Ask Auntie Pinko
December 1, 2005
By Auntie Pinko
Assuming that the Republican Party will complete its work of
self-destruction in the next year, and that thereafter the American
people don't elect another Republican administration for a few decades,
how long will it take us to restore any kind of credibility, trust,
and goodwill in the world? If it's possible at all?
Sun City, AZ
Cleaning up the mess left by Mr. Bush's administration won't happen
overnight. Lying us into a war that has killed thousands of civilians
and devastated hundreds of thousands is not on the same scale as
a clumsy foreign policy speech or a poorly conceived international
trade treaty. Ignoring multilateralism, using chemical weapons (white
phosphorus), singular ineptitude in assisting our own citizens affected
by a natural disaster, using questionable interrogation systems
(and trying to cover up the most discreditable ones) - all carry
varying degrees of odium and there are many people with long memories
in the world.
Mr. Churchill once observed, "Americans will always do the
right thing... after they've exhausted the alternatives." The
number (and malignancy) of those alternatives has greatly increased
since Mr. Churchill's day, however, and the world may be wondering
if it can survive while America muddles through the entire list.
The ineptitude of our current martial adventures does not diminish
the sheer frightfulness of our military's total arsenal. And the
diminishment of our economic potency carries its own potential disaster,
like an overloaded 18-wheeler speeding recklessly down a crowded
highway as one tire after another shreds and disintegrates. The
world can hardly be blamed for turning its attention from America's
capacity as a constructive force to the terrifying spectacle of
the sheer destruction we can wreak.
You don't convince people by talking at them, by wagging fingers,
by chastising. You may change behavior that way, but you can't change
conviction. Convictions change when people have a chance to observe
what you are and what you do, and when they are favorably impressed
by the results. We have been telling the world "pay attention
to what we say and ignore what we do." We've called
a whole medley of tunes, and told the piper that he should be honored
just to play for us, without expecting payment, for heavens' sake
- but we take others to task when they cannot pay.
So I think it will take a very long time, indeed, for America
to be trusted again. We will need to stop acting offended and hurt
when others question our motives and actions. We'll have to be willing
to discuss our decisions and policies openly, to listen to others
respectfully, and even to subordinate our wishes to the needs of
others on occasion. How quickly we can restore trust will depend
on how quickly we can implement a new transparency and honesty in
the conduct of our public affairs.
It is part of America's self-image that we are independent, that
we do what we think is right without the "yea" or "nay"
of others. We see this as integrity, and indeed, it is a central
component of integrity. But only when it is coupled with good judgment!
There is a difference between Atticus Finch sitting at the door
of the jailhouse to prevent a lynching, and the bullheaded, purblind,
even arrogant conviction that we know what is best and others should
just go along with us. Americans have elected far too many leaders
who confuse the two - and they're not all Republicans, either. Our
neighbors around the world have good reason to question our electoral
But I don't think the case is hopeless, Morgan. One reason is
that there are just too many individual Americans who are basically
decent, caring people. We are not always wise in how we act on our
impulse to do the right thing, but that impulse remains a strong
part of our national character. We're stubborn and bullheaded about
the wrong things, sometimes, but once that is overcome, we throw
ourselves energetically into devising creative solutions to vexing
problems - and we very often succeed.
We are discovering the limits of our self-sufficiency in a world
transformed and shrunk by technology and commerce. Few people respond
happily to unpleasant reality checks, and Americans can be more
cussed than most, that way. Yet once we do come to terms
with an unpleasant reality, we are capable of incredible self-transformation
to meet our challenges. There is a younger generation of dynamic,
thoughtful leaders coming along to help us, too. It won't be easy,
and it will probably take longer than we (and our friends in the
world) would like.
It will happen faster if Americans who profess all ideologies
ask the painful questions, take responsibility for the answers,
and commit ourselves to doing what we can to make the changes needed.
It won't happen faster if we put our energy into blaming
"those other Americans," exonerating ourselves,
pointing self-righteous fingers, and wallowing in 'payback.' Thanks
for asking Auntie Pinko, Morgan!
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