Sunday, February 21, 2016

Robert Koehler: Beached America

(Photo: Where To Invade Next / promo)

For at least the last four decades now I feel like I’ve been living in Beached America: a nation that has lost its values, even as it writhes in violent agitation, inflicting its military on the vulnerable regions of the planet.

It does so in the name of those lost values . . . democracy, freedom, equality. These are just dead words at this point, public relations blather, silently followed by a sigh: yada, yada, yada. Then we send in the drones.

This is the behavior of a nation that is spiritually beached. Ideas that could open up the future have long been gagged, mocked and marginalized, locked in a closet somewhere. No way can they be allowed to have political influence. Thanks, mainstream media.

Here, for instance, is the Washington Post, holding forth on the death of Antonin Scalia and the looming congressional impasse over the appointment of his successor. Rather than dig for what’s at stake, Post writer James Hohmann merely revels in the political gamesmanship of it all. Mitch McConnell’s decision to use the Republican Senate majority to block the president’s replacement choice is, he writes, “a bold and understandable gambit designed to prevent a leftward lurch in jurisprudence.”

But: “Assuming the president picks a Hispanic, African American or Asian American — bonus points if she’s a woman — this could be exactly what Democrats need to re-activate the Obama coalition that fueled his victories in 2008 and 2012.”

I quote these words simply because they’re typical of a media that has utterly divested its reportage of depth and value. They merrily describe the contours of the game of Big Politics to American news consumers. Bonus points if she’s a woman!

Whatever once mattered — civil rights, women’s rights, or the denial thereof — has morphed into some sort of meaningless political post-modernism, lots of yada yada but we all know that winning is the only thing that matters, and even that doesn’t really matter because it changes nothing. The deep reality in which we live cannot be touched.

This is Beached America.

It is in this context that I bring up Michael Moore’s new documentary, Where To Invade Next, not because it’s without flaws but because, my God, it rips back the surface of American politics and frees a fair number of imprisoned concepts — like, oh, forgiveness, childhood creativity, the honest embrace of one’s own history — and sets them loose in the present moment.

These concepts, or rather, this depth of possibility for a better, more compassionate world that they represent, which had political momentum up through the ’60s and early ’70s, when various movements — civil rights, of course, followed by the anti-war movement, feminism, gay rights, environmentalism — shattered Jim Crow and crashed the American political scene, have been stalled and muted, banned from presidential politics, reduced to an obscenity called “political correctness,” since Reagan, since Nixon.

This is Beached America.

Remarkably, this depth of possibility has made its presence felt in the 2016 presidential race. The media-corporate-military consensus that has claimed control over the national destiny for more than four decades is trembling. Possibility and human hope are coming back to life in the campaign for Bernie Sanders, who finally has begun putting his proposed social programs into the context of recklessly unchecked military spending: “When we went to war in Iraq, the trillions we spent there, not a problem,” he said this week in Michigan, comparing this to the dearth of funding available to solve Flint’s water crisis.

Also coming back to life in this campaign are the opposite of such ideas: the good old days of Jim Crow racism, blustering forth in the voice of Donald Trump, which has freed itself from political correctness.

Into these roiling waters paddles Michael Moore. The faux-premise of Where To Invade Next is that America’s military leaders, beside themselves over the utter failure of their wars since the Big One that ended in 1945, have asked for Moore’s advice about what to do next. This sends him on a literal tour of eight European countries, plus Tunisia, in search of something the United States can grab abroad other than oil.

No comments: