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Thursday, 27 October 2016

Requiem for the American dream

Its not quite a rant, more a depressed screed...

Like some dark and morbid opera the US election process is building to its final terrible turgid crescendo.

On the stage lightning cracks and thunder rolls as the characters stalk the stage singing the final aria, their voices rising to shrieks and groans in time with the electric flashes and cyclopean booms.

The audience sits stunned in their seats; their faces leaping out of the darkness with each savage illumination only to retreat as the surrounding darkness quickly swallows them again; and their bodies struck tense as the deep bass crashes against their chests and sets their hearts racing.

We are now down to the final few weeks and the drama shows no sign of abating although it’s guaranteed the curtain will come down.

The last year has brutally exposed the US as the heaving mass of political, economic and social contradictions it is and stripped the last remaining veneers of any tolerance, respect or decency from the old established image of the “city on the hill” that the US once portrayed itself as and left it naked and exposed as the dark necropolis it has always been, as all empires always are.

It’s hard for me to be cynical about the US as there is a lot of things I love about it.

Its art and music especially (its cinema, jazz, blues, comics, cartoons,house music, modern art etc) are things that I have greatly admired and enjoyed all my life as well as my many friends, acquaintances and now family that are living in the US or from the US, but over time I have had to separate its artistic output from its toxic political, military and social cultures because these cultures are the cultures of empire; of dominance and hegemony (things which I do not like or enjoy).

But another thing I love about the US is its culture of protest, discussion and debate, often tied to politics but also distinct from it in that it lives and breathes in some many ways the US as a nation behaves and conducts itself. From its talk shows and online cultures to its strong ethical base which arose in the 1960s and still echoes to this day these things have also inspired me and shaped my life.

So like a child caught between two warring parents I find myself in the position of condemning one part of this powerful and influential nation while simultaneously defending and enjoying other aspects of it.

Yet it is cynicism I inevitably turn to when discussing US politics and more specifically the current US election cycle and find it difficult if not impossible to not see in this fractious debate the shadows of other examples of Imperial failure and decline as well as Lincoln’s famous warning that “a house divided against itself cannot stand”.

But it is the other part of this famous quote which is more pertinent to what I am writing about here, the part in which he says “I do not expect the house to fall – but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other” because what he was describing, at a time when the US was at war with itself, was the inevitable outcome of two incompatible forces struggling against each other.

It might seem that this is simply a republican v democrat struggle but it’s really a struggle between wealthy elites played out against a feculent backdrop of imperial decline and stagnation.

This opera which we are watching is Faustian in nature and like the tale itself is a story of a bargain made at terrible cost, the loss of one’s soul.

The soul of the US, as exemplified in the universal yet highly personal idea of the “American Dream”, is an enduring myth and idea which inevitably rings hollow when tested (as proved by Hunter S. Thompson in Fear andLoathing in Las Vegas and William. S Burroughs in his Thanksgiving Prayer) yet still retains it vitality as it emerges renewed in the artistic and cultural output of this mightiest of modern nation states.

But the mythic core of the American Dream, much like the core of the Kiwi Dream (the quarter acre pavalova paradise), is one of success and equality in a new land for all people; a myth which shrouds a darker colonial legacy and racial division which are the dreams true animating forces.

And as the positive aspects of the dream dies and the nation created under those ideals begins to fail so do the darker parts of the dream begin to surface, rising from the depths to reveal their hideous forms with no countervailing force to mitigate their terrible effects.

And that is what we are watching with this election. This is why the “lesser of two evils” argument is folly in the face of what the lesser evil is. There is no escape option, no returning to the past or the sanctity of the high ground and on a higher level this event marks the final stage of the long process of 500 years of Western/European dominance.

Whatever we use to maintain ourselves now will not be underpinned by any moral argument or position. It will be as it has been for the last 50 years in increasing doses; force, cold naked force.

And as in the US so to in the rest of the West. Democracy is in a fragile space at this time and the alternates (oligarchy and autocracy) seem strangely appealing when the democratic process appears as a bauble to be fought over by squabbling children, neither of which show any positive character or virtue.

On one hand you have naked power as exemplified by Donald Trump; an avatar for pure greed, hubris and arrogance and a clear signifier of a return to autocracy if elected. He might make America great but he will also make himself king. And it’s clear, the king, once crowned, will not leave the building, will not go away as you don’t bestow a divine right on someone and then simply take it away. Often the only way to wrest a crown from a head is to chop the head off.

On the other hand you have Hillary Clinton, a cold technocrat with Machiavellian tendencies and a lust for power cloaked by the acrimonious reaction generated by Trump.  In an election where one candidate can claim a nation to be rapists and channel every sexist and racist spirit going yet their opponent can barely keep ahead of them in the polls due to their own deplorable state it’s clear that the differences are quantitative not qualitative; that this is not good vrs evil but (as people have repeatedly pointed out) one greater evil vrs a lesser evil and to which the end result will still be evil.

And while the US twists and wrenches itself to some hideous climax we watch, absorbed and fascinated at the grotesque spectacle, unable to pull ourselves away from the scene to which we have clustered around, like slack jawed gabblers surrounding a seizure victim.

So come the end of November we will have a result one way or another but as last pealing echo of music fades, stage lights dim, the curtain falls and the houselights come on the audience will unstick themselves from their seats and slowly shuffle outside to find that the dark fantasy they watched so cathartically has become the domain of the real and they themselves are cast adrift on a larger stage in roles not of their choosing.

Come the end of the November the dream will die no matter the outcome and the stark contrast of the day will illuminate that the choices we thought we had now were actually made a long time ago and we have been treading this path to terminus with inevitable fatality.

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