Describing Our Symptoms

by Berry Friesen (January 24, 2017)

Because of kidney cancer, I have had dozens of appointments with medical providers. Over and over again, I have been asked to describe my symptoms of ill-health.  Each time, the doctors and nurses listen intently to what I say.  I have learned how important it is to focus on what’s relevant and to answer accurately.

It’s no different with regard to our body politic. If we want to regain good health, it’s important to focus on what’s relevant and describe our problems accurately.
 
In recent days, millions of Americans have gathered in public spaces to announce their intention to resist the presidency of Donald Trump because, they say, he represents what’s gone wrong with our body politic.

In his inaugural address, President Trump provided his own answer to what ails us.  Let’s look at his answer.  Did it focus on what’s relevant?  Did it describe our problems accurately?

Here I engage in an imaginary conversation with the President.  He speaks in italics, me in regular font.

For too long, a small group in our nation's capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered, but the jobs left and the factories closed. The establishment protected itself, but not the citizens of our country. Their victories have not been your victories. Their triumphs have not been your triumphs. And while they celebrated in our nation's capital, there was little to celebrate for struggling families all across our land.

Sir, as you describe it the problem is the selfish, insular “establishment” in Washington. You make no mention of how Wall Street, Hollywood and Las Vegas have come to dominate Washington, how our representatives have become dependent on the donations of the wealthy from those and other places in America.  Why not?

What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people.

This seems to be a poke at the partisanship of Washington, the way it blocks problem-solving.  Like the way Republican leaders in Washington from day one of the Obama Administration committed themselves to obstructing his proposals?  Yes, preach it President Trump!

At the center of this movement is a crucial conviction, that a nation exists to serve its citizens. Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families, and good jobs for themselves. These are just and reasonable demands of righteous people and a righteous public.

But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge; and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.

Right on, Mr. President!

For many decades, we've enriched foreign industry at the expense of American industry; subsidized the armies of other countries, while allowing for the very sad depletion of our military. We've defended other nations' borders while refusing to defend our own.

[We’ve] spent trillions and trillions of dollars overseas while America's infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay. We've made other countries rich, while the wealth, strength and confidence of our country has dissipated over the horizon.


One by one, the factories shuttered and left our shores, with not even a thought about the millions and millions of American workers that were left behind. The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed all across the world.

With all due respect, sir, this is a mixed bag, if you don’t mind me saying so.

“Enriched foreign industry?”  Those businesses enriched at our expense during recent decades are American businesses—before, that is, they set up foreign affiliates, moved the jobs overseas and took the earnings and the executive compensation packages into off-shore accounts.  Why, Mr. President, do you describe this as “foreign industry?”

“Subsidized armies of other countries?”   Yes, this is true; for example, we give Israel $10 million a day for its military.  Then there are all those US military bases in other countries—800 bases in 160 countries by last count—costing at least $156 billion annually.  Those bases end up subsidizing other countries.  On top of all of this, last year US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) forces deployed to 138 countries, according to figures supplied to Nick Turse and TomDispatch. That’s right, in one year the US initiated military action in 70 percent of the world’s countries.

“Defended other nations’ borders” . . . “spent trillions and trillions of dollars overseas?”  Yes, that rings true.

“Made other countries rich?”  Israel perhaps.  But not Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Ukraine or Syria.  Not Iran, Russia, Syria or Venezuela, where our government has imposed punishing sanctions.  Not European nations, which are experiencing severe economic problems.

“Wealth redistributed all across the world?”  No, Mr. President, not “all across the world;” the wealth has been redistributed upward right here in America.  For example, between 2009 and 2014, the One Percent captured 58 percent of all income growth in America. Since 1980, nearly all of the income growth in our country has been captured by the top ten percent.

From this day forward, it's going to be only America first, America first. Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs.

This “America first” theme sounds right, Mr. President.  We want a realist to lead us, not someone who pulls the wool over our eyes by pretending to be compassionate and kind.

And thank you for pulling our country out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement.

But what’s this about “other countries . . . stealing our companies?”  American citizens are taking our companies overseas, destroying our jobs; they are American oligarchs like you.  Why do you pretend they are foreigners?

We will build new roads and highways and bridges and airports and tunnels and railways all across our wonderful nation. We will get our people off of welfare and back to work, rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor.  We will follow two simple rules; buy American and hire American.

Great!
   
Just a couple of questions, Mr. President:  will we borrow the money for all of this from Wall Street?  Will this just be another way to put us deeper in debt while Wall Street gets yet richer from fees and interest?

Worse still, will we get the money for this by selling off public infrastructure to your oligarch buddies?  You know, the roads, bridges, water systems, Veterans' Administration medical system, public lands, our national heritage?  That’s how the neo-liberal leaders of the United Kingdom went about it—selling off public transport, stripping assets from the national health system, privatizing everything at bargain prices.

