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September 11th

wuming's picture

September 11th revealed that our leadership no longer believes in the idea of a nation state that promotes the general welfare and protects the common good. They pantomime their beliefs, they talk of bravery and patriotism supporting the troops, but in the end, their actions betray them.

Ten years ago I sat on a couch in a small Korean city and watched the Twin Towers fall live on CNN International. I went to class the next morning, before the casualty numbers were known, and thinking that tens of thousands of people might have perished. I remember that the University and town where I was staying ran their air raid sirens and held a moment of silence for all the people who had died, and I remember having a room full of people ask me how Americans on the first two planes could go down without a fight.

I remember riding the train back to Seoul two days later and crying when I thought about all the people who had died in the towers, the first responders who ran into the burning buildings, and the valiant passengers and crew on Flight 93 who gave their lives in defense of our nation when every other institution had failed us that day.

I remember flying home on September 14th, and the South Korean troops in armored vehicles at the airport, and on foot patrolling with assault rifles at the ready. I remember an older couple rolling a huge box into the middle of the concourse and walking away, and how my friend and I debated whether we should say something…and how we tried to talk in broken Korean to two of the soldiers who were as freaked out as we were, and who severely reprimanded the older couple when they came back for the box. I remember the plane leaving the gate and stopping on the runway, as the pilot announced that they had not matched someone with their luggage, and how security burst into the airplane and sprinted up and down the aisles until they located the missing person and matched them with the luggage.

I remember watching President Bush on television, and waiting for him to issue a generational call to action, and being confused when he told people to go shopping. I didn't understand why he wasn't calling Americans to service in Afghanistan, since it was obvious that really rebuilding it after an eventual invasion would have required huge numbers of people. Only later did I realize that it was because our leadership really believed that they could privatize vast parts of the invasion and reconstruction, and indeed believed in building a kind of hollow nation-state in Afghanistan with core function outsourced and privatized. This has also been true in Iraq as well, post-invasion. At best this is ignorant of the risks that vast mercenary forces pose to the safety of the Republic. At worst, they do this to enrich themselves and their cronies at the cost of not only dollars but in irreplaceable human lives of many nationalities. I also watched the normalization of torture and invasive government surveillance over our daily lives. These are actions which are indisputably illegal, but the only people who have been punished, if any, are the lowest level military enlisted people, while the civilian leadership that gave the orders remains free to go on television talk shows to pitch their memoirs.

As events unfolded in front of me I realized to my horror that the order of the day was privatization over all else, and damn the consequences. I was involved very briefly in work that touched on the Enron scandal. Reading over the Congressional investigation records, it was apparent to me that all the talk of efficient markets and privatization was simply cynical ideological cover for the destruction of public power utilities so a few people could get rich. And later, as I began to learn more about the mortgage industry I saw how often management were utterly fraudulent in their activities, to the detriment of millions of Americans who trusted them. Instead they have in the main been rewarded with bailouts, and with a court system that has far too often turned a blind eye to their ruthless attempts to illegally drive millions of Americans out of their homes and into the streets, actions that destroy families and communities across our nation. Despite our leaders so-called commitment to national security, these people who have shaken the very foundations of Americans' economic well being have suffered minimal punishment. Bernie Maddoff went to prison, but Angelo Mozilo the CEO of Countrywide merely had to pay a fine. I can think of no executive from Bank of America, Washington Mutual or the many other cases of control fraud, who received any meaningful punishment. Just as in the torture and surveillance cases, there are separate rules for the powerful.

The problem is that our elites and a militant faction of the public no longer believe in a nation state at all. They no longer believe in America. On the right, you have the Tea Party, the latest manifestation of a bigoted faction that has systematically dismantled core governmental functions, such as education, transit, water, financial market regulation, and food safety. They have dismantled institutions that ensure the general welfare because they do not want to live in a nation-state that benefits those who do not share the same ethnic background. They do still support spending on law enforcement and the military, only insofar as they perceive the institutions can be used on those unlike them. And even then, their leaders still support slashing pensions and medical benefits for those who have served-- which shows you just how much all the talk of supporting the troops and first responders is pantomime and not reality.

At the elite level,there are plenty of people in the finance sector who realize that privatization and the growth of private indebtedness is good for their bottom line. This is also why they want to slash the government spending deficit because slashing the deficit forces individual Americans to borrow money from the private sector to make up for declining government spending.

Naturally, the finance sector pursues this via sponsoring various elected officials. While it is obvious when the finance sector sponsors right wing, Republican candidates, it is less obvious when it sponsors Democrats. The majority of national level Democratic leadership embraces the exact same ideology of privatization and deregulation-- its just that they feel bad about it so they occasionally throw a bone to some social services or non-profit types, or make soaring speeches that never turn into action. President Obama is the leading example of this type.

You can see how little he and the senior Democratic leadership actually believe in a government that promotes the general welfare when they speak the language of austerity, while millions are out of work, and when they spoke about healthcare reform and instead delivered a guaranteed revenue stream to the health insurance industry.

While there is still some remaining opposition on the left to the onslaught of the finance sector, too many of its exponents express themselves in the language of universal internationalism. As one person said to me "nationalism is one of the scourges of humanity." This is foolish for two reasons. First, because it fails to understand that all the things that the left wants, like universal healthcare, labor standards and economic justice happen within the confines of the nation state, and its economic system. Second, it is foolish because it needlessly antagonizes the majority of Americans who are quite rightly suspicious of such views.

