America – still ‘the Greatest Country on Earth’ ?

Now that a man many have called a clown is running his Oval Office Show,  how much less might we hear the old line,  “America – the Greatest Country on Earth”?.

Aside, that is, from wealthy ‘liberals’ who claim to be leaving in Trump’s wake,  and American Democrats unable to stomach the loss.  There are no doubt many others mulling over –  at least in private – whether the Orange-haired One is a signpost on a downhill road.

I wonder how many of those might remember – from then or later – the conclusion of a hugely-popular  1972 TV series America : A Personal History of the United States ,which warned that American showed signs of decline.

The series was written and presented by the late Alistair Cooke ( 1908 – 2004 ), an Englishman who lived in America from 1937. I’d followed his radio broadcasts “Letter from America” as someone long drawn to parts of  American culture , and a fan of Cooke’s.

Cooke was hardly an outsider in the US. He addressed the joint Houses of Congress by invitation as a result of the TV series.

Drawing comparisons with Rome, he said in the documentary’s final episode “the race is on between [ America’s ] vitality and its decadence”. He lists  six symptoms of decline.

Love of Show and Luxury

The first, a “love of Show and luxury”, is Trump to a T.

Clowns get attention.  Trump began his path to the Whitehouse  using Show Biz, or trading in attention. First he barked “you’re fired” at reality TV show contestants. Then when he threw his hat into the nomination ring for Republican candidate some sneered. Until repeated ‘outrages’ provoked enough media attention to keep his profile  and thus his poll ratings high.

Throughout the presidential campaign, his team used the same tactics – it was all about drawing attention, and no doubt campaign rally numbers, by any means. It mattered little if your opponents and mainstream media cried foul. Highly-targeted social media campaigns helped.

Trump  ended his first Presidential press conference with “you’re fired”, and now has many tutting that he runs the Oval Office via Twitter.

Cheap and un-presidential, maybe. And Trump as a personality is less endearing than, say,  The Simpsons’ Monty Burns. But his ShowBiz style, and use of social media – let’s hope his minders have him on a short leash – doesn’t quite herald sunset on empire.

Probably more important  is something the pollsters and hence mainstream media completely missed  – the swell of Disposessed who voted Trump in.

Widening Gap Between Very Rich and Very Poor

Cooke’s second symptom of decline was a widening gap between the “very rich and the very poor”.

Worldwide eight men – six of them Americans –  have the same accumulated wealth as 3.6 billion people,   according to 2017 reports from international charity Oxfam.

In America, Trump’s cabinet alone have a reported wealth of $11 billion. The top 10 per cent of the population earn on average almost 20 times more than the entire bottom 10 per cent.

It’s hard to swallow billionaire Trump’s pose as champion of the poor as anything more than just that. So far, he’s  signalled a revival of oil-industry projects, and a rise in trade barriers to protect domestic industry.  No-one yet knows whether they will help.

But if not, progressives’ outrage at Trump’s social stances has already boiled over into violent street clashes. How much hotter will that melting-pot become if an even angrier and poorer underclass is thrown into the mix.

Foreign Wars – The Greatest Threat?

And then there’s China, a country which Trump seems determined to butt economic heads with, and which – in theory – the US owes $1.1 biliion.

Cooke lists as a third symptom “the exercise of military might in places remote from the centres of power”.  Ok, nothing new there.

But what is new is a military build-up around China. This is documented by multi-award winning Australian film-maker and journalist John Pilger in his movie The Coming War On China , first released late last year.

Pilger says his research has uncovered a string of around 400 military bases. Those bases stretch all the way “from Australia, through the Pacific, up through Asia, Korea, Japan, and across Eurasia”.  He says in an interview on December 9 last year,  “[ the bases ] encircle China as if by some noose”.

“This is the kind of provocation, the kind of scenario, just before a war. But why? – it makes no sense – and of course it’s all about dominance .. .and the administrations in the US feeling that their positions as top dog in the world is being challenged”.

Even if America is on a long slow decline, whether it reacts by provoking a dangerous war with another major power is surely a no-brainer  as top of the Worry List.

Cycle of Great Nations

Cooke also outlines a “cycle of Great Nations”.  He describes that cycle as introduction of liberty, abuse of liberty, and the re-introduction of tyranny.

If Trump’s attempts to ban Muslim immigrants represent an abuse of liberty, the courts – up to the Appeals Court so far – have prevented that abuse.

Pilger is, of course, a journalist and film-maker with credentials going back 50 years. I shared links to his articles on the build-up with a school-friend who has been living in the US for some years. But he dismissed Pilger as Anti-American and  shrugged his figurative shoulders.

Maybe that kind of complacency among American themselves is where the rot starts.

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