The Cold War never ended; it merely took a 10-year break. During those years, we cultivated our xenophobia, subconsciously trading fact for fantasy. America, it seems, moves ever more rapidly in two opposite directions: isolationism and imperialism. And without that scary Soviet foil, what a menace we’ve become!
Even during the mid-20th century, American foreign policy was dangerous and half-witted, but it was balanced by an equally powerful opponent. Two large conglomerates of individual states glared at each other from their trenches, constantly planting cruise missiles and miles of troops in strategic locations that just happened to be in separate, sovereign states. Still, the balance of power kept the idiocy from getting too out of hand. With rare exceptions (such as the Cuban Missile Crisis), the errors of Faction A were counterbalanced by the errors of Faction B. The international screwups were regrettable, but they could have been much more extreme.
These days, however, political rhetoric has shifted back to what it was in the early days of the Cold War. The governments of nations we don’t approve of have become “evil regimes.” Value judgments, usually variants on “evil,” taint the newscasts and political speeches.
But this Cold War is different. In the last go round, evil meant “a nation that doesn’t like us and has the power to harm us.” At this point, though, there aren’t any countries with the power to hurt the U.S. Evil now means “people who own the oil we want and who hate us because we treat them so poorly.”
In a Cold War environment, it’s OK to hate indiscriminately. It’s OK to hate the Bad Guys — who pray to a different god, speak a different language and eat babies. Whether that god is Stalin or Allah, it’s permissible to hate his followers. And CNN, propaganda machine that it is, shovels the coal that fuels this runaway train of prejudice and aggression. In the same breath, America declares war on Islam and condemns jihad.
If this isn’t irony, nothing is. A jihad is a war of beliefs whose end result is the conversion of the weaker side to the religion of the stronger side. The end result of America’s aggression would be Wal-Marts in Mazar-e-Sharif.
Whose jihad has the better chance of victory? The U.S. president has something more important than political power: He has the power to set the nation’s mood. Cheney, Bush and their nefarious little think tank have set a mood of complacency and misplaced nationalism. Thus America simultaneously moves in opposite directions, becoming ever more isolationist, titillating people with sitcoms and war films that vilify foreigners and foreign ways of life.
Don’t tell me the media and the government are separate — why else would Jesse Helms try so hard to kill PBS and NPR? And somehow that same Jesse Helms, acting primarily to benefit the American economy, chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Meanwhile, the rest of the world is scared to death of us. It’s only through American influence that a country as young as Israel is allowed nuclear weapons. And guess where the fallout would land if Israel ever decided to unleash its nuclear arsenal on the people it’s so dedicated to annihilating?
It seems the boat is leaking; it was leaking when we launched it. The voters and the corporations — especially the corporations — were tired of Clinton’s attempts at intelligent U.S. foreign policy. They missed the ’80s, when presidents were merely funny. Rather than signing bills or balancing the actions of the other two branches of the government, the ’80s presidents were living sitcoms.
The presidential sitcoms had Americans rolling on the floor, laughing while the rest of the world shied away in disgust (and distrust). Remember when Bush Sr. lost his lunch in the Japanese prime minister’s lap? Wasn’t that hilarious?! And Bush Jr.’s new show, I Love Me Some War, had a similar episode involving a pretzel. But no one in the viewing audience seems to remember the episode when Bush’s underage daughter bar-hopped, or the episode when brother Jeb’s daughter faked a prescription at CVS and was sent to rehab. Goldfish have better memories than the American public.
The Bushes learned their trade from another hack actor, Ronald Reagan. Apart from starring in one of the most expensive sitcoms ever televised, Mr. Reagan played prominent roles in the films Dark Victory (1940), The Killers (1964), and Mr. Poindexter Goes to Iran (1986).
Sadly enough, these sitcoms bankrupted the U.S. economy and racked up a massive debt. The shows America loved were canceled, but the people who created them would not give up. Producers Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond, whose fertile minds spawned shows like Racism: Why Not? and Tobacco Patch Kids just would not stay quiet. The Republican entertainment industry flourished in the late ’90s, when Ken Starr and his lackeys made as much of a soap opera of the Clinton administration as they could. Relentless as they were, he managed to continue to do his job as president with minimal distraction.
Now, though, the sitcoms are back, and the Cold War came roaring back with them. The music industry, the film industry, the tax cuts for the rich (“trickle-down economics,” anyone?) — all are ’80s retreads. There are loads of lies and lots of hype, but behind them lies a truth that’s hard to hide.
A lot of very rich people are getting even richer. The Republicans whittle away at environmental regulations, and stock goes up. Boeing gets an order to make more warplanes, and stock goes up.
Meanwhile, though, I know I’m not getting any richer, and none of my friends are either.
In the immortal words of Peter Gibbons in the movie Office Space, “Let’s make that stock go down.”
[Corbie Hill lives in Asheville.]