In case you hadn't noticed, we've been held for ransom by one man " or that's the way it so often seemed in the media at least. I suspect you know just who I mean. If you can't guess right off the bat, let me give you a hint or two. He's a multimillionaire coal baron who gets massive political donations from the oil and gas industry. And he's officially a Democrat, one of 50 of them in the Senate. Without him, the Democrats essentially can't pass a damn thing (other than the Pentagon budget, of course).
Yep, you got it. Joe Manchin of West Virginia. He's been the devil himself. He's stood between the Democrats and glory, or at least the possibility of building back this increasingly woeful country a little bit better. In the midst of a near-global heat wave, with more than 100 million Americans under a heat alert, record temperatures being reached again and again, the Southwest and West in an unprecedented megadrought, and parts of the country from New Mexico to Alaska blazing in a startling fashion, Joe Manchin, it seemed, had been bringing us his own version of hell on Earth" until he finally turned on a dime and compromised with Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer on a potential new build back (somewhat) better bill.
Wait a minute! Something just occurred to me! Why has Manchin been getting so much attention when there are 50 other senators who have been doing even worse things than him? And yes, I'm thinking about the Senate Republicans. They all turn out to be worse than Joe Manchin, especially when it comes to not doing one damn thing about climate change. It's true that, in the face of an increasingly burning reality, few of those Republicans claim to deny the very reality of global warming any longer. Like Manchin, all they are denying is that we should do anything about it. (In response, President Biden has so far proved unwilling even to declare a presidential climate emergency and give himself the power to do much of significance either.)
And that, by the way, is just to start describing a world which couldn't be madder. Skip the war in Ukraine and just consider that the greatest greenhouse gas emitting countries, China and the U.S. (now number two, but the greatest emitter in history), can hardly even imagine cooperating to deal with a planet going to hell in a (burning) handbasket. Worse yet, the Biden administration seems intent on pushing a new cold war with China, even if its top officials publicly deny doing so. To put it another way, maybe we're all Republicans now when it comes to what matters. But enough from me. Let me turn you over to retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and historian, as well as TomDispatch regular, William Astore to face the true madness of this all-American moment of ours. Tom
The Nasty Voices in Our Heads
The Paranoid Nature of American Foreign and Domestic Policy
I have a brother with chronic schizophrenia. He had his first severe catatonic episode when he was 16 years old and I was 10. Later, he suffered from auditory hallucinations and heard voices saying nasty things to him. I remember my father reassuring him that the voices weren't real and asking him whether he could ignore them. Sadly, it's not that simple.
That conversation between my father and brother has been on my mind, as I've been experiencing America's increasingly divided, almost schizoid, version of social discourse. It's as if this country were suffering from some set of collective auditory hallucinations whose lead feature was nastiness.
Take cover! We're being threatened by a revived red(dish) menace from a "rogue" Russia! A "Yellow peril" from China! Iran with a nuke! And then there are the alleged threats at home. "Groomers"! MAGA kooks! And on and on.
Of course, America continues to face actual threats to its security and domestic tranquility. Here at home that would include regular mass shootings; controversial decisions by an openly partisan Supreme Court; the Capitol riot that the House January 6th select committee has repeatedly reminded us about; and growing uncertainty when it comes to what, if anything, still unifies these once United States. All this has Americans increasingly vexed and stressed.
Meanwhile, internationally, wars and rumors of war continue to be a constant plague, made worse by the exaggeration of threats to national security. History teaches us that such threats have sometimes not just been inflated but created ex nihilo. Those would, for instance, include the non-existent Gulf of Tonkin attack cited as the justification for a major military escalation of the war in Vietnam in 1965 or those non-existent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq used to justify the 2003 U.S. invasion of that country.
All this and more is combining to create a paranoid and increasingly violent country, an America deeply fearful and perpetually thinking about warring on other peoples as well as on itself.
My brother's doctors treated him as best they could with various drugs and electroshock therapy. Crude as that treatment regimen was then (and remains today), it did help him cope. But what if his doctors, instead of trying to reduce his symptoms, had conspired to amplify them? Indeed, what if they had told him that he should listen to those voices and so aggravate his fears? What if they had advised him that sanity meant arming himself against those very voices? Wouldn't we, then or now, have said that they were guilty of the worst form of medical malpractice?
And isn't that, by analogy, true of America's leaders in these years, as they've driven this society to be ever less trusting and more fearful in the name of protecting and advancing their wealth, power, and security?
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