The Security Theory: Deconstructing Greatness

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Trump hugs a U.S. flag as he takes the stage for a campaign town hall meeting in DerryOn November 8, 2016 77,000 Americans spread over three states voted to make Donald Trump the 45th  president of the United States.

We know for certain that fraud was involved in this outcome–vote tampering, and  voter manipulation, by the Government of Russia.

The real question is why a modern democracy would rely on an outdated and absurd system to choose its leader, especially since the system had failed recently, in the 2000 election that saw Al Gore win the popular vote, and George W Bush win the electoral college  by a few hundred ballots cast in Florida.  Hillary Clinton, according to the final electoral tally, won 227 electoral votes, Donald Trump 304. –Big ticket states like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania fell to Trump, while more than 3,000,000 (twice the population of Northern Ireland) Americans were effectively shut out of the process by a useless eighteenth century stratagem.  Resistance was futile and soon quelled–except Trump whose quivering attention shifted to the popular vote “anomaly” and the size of the crowd at his inauguration.

Whenever the Constitution is proved defective, after faint cries for its amendment, the American masses settle down into their molten complacency with scarcely a bubble hitting the surface. The last generally effective activism that managed to achieve a groundswell of popular support was the American Revolution, and even that required a “congress” for approval and British-averse French and Germans for a successful conclusion.  In general Americans do not like revolution–the Civil War was not a popular war, nor was World War I, Korea or Vietnam, and in all cases conscription had to be used to get men to fight them.  This is because wars are often complicated, involve a knowledge of geography beyond Missouri, and people who. unreasonably, do not speak the American language.

Ours wars on foreign soil have meant boys from  “plain” backgrounds being hied off to increasingly exotic locations to fight for ideas they did not understand, for leaders they had not (necessarily) chosen, in places they had never heard of.  That tradition continues today in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and by proxy in places like Yemen and South Korea.

Unlike the making of the British Empire, The American way of war has not created a class of worldly-wise, curious women and men interested in foreign cultures, geography, or history.  It has created a gaggle of ignorant tourist-soldiers and their families who return from war (or “action”) with jobs unfinished and goals unreached–sometimes scarred or mentally damaged for life. It has led  to an ever-broadening understanding of how wide the protective boundary of homeland security needs to be spread to guarantee Americans a peaceful night’s sleep.   A capricious and crooked leader knows this, and makes security his cudgel against popular opinion of his leadership.

America became a world power only in the twentieth century–really only after 1945 when the the rationale of global domination, British style, was démodé.  Having just fought a war over the purveyors of conquest and territorial expansion, America could not risk being seen as one.  Instead, for all he world to see (and with the Soviets espousing a socialist text of the same playbook) America’s justification for international supremacy would be to protect American values, at home and abroad.  Truth, justice, democracy (liberty had become dangerous and not sufficiently vague) were touted as quintessentially American.  How different from the oppression, atheism, and  totalitarianism being peddled by the enemy. It was a world of easy choices and clear moral vision.

Of course this world never existed except in the minds of American policy makers and arms manufacturers and war-related research in the late twentieth century.  The defense of our power grabbing, with sometimes nervous or recalcitrant allies looking on,  was to convince the people that Asian expansionism was cancerous and evil, while America’s was protective, benign and defensive.   The goal was always security.  Protect our country; protect the flag; the Bible, the Constitution- -originally written in the English of the golden age when men were men and women were pretty.  The uncrowned deity of the era was Superman, who, though from Krypton, was a Christian.

Since the end of the Cold War  (or what can be called the explicit form of US-Asia antinomy) the job of conservative, formerly anti-Communist  leaders and arms mongers has been to convince people that there is no homeland unless we can take preemptive action against potential enemies.  Any softening or weakening of this now sacred philosophy is not compatible with the doctrine of American Exceptionalism, a philosophy deriving from the gritty, quasi religious fever of the 19th century when Americans were determined to rule a continent no matter who occupied the land before or what rival powers–Britain, France, Spain–once claimed it.  Anti-Europeanism by former Europeans and a general xenophobia towards strangers in their midst (The Creature Walks Among Us, 1958) was a part of the script.

It’s true of course that America lumbered into its security obsession.  It did not plan it.  It extended from King Philip’s War in Connecticut  (1675) which unfolded before the colonies became confederated, right through to the annexation of the Pacific territories “liberated” from Japan or former colonial powers in 1945. It always involved land, resources, and labour.

