The America I Knew

This is not the America I knew.

wordmapIn the America I knew, differences made us a more dynamic society. They did not tear us apart and separate us into opposing sides.

In the America I knew, public service meant serving for the good of the public, not gathering power to maintain one’s position.

In the America I knew, we had empathy for those less fortunate, confronted ignorance driven by fear with compassion, and demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice to benefit all.

In the America I knew, Presidents commanded respect by their actions and deeds or faced the condemnation of a country that deserved and demanded more.

In the America I knew, we stood as a beacon to the oppressed, a sanctuary to the hopeless, and a refuge to the desperate.

In the America I know now, fear drives policy. Greed drives international relations. And the threat of unrestrained military force fuels diplomacy.

The America I knew was not perfect, but the goal of the American people has never been perfection. America’s destiny is to be the first society which puts the overall good of the world before self-interest.

Time and time again this nation rose to the defense of countries which for centuries waged war over territory, power, and politics. We fought for ideals, not personal gain. We sent our youth to far-flung places to fight and die for the greater good.

All we asked in return was land to bury our dead.

The America I knew, once the enemy was defeated, extended a helping hand to restore the former enemy and aid them in rejoining a peaceful coexistence with the world.

In the America of today, we are a society divided. Unwilling to see the value in an exchange of ideas out of misplaced obstinance and irrational adherence to our own positions. There is never one way to achieve a goal, but there are a million ways to seek success at the expense of our once tightly embraced values.

In the America I knew, it was never us versus them. Today, the tear in the cloth that was America threatens to send us down the oft-repeated path of history. Instead of a lasting, sustainable legacy, we will be just a brief shining moment ended by our failure to remember why America came to be.

This is not the America I knew, we need to regain the spirit that made us different.

 

A Rumor of Greatness: Lessons in America’s Past

If we are to make America great again, shouldn’t there be a point in time we can look to as the standard for this greatness? When did we hit the peak of American greatness? What started the decline?

Don’t we need to know what we seek before we go looking for it?

Here’s a look at post-World War II, when America emerged as the most powerful nation on earth.

In the 1950’s institutional racism was an accepted aspect of life in most of America.  Court decisions such as Brown vs. Board of Education moved the country, kicking and screaming, closer to our professed, but inconsistently applied, philosophy of equality.

The first routes of our involvement in Vietnam began with advisers.

America developed policies of equipping South and Central American police agencies with tactics to counteract communist insurgencies. These amounted to classes in sophisticated methods of torture.

Lessons learned from MKUltra Project (https://www.cia.gov/library/readingroom/document/cia-rdp91-00901r000500150005-5)

were turned into HOW TO classes for interrogation. We created the Office of Public Safety (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Office_of_Public_Safety) as a cover for this training.

We put a kinder and gentler face on a monster. Unleashing it on others while decrying such tactics as barbaric.

Our fear of a communist takeover in Central and South America drove us from our ideals. Our proclamations of the shining example of American rule of law fell on deaf ears, punctured in the torture chambers of police agencies we trained.

In the 1960’s the US intervened militarily in Vietnam. Our involvement cost millions of lives, supported a totalitarian government, and damaged the military in the eyes of many Americans.

We trained South Vietnamese Intelligence services with new and improved methods of interrogation. Guidelines spelled out in the CIA’s own manual on counterintelligence interrogation called Kubark. (https://nsarchive.gwu.edu/NSAEBB/NSAEBB122/CIA%20Kubark%201-60.pdf)

The programs were further documented in the fascinating (and horrifying) book, A Decent Interval, by Frank Snepp. A CIA interrogator who took part in the interrogation of Viet Cong suspects.

We created the Phoenix Program. A controversial program of capturing, interrogating, and killing Viet Cong and NLF suspects.

Meanwhile, at home, the still smoldering embers of racial inequality grew hotter. The war in Vietnam tore America in two. Poverty and racial inequality reignited the fire. American cities burned.

It forced President Johnson from office and led to the election of Richard Nixon with his “secret” plan (sound familiar?) to end the war. A war he also covertly worked against any resolution before his 1968 election. Read Haldeman’s book Inside the Nixon Whitehouse if you don’t believe me on that one. (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01NCYX17R)

In the 1970’s, anger fueled the raging race issues. “Activist” Judges had to order Boston schools desegregated.  Over 100 years had passed since the end of the Civil War and institutional segregation still existed.

And continues to this day (https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2017/03/a-mississippi-school-district-is-finally-getting-desegregated/519573/)

In the 1980’s Reagan (the hero of “small” government) launched the biggest government spending program in history, Strategic Defense Initiative (Star Wars), reigniting the potential for nuclear confrontation. We also went on the violate our own policies by negotiating with terrorists (Iran-Contra)

In the 1990’s Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, defining Marriage as a union between one man and one woman (and one intern), bowing to the politics of placating those trapped in a whitewashed false past of a more moral America.

We fired a few cruise missiles at some targets in a desert and ignored the Rwandan Genocide.

Nothing occurs in a vacuum. The people who suffered by the duplicitous nature of our foreign intervention in their governments came to despise us. We compounded the very problems we were seeking to prevent.

There were more positives than negatives in these time periods. But we gain nothing from celebrating all the good we’ve done without an honest appraisal of our mistakes.

