betrekkelijk goedaardige imperialisme uit Washington,’ waar ‘we later ‘met weemoed’ op zullen ‘terugkijken.’ Nog steeds kan een mainstream-opiniemaker zijn publiek datgene vertellen wat Halberstam lang geleden aldus formuleerde: 

We did not realize that America had become an empire, run by men suited to running empires, men who did not necessarily value the truth. They were far too grand for that; they valued power over truth. They had created their own truth: In power there was truth… the Cold War crushed truth, the need for power overwhelmed the need for truth. 

America was, in the words of the German writer Günther Grass, twice punished by Vietnam — first, because we had done it and, second, because we never came to terms with what we had done.

Halberstam's inzicht maakt zo duidelijk hoe absurd Ian Buruma’s uitspraken zijn. De ‘urban elites’ weigeren lessen te trekken uit de terreur van de VS in het buitenland, en zijn daardoor mede verantwoordelijk voor de ondergang van de Amerikaanse  hegemonie. Na de nederlaag in Vietnam ‘still unacknowledged, we went through a odd period of almost hysterical jingoism (chauvinisme. svh); our rhetoric grew more strident, and our defense budget escalated, with the result that we savaged our own economy,' aldus Halberstam in The Next Century. ‘We did not buy greater security, nor did we make ourselves militarily stronger. In five years President Reagan took us from a deficit of $78.9 billion to one of $221 billion and made us the greatest debtor nation in the history of mankind.’ Die schuld is anno 2019 de 20 trillion dollar’ gepasseerd, een astronomisch hoog bedrag dat de VS nooit zal kunnen terugbetalen aangezien de federale begroting dit jaar ‘4.4 trillion dollar’ bedraagt. Al in 1991 waarschuwde Halberstam dat ‘[f]or some fifteen or twenty years we should have picked up signs that we were going down the wrong track, that our political expectations and our economic realities were diverging.’ In reactie hierop begonnen de neoliberale Democratische en Republikeinse politici met een straf beleid van enerzijds bezuinigingen op sociale uitkeringen, onderwijs, gezondheidszorg, volkshuisvesting, en anderzijds deregulering en privatisering voor de rijken, waardoor:

We witnessed a split-level economy, more stagnant than we wanted to admit — its very stagnant quality offering raiders (plunderaars. svh) wondrous targets — and a tiny handful of people making fortunes without any connection to true productivity. Their fellow citizens looked on with amazement and held on to their unlikely idea that they, too, would get their fair share.

De Amerikaanse bevolking geloofde toen nog in de illusie die Buruma vandaag de dag verspreidt, namelijk dat de VS een ‘model of freedom and openness,’ is, ‘a force for good.’ Inmiddels heeft de werkelijkheid de meerderheid ongevoelig gemaakt voor deze propaganda, hetgeen de opkomst van Trump verklaart, want het resultaat van deze parasitaire neoliberalisering was vanzelfsprekend ‘not greater productivity,’ aldus Halberstam ‘but a major leap  in wealth for the already wealthy. As Kevin Phillips (Amerikaanse politieke en economische commentator. svh) has noted, between 1981 and 1988 the net worth of Fortune magazine’s four hundred richest Americans nearly tripled. Studies by the Brookings Institute showed that the share of national income going to the wealthiest 1 percent of the population rose from 8.1 percent in 1981 to 14.7 percent in 1986. (inmiddels is dit gestegen tot ruim 22 procent. svh) This was taking place as America loaded itself with debt and other nations passed us in per capita income.’

Door het neoliberale ‘model of freedom and openness,’ is de stand van zaken op dit moment dat:

A new billionaire is created every other day. The three richest Americans have the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of the U.S. population. And 82% of the global wealth generated last year went to just 1% of the world's population… There are now 2,043 billionaires worldwide, according to the report, ‘Reward Work, Not Wealth.’ Nine out of 10 of them are men. Collectively, their fortunes grew by $762 billion in 2017, while the poorest half of humanity saw no increase in their wealth at all… It also showed that 42 people in 2017 had wealth equivalent to the world’s poorest 3.7 billion people. The figure for 2016 was revised from eight to 61 people.   

The 0.01 percent’s share of total US wealth quadrupled in the 35 years ending in 2012 to 11 percent, argue University of California at Berkeley’s Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, who have made wealth calculations through 2012.

In tegenstelling tot Buruma’s beweringen was volgens Halberstam al eind jaren tachtig de realiteit in de VS dat ‘we have become a combination of first and third world populations,’ een systeem dat alleen overeind kan blijven door nog meer van het buitenland te lenen,  zodat ‘America needs to examine our inflated (opgeblazen. svh) view of our world role and our inflated view of how well our economy works.’ Om deze waanzin voort te kunnen zetten, hebben de Amerikaanse ‘corporate media’ een ‘virtual reality’ in het leven geroepen, of zoals David Halberstam schreef: ‘We are more than ever in America an entertainment-driven society,’ een kitsch-cultuur waarin:

news must never bore. If we are bored, we will change the channel even though the rest of the world may be doing important things that affect us profoundly. The commercial television system is shaped by its intense drive  for ratings and advertising revenues.

