The Rotten Core

By image - September 18, 2003

America faces one of its most serious challenges in history right now. This challenge comes not from without, but from within. Every generation, probably in every culture, hears the cry that the culture is facing problems, and we hear that cry in America today as well, however the problem in America is not the object of these cries, but instead the problem lies with those who are making the charges.

Every civilization at some time faces the issue of rot, and the nature of that rot and how it is dealt with determines how well that civilization is able to survive.

In America today that rot is taking place in the core and it is going largely untreated.

The problem in America is not coming from radicals or the fringe, but rather the lack of these groups is evidence of the full extent of the rot itself at the core.

When the Enron scandal first broke back in 2001 I was listening to an interview with an economic pundit on the news. The question was posed to him as to whether the corporate scandals were an example of a few bad apples, or a rotten tree. The response given was that this was just an example of a few bad apples and that the tree was solid and fine. At that time I felt immediately that he was wrong, and I took myself to task to research just how deep the problems really were. Over the past two years of analysis and introspection my worst fears about the depth of American problems have been confirmed 10 fold. 

Since I began my look deeper into the American core we have faced the largest terrorist attack on American soil and waged war in two countries, Afghanistan and Iraq.

No, the problem is not just a few bad apples, its the tree trunk, and possibly even the roots. The rot in America is at the core of the most cherished institutions. The rot is that what the majority of the American public values as good is in fact the very source of our problems. The rot is the way in which Americans hide behind superficiality, religion, and patriotism to protect themselves from reality and interaction with a world that does not match their "beliefs". The rot in America is that the quick and easy answer, whether true or not, is the only one that matters. The rot is evidenced by the fact that we live in a nation that has enough private wealth to fundamentally and deeply change the world for the better, yet we rationalize why people shouldn't spend their money on anything but themselves, and people would rather waste money on trinkets and lavish home furnishings than figure out how to actually help the world.  We have convinced ourselves that consumerism is helping the world, and that if it isn't, then its our "right" not to help anyway. This rotting core is sold to us every day here in America and the reality is the vast majority of people are buying, not only are they buying, but they can't get enough and are demanding more!

I see the problem evidenced every day here in America in the bumper stickers common on vehicles.  It is impossible to drive through any town or city I have been to (and I have traveled a lot recently) without seeing numerous cars with large American flags on the doors and flags that stick up out the top of the windows, like flags that one would use in a parade. Bush/Cheney bumper stickers are still everywhere. It seems about one in five cars has at least one Jesus fish on it.  There are a variety of American flag bumper stickers, which say things like: "Fear This!", "These Colors Don't Run", "God Bless America", "Pray for Our Troops", and "United We Stand".  Last night I saw a bumper sticker for the "Prayer Shield Program" on the back of a car along with a sticker that said "Go JEB!" and "God is my pilot".

Now, the use of such stickers is one thing, but the telling aspect is the predominance of these and almost total lack of any opposing views. To me this is evidence of blind and religious patriotism, and all you have to do is drive through any American town to see it.

I remember shortly after the war in Iraq started, I was in Arkansas at the time, and on the road one day I saw a H2 Hummer, GM's new fuel guzzling $50,000 military wannabe SUV, with a giant American flag mounted to the trailer hitch on a flag pole that came up higher than the top of the truck driving through town. The symbolism could not be any more clear to me.

I went to a Wal-Mart a few weeks later and noticed that the entire store on the inside was covered in American flags, on the ceiling, hanging from the walls, on the ends of isles. Not flags for sale, just flags as part of the decoration, literally there were over 100 flags on display in the store, large flags.  I looked down one isle and there were about 15 flags mounted to the wall on flagpoles hanging out at an angle. The store was packed solid with hundreds of people as well with shopping carts full to the top, it was a busy day, and patriotic music was playing over the store speaker system. Again I was struck by the symbolism, though I was probably the only one in the store who was.

I was in yet another Wal-Mart shortly thereafter, a different one, and they announced that a semi-famous gospel singer that was popular in the 1960s was going to be coming to the store later that day to sing patriotic songs and sign autographs.

