In August, the Daily Devil’s Dictionary appears in a single weekly edition containing multiple items taken from a variety of contexts.
This week, we jump from French President Emmanuel Macron’s proposal of a new law intended to produce electoral momentum in the run-up to the presidential election to Republican Senator Josh Hawley’s campaign to avoid dishonoring the great tradition of white supremacy. We then move on to congressional Democrats’ greater sense of loyalty to the military-industrial complex than to their elected president and also the military threat that China’s peaceful overtures in Africa appear to represent for the US. Finally, we look at the Financial Times’ realistic, but unorthodox reading of the global debt crisis.
Macron’s Revised Motto: Liberté (diminished), Egalité (Two-tiered) and Neutralité
It used to be that countries like Switzerland could claim the privilege of neutrality. The notion applied to political entities. President Macron of France has extended it to people in the name of combating “separatism,” the latest and deadliest sin against what he imagines to be republican integrity. Parliament is now deliberating on a bill designed literally to neuter the French by imposing neutrality as a behavioral norm. Macron sees the effort to inculcate and enforce “republican values” as the key to winning reelection in 2022.
“Introduced by hardline French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, the bill contains a slew of measures on the neutrality of the civil service, the fight against online hatred, and the protection of civil servants such as teachers,” France 24 informs us. The New York Times explains that this “law also extends strict religious neutrality obligations beyond civil servants to anyone who is a private contractor of a public service, like bus drivers.”
A legal concept that provides a pretext for targeting the Muslim community in France for failing to live up to republican standards, a requirement that not only judges people on their aptitude to adhere to a modern faith known as “republican principles” (which supersedes any other creed or philosophy a person may identify with), but also proclaims that those principles are universal and should be shared by any rational person anywhere in the world
The law voted by parliament on July 23 seeks to eliminate “separatism” by removing a few of the traditional liberties the French formerly enjoyed. It also seeks to foment a climate of suspicion against anyone who resists signing on to a behavioral code designed to protect members of the current secular order.
To ensure that some of Marine Le Pen’s xenophobic, anti-immigrant voters may be tempted to drift across to vote for Macron in next year’s election, the president has proposed a law clearly intended to demonstrate his personal pleasure in intimidating Muslims.
Radical Ideology According to Senator Josh Hawley
Republicans in the United States believe in freedom of expression so long as thought itself is controlled. Missouri Senator Josh Hawley understands that white exceptionalism is the unimpeachable foundation of the American way of life. “Over the past year, Americans have watched stunned as a radical ideology spread through our country’s elite institutions—one that teaches America is an irredeemably racist nation founded by white supremacists,” Hawley said. “We cannot afford for our children to lose faith in the noble ideals this country was founded on.”
The citing of any facts of history that might contradict the self-proclaimed normal and noble ideology of those who believe that the power structure they are a part of is predestined not only to rule the world, but also to restrict useful, objective knowledge of the world
When Hawley claims that we “have to make sure that our children understand what makes this country great, the ideals of hope and promise our Founding Fathers fought for, and the love of country that unites us all,” the key concept is “make sure.” This is the language not of education but of indoctrination, a characteristic traditionally associated with totalitarian regimes that mobilize whatever resources are required to “make sure” people toe the line.
The idea of “making sure” that children “understand” should be seen as an aporia, a simple contradiction, since true understanding means appreciating what one cannot be sure of — in other words, of putting things in perspective. Hawley clearly wants to remove what he calls the “ideals” from their context. This is more about undermining than understanding.
There are similarities between Macron’s and Hawley’s approach to normalizing understanding and testing for loyalty.
The Democrats’ Competing Priorities
US President Joe Biden has claimed that transformative FDR-style reforms are his priority and opposed Donald Trump’s race to further bloat the defense budget. Biden’s party in Congress is implementing its own priorities, similar to Trump’s.
“One has to wonder what is even the point of a Senate Democratic majority if they’re going to not only continue Trump policies but work with Senate Republicans to undermine [Biden’s] priorities. Utterly pathetic,” tweeted Stephen Miles, executive director of Win Without War.
Something political leaders want the public to believe is the first thing they wish to accomplish, even when they have no intention of implementing the stated policy and also expect it will not be implemented
During last year’s presidential campaign, Defense News reported that Biden said that “if elected president, he doesn’t foresee major reductions in the U.S. defense budget as the military refocuses its attention to potential threats from ‘near-peer’ powers such as China and Russia.” The website nevertheless suspected that “internal pressure from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, combined with pandemic-related economic pressures, may ultimately add up to budget cuts at a Biden Pentagon.”
In a comic historical twist, Biden did not propose a reduction in the defense budget, but instead a modest increase despite drawing down the US commitment in the Middle East. The Senate Armed Services Committee, with a majority of Democrats, applied its pressure not to reduce the budget, but to spend even more than Biden demanded. The only “internal pressure” came from one isolated progressive, outvoted by 25 Democrats and Republicans.
