American culture now produces a version of Imperial King/Emperor; we call them Presidents
In 2001, Tom Engelhardt launched TomDispatch, a site that’s become one of the last bastions for intellectual discourse in what I think can fairly be called, in this latest iteration, a Trumpian America, in response to the Bush Administration, and primarily to its reactions to September 11, 2001 (9/11). As one writer describes our current culture:
“Like it or not, the president of the United States embodies America itself. The individual inhabiting the White House has become the preeminent symbol of who we are and what we represent as a nation and a people. In a fundamental sense, he is us.” – Andrew Bacevich, Slouching Towards Mar-a-Lago
While I try my best to avoid inventing hyperbolic clichés to describe something complex (and what is not complex when you make an effort to examine something with your rational tools of mind?) I’d briefly describe TomDispatch’s emergence on the Internet as: an intellectual response to the imperial activities of the Bush Administration as it captured the nation’s sanity, and, as a consequence, its conscience, in the process of responding imperially to the events of September 11, 2001. That Administration did so by sending the blunt instruments of our military establishment to the Middle East where it set the template for America’s Neoconservative driven 21st Century by sledge hammering apart the already damaged and fragile governing edifices of Afghanistan’s and Iraq’s fragile, sending both nations as well as much of the Strategic Elipse into waves of chaos that continue today, nearly 16 years later.
I don’t know how I first found the site, not sure precisely when, but some time around 2003 as my memory serves me. I followed some reference with a link, I suppose, because I was reading, therefore seeking out the works of people like Chalmers Johnson, Rebecca Solnit, Noam Chomsky, Juan Cole, and the like, as I was watching the events unfold globally after 9/11. I recall thinking then that Americans were on the verge of becoming the more hysterically insane human inhabitants of the planet, but surely the majority of the people will calm themselves from their natural reaction to watching those planes fly into the Twin Towers that day, and then we as a nation will recover our collective sanity and conscience and begin a more rational process of making sense of the world once again.
While that has yet come to pass, at least to my satisfaction, I have, meanwhile, continued to enjoy the high caliber writing that Tom attracted to his site. I find writing that does depart from the hysterical chaos of mainstream media, and offers a more deeply probing approach to the daily events. And I also have to thank TomDispatch for opening the door to a broad array of writers I had yet to meet in my own reading world.
Andrew Bacevich is one of those writers. Here’s a TomDispatch interview that will introduce anyone interested to know his background, thus the context that goes into what he writes: TomDispatch Interview: Bacevich on the Limits of Imperial Power and here, Part II. What I appreciate is that TomDispatch brings, with intellectuals like Bacevich, a range of intellectuals to the conversation. This is important to me because I find a commonality in all intellectual thought, but with that commonality I also appreciate a difference in cultural context that generates its version of intelligence. With that I get a chance to think about things in ways that are somewhat familiar to my own process but at the same time different enough to encourage me to expand my way of forming opinions. It slows me down just a bit.
Today, Bacevich writes about our current cultural hysteria. Here’s an introductory remark I feel worth noting, mainly because it echoes my own accounting of the moment:
“In his article today, TomDispatch regular Andrew Bacevich suggests another author worth revisiting — novelist John Updike — and a caution against worrying too much about President Trump and not nearly enough about the culture, the society, the country, and the people who put him in the White House. “Trump is not cause, but consequence,” writes Bacevich tellingly.”
…too much about Trump and not nearly enough about the culture…. Yes. That’s it. But then, what does worrying about the culture really get us? How does that translate into what I would like to see as a return to some semblance of national dignity? I doubt that collectively we’ll come up with a simple answer. But the questions need to be asked, and kept out there as something to work at answering, and maybe somehow the doubting and the wondering will restrain the panic that drives us to electing examples of ourselves that we then turn to look at with deep revulsion and even horror.
With that I give you a connection to the thoughts of Andrew Bacevich: