The Great Fall

The Loss and Grief of a Once Great Empire

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

The American people have a democratic system that gave them Donald Trump as a leader of their empire. We have yet to see whether this transition in leadership will amount to the fall of the American empire. The isolationist policies of the President-elect that brought him to power are a recognition that Americans are tired of their self-appointed role as the Defenders of the Free World. They have enough troubles of their own and there is no sense exporting their brand of democracy to the rest of the world. Clearly, their attempts to do so have not worked. If the reaction of their neighbours to the north are any indication, the Americans are coming to terms with a loss of self-respect that is most evident in the ways they speak of themselves in late night television. Politics have become farce. Canadians are the land whose gift to the world is a self-deprecation that has been one of our great cultural exports, through Second City and a constant stream of comedians across the border, most notably, Samantha Bee, during the past electoral campaign.

Even our most respected journalists are getting in on the jokes. Michael Enright is a veteran broadcaster with the CBC, and he has a radio show called The Sunday Edition. The already released January 8, 2017 Sunday Edition podcast episode features an essay entitled American hypocrisy on Russian hacking.

I am going to do people a favour by creating a transcript of this essay, because I think it’s that important, and if this goes beyond the bounds of fair use, then I will remove it. (This article is a follow up to the Revisionist History article posted last year, based on the thoughts of fellow Canadian Malcolm Gladwell about America’s forgetfulness and willful ignorance about its own history.)

American hypocrisy on Russian hacking

An essay by Michael Enright, The Sunday Edition, CBC

There is something hugely ironic, risible even, in Barack Obama’s year-end fulminations about Russian hacking endeavours. He accused Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin’s intelligence agencies of interfering in the democratic practices and governance of the United States. It’s ironic because no country has worked harder for decades to undermine the governance of other nations than the United States itself.

What got the President all steamed up was a series of reports from U.S. intelligence agencies which said the Russians had hacked into the computers of the Democratic National Committee and used some embarrassing emails to swing the election to Donald Trump. However accurate or not the allegations, Mr. Trump didn’t need any help from the Russians. The DNC was busy losing the election all on its own.

In the dying days of the year, the President enacted a series of sanctions against the Kremlin. This included the expulsion of thirty-five Russian intelligence people, and the closure of two Russian-owned properties in the U.S. With a straight face, the President said, “The United States and friends and allies around the world must work together to oppose Russia’s efforts to undermine established international norms of behaviour and interfere with democratic governance.”

What makes this hilarious and more than somewhat hypocritical calls up a scattered reading of history. The involvement by the United States in dictating and directing the political life of other countries has a long and sordid history going back to the middle of the 19th century. Whether overtly or secretly, the U.S. has undermined democratically elected governments all over the world, especially in Latin America. It has engineered the overthrow of dozens of governments and has propped up in their place dictators and fascist regimes.

Henry Kissinger, when he was Secretary of State for global interference under Richard Nixon, was a master at undermining democratically elected regimes, most notoriously in Chile in 1973. Some interference, such as the war with Mexico in 1846 and the Philippines in 1899, were simple land grabs. In the post war years, when the fear of Communism became an American obsession, the U.S. colluded in toppling governments it felt were overly friendly with Moscow. In 1953, the CIA sponsored the overthrow of the elected government of Mohammad Mosaddegh and replaced him with that well-known democrat Shah Rezah Pahlavi. The following year, the CIA was at it again, engineering the coup which overthrew the democratically elected government of Jacobo Árbenz in Guatemala. In 1958, in Operation Blue Bat, President Dwight Eisenhower threatened to invade Lebanon if internal opposition jeopardized its pro-Western government. Add to the list the overthrow of the socialist government in Ghana in 1966, the Dominican Republic in 1965, the invasion of Grenada in 1983, the toppling of the Aristide government of Haiti in 1991, and Panama and Honduras and Nicaragua and dozens of others. Each of these incursions, military or political, could be argued as violations of international law under the Charter of the United Nations. It is not too much of a leap of reason to speculate that, with the largest intelligence gathering agencies in the world — sixteen of them — the United States has committed a few cyber crimes of its own.

My favourite definition of a hypocrite is someone who conveniently forgets their faults to point out someone else’s. If the shoe fits….

Loss and Grief

America is dealing with a sense of loss and grief that comes with the crisis in leadership that the failure of democracy has foisted upon the empire. The past year has represented a loss of face, a loss of self-respect, and a loss of confidence in the leadership capability of the greatest democracy in the world. Now, where do we go from here?

The five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. In the two years of campaigning leading up to the fateful decision of November 8, 2016, we have seen denial and anger. During the past month, we have seen bargaining and depression. I feel we may see more of this before reaching the stage of acceptance.

The Netflix series, The Crown, (spoiler alert) is in some ways a narrative of the dissolution of the British Empire, symbolized by the modernist portrait of the aging and frail Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, for the occasion of his 80th birthday. The realism of the portrait was so stark that the Prime Minister could not accept it. Churchill regarded the portrait as a betrayal and questioned the friendship he had developed with the artist. The artist defended his work by calling his friend’s failure to recognize his own decay and frailty as blindness.

As Canadians, our art is the ability to laugh at ourselves. Our responsibility as a friend is to tell the truth to our friend to the south.

Our dear friend, the United States of America, the failure to recognize your own decay and frailty is blindness.

Designer, writer, educator, social architect, founder, Builders Collective, Leading with Design.

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