The examples of mergers between Church, State, and Corporation in America are even more pervasive than that. GM now has a gospel music campaign that is touring America, it seems like about half the ads on TV have patriotic symbolism in them, and of course an American car dealership would not be a car dealership without more flags than a military homecoming parade.

I remember one thing that did strike me when the war in Iraq first started. The message changed at the last minute to one of liberation, and because of this I actually thought that I might just see the use of both the American and Iraq flags together. I thought that I might see some cars driving down the road with an American flag on one side and an Iraqi flag on the other, or that at the very least I would see an example of crossed American and Iraqi flags in the media, or that at one of Bush's press conferences I would see both American and Iraq flags together behind him…

Well guess what, I never witnessed such thing.  In the entire time since the start of "Operation Iraqi Freedom" I have yet to see one single example of the use of both American and Iraqi flags together. To me this says a lot.

It speaks to the reality of the war in Iraq. I have studied enough wars of liberation to know that when a society truly believes in the liberation of a country, of a friend and partner in life, that they celebrate not just by just trumpeting their own flag, but they embrace the flag of their friends as well. I have seen no example of such activity in America.

The rot that is facing America is institutional and fundamental. This war in Iraq was billed as a war of liberation about a week before it started, and the fact that it is such a war is debatable, but deep down we all know this was a war of fear, hate, blind revenge, and patriotism.

The American public backed the war in Iraq out of fear, hate, blind revenge, and patriotism, and after Saddam's statue fell we then gave ourselves a pat on the back and called it liberation. Liberation it may well be, and I hope that it is, but the reality of what this war is or is not is beside the point in terms of how it reflects on American society and we all know it.

When evidence of profiteering in the war and insider deals are exposed in the media instead of questioning these issues many Americans have already begun the apologetics for such actions. Americans are already rationalizing exploitation of the Iraqis. Whether or not the exploitation actually occurs is again irrelevant in terms of how the rationalization of exploitation reflects on the American public. "The Iraqi's should be thankful to us, so if we do a few things in our favor, well, they owe us anyway." "Of course the administration is trying to make it so that American companies get all the rebuilding contracts, we paid for the war, our companies should get the work." "America needs the rights to Iraqi oil to pay for the cost of the war; for helping them get rid of Saddam."

There are two kinds of rot that take place in a civilization, the kind that everyone is aware of, and the kind that everyone takes part in. The kind we have here is the latter. The kind they had in Iraq was the former.

The biggest example of the former in recent history was that of the Soviet Union. The world shook when that nation fell and we all stood up to take notice. It fell because the people of Russia knew there was a problem and they became part of the solution. When that system fell it fell practically overnight and it fell in on itself and the ruin was mostly contained within it's own boarders. If America falls it will take a much different path. If America falls it will be like the fall of Germany.

We have an election coming soon in America, about one year away. That election will be the defining moment of half a century. That election will tell us if America is going to stand or fall. If Bush is not reelected then America has a great change of surviving, reflecting, and progressing. If Bush is reelected then the message is grim. Whether Bush wins because none of the other candidates are worthy of the office of president, or because the people by a majority like Bush, the message is the same either way. Either we as a nation approve of the obviously treacherous actions and attitude of the Bush administration, or we are a nation that can't produce a decent political leader. Either way the point is one and the same, the country is falling, but not in the relatively benign way of the fall of the Soviet Union, its falling down a much more violent and dangerous path of self denial, blind patriotism, delusion, fear, self censorship, and apathy.

If this happens, the United States is no small Germany rising out of the rubble of war and depression, but instead the United States is a towering super power with a firm command of all of the most awesome resources in existence on earth today. The only thing that keeps these resources in check is the will of the people.

In They Thought They Were Free Jewish journalist Milton Mayer writes:

"Now I see a little better how Nazism overcame Germany ~ It was what most Germans wanted -- or, under pressure of combined reality and illusion, came to want. They wanted it; they got it; and they liked it. I came back home a little afraid for my country, afraid of what it might want, and get, and like, under pressure of combined reality and illusions. I felt -- and feel -- that it was not German Man that I had met, but Man. He happened to be in Germany under certain conditions. He might be here, under certain conditions. He might, under certain conditions, be I."

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