Make America Just Again
by Paul Olson, President Emeritus
As I sit here in my easy chair, another primary proceeds—perhaps to determine the fate of the earth. Clinton and Trump lead the polls, and Trump has received the endorsement of David Duke and effective neo-Nazi organizing behind the scenes. Students suggesting that ‘Black Lives Matter’ have been thrown out of Trump’s rallies at his command. Undocumented aliens, we are told, are scum to be thrown back to their drug cartel-infested countries. The cry appears to be, ‘Mr. Trump, build up this wall.’ Sitting in my easy chair with my cup of tea, I am nonplussed. I have just seen “Son of Saul”—the bleakest Holocaust film in existence. I fear the Holocaust furnaces already burning in our hearts may also lie in our external future.
We have cultivated hatred as foundational to our elections since the beginning, and most noticeably in the Reagan elections where Atwater’s and Reagan’s made-up stories of Chicago welfare Cadillac queens, forced busing, food stamps and the need for states’ rights uttered only a few miles from Philadelphia, Mississippi, where the 1964 murders of civil rights workers occurred, gave the signal that old-fashioned race hatred was good again. We now are told that Reagan was a ‘great president.’ Extreme nationalism and neo-Fascism temporarily rule the roost in certain American political sectors even as, in the longer term, they may be in decline in the world.
Super-nationalism, militarism and the rejection of other peoples and religions on racial grounds also afflict our foreign policy discussions. As President Obama pointed out recently, the United States spends more than eight times as much on its military as does the next leading military spender, leading presidential candidates on the Republican side tell us that the president has left our Air Force destroyed, our army weak and our nation impotent. Hillary Clinton has generally held high defense-spending views in the past (though she has equivocated in the present campaign). In a country where over 20 percent of our children under six live in poverty, our electorate is telling us to up our outrageous military spending. We know that child poverty affects learning, employability, mental health and the national well-being. We don’t care.
Militarism wins elections. Feeding children doesn’t. In districts where the military brings in a lot of money, congressional and presidential candidates run on more military spending and cutting social programs. Witness the recent races in South Carolina—the most militaristic and military-dependent state in the union. Omaha gets StratCom’s pork, and Democratic Congressman Ashford released the following news statement after his 2016 defense budget vote:
Putting the country’s security first and foremost, Rep. Brad Ashford (NE-02), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, today voted in favor of a bipartisan bill authorizing $515 billion in national defense spending. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2016 passed the House 269-151, with the support of 41 Democrats… During debate on the NDAA, Rep. Ashford was instrumental in ensuring key U.S. StratCom programs including nuclear command and control, space, cyber and missile defense were protected.
Every congressional district now has military-related jobs, and most congressional representatives will spend more time slopping the Pentagon hogs than feeding America’s children, even though the Pentagon has proved itself incapable of handling present forms of warfare reliant on militias, private operators, jihadists and insurgents mobilized by social media. It has proved itself inept in countering the causes of violence in the Middle East and Central Asia—climate change, water shortages, religious rivalry, unemployment and corrupt government.
There are other ways to go, and sometimes (almost despite ourselves) we have pursued courses that may make America ‘just again’—more important than ‘great again.’ In Syria, the United States, Russia, the Syrian government and several rebel groups aside from ISIS have initiated a cease-fire that appears to be ending much of the killing and perhaps limiting the Islamic State. In Iran, according to UN reports, the UN deal to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons appears to be holding. Consequently, first results show the Iranian people to have chosen, in all likelihood, a path to reconciliation in electing a moderate majority in the parliament and council of clerics that control Iran. In Myanmar, the world community that pushed the military dictatorship to restore civilian rule and civil rights is about to see the democratic leadership of the country restored under Nobel Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi.
These are tokens of possible futures. President Obama often rejects paths that I prefer in military and foreign policy, but he has understood that peace requires the mobilization of many peoples and nations, many minds and hearts. As he said in his Nobel Prize speech:
Agreements among nations. Strong institutions. Support for human rights. Investments in development. All these are vital ingredients… And yet, I do not believe that we will have the will, the determination, the staying power, to complete this work without something more—and that’s the continued expansion of our moral imagination; an insistence that there’s something irreducible that we all share…
Adhering to the law of love has always been the core struggle of human nature. For we are fallible. We make mistakes, and fall victim to the temptations of pride, and power and sometimes evil. Even those of us with the best of intentions will at times fail to right the wrongs before us…
We do not have to live in an idealized world to still reach for those ideals that will make it a better place. The nonviolence practiced by men like Gandhi and King may not have been practical or possible in every circumstance, but the love that they preached—their fundamental faith in human progress—that must always be the North Star that guides us on our journey.
We might ask that this election make America ‘just’ again—or for the first time.