Thursday, August 2, 2012

Gore Vidal and the Never-Ending End of American Civilization

Gore Vidal died today.  The left is in tears today.  They’ve lost one of their giants.  Certain members of the right may be jumping for joy.  I’m not the type to dance on graves.  But I get why Gore Vidal was frequently irritating to the right and to independents like me.

Gore Vidal believed he was presiding over the end of American civilization, an oft repeated and tiresome canard.  Typically, we hear this from the left, but occasionally from the right as well (Pat Buchanan, for example).  The fact that America is crumbling has been constantly regurgitated by doomsayers for decades.  Let’s face it.  Some people want America to fall.  They seem to be in love with the idea.

Nikita Kruschev claimed communism would bury America.  Instead, America eventually just bought out communism.  In the seventies, we were apparently falling apart again.  Leftover radicals from the sixties sneered and snickered.  Then we turned it around in the eighties.  In the early nineties (not long after we finished buying out communism), we hit another recession, and everyone lectured us about how Japan would blow past us.  Then came the nineties, where America took off and Japan hit a wall.  After 2000, we had a dot-com bust, followed by a 9/11 nut-punch, which was followed by steady (although less spectacular) growth.

And now we have the Great Recession.  Gleeful radical pundits love to claim that the free market has finally failed.  Just as they claimed several times before, demonstrating their ignorance about how America works.  It’s capitalism.  Up and down.  Boom-and-bust.  It’s not perfect, but it produces better long-term growth than any other system.  That’s why the Chinese switched to a form of state capitalism and even Cuba is instituting capitalist reforms.  We’re not dying, we just ran out of breath.  We’ll be back.  We were in worse shape in the 1930s.  Our debt exceeded our GDP in the 1940s, by a greater margin than it does today.  Every time someone predicts the end of America, it tends to just be a pre-cursor for economic growth.

Despite these past trends, when the economy took a hit Vidal seemed gleeful that the “American Empire” was “falling”.  I find it peculiar that he thought of America as an empire, mostly because I’ve never received a penny in tribute from anyone.  Also, we have no subject nations, merely allies who we treat as equals.  Even when they’re not.  America isn’t interested in ruling the world; we just want to make sure no one else does. 

He called us an empire because believed in an American isolationist policy.  This is an antiquated idea that America should stay in its own hemisphere.  It made sense 70-100 years ago.  And we practiced it.  That’s why we had to get dragged into both World Wars.  But after the second one, we were the only free country not in rubble.  Somebody had to lead the free world.  We didn’t do this out of a need for conquest.  We did it initially to deter would-be conquerors (Soviets), then we grew simply as a result of the hard work, ingenuity, and initiative of our own people.  Now we’re 22 percent of the global economy.  We can’t help but be involved in the entire world.  But that’s not an empire.  We don’t control the world.  We didn’t conquer the world.  We made what we have; we didn’t take it.

Despite being unlike any empire ever before, Vidal married himself to the flawed “American Empire” doctrine and took every opportunity to trash America.  He famously claimed that America brought 9/11 on itself.  “You brought it on yourself,“ is the excuse of a husband who beats his wife.  That’s like Jeremiah Wright saying America’s chickens came home to roost.  If that’s true, then the invasion of Iraq must be Saddam’s chickens coming home to roost.  The invasion of Afghanistan must be the Taliban’s chickens coming home to roost.  That’s a cheap argument made by the intellectually lazy to justify whatever they want.

He also claimed that FDR invited attack at Pearl Harbor to justify a war with Hitler.  How did he do this?  He cut off oil and other supplies to Japan, thus requiring that they attack us.  We brought it on ourselves.  Maybe FDR actually cut off oil to Japan because they were wreaking havoc in China?  And by havoc I mean they were trying to out-Nazi the Nazis.  Seems like a good reason to cut ties.  Ironically, he claimed much later in life that our reason for invading Iraq was for oil, but that wasn’t justified.  Sure, why not?  Consistency and logic are just a waste of time.

Vidal’s presumed that he was the last of the greatest generation of America.  That’s a tad short sighted.  Last time I checked, we haven’t stopped procreating.  His may have been the best so far, but it’s only a matter of time until we churn out a better one.  I’m a member of the generation that decides whether or not this America gets better or fades away.  And I say we’re not done yet.  Sorry buddy, but you blew that call.  Better luck in the next life.  Wait, you don’t believe in that.  Oh, well.

Gore Vidal considered himself the last of a dying breed.  He was.  But the loss of that breed is not a tragedy.  Just a natural extinction.  His is a breed that we’ve evolved past.

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