America wasn’t “great” then and worse now, it was flawed. The lack of a 7-day 24-hour news cycle, controlled by a profit-driven media, made it seem a better time.

Here’s one example, in 1978, the year I joined the Police Department, more than 210 cops were killed that year. The death toll among law enforcement began a slow and steady increase in the 1960s and 1970s, peaking in 1974 with 280 cops killed. One might argue they were casualties of war. The war on drugs.

Here’s an interesting fact, the most dangerous year on record for Police Officers was 1930 when 307 officers were killed. The safest years in the 20th and 21st century, 1943 and 1944, when 87 and 93 officers were killed.

It gives one pause.

Now one officer being killed is unacceptable, but the perception is there is a war on cops. It is a media-driven brainwashing of America which compounds the problem. Are there people out there who hate cops? Of course. Given the chance, they may act on that, but to think things were better “back in the day” is naive.

We look to Europe and see their policies of open immigration as disasters, threatening the stability of those nations. What we forget, while countries like Germany and France well remember, is the irrational fear of a group because of cultural differences leads to a Holocaust.

We fought a long and difficult war to end such horrors, we shouldn’t let those lives go to waste because we’ve papered over the ugliness that still plagues the world.

America can never be defeated by an external enemy. We can only be defeated from within if we forget the principles upon which we are based. It will not be an infiltration of 14th-century flawed fundamentalist philosophies that destroys us. It will happen only if we abandon those principles that guide us.

If we have ignored our principles in the past, we must strive to make sure they guide our future decisions.

America’s greatness is in our future. We must admit to our mistakes, take pride in our accomplishments, and seek ways that preserve our security without sacrificing our freedom.

There is a slogan often used by those who wrap themselves in the flag, Freedom is not Free. There is a truth here, one I suspect they do not see. Freedom requires us to defend it at any cost to protect not just those with whom we agree, but more so with those with whom we differ.

It is by embracing differences America shows true greatness.

Trumping America

I think I have figured out the Trump phenomenon. His success in the primaries comes from supporters who behave at the maturity level of 15-year-old boys and 13-year-old girls. They are not quite children, not quite adults, and driven by raging emotional responses to anything they cannot or choose not to understand.

They are willing to sacrifice civil liberties and constitutional protections in the pursuit of fighting terrorists. They are willing to employ torture as a means justified by their mistaken belief it will protect America.

They support a candidate who said targeting families, including children, is a worthwhile military strategy. One he is prepared to order our military to carry out. Trump, with all his pride in his Ivy League education, must have skipped history and ethics. His was a poison ivy education.

Here is a quote Trump and his supporters could adopt in support of effective genocide.

Raymond D’Aguilers, a witness to the victorious end of the Crusade of 1096-1099 in Jerusalem, wrote

‘Men rode in blood up to their knees and bridle reins. Indeed, it was a just and splendid judgment of God that this place should be filled with the blood of unbelievers.’

Men, women, and children not of the Christian faith dead at the hands of the faithful. Unbelievers meaning those who believe differently than the one holding the sword or the launch codes for nuclear weapons.

Trump must believe My Lai was the most successful operation during the Viet Nam war. Unless he missed the story on TV.

Trump’s idea is not even original. Osama bin Laden and Khalid Sheik Mohammed thought it a good idea. If we follow Trump’s logic, flying planes into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon was brilliant.

This country is in a lot of trouble if anyone, let alone a candidate for the Presidency, takes such policies seriously.

They risk destroying the very freedom and moral character that built this country.

Trump screams he will lead us to Making America Great Again. By what measure? By what means? He wraps himself in the flag, portraying himself as the ultimate patriot.

To quote Samuel Johnson, “Patriotism is the refuge of the scoundrel.”

Trump’s idea of patriotism encompasses all the evil of nationalism that no rational American should condone.

Out of this fire of ignorance, Trump emerged as the poster boy of xenophobia.

This pseudo-tough, swaggering, ne’er do well spouting invectives and threatening anyone not in lockstep with him. An American version of ‘das Herrenvolk.’

A schoolyard bully picking on the weak while his “fans” stand around with their cell phones recording and posting their childish voyeuristic nonsense, afraid to stand up for what’s right.

We face the real specter of a President whose policy platform consists of acting like a junkyard dog.

During the last debate, where supporters considered jokes about the size of appendages high humor, there was only one adult on the stage. Trump was not it. Yet his supporters are okay with that.

The reality that people are fooled into believing Trump represents the best of America is frightening.

Nevertheless, he is winning the primaries. True, he is winning Republican primaries under a system rigged to favor the lead candidate; designed to minimize the chance of a brokered convention. They never imagined the rise of the Donald and his living, but brain dead, hordes.

Keep this in mind; he is winning with at best 35% of the vote. Which means 65% of the vote went against him. Many of these are winner take all contests.

Staunch conservatives, like the Tea Party and others, deserve some of the blame here. As Stephen King so aptly wrote. “Conservatives who for 8 years sowed the dragon’s teeth of partisan politics are horrified to discover they have grown an actual dragon.”

We can only hope a St. George will arrive on the scene to slay the dragon before he incinerates us all.

If Trump wins, he will have at least given us one thing of value. We will need that slogan, Making America Great Again, once his Presidency ends. I fear, if there is a Trump presidency, we’ll be singing the line from the Paul Simon song, America.”We’ve all come to look for America…”