I recall voicing concern about the encroachment of American culture in Australia during discussions with fellow students while I was studying for my PhD. I would suggest that when I was a child in each suburban street there would be many kids out playing cricket, but that every second house seemed to have erected a basketball hoop over their driveway instead.
Some colleagues agreed while others considered it normal that in societies culture is forever changing.
While nowadays I am far less concerned about the drift in popular culture – my own sons love basketball and I am in no way keen to encourage them to play the sport that I excelled at as a lad, rugby league – my concerns about American influence in Australia have grown.
My concerns extend to how Australian elected politicians seek to find favour by supporting all American Presidents in any manner of activities and conflicts no matter how ill-conceived, to the creep towards a more individualistic, selfish and generally competitive society, and the related encroachment into family life by work life and concomitant growth in conspicuous consumerism. And of course the culmination of all of those trends in growing inequality in English-speaking countries and little progress at addressing global inequality.
Not all of this can be sheeted home to American culture, admittedly, because cultural change is effected by perception and reflection which inter-relate in a cycle of progression. However, there is no doubt that America has become the greatest promoter of their own culture, and their hegemonic status in the world for over half a century has meant that they have developed the tools to see that promotion diffuse across the entire globe like no earlier culture.
Now we have the emergence of a sleeping Asian power that historically knows that it has a right to be respected on the global stage. Middle country powers, like my own, are caught between having benefited economically from the emergence of China, but not wanting to get off side with America now that its President has decided that China’s emergence could not continue in the way it had been allowed over the previous two decades.
In “Hands Off My Chinese ‘Tanas” I was clear in my views that my respect and care for Chinese people led me to agree that the autocratic leaders of China needed to be made to understand that the western world would not choose mutually beneficial financial development if the Chinese people, and especially minorities within the country, did not also benefit from their economic development.
Since writing that piece the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic has proved to be the most significant acute crisis to confront humanity in recent decades. These two global powers have chosen two very different approaches to dealing with the pandemic.
If we look objectively at who has better protected their citizens through the pandemic, it is a difficult argument to make that America has done better than China.
This, at a time when China is attempting to validate an emerging role as a genuine global leader, is not helping the American effort in convincing global humanity that they are worthy “leaders of the free world”.
Perhaps an America led by Donald Trump is of the opinion that power and strength is the only thing that matters, and that other nations will fall into line out of fear if not respect.
However, as the cliché goes, this is a battle for hearts as well as minds in the world, and if America fails to find compassion – first for Americans – then the days of America leading the world, and all of the benefits that it garners from that privileged position, are numbered.
It is into this volatile environment in which another galvanising incident has occurred – the brutal murder of George Floyd, an African American, by a policeman with a history of racist violence.
Still Trump, whose political backers are affiliated with the Alt-Right, refuses to act as a soothing and conciliatory voice to all Americans.
In my views on Trump which I made publicly elsewhere, and reprinted in “Thoughts on Trump“, I stated that I had a concern that Trump’s electoral ambitions likely extend beyond two terms. Everything that has been learnt about him as President and everything that has occurred since making that statement has further convinced me of it.
The geopolitical and domestic manoeuvres of the Trump Administration do appear superficially to be erratic and consistent with a decision-maker whose persona is closer to a childish impetuous bully rather than a calm and thoughtful leader. However, I have come to consider much of it to be part of a consistent and calculated longer term strategy to create a febrile environment to advance a radical and divisive agenda.
To be clear, Trump was never quiet about his intentions to turn America on its head. However, right from his first signalling of his intention to run for President, commentators have underestimated him and his backers, and the depth and scale of the change that he and they aim to achieve may well be equivalent to only a few pivotal moments in American history.
In order to upend the tradition of American Presidents being limited to serving two terms which is enshrined in the 22nd Amendment to the American Constitution, extraordinary conditions would need to prevail.
If my views are accurate, around midway through his second term Trump will begin to use his social media channels to begin to foment for a longer stay in the White House. He will point out how America has become unstable and that he is the only “man” strong enough to deal with these tensions, and his supporters will not question his role in stoking those tensions.
Geopolitically Trump will point out that Xi in China, Putin in Russia, Khamenei in Iran, al Assard in Syria, et al., are all long term leaders who essentially will be there for as long as they wish. He will suggest that the stability in the leadership of America’s adversaries, while American political administrations can not extend beyond 8 years, cedes a significant advantage to them.
I believe that Trump is intentionally making the world a more dangerous place to argue to his faithful, many of whom are quick to become aggressive, that America needs stability at the top to lead the country against these adversaries who are becoming “increasingly unstable and aggressive”.
It is difficult to avoid a conclusion that contemporary Americans are presented with similar choices to that which German people confronted almost a century ago, and it is to be hoped that enough Americans of strong character think things through enough to realise that they do not want to spend the remainder of their lives justifying their actions or inactions like surviving Germans felt the need to do.
I would also caution that can definitely extend to allies of America because I well remember how my Finnish friends said that they would not join with me in visiting the Dachau concentration camp (for the first of many visits I made there) because of feelings of guilt and complicity in those atrocities as they were allies of the Nazis.
Eighteen months ago I decided that I did not wish to give my family’s capital to businesses which ultimately contribute to the emergence of an autocratic power which has a poor history of showing compassion for its own people. Having a focus on people and humanity, events during the COVID-19 pandemic have caused me to question my perceptions about the emerging cold war between these two powers.
I would be hypocritical if I continued to allocate my family’s capital to businesses which benefit the perpetuation of a hegemonic power that has lost its way so grievously.
Ironically the path back for America is shown in the Fourth Inauguration Speech of the last President to serve more than two terms. It does seem like a long road back, but it is always darkest before dawn.
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© Copyright Brett Edgerton 2020