Happy 4th of July all! The celebration of America’s founding seems to have crept up this year, amidst the shootings in South Carolina and the debt crisis in Greece. We have much to be thankful for, amidst our many problems, both domestic and international.
At a recent event I sat next to some bright and charming and well-educated people, who were as gloomy about America’s future as I’ve ever heard. They believed—fervently—that Obama was the Manchurian Candidate, bent upon deliberately destroying all that is great about America. They argued that his domestic policies, particularly the run-up of debt, would destroy the country. His foreign policies, evidenced by the pull-out from Iraq, signaled his alliance with our Muslim enemies. “He hates America,” was the refrain heard several times.
Wow! I knew these ideas were circulating, but didn’t expect them to be entrenched in nice folks who seemed otherwise to be fair-minded and worldly. So, in the spirit of 4th of July, does Obama hate America?
I don’t think so at all. I think he has a deeper and richer understanding of America, and his articulation annoys people who want platitudes and flag waving without the nuances.
I share some themes with Obama, having living 11 of my first 16 years out of the country in Africa and Latin America, and the formative years from 11-16 in Brazil. I have come to deeply love this country and my state of Virginia, but it was not always easy to do so. When I returned to the U.S. as a mid-year sophomore in high school, I sure didn’t feel like an America. And I didn’t think like an American, either. My first inclination on meeting others was to lean in and give them a kiss on both cheeks, as was proper and polite behavior in many other countries. Of course, people in America must have thought I was daft.
And I knew a lot about America that Americans didn’t know and didn’t care to know. This would include the more than fifty U.S. invasions or covert operations in support of coups in Latin America. Most of these were for the purpose of advancing special economic interests. This surely cemented in my mind the notion of crony capitalism, which happens to be the Association of Private Enterprise Educations theme for its 2016 conference.
I see America through the lens of how others see us, and that naturally make me more humble about the righteousness of our causes. Anyone who reads Obama’s autobiography would likely come away with the same insight. This does not mean he fails to love this country. It means he loves it as somebody with eyes wide open, who knows his lover isn't perfect, and loves it anyway. Obama’s first major mistake, bowing to the Saudi king, arose from his desire, I think, to send a message that America’s new leader understood and respected others in the world better than many others had in the past. In hindsight he should not have done so, because Americans do not recognize monarchy as divine and we do not bow to the Queen of England, nor anyone else.
But back to the main issue: do Obama’s policies reflect hate for America? Hardly. He isn’t the warmest (emotionally) of Presidents, but I do think his heart has been in the right place. The Health Care Act is helping lower the growth in spending, while increasing coverage. That should improve human capital. The federal deficits that exploded were the result of the 2008 crisis that Obama certainly did not cause, and the bailouts saved our financial system.
On a sad note, the march of progress sometimes leaves a mess, as depicted in this photo, taken from an apartment complex near my home. The first of the month led to evictions, and people with bad planning habits or bad luck ended up on the street, with no money to store their possessions. Is this the metaphor for the country and its debt?
I don’t think so. I tend toward optimism, given the long march of history. But that does not mean that societies do not enter deep dark decades or centuries (just ask China). Our debt problems are manageable, provided we become more pragmatic and less ideologically partisan. That won’t happen until people stop demonizing the other side with demonic caricatures derived from Hollywood movies.