And, mind you, I say this as the only science fiction author ever to deliver a keynote to a Libertarian Party National Convention... back when the "L-word" had not been hijacked, before healthy skepticism of bureaucratic over-reach mutated into bilious hatred of an entire system that has worked well for U.S. citizens, for generations. Listen to Jeff Daniels recite the Address for you. Then re-dedicate yourself to what Lincoln meant, spurning the cynics seeking to re-ignite that civil war.
== On American Exceptionalism… ==
Aw heck, that makes a perfect segue to Jeff Daniels again... now in the hit HBO show "Newsroom." The show can be dramatic, fascinating, smart, on-target... and occasionally too smug in its mainstream liberalism not to deserve a wince or two. Or maybe an occasional "yeah, true enough, but you left out...." spray-shouted at the TV. (Oh, I am so much fun to be around!)
In this clip, Daniels responds to a student's question, "What makes America the greatest country in the world?" The first two panelists on the stage give pat (strawman) answers -- diversity, opportunity, freedom and freedom. Daniels ventures into somewhat indignant territory, but his answer is worth pondering. Indeed, I discussed this issue in "American Exceptionalism vs What has Made America Exceptional"...
And yet, at risk of offending both left and right in my contrarian way, I must demur. Daniels' response blatantly ignores many things. Like why the United States has spent so much more money than any twenty other nations on defense. He deems it a mark of shame, but it has been a burden that largely saved the world.
Perspective time. The reason is because we were the world's Pax Power and that in itself is a type of "greatness." Across history, most pax empires (e.g. Pax Romana or Pax Sinica) were oppressive, but generally there was a huge upside to living under or near one; cities were safe from rampaging hordes and people were free to build their lives in peace. The alternative of fractious warring states could have advantages too… there was never a more fecund time than splintered Classical Greece or Colonizing Europe, but the fragility and brittleness of those times were a terrible price and most "warring states" periods did not even have such fecundity.
Without question, Pax Americana was the best and least hated of all grand paxes. (Try reading what non-Roman peoples grumbled about Rome, even while benefiting from the peace. Or what Gandhi said about Pax Brittanica, even while admitting it was the least immoral empire seen up to that point.) In fact, all of them -- including PA -- committed crimes. Dig this well -- we are human beings and when we get some power our egos get carried away with it. You try being king, sometime.
If you want to hurl a list of bad PA actions, from police enforcement for United Fruit Co. to Mossadegh in Iran and Allende in Chile, I will thump my chest and cry "nostra culpa!" for each one. You'll not get mealy-mouth excuses or shrugs from me. Indeed, clear-eyed criticism of such crimes -- or disastrous-hubristic meddlings, like Vietnam -- is part of the duty of an aware American citizen. And dig this, boy are we trained to criticize with abandon!
Still, by comparison, and weighing the pile of good next to the bad -- and partly because of the habit of self-criticism -- Americans exercised more restraint and responsibility with that temptation than any other nation across all of time. In fact, I'd ask you to name a people who ever did better when tempted by power. (You who are fuming right now, consider. Are you part of the national habit I am describing? Are you honest enough to name the tsunami of films and other propaganda that made you such an eager critic?)
Back to specifics, the U.S. defense umbrella has, since 1945, allowed most nations to spend far, far lower fractions of national income on warriors than at any time in history, allowing them to divert more to education and development. Look up the stats and be amazed! And Steven Pinker's proof that violence has plummeted under the era of Pax Americana. Further, do go ask folks in Poland and Korea, before you dismiss all this "pax" stuff.
== A word hated by the left and horribly misused by the right ==
Alas, no American gets any of this! In part because Americans avoid knowing anything at all about history. For their part, Republicans love the glory of imperium - its pomp and preening-doofus "Yew-Hess-Hay!" pride… and thus they have plunged us into wasteful, horrendously-futile and self-defeating wars in search of it… while never admitting the grown-up obligations and accomplishments of Pax Americana -- especially the vital and unprecedented habit of self-criticism.
Liberals, in contrast, are so obsessed with seeming "grownup" that they never mention the fact that PA was flat-out necessary and mostly good for civilization, especially in comparison to the mess wrought by every preceding great power. This despite the ultimate irony, that Democrats nearly always have managed America's pax responsibilities vastly better than Republicans ever did (except Ike.)
Vastly better. Want it laid out clearly and decisively? How Democrats and Republicans Wage War.
No. Go watch Jeff Daniels's rant . He tells truth… but only half of it. The surly, grouchy half, which is just as limited a liberal dumbness as "Yew-Hess-Hay!" is insipid troglodytism on the right. In fact, the Pax period since 1945 is serious history that our descendants will study in books for 10,000 years. It has been far more positive than negative, but in part because of our reflex of despising empire, not glorying in it. This calls for perspective, not uni-directional reflexes.
And thus, the Daniels rant -- his narrative -- is, in fact, a poison.
