Blog Archive

Blog Archive – May, 2017

Shamless in America

May 30, 2017

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Jonathan Freedland of the Guardian newspaper writes what some may consider a virtuous and urgent charge. In his newspaper’s May 12th edition 

Opining that the US president is shameless, Freedland may be correct. But I disagree with his suggestion that Donald Trump’s behavior is particularly unique and that this shamelessness is immoral. While Trump is acting and speaking in a shocking manner, he is, in fact, giving voice to (a hitherto whispered, backroom) an American tradition.

When will Americans who enjoy huge benefits of citizenship in the world’s strongest economy and in the globe’s pre-eminent cultural, political, and military power realize that its glorious ‘empire’ is itself a shameless beast? Empire is largely effectively above morality. Moreover, isn’t this an integral part of what is called exceptionalism?  

Whether we like (to admit) it or not USA is an empire. As such it can be shameless. Just as it can be arrogant; just as it can police the whole world; just as it demands others adhere to its declared standard of human rights; just as its military cannot be criminally responsible for excesses and atrocities abroad; just as its negotiators can coerce weaker nations to follow its dictate.

Several American presidents in living memory (Eisenhower, Kennedy, Reagan, Carter, Clinton, and Obama) provided a veneer of morality with their grace and political intelligence. Trump does not follow that script. In his bumbling, ungracious way, he is the ugly face of empire, exhibiting all the righteousness of what Americans --only Americans-- boast is the ‘most powerful person on earth’. The president, like the empire, is almost above law: he can disregard convention; he can fire the head of intelligence; he can sign edicts to wipe out years of development and progress; he can refuse to submit his tax returns; he can retain his businesses while serving in office; and his flippant tweets can hurl personal insults and instigate political chaos.

American foreign policy flaunts norms in the international arena; why not the head of state in regards to domestic issues? Not unreasonably, if a nation is shameless, its leader too can behave without shame. Donald Trump is shameless enough to challenge the norm. (Although in his arrogance he may inadvertently overstep some solid and sacred law, and be assured that hoards of opposition lawyers are closely following his every step to clutch a tangible legal breach.)

                Perhaps what so disturbs our distraught liberal class who Freedland speaks for is that Trump is directing this arrogance onto domestic issues and the privileges of Americans. As long as US bullying is focused outside, whether towards friends or enemies, it’s ignored or tolerated. Take the spurious principle of ‘mutual respect’ and the verbiage about members’ ‘equality’ within the United Nations. In its embargo wars against Cuba, Iran, Iraq and Vietnam, Washington successfully coerces and threatens others to comply. Even the U.N. cannot withstand US intimidation. A cursory review of reports emerging from infinite U.N. committee meetings around the globe would either shock you or make you ask if anything noble is ever accomplished there, anything except what’s determined by Washington.

(One recent climate change meeting offers an example of what can be accessed by Third World Network.) These daily displays of American prowess are buried in hard-to-comprehend reports laden with mysterious acronyms and a maze of subcommittee reviews. Their itineraries are so imponderable; easier to browse multi-pages of our esteemed press with their doctrines on Kurdish factions, sectarian strife in Muslim lands, or the drama of a dismissed FBI chief than to study how America bullies and obstructs the agendas of others, whether powers like India, or weak or impoverished nations, or respectable European friends.  

                True, not every American leader acts as boldly or as oafishly as Donald Trump does. Certainly his immediate predecessor behaved differently…most of the time. But recall one of President Obama’s foreign speeches—in Havana a year ago— and the former Cuba leader’s knowing response. Fidel Castro’s reply notwithstanding, the American’s imperial message, albeit proffered in a handsome velvet cloak, is clear. Barack Obama, like many American leaders (whether trade negotiators, press aides, human rights advocates, or military officers) may speak and act more discreetly than his successor. It’s just that Trump openly exhibits his nation’s arrogance. Combined with his personal tactlessness, mixed with a degree of bald ignorance, it’s, well, embarrassing.

But Freedland and doubtless many others in our liberal class, symbolized by the self righteous New York Times, do not dare admit America’s own long history of shamelessness and how Mr. Trump merely epitomizes this.