The patterns of human organization default to the clan/extended family, and then to the fictional kinship seen in religions and fraternal organizations. The nation-state is a way of extending the kinship bonds to people within a bounded geographic area. In the United States we are bound by ideals, by belief in ideals like due process, freedom of speech, and in the belief that tomorrow should and will be better than today. All the ideals that Americans profess to hold dear, depend on the functioning of a nation state, and the economic prosperity that we experienced during the 20th century is directly related to the bonds of patriotism.

September 11th demonstrated that evil religious fanatics crashing planes into buildings could not cripple America. No, it took our misguided and corrupt leadership to do that.

While our elite leadership may no longer believe in the United States, there are many of us who still do. Since we have been abandoned by our leadership, it is up to us to make this the country we want it to be. It is up to us to make good on the promise of the United States.

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Submitted by jm on

Well said wuming. Thanks!

Submitted by gmanedit on

Europe is up against this, too, with the EU project. And, of course, this goes to open borders and unrestricted immigration. You've opened a can of worms, but it's past time to talk about this.

wuming's picture
Submitted by wuming on

I guess you are referring to the immigration issue? My take on this is orthogonal to what I see in the mainstream discourse. Immigration can work if we accept the fact that the United States is an ideologically based nation, and then do three things:
1. Develop and clearly articulate said ideology.
2. Build institutions to inculcate it into newcomers.
3. Build in safety valves to prevent ideological ossification.

We're actually part of the way to 1) already, since over the last 30 or 40 years a new multi-racial American identity has developed organically. What some people call identity politics, I call fighting for a seat at the table. The struggles of minority activists to be regarded as American is actually important, because that has slowly created a new American identity.

This is in fact a necessary precondition to any kind of unified national action. There is a cultural conservative argument that no nation-state can survive if it has a multi-racial or multi-religious component, but this argument is ignorant, in that it ignores the fact that ideology/culture/conceptions of race change over time.

Once we realize that, then it's a matter of formally articulating a new American identity that is inclusive enough to incorporate the various ethnicities/cultures that make up the United States, yet sturdy enough to be a kind of common access layer for all citizens.

There are relatively recent examples of standing up a new national culture, and this has been done in China, Japan and Korea over the last 100 years, to varying degrees of success. The tough part of doing that is to avoid turning it into an avowedly racist project; and the only way to do that is to clearly articulate that America is based on a belief system and not on "blood and soil."

As far as institutions, we'll probably want to reinstate the draft (for a Swiss style militia service) along with some kind of alternative national service, since this is a way to build common experiences among people and also a check against the rise of mercenary armies. Also, public education is another key socialization institution as well.

We also require safety valves, so that as the world/national situation changes, we can have a national belief system that changes to fit the circumstances. This is why freedom of speech is so important, but that's not enough. Since we have seen lately how concentrations of economic power can cripple the national discourse, then we'll want to make sure that we distribute the ownership and management of productive industries into as many hands as possible. We know that doing that via the state is a failure/has been a failure, so we'll want to do this via private cooperatively owned businesses instead.

Cleaver's picture
Submitted by Cleaver on

While there is still some remaining opposition on the left to the onslaught of the finance sector, too many of its exponents express themselves in the language of universal internationalism. As one person said to me "nationalism is one of the scourges of humanity." This is foolish for two reasons. First, because it fails to understand that all the things that the left wants, like universal healthcare, labor standards and economic justice happen within the confines of the nation state, and its economic system. Second, it is foolish because it needlessly antagonizes the majority of Americans who are quite rightly suspicious of such views.

And that idea is related to this one:

If we want change sooner than a generation of rot from now, it will have to be worked for, and worked for not with wagging fingers and dabs of money thrown at issues but with organization.

Progressives will continue to lose as long as they continue to act with strategic irresolution and tactical incompetence. They no longer have a political party to carry their banner: the Democrats have completely shut them out. Waverers and the Great Huddled Middle won’t respect, and so won’t support, natterers who won’t fight.

wuming's picture
Submitted by wuming on

is that most liberals don't understand how to function as a real political opposition, they only know how to be the organization kids that color inside the lines already provided. And a lot of the rest of the left falls into the "withdraw from the system" variety that seeks, essentially to build their good karma while the rest of it goes to hell. Again, that isn't a political program, it's a personal move to feel good about oneself. A classic example of this is the people who wanted their graduate schools to boycott military recruitment when DADT was in place. That was one of the dumbest fucking things I've ever seen. All it did was reduce the number of non-hard right voices in the officer corps. The leftist fetish for haranguing the security services is another stupid move-- any nation is going to have security services and you're going to have to convince some of them that your political views are correct and the best way to defend the nation. These people want to live in a fantasy land where people no longer need law enforcement or a military, and so they "refuse" service and "refuse" to engage the security services. What that means is that if push ever comes to shove, they will be totally liquidated by security services that have absolutely no sympathy.

A good example of this was when Code Pink picketed the shit out of the recruiting office Berkeley, California. What would have been much more effective would have been to bring cookies, food and so on, and to engage in a dialogue with the well as inviting them into local community events and explaining why Code Pink was opposed to the war, etc.