What is America Becoming?
A few months ago, I was temporarily immersed in the recent history of Eastern Europe. I was devouring Ayn Rand’s We the Living, Michael G. Roskin’s The Rebirth of East Europe and Joe Sacco’s Safe Area Gorazde.
While Eastern Europe’s instability, ethnic hatred and instability arrises from many factors, from being geographically sandwiched to having been stomped on by various empires throughout history, one of the most prominent factors in Eastern Europe is the spectre of communism (to coin a phrase from Marx). It was only after the collapse of the Soviet Union that countries like the Czech Republic were able to become the economic success stories they did, and it was Tito’s reign in Yugoslovia that repressed the ethnic hatred that was only waiting to explode.
Whenever one reads about communism, it’s easy to think “I’m glad that I didn’t live under that.” After all, the United States isn’t a country where our Glorious Leader’s face is thrown in our face everywhere we go or where government elites command the economy.
Well, maybe it wasn’t, but the “Land of the Free” seems to be going in a direction I never thought it would. That direction looks a little too familiar to the Eastern Europe I read about.
The Secretary of the Treasury has been given unprecedented levels of power to command the economy as he sees fit. Fear has been used to pass a bailout package, at an expense of around $7500 per taxpayer, that would compensate the people whose actions got us into this economic predicament. The United States government is buying up banks.
An attitude of consumer entitlement has made Americans frightened of the prospect of not being able to afford a new SUV, a manicure, a flatscreen television or having to sell their yacht. With Americans so used to living way beyond their means, it’s no surprise that they’re willing to give up their liberty in order to avoid being humbled by reality.
The “conservatives” that constitute today’s Republican Party have now cut the final chord with the libertarian streak that is supposed to be in the GOP by turning this country closer and closer to a command economy.
Meanwhile, the man who is set to be elected president (lest something totally unexpected occur), Democratic candidate Barack Obama, has run a campaign that has included bizarre and creepy Cult of Personality propoganda produced by his supporters. When I walk past these massive posters of Barack the Exalted One looking off into the distance, I have to remind myself that I am still living in the United States of America, the country that produced Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Ayn Rand, Milton Freidman and Barry Goldwater, and not in the land of Vladimir Lenin or Josef Stalin.
There’s no certainty what an Obama presidency would be like. It would certainly be better than what we have now, and better than a McCain presidency. However, anyone who has studied the history of twentieth century authoritarian societies should see some familiarity in the Obama portraits. The “A New Hope” cover of the March 20, 2008 issue of “Rolling Stone” magazine looks as if it was directly inspired by the propaganda of the revolutions that brought about the Soviets, the Maoists and the Nazis. While I was in Seattle during the summer, I walked into a newsstand and saw a blow up of the “A New Hope” Rolling Stone cover above the register that was the size of a king-size bed. Seeing that really made me think of Big Brother looking down at Winston Smith in George Orwell’s book 1984.
Having read a good deal of Obama’s campaign book The Audacity of Hope and seeing him in interviews, he seems a rational, calm and highly intelligent man. Yet if Obama does not have the cultish zeal of his devotees, this aspect of his campaign is very alarming, especially in a time like this.
It is unclear where this country, or the world, is headed. NPR’s “Planet Money” broadcasts have taken to spelling out the date at the beginning of the show, as everything continues to move fast. One thing is clear. Government will get bigger and more intrusive, and, out of fear, our representatives will allow it to do so. Many will think it is in their best interest, as long it means they don’t have to lower their standard of living.
I’ll leave you with a quote by Thomas Jefferson, “Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty.”