In today’s comments by US historians on how the 45th president compares so unfavorably with past occupants of the White House, there is a highly selective process underway. Since the November election and US intellectual’s misjudgment of its outcome, liberals have jumped onto the moral high ground with their remaking of Mr. Obama’s tenure. As if the last administration were free of responsibility for destabilizing other nations, of gross, illegal surveillance, of unlawful bombings and runaway profiteering by banks.   

Trump’s behavior is ‘difficult’ no doubt. Perhaps it’s because when a leader lies, he reminds us all of the national lies, of the shame (or sham) that American democracy has become, at least of its weaknesses. How can US negotiators and diplomats force human rights standards on others; how can the US insist on democratic principles in countries whose polities are at odds with Washington?

Today Mr. Trump is bullying the hallowed institutions of America. That’s what is insufferable. This is where we recognize shame.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[ Shamless in America ]

Americans Should Be Embarrassed, But Not About President Trump

May 04, 2017

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

A month before the US presidential election, my sister from Canada called asking: “Aren’t Americans embarrassed?” She was referring in particular to the character of the leading Republican candidate, now living in Washington-- in the White House.

Even today few Americans actually say they’re embarrassed by Trump, whether it’s his tweets or his declarations of policy or his interactions with foreign leaders. Many dismayed Americans express anger; others moderate their feelings with ridicule, recounting his missteps and inelegance, surrounding themselves with likeminded associates to stoke their spirits. Certainly the president’s cabinet appointments and threats of policy changes create fear which in turn has motivated the widespread but calm and calculated street protests. Journalists have never been so busy muckraking over presidential appointees, tracking the leader’s ramblings, and fact checking the deluge of data on all sides.

Meanwhile, we (on the left) are indeed embarrassed, very embarrassed. Here’s what I mean.

It’s not the president’s amateurish utterances and his threats that embarrass. It’s about us: we’re embarrassed for ourselves. We—that is, the liberal American community who have such high regard for our sophistication, our grasp of issues, our education, our trendiness, and our facility with social media—couldn’t read our own country. We could not control the democratic process; we could not speak for the country; we could not use our multi-media savvy to effectively inform and communicate; we relied on barely two print sources and no more than two TV news channels who are, we now realize, biased.

There’s the feminists’ embarrassment too. Not only were we-- this land of dynamic, daring, accomplished women-- incapable of lifting a woman candidate over the top. We could not ‘read’ the whole of America’s women, (nor its youth, nor all its minorities). How embarrassing to admit to ourselves that not only does the U.S. lag behind African, Asian and South American nations in our inability to find a acceptable woman president. Fifty-three percent of white American women voted for what appeared to be a grossly misogynist Republican candidate! Hard to admit, but we, the knock-down-barriers know-it-alls, failed. Moreover, however many popular votes went to Mrs. Clinton, the Democratic Party—our self-declared champion of women and minorities-- also failed to read and to touch the pulse of the country. Not only was that boorish fellow installed the White House; 32 state legislatures went to the Republicans and 33 state governors are Republican.

It’s this embarrassment that’s now driving the weekly marches, the protests outside congressmembers’ offices, the plethora of new local committees and get-to-know-our-neighbors gatherings across the country. It’s this embarrassment that is sending reporters and camera crews into towns in Pennsylvania and Michigan and Louisiana and Kansas. Forget about Alabama, the Inner City and the metropolitan suburb. National Public Radio and BBC correspondents are descending on farms, mom-and-pop stores, and hamlets across the county to reveal the ‘real’ marginalized American:-- the less educated, the poorer, the underemployed, and the chronic opioid user.

We are newly interested in rural American wisdom. Today’s journalists are like anthropologists sent out to the dark corners of the hostile empire to study the natives for future conquest. University courses will be created to read newly written monographs on this forgotten, discovered America.

If embarrassment has a positive side, it’s self discovery. Although this doesn’t guarantee an easy overthrow of the current regime.  END

[ Americans Should Be Embarrassed, But Not About President Trump ]


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