Or rather than wasting tax revenue on more weapons and more surveillance and more foreign bases, will you use our tax dollars to rebuild our country? You do realize—don’t you sir—that we’re already spending close to $1 trillion a year on “national defense,” meaning all the weapons and surveillance systems and support structures to ensure the US maintains global full-spectrum dominance?

We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world, but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of all nations to put their own interests first. We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example. We will shine for everyone to follow.

Oh, I like this very much, Mr. President.

I do have one concern though.  This is very similar to what President George W. Bush said at the beginning of his administration, just before he commenced a war of aggression against Iraq and proceeded to kill one million of its citizens and destroy its infrastructure and institutions. I hear you speaking of Iran in much the way President Bush spoke of Iraq: demonizing it and setting it up as a target for military action.

Where are you getting that from?  As far as I can see, of all the leading nations of the world, only Israel and Saudi Arabia see Iran as a major problem.  Why are you so keen on following their lead?

We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones and unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate from the face of the Earth.

Yes, I like this too.  For too long—all the way back to the Carter Administration—our government has been playing footsie with radical Islamic terrorists such as al-Qaeda and ISIS and the Muslim Brotherhood.  If you put a stop to that, it would be wonderful!

Thank you for meeting with Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard to discuss this very point. Thank you for ending US collaboration with al-Qaeda and ISIS in overthrowing the government of Syria. And thank you for standing up to the propaganda campaign against Russia; I affirm your determination to mend relations with President Putin.

Yet I must ask an uncomfortable question, Mr. President.  One of our close allies—Saudi Arabia—is the source and major funder of the radical Islamic terrorism of which you speak.  Other Gulf States we are very chummy with—Qatar, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates—also support these violent groups.  And Israel does too!

So what will your determination to “eradicate” radical Islamic terrorism mean for our relations to these countries that support it?

At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other. When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.

"Total allegiance?"  That’s an odd reference for one who has promised to defend religious liberty against the requirements of political correctness.  I think you understand we don’t want a government that ignores the fact that for many of us, “loyalty to our country” comes after loyalty to faith in God.  I know you understand this when the issue is abortion, gender separation in bathrooms or the expression of sexuality.  So I hope you understand how the claims of faith extend to other matters as well.

There should be no fear. We are protected and we will always be protected. We will be protected by the great men and women of our military and law enforcement. And most importantly, we will be protected by God.

“Amen” to your reference to our dependence on the providence of God.

Just one thing about “fear,” Mr. President.   As you have already learned in your interactions with the so-called intelligence agencies, they have an agenda of their own.  If they don’t get their way, they can be really, really vicious.  In fact, many of us are convinced they are as involved in dirty work here in America as in other countries, planting fake news, carrying out assassinations and false flag operations, engaging in regime change.

You do know--don't you sir--that there are 56 instances since World War 2 in which the US has overthrown or attempted to overthrow a foreign government?  Ukraine in 2014 is the most recent instance we know about.

So I hope as one of your first orders of business, you will clean house within those so-called intelligence agencies.  If you don’t, you’ll soon be working for them, not they for you.

We stand at the birth of a new millennium, ready to . . . harness the energies, industries and technologies of tomorrow. 

Exactly, Mr. President.  More emphasis on clean energy, less on carbon-based fuel, right?  I hope this means you will end public subsidies of carbon energy and get behind the campaign to enact a revenue-neutral carbon tax.

It's time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget, that whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots. We all enjoy the same glorious freedoms and we all salute the same great American flag.  And whether a child is born in the urban sprawl of Detroit or the wind-swept plains of Nebraska, they look up at the same night sky, they will their heart with the same dreams, and they are infused with the breath of life by the same almighty creator.

Indeed, Mr. President.  We all “look up at the same night sky.”  I love that line.

And thank you for your reference to how we all are the same.  There is much in contemporary life that divides us into separate identities and emphasizes our differences.

Sir, you have earned your reputation as a bigot and a misogynist, yet with regard to how you govern in the coming four years, I expect those faults will not be where we need to be especially vigilant. Indeed, they are likely to distract us, causing us take our eyes off the ball.  That’s why my comments here have focused on other concerns.

Together, we will make America strong again. We will make America wealthy again. We will make America proud again. We will make America safe again. And yes, together we will make America great again.

“Strong again?”  We now are by far the strongest nation in the history of the world, if you mean to measure that by military and economic strength.  “Wealthy again?”  We now are by far the richest nation in history too.  “Safe again?”  We now are surrounded by two oceans, have friendly nations on each of our borders, maintain constant surveillance of the entire globe, and reign supreme in the air and on the sea.

“Great again?”  Greatness is a moral judgment, not a matter of military or economic power or security.

For us to “great” again, Mr. President, the process of truth-telling and repentance you have launched will need to include the members of your own class, the oligarchs who control our government.  It will need to reach the scapegoating of Iran and China.  It will need to reach the way capitalism has been distorted and with the help of government made into a tool of oppression and control.

And perhaps most difficult for you, Mr. President, it will need to reach you and your reluctance to be accountable to other branches of government, to the media and to us.  

Do I still have your attention, Mr. President?