The moral of the story is clear. The president cannot run the country because even the policies he prefers (sincerely or insincerely) will be overturned by the all-powerful military-industrial complex that controls Congress. Defense is no longer about defending the nation, which is already extremely well defended. It’s about supporting the defense industries that are at the core of the economy and the focus of politicians’ attention. Spending freely on defense is the norm even in a nation that hates any spending other than consumer spending. The taxpayers will never complain, because they have been taught that producing arsenals that will never be needed is consistent with the belief in the “ideals of hope and promise our Founding Fathers fought for,” to quote Hawley again.
As the wealth gap continues to grow and the effects of both the COVID-19 pandemic and a growing climate crisis have spread more misery across the nation, the Republicans and Democrats on the Armed Services Committee appear to blissfully ignore the observation of a former Republican president, Dwight Eisenhower: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”
The US Counters a Global Overture Threat
It goes without saying that, given the multiplicity of threats to “national security,” the US is supposed to be everywhere in the world as a military presence. For two decades, terrorism was the main pretext, but its attraction has faded, allowing other missions to emerge, especially in Africa.
“Now, in addition to fighting violent extremist groups, they have to counter Chinese and Russian overtures in a region where great powers are increasingly competing for access, influence, and resources,” writes Stavros Atlamazoglou in Business Insider
Any initiative taken by a rival power in territories currently dominated by Western colonial and neocolonial powers, especially in regions where US troops are already present as a reminder that these are the West’s private hunting grounds
America’s hard power, its famed military might, appears to have a new challenge. This time it isn’t a foreign army, insurgents or terrorist cells. It is, as Atlamazoglou explains, something far more frightening: “Chinese aid, in the form of loans or infrastructure development,” part of “Beijing’s quest for natural resources and global legitimacy.” How dare the most populous nation on earth seek “natural resources and global legitimacy?” No one has called them off the bench to play the same game Western powers have excelled at for the past 500 years.
Then there is the Russian variant, which is more respectful of the well-established American model. “Russia sells arms and provides political advisors in addition to hunting for lucrative contracts for natural resources and other geopolitical benefits,” Atlamazoglou writes. The two former rivals have remained faithful to the methods developed in that golden age politicians remember as the Cold War.
Atlamazoglou relies heavily on the testimony of John Black, a retired Special Forces warrant officer, who observes that American ambassadors need “to look at the country as a whole and take more risks, use [the US] military arm to effect real change within a country.” The stirring examples of Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya demonstrate how “real change” can take place when you accept to “take more risks.”
Black understands the risk, apparently viscerally: “China or Russia might not hesitate to work with a dictator with an abdominal [sic] human-rights record to further their geopolitical goals.” Could he have possibly meant “abominable?” Or does this describe a brutal regime that weaponizes diarrhea? Citing the US commitment to the rule of law, Black implies that the US would never cavort with a dictator possessed of an abominable human-rights record.
How did the usually serious Business Insider allow such an “abdominal” article to appear?
The Great Reset: The Effect of Coordination or Chaos?
The magnates of Davos recently agreed to mobilize their forces to implement what they call the “Great Reset,” ushering in a new golden age of socially responsible capitalism. All it requires is some concerted action under their leadership.
Gillian Tett, writing for the Financial Times, seems to envision a different scenario: “The total global debt is now more than three times the size of the global economy, since debt — and money — has expanded inexorably since 1971. It seems most unlikely this can ever be repaid just by growth; sooner or later — and it may be much later — this will probably cause a direct or indirect restructuring or a social or financial implosion.”
The process by which the laws of inertia teach human beings with political and economic power, who believe they possess the intelligence capable of problem-solving, that such a belief can only be an illusion
Humanity finds itself struggling with a straightforward situation: multiple crises related to health, climate and an economy functioning on increasingly absurd principles. Theoretically, they can all be addressed through a harmonious global focus on rational resource management followed by intelligent decision-making. But history demonstrates on a daily basis that society has delegated decision-making to: first, individuals within nations (consumers and voters); second, nations (each competing one another); and third, those who govern the nations (theoretically, politicians whose sole aim is to hold onto power once they have acquired it and who are beholden to anyone who assists them in achieving that goal).
In other words, the more universal the problem, the less likely it will be that it may be solved. Local and national crises continue to exist, but they have now become dominated by universal crises. The consumer economy and the quasi-democratic nation-states are structured, in terms of decision-making, in a way that makes any voluntary effort at restructuring impossible.
Not only do our economies and political systems need restructuring. Our thinking about who we are and how we function as a society needs some serious revision.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news. Read more of The Daily Devil’s Dictionary on Fair Observer.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
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