Departure today is from Gate 18 in Terminal 2 at Tullamarine Airport. I am just about to embark upon a 14 hour flight to the United States. This will be my first visit in five years. I have always tried to avoid travelling in that particular part of the world. Given recent events, and the alarm voiced by many, I am dreading the need to navigate border security at LAX. I am no longer a young man and find disturbing the surly attitude of so many immigration officials these days.
To be truthful America scares me. I readily concede the rich vitality and diversity of American culture, the stunning landscapes, and the extraordinary contribution US scientists, engineers, philosophers, musicians and artists have made to the advancement of our civilisation. I have always enjoyed my encounters with Americans – particularly in cities like Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Chicago, Boston and New York. I also have many long-standing friends in the US who are unfailingly sensible, generous, intelligent people.
My problem has more to do with the jolly theatrical veneer, the extravagant nationalism, the bizarre fetishism for flag and anthem, and the patriotic fervour that values hype over actuality. In contrast to this display there seems to be a growing yet barely suppressed mistrust of foreigners that insinuates its way into every crack and crevice of public life. I am sure my observations will take some people by surprise. After all the daily routines of the average citizen are possibly still unaffected by the political tsunami washing silently towards them. The waves have yet to find land. The full impact still unknown.
I shed tears with my friends since their nation is despised pretty much universally. I lament with them that civility and conviviality – once the hallmarks of US culture – are now spurned in ceremonies that favour triviality and bombast. Like them I am alarmed by the increasingly corrupt disposition of those elected to govern – though this is hardly unique to America; dumbfounded how intelligent people can be so easily duped into believing whatever they want to believe; saddened by the readiness to give in to anger and the raging fear that craves their constant attention; and stunned by their inability to see they are trapped in a prison of their own invention. Their new Pax Americana.
I look at their elected officials and immediately mistrust their motives: I deplore their lack of wisdom, shun their parochial sense of exceptionalism, detest their allegiance to the calculating mechanisms of the deep state, and scorn their use of propaganda to maintain compliance. Like many citizens in other parts of the world I believe the country most Americans still naively hold to be the quintessence of all that is good about humanity, is but a delusion. A cruel sham. And like many citizens in other parts of the world I believe the biggest threat to world peace today is the US nation-state.
It was not always like this. America used to be so welcoming and compassionate. This was the country above all others where, it was alleged, anyone willing to work hard could become successful. America was the land of opportunity. Its social foundations built on immigration and innovation, the US was a model for the rest of the world.
I recall my first visits to the US were crammed full of excitement. Here was a carefree, contented and hospitable community that embraced others with open arms. And yet for some reason I always felt safer in China, more accepting of eccentricities in England, calmer in India, more at peace in Thailand, more civilised in France, more attuned to the rest of humanity in Japan, and more hopeful for the future of our species in…. well everywhere actually. America always seemed to cast a pall over my frame of mind that I found impossible to avoid or to adequately explain. It seemed always in danger of imploding – like an erratic firecracker, sluggish one moment but spluttering into life the next.
How did this come about? At what stage did the leader of the free world assume a more malevolent guise? One must go back to the years before I was born to discover a time when the US exercised anything approaching moral leadership. I cannot even begin to imagine the shame that Jefferson, Lincoln or Roosevelt might feel today if they could witness the deceitful, selfish arrogance of the US establishment to its neighbours, its allies, and even its own citizens.
However much the President Trump wishes it could be so, the future does not automatically belong to the USA. America will not, indeed cannot, play a beneficial role in creating a prosperous future for humanity if it does not temper its ways, heed its critics, jettison its unhealthy nostalgia for the past, and set a new course for its own evolution. By continuing to plough a stubbornly lone furrow, these imperatives become less likely. As the great empirical experiment unravels, fear and division will be kindled, and used in even more creative ways to wipe out accord and set people against each other.
At a time in human history when our species must overcome superficial differences in order to be able to work together in unity and tackle the emergencies facing us, the US has become the enemy and an impediment to a new evolutionary consciousness.
Today the US is the most aggressive sponsor of state terrorism on the planet – a self-appointed global sheriff that spends more on inciting conflict and executing war than the next seven highest spending nations combined. In 2015 the US declared a military and defence budget of $601 billion.
US military garrisons girdle the planet. Maintaining a military presence of 800 military bases in more than 70 countries and territories around the world, the US is the largest and most active supplier of weapons to regimes both legal and illegitimate. Elite Special Operations forces are deployed in 134 countries – the majority of their covert operations taking place far from prying eyes or media scrutiny.
This secret war has helped unleash a terror diaspora in North Africa and the Middle East. And in spite of the fact that it seems unable to secure the safety of its own citizens, provide them with a decent comprehensive education, or ensure their health and well-being, the US still insists on meddling in the domestic affairs of other nations on the false pretext of keeping the peace. This is a lie. In the eyes of its enemies the prophecy of America becoming the Great Satan has been fulfilled.
The US is by far the most powerful and wealthiest nation on the planet. As long as it remains united that situation is unlikely to change – at least not in the next decade. But it is not great. To believe that is to be like Narcissus gazing in pride at his own reflection in the pool. Indeed there is only one viable course of action that could possibly lead to America becoming great. It entails a strategic withdrawal from conflict and division in order to steward greater cooperation, empathy and healing universally. It would be a course shaped by wisdom and humility. Its teleology would be to consciously evolve and to model a more humane society – a society set on lifting the under-privileged, wherever they happen to reside, out of their misfortunes. It would mean creating a world that works for everyone.
This happens to be diametrically opposed to the direction pursued by the incumbent and former five or six Caesars in Washington. Greatness in any other form simply means simulating past triumphs so as to dominate from a position of power corrupted by money and intimidation.
A new civil war could erupt soon, but not, I suspect, in the way most of us imagine or some elements of the media are trying to precipitate. I hope I am wrong, but at this stage I see only slight hope for an empire that has been morally disintegrating before our eyes for at least the past 50 years.
Hanging by a thread, the community of nations needs to summon all the generosity and mutual cooperation it can muster in order to help America become the leader it already believes itself to be.
If the US aspiration to lead the free world is to remain relevant and viable in a pluralistic age, then to lead a world that is free seems an indisputable criterion for success. The situation whereby a league of nations submits to the financial, military and cultural yoke of a lone superpower, one that lauds its superiority and exceptionalism, would most likely extinguish the one impulse that could redeem past blunders. The same impulse that could result in an abundant future. It is called humility. It is the mark of an authentic leader. Anything else is destructive to humanity and needlessly aggravates the human condition.
I passed through US Immigration this morning with ease. Friendliness, warmth even, was shown by the official who decided this 72 year old Australian presented no threat to the nation. All my apprehension vanished within minutes. I feel somewhat contrite tonight – having written this essay in a manner that could be interpreted as overly critical and anti-American. That is not my intention. I hope readers will forgive my failings as a writer if my desire for a prosperous and abundant America is in any way unclear from the arguments as presented here.