America had no explicit “theory” of supremacy along racial lines such as the Communist Chinese, the samurai Japanese, the Empire-defending British,  or race-puritan Germans had.  All of that was subsumed under a more general, inclusivist nomen called The American People, theoretically indifferent to race, class, social status, or religion.  But in fact tied to ideals and documents synonymous with landowning 18th century Englishmen and made available to others only through the  noblesse oblige and “consent of the governed.”  These people just happened to be white, protestant and wealthy, and there is no evidence that they wanted any of their earthly Eden to change.

“America” accepted certain vague eighteenth century notions about human nature and the rights of man from Locke and Rousseau, but these ideas were metaphysical as much as political and difficult to legislate.  The incipient weakness of the American Constitution in the Age of Post-Reason shows not only how imperfect the efforts at a more perfect Union have proved over two and a half centuries, but how flawed they were at conception.

Fundamentally, the Constitution was about regularity, law, order and security which reigned where once kings had been the guarantors of all four: the dignity of man, in a general sense was implied, or affirmed, but was not made explicit.   And the messy amendment process that followed the eighteenth century shows how difficult it was to translate noble ideas  into law after the death of the last idealist in 1821.  What survived out of the mess was the belief that the country should be secure, which was a way of avoiding thornier disputes about the rights and nature of man  and shifting the focus to the questions of unity and security in a nation being torn apart by factionalism within its borders.

This historical preface may seem  off the mark. But it isn’t.  The survival of We the People may seem “self evidently” important.  It entails the question of national security, indeed raises the question What does it mean to be secure?

In the case of America, security became after the nineteenth century the raison d’etre of homestyle politics.  Up until the election of Lincoln in 1860, it was the theme of most public rhetoric.  Liberty and Union.  The fear of the civil warriors on both sides was that Europe would repossess a weakened America.  That did not happen, but the obsession with American security did not fade away. It intensified.

We live in the shadow of that obsession.  Throughout the last century and especially now, security–empty of content or telos–has become the bugle call that every soldier in uniform and every flag-hugging patriot, and above all every candidate for office, is supposed to heed.  It is for the nation what belief in a master race, or the supremacy of British law, or the infallibility of popes were in other times.

Elements of racism and national hubris are deeply embedded in the  American belief that securing the homeland is supremely the business of the people because it is a defense of what is best in the world.  It has always been this way, since before the days of Manifest Destiny to the thorn ridden way of the Trail of Tears to the the era of “redeemer nation” and African American efforts to reach the domestic promised land instead of a moist grave in the coloured cemetery.

Security theory obviously has its entailments:

If security means to secure the Exceptional Nation, then it begins at home: with the right to bear arms, or assault weapons, because the defense of liberty is the first fortress against tyranny.  The Second Amendment which lost all justification after the end of the Revolutionary era found new life in the late twentieth century: calls for its repeal have been replaced by its glorification by some citizens.

It means unbridled funding of the “military industrial complex”–that gorgon which a Republican president warned of in 1959, and has proved its insatiable appetite for money and lives ever since.

It means “taking the battle to the enemy before they can take it to us” in distant countries like Iraq–and Iran, or anywhere else where US “interests” are involved.

Given the right demagogue–one to whom the Security defense is decisive–it means invading a stable country like Iraq to depose a leader , or Syria, or perhaps Iran.  It can also means friending a reprehensible regime, such as Saudi Arabia, for its strategic location or dependability as a purchaser of American weapon systems.

It means building walls between peaceful neighbors.

It means having the best equipped army in the world, whatever the cost–new branches of the military–space soldiers and space battleships. Security means preemption.

It means closing the gates to the Sweet Land of Liberty.  The world is dangerous–the Security Theory runs:  Yes, people of different races, religions, and tongues founded America and “made it Great”.  But now that it is great, we don’t need people from all over the place coming to get a piece of the pie.  Immigration must be curtailed.  There is not enough for everyone.  Lists of the people and countries who are eligible for membership in the New America have to be established, adhered to.  Some people can’t come at all. Ever.

When in the course of human events the Security Theory becomes dominant, times make the leader.  In the case of America 2020,  Donald Trump is that man.  He brings a wizened vision derived from his background in Manhattan real estate, a metaphor for lives of anxiety and insecurity.  America the Gated City.  A land defined by walls, identity cards, membership, vetting.  A land shared by the the people who make money, the people who contribute to its material success (in ways wealthy people can understand) and the people who cut the grass, or take care of their kids.

Allies are for cowards and suckers.  When has America ever been made secure by friends? No entangling alliances.  Now if allies want to buy into our security, that’s a different story.

 

 

 

 

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