My disappointment with the United States is not recent. It goes back further than the “election” of 2004 or even 2000. We have missed nearly every opportunity for the past 25 years.
After the horror of Vietnam, we could have learned that the U.S. government could not will – and bomb – the world into submission. Instead, the 80s brought us Rambo and the U.S. became the victim of the Vietnam War in popular mythology. (The way Vietnam veterans were treated was reprehensible and I don't mean to imply otherwise; they were scapegoated while the criminals in the U.S. government went free.) It seemed like a blood-lust was cultivated and the U.S. was looking for an opportunity to flex its muscles. We learned nothing.
In the 70s, there was an “oil crisis.” It could have been a wake-up call that such dependence on oil and fossil fuels was not a good idea. Besides being bad for the environment and a limited resource that will not last forever, it makes us vulnerable. Under the Carter administration, there was a lot of talk about research on alternative, especially renewable, energy resources. There was a whole report (having something to do with year 2000) produced by the government. There were challenges, but there were things we could do – given the time, attention, and resources.
But then Reagan was elected in 1980 and all that was thrown out the window. We learned nothing and, in fact, went in the opposite direction and proceeded to get further in bed with undemocratic oil-producing nations and made their interests the interests of the U.S.
And then there’s religion. Did you know that in the 1980 election, the three major candidates (Carter, Reagan, Anderson) all felt compelled to declare that they were born-again Christians? Not just Christians, but “born again.” 1980. A de-facto religious test for the highest elected office. Constitutional principles anyone?
Say what you will about President Carter; he wasn’t the most effective executive, blah, blah, blah. But he had a moral compass and, despite his strongly held religious views, was respectful of other people. What is not often discussed is that he tied U.S. foreign aid to the state of human rights in a country. It was not perfect, but there was improvement; it did make a difference. And there was many a dictator (and amoral businessperson) that despised him for this.
When Reagan was elected in 1980, the oligarchs in Central and South America cheered. They held champagne parties; their guy was in. Back to trampling on the poor while the U.S. turns a blind eye and signs trade agreements with you. Not only that: the U.S. trained others in the “art” of black ops (torture, oppression, etc.). Seriously, the U.S. sent teachers and had “schools.” The U.S. not only supported monsters, the U.S. created them.
The U.S. government consistently supported dictators/juntas and attempted to topple democratically-elected governments (often with success). Chile (that was in the 70s). Panama. Nicaragua. El Salvador.
As Dr. Frankenstein will tell you, the problem with monsters is that they sometimes get out of control. So then the U.S. tramples over a country and kills more civilians to oust their man-gone-bad. Noriega was a perfect example of this. And how many people know today that in the past Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were supported by the United States government?
Reagan’s people so hated the Sandinistas, they formed and funded their own little army accountable to no one. It was called “Iran-Contra” in the press and most people never understood it. Just another Washington scandal. Sounds like a coup d’etat to me. Somehow, the public faces of this travesty managed to paint themselves as patriots and wrapped themselves in the flag. And if the public never really understood it then, who remembers it now? The “liberal” media does a great job.
When hostages were taken at the U.S. embassy in Iran, Americas tearfully looked to the skies with grief and asked, “Why us? Why do they hate us? What did we ever do? We’re the good guys.” In NO WAY am I justifying terrorism. But any peasant – and I mean peasant – in Iran could have told you that the C.I.A. took out their chosen government in Iran and returned to them the despised Shah. How would we feel if a foreign government decided it didn’t like who we chose as leaders and replaced them?
Let’s talk about some of what Reagan did domestically. New York City became Calcutta West as the doors to hospitals and institutions were opened and their residents ejected. Lack of funding. While we always had “winos” and “bag ladies” in the streets, now we had “the homeless,” a new class of people. You could literally trip over the people living in the subway stations. See, policies do affect people.
Many of us on the Left cheered when President Clinton was elected in 1992. After twelve years of Reagan/Bush, we finally had a Democrat in the White House. We now had hope. Crash! Reagan’s people did their job so well that the Democrat who was elected was to the right of Nixon on domestic policy. “Liberal” was a bad word and the scale shifted so much that many of us fell off the left side.
Did Clinton reverse the “War on Drugs?” No. Did he dismantle welfare but not insure a living wage? Yes. Did he sign the “Defense of Marriage Act?” Yes. Did he reign over the most prosperous economic growth in United States history and turn a record deficit into a record surplus? Yes. BUT – the dirty secret – things still became harder for the working and middle classes and while the gap between the rich and poor may have slowed its growth, it still grew. The prosperity helped the few, not the many.
You get the picture. It’s not just the current occupant of the White House or the number of Ds and Rs in Congress. It’s the failure to live up to the principles on which the United States was supposedly founded. What we do have is xenophobia, selfishness, and greed. And while U.S. history reeks with blood and oppression, many of us once believed that at least we were moving forward, growing into greatness. Instead, the United States has regressed and become an ugly caricature.