Deze ‘virtual reality’ heeft natuurlijk ook een politieke neerslag, entertainment is nooit neutraal, zeker niet wanneer het dag en nacht doorgaat en overal aanwezig is. Halberstam: 

[t]he parameters of our political system today are derives in no small part by the parameters of our network broadcasting. If the network news trivializes complicated but crucial issues or abdicates from covering them at all, can a trivialized political system be far behind?

Een retorische vraag, want uit de dagelijkse werkelijkheid sinds de jaren tachtig blijkt dat ‘[s]erious discussion of serious issues is too complicated,’ voor de mainstream media. En ondertussen ontwikkelt de wereld zich: 

faster than ever, Change, driven by technology, has a speed of its own. Not to stay abreast is to fall behind. Work demands ever-higher levels of education and competency. That is true not only here but around the world. But as it happens, we are not responding to it. We are hemorrhaging (laten doodbloeden. svh) blue-collar jobs, not merely to less developed parts of the world but… to increasing automation as well. I have a sense of America’s changing, of class divisions becoming more sharply defined than at any time since the coming of the New Deal (tijdens presidentschap van Franklin Roosevelt. svh), or a decrease rather than an increase in the forces that work for democracy — not merely political democracy but economic, educational, and social democracy. 

De generatie van serieuze journalisten als Halberstam is inmiddels vervangen door een generatie lichtgewichten van het allooi  Buruma. Zij bewijzen hoe gelijk Halberstam had toen hij schreef dat ‘[t]hose at the top have too many choices; those at the bottom have too few. The middle class is steadily diminished,’ waardoor bijvoorbeeld New York, 

the city in which I live, is increasingly a city of the rich and the poor, of first and third world populations, the gulf between their worlds ever widening. To the degree that civic virtue exists, particularly among the power elite, it seems propelled by almost reckless selfishness and self-promotion.

Al meer dan een kwarteeuw geleden voorzag Halberstam dat

We will become evermore a nation of social disharmony with a few rich and a great many more poor people who are not only a burden to themselves but a burden on society. That creates a society with distemper, most notably because people have recently lived in greater affluence. 

Tegenwoordig komen de zogeheten ‘liberals’ uit kringen van de ‘urban elites’ niet verder dan het beschimpen van wat Buruma ‘Trump’s deplorables,’ noemt, ‘Trump’s betreurenswaardige sujetten,’ een denigrerende kwalificatie die voorbijgaat aan het feit dat deze burgers niet van Mars komen vallen, maar het product zijn van het falende en failliete neoliberalisme dat de liberals en neoconservatieven zo hebben gepropageerd. Deze ‘deplorables’ zijn bewust door het neoliberale kapitalisme gecreëerd. Halberstam wees er tevens op dat:

[a]n establishment knows it isn’t good enough for just its own children to do well, to get on an elite track, because if their own children are running a country where 60 percent of the children cannot make it, something terrible is going to happen.

This situation has been allowed to develop under the veil of America the superpower, the America that could go to the moon and infinitely extend weaponry with dazzling new unusable devices. Now the Cold War is gone, leaving an immense political, economic, and psychological gap in our lives. 

Nu zowel de liberals als de neoconservatieven een nieuwe Koude Oorlog zijn begonnen, in een poging de interne cohesie te herstellen, is het belangrijk te weten dat de eerste ‘Cold War inevitably perverted the nature and the purpose of our society,’ zo constateerde Halberstam begin jaren negentig van de vorige eeuw, met als gevolg dat er ‘a dominating national security infrastructure’ was ontstaan ‘with a dynamic and a life of its own.’ Het is dit militair-industrieel complex, met zijn voortdurende oorlogen, dat de huidige politiek in de VS bepaalt. Daardoor kan in de 21ste eeuw de Amerikaanse president publiekelijk door de ‘Deep State’ worden teruggefloten, zodra hij troepen uit het Midden Oosten wil terugtrekken. De VS heeft geen militair-industrieel complex, maar is er één, de grootmacht is ‘first and foremost a national security state in a time of peace. That became our governing obsession.

Standing in Red Square in 1990, I could suddenly see Russia for what it was, a sluggish society with a great many missiles and not much else. Now we must look at our own shortcomings and judge ourselves not by the standards of competition with the Soviets but by the norms of a harmonious and decent society. Finally, after all these years, the face in the mirror is our own.


Maar omdat het gelaat in de spiegel zo monsterlijk is, zien broodschrijvers als Buruma zich gedwongen weg te kijken, en de aandacht te verleggen naar… jawel… opnieuw de Russen, en daarachter de Chinezen, 'The Yellow Peril,' waarvoor de Amerikanen al een eeuw lang bang zijn. De Amerikaanse maatschappij is nooit een 'harmonieuze en fatsoenlijke samenleving' geweest.'Winner Takes All.' Zo was het en zo is het.




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