== Another perspective ==
My friend the popular economics-investment pundit John Mauldin recently showed his added class by attending the World Science Fiction Convention in San Antonio and revealing himself to be an uber-fan. He also publishes economics insights from what might be called an "Eisenhower Republican" perspective -- rock-ribbed and skeptical of debt, but also well-distanced from the Murdochian Madness that has hijacked today's GOP. John's latest report appraises how a combination of rising oil and gas production in the US, Obama Administration policies and a rapid return of high-tech manufacturing to US shores is already having huge effects upon the American balance of trade, a deficit that has spanned a human lifetime.
A deficit that - by the way - I call deliberate, and one of the most important contributions of Pax Americana to world history. A deficit that propelled export driven growth across the world, uplifting generations first in war-torn Europe and Japan, then Taiwan, Korea, Singapore… and so on until US trade is now the chief force lifting China and India at the same time.
John shows how the trade imbalance appears to be going away more rapidly than anyone expected: "With the US current account deficit continuing its fall, we need to be alert for the next crisis abroad. It is very difficult to predict exactly when, where, and how markets will panic, but taking US dollars out of the trading system is akin to losing a chair in a game of musical chairs. Someone is going to be left out. It could be Europe or Japan – but more likely it will be emerging-market countries loaded with a lot of external debt denominated in US dollars who struggle to keep a seat at the table."
Another outcome. When the US is no longer shipping tsunamis of dollars overseas, the countries of Asia will need another currency to trade with each other. China is already preparing to set up its renmimbi (yuan) as a new reserve currency to stand next to the dollar. This will be accelerated, so long as China does not collapse because America is buying fewer Chinese goods. It can get complicated. For example the impact any China slow-down is going to have on commodities like metals, on countries like Canada, on countries like Australia.
It probably is time for the development teat of U.S. trade deficits to start shutting down. It was fun, buying trillions of dollars worth of crap we never needed, so that manufacturing jobs would cycle through the planet leaving new middle classes rising in their wake -- perhaps far more fun than "foreign aid" is supposed to be... though also vastly more effective than any other form of wealth transfer or aid ever attempted. But America needs to attend to finishing the latest phase of its ongoing civil war and that's going to take a while, before we can go back to helping move the world forward.
== A final note on that civil war we're in ==
You want my own quirky, contrarian take on the insane lemming charge toward a shut-down of the U.S. government? Well... all right. So long as you are ready for more contrary insights. Here are some peeks behind the curtain.
Key is the Hastert Rule, under which all Republican House members have vowed to always and absolutely obey the majority of the House GOP Caucus, no matter how slender (or crazy) that majority might be. This means that 51% of the 51% can utterly control the agenda and proceedings and output of the United States House of Representatives. This, plus gerrymandering, plus Fox News, compose all the explanation anyone needs for the current made-up "crisis."
Despite all the pundit-ravings about a "civil war within the GOP," The 21st Century Republican Party remains (for now at least) the most tightly disciplined political force we have seen in American political life since the "solid south" of the old Dixiecrats, seventy years ago. Pundits tell us that discipline and the Hastert Rule are maintained by fear of Tea Party insurrections in next spring's GOP primary. Don't you believe the pundits.
In fact, nothing happens in the Tea Party without say-so from Fox News. Fox is co-owned by Rupert Murdoch and several Saudi princes who have made their agenda clear. The government of the United States of America, which has functioned -- overall -- far better than anything else the world ever saw , helping to lead a consortium of other free nations and peoples to transform civilization for the better... that government and even the concept of "government" must be undermined, discredited and ultimately destroyed. It is the core, consistent narrative and one that a third of U.S. citizens now swallow as eagerly as babes do mother's milk. And hence, amid this re-ignited civil war, it is only proper to evoke Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, one more time. Recite it to your neighbors enthralled by the Murdochians. Watch them wince.
So. Do not let the appearance of internal GOP strife fool you. All -- (or nearly all, so long as the Hastert Rule applies) -- is choreographed.
Were these sane days, it would take just twenty House GOP members to break off and form a Grownup Conservative Caucus -- taking their chances with the inevitable Tea Party vengeance in their district primaries, next spring -- in order to negotiate with moderate democrats, as used to happen all the time, back in the 20th Century. They would do this for the sake of the nation, out of courage and love of country… and love for a version of conservatism that Barry Goldwater might recognize. (A deal to make entitlements more efficient, in exchange of elimination of some fat-cat tax breaks, has been on the table for two years. Those twenty are all it would take.)
Alas, Rupert Murdoch and his partners have made clear their agenda to destroy Goldwater Conservatism in America… and thereupon all meaningful discourse. God help us if the Democrats ever become likewise dominated by their loony fringe. (And you better believe they have one - as feeble as it currently is!) If that ever happens -- (and a vanishing Middle Class just might drive such radicalism) -- then our only escape will be Canada… or space. And Pax Americana will be finished.
Which has been the aim of Rupert & Co., all along.