February 22, 2023 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
America and the world would be better off dropping their ideas about the idea of America
The country isn’t as good, or as bad, as everyone seems to think.
I have no doubt, and neither should you, that America often shits on weaker countries. I have no doubt about this while having no doubt about Planet Earth being worse, probably much worse, without America’s hegemonic military presence. Don’t like being the world’s policeman? Neither do I.
What’s the alternative? China?
I have no doubt, and neither should you, that elected political leaders are better than unelected political leaders. I have no doubt about this while having no doubt about democracies like ours being, well, problematic. They give. They take. Trick is nudging ourselves democratically toward one and away from the other. The task is never easy. It’s a titanic pain in the ass.
But what’s the alternative? Russia?
You see where I’m going.
Suffering we choose to ignore
I don’t want to sound Churchillian, for God’s sake, but democracy is better than the alternative, even when the democracy in question is worrisome, vexatious, disappointing, crazy-making, for that matter, life-threatening.
We should remember this every time democracy is threatened by the likes of the Criminal Former President and the Howling Heehaws. Let’s protect it, yes. Let’s defend it, sure. But let’s not make-believe it’s some Shangri-La.
I don’t see why we have to pretend democracy is A Sacred Thing when our founders believed no such thing. You’d think nuance with deep roots like this would hold space in public, but it does not. You’re either of one mind – America’s the world’s savior! Or the other – America’s the world’s evil!
I’d rather America be just another country that helps more than it harms, or tries to. I’d rather Americans dropped their illusory principles – NO ONE IS ABOVE THE LAW; heheh good one! – instead of failing to live up to what never was. (I’d rather Americans drop their ideas about the idea of America.)
I’d rather we focus on hard work, liberal morality and democratic politics. I’d rather Americans saw what they see, not see what they think they saw.
Most Americans, I’d say, have heads packed with pixie dust. We believe perfection is reasonable. We believe imperfection is failure. Meanwhile, real people suffer. They suffer horribly. Their suffering we choose to ignore.
This wasn’t a matter of should we
When Russia invaded Ukraine, I had no doubt, and neither did many others, that Ukraine had to fight back, fight all the way, or give up, then and there.
Appeasing an unelected political leader, whose pores ooze with bad faith, would’ve been a slow-motion exercise in self-annihilation. People like Vladimir Putin don’t honor their agreements. There’s quid, but no pro quo.
I had no doubt, and neither did many others, that America should back the Ukrainian resistance, back it all the way up, because the alternative would have been worse, an embolden kleptocrat thinking his marks will roll on over, so that he can take and take, as he always has, maybe next time in collaboration with the Chinese Communist Party, until there’s nothing left.
War is never simple. This was. Good guys. Bad guys. Good. Evil.
Easy choice. Should be.
This was not part of the Forever War. This was not America filling-refilling a power vacuum left by the fall of the United Soviet Socialist Republics in the late 20th century. This was a revival of the glory days of that hoary-headed superpower. This wasn’t a matter of should we. It was a matter of must.
And we did.
“There are none in Ukraine”
The Russo-Ukrainian war goes on, of course. So does the stateside proxy war between Americans and their ideas about the idea of America.
For “America’s the world’s savior,” there’s Eliot Cohen.
In The Atlantic, he said the president’s surprise visit to Kyiv, the capital, which is in the warzone, was freighted with meaning. Joe Biden walked tall while Putin had “cycled through a series of theories of victory in Ukraine — that Kyiv’s leaders would flee, that Ukraine’s population would not fight, that its army would be crumpled up by a sudden blitz or by grinding assaults.
It has been reduced to one last hope: that Vladimir Putin’s will is stronger than Joe Biden’s. And Biden just said, by deed as well as word, “Oh no it’s not.”
For “America’s the world’s evil,” there’s Chris Hedges.
At the Rage Against the War Machine rally, he said “the political class, the media, the entertainment industry, the financiers and even religious institutions bay like wolves for the blood of Muslims or Russians or Chinese, or whoever the idol has demonized as unworthy of life. There were no rational objectives in the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and Somalia.
There are none in Ukraine.
Packed with pixie dust
I don’t see why Biden’s visit is “a reminder of who really leads Europe,” as the Post’s Ishaan Tharoor, who quoted Eliot Cohen, said. Why does defending democracy, by coming to a friend’s aid, mean American leaders, Biden of all people, suddenly deserve the hagiology treatment. Can we not do that?
Americans already think they’re too awesome.
I don’t see why Biden’s visit is a reminder of “the political class, the media, the entertainment industry, the financiers and even religious institutions [baying’ like wolves for the blood of Muslims or Russians or Chinese.”
I don’t see why Hedges puts things together that don’t go together.
Unless his head is packed with pixie dust. Unless America fails to be perfect.
(Unless he’s in Russian pay.)
In any case, I have no doubt, and neither should you, that our country often shits on weaker countries. I have no doubt about this while having no doubt about Planet Earth being worse, probably much worse, without America.
You’d think there’d be space for that.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.