23 May 2019

The I-word and the habits of empire

Timothy Snyder at the Judenplatz, Vienna, May 9, 2019 (YouTube screenshot)
On May 9, Europe Day in the European Union, Timothy Snyder gave a speech "to Europe." In a time of radical skepticism and disillusionment (e.g., Brexit, Fidesz, National Front, Alternative for Germany), he reminded the European Union of its true contribution to the world. That contribution is not a sweet story of orderly integration of enlightened nation-states. In fact,
...[Y]our little implausible national myths allow you not to see that the European Union is the one successful answer to the most important question in the history of the modern world, indeed the one central question, which is: what to do after empire. What to do with empire?
The places of the world where empire is still the norm, said Snyder, are places where the imperial appetites that led to the Holocaust are still in evidence. Those appetites are characterized by (using Snyder's categories) ecological panic, dehumanization, and state destruction.

Snyder outlines the stakes involved in not taking imperial history and ambitions into account. He circles the globe for examples, but one side-note brought me up short: "The current predicament of the United States is a direct result of our getting our imperial past wrong." So, for just a moment or two I'm going to apply his imperial-appetite categories to our present American crisis. (He is not responsible for my applications of his ideas.)

Ecological panic. Hitler feared that Germany's resources within its borders would be unable to sustain its growing population; expansion was imperative, and only a united and aggressive Volk would do what it took to acquire needed territory -- and would thereby prove its worthiness to survive. I've already written how this master-race mentality infected my own family (here, for example).

Global warming and the wholesale slaughter of species may literally lead to a worldwide ecological panic, with terrifying implications for geopolitics. Compared to this global disaster for all life, the American perceived competition for jobs and the interrelated white-nationalist agendas ("Jews will not replace us!") may seem small-scale, but, having festered for centuries, they are our immediate and urgent reality. Tucker Carlson has built his brand on asserting the harm caused by immigration. (See Malice in Wonderland for examples.) Hate crime, not surprisingly, has been on the rise.

Glass facsimile (left) of data card at Oslo's Holocaust
Center, Bygdøy. Source.
Dehumanization. In Snyder's Europe Day speech, he recounts the Holocaust-era brutality of judging human beings solely on how much work can be squeezed out of them before it's more cost-effective to kill them.

That calculating spirit can now be enhanced by digital tools. We've already seen attempts at reducing human beings into digital campaign targets -- and we've also seen, as Snyder notes, how unwilling those who benefit from such campaigns are to investigate them. We can see how digital dehumanization provides convenient tactics for advancing ecological and Volk-national advantages for the who are determined to rule over others.

State destruction. When the empire hollows out the institutions of state as Germany did in occupied lands, setting aside laws and regulations in favor of freedom of action for those on top, unspeakable horrors become normal. Do we see anything like this in the USA? (Is it fair to count the weakening and outright corruption of several cabinet-level agencies, or the wholesale White House resistance to congressional inquiries, or the death of children in U.S. border custody, or the sabotage of Obamacare?) The history of the USA has always been a tug-of-war between the highest ideals of due process and the rule of law, and outrageous exploitation of labor and withholding of common resources, usually on the basis of race. Our foreign policy has too often consisted of the extension of this tug-of-war into all the world. These days, the idealist side seems to be slipping the wrong way.

In this context -- countering a Volk-centered ecology, digital dehumanization (now implemented for social division and political gain), and the destruction of our rules and institutions -- I continue to advocate the impeachment of the U.S. president. Four months have gone by since I last wrote about this, and the symptoms of national corrosion keep piling up. Yes, the tempo of congressional and legal investigations into the Trump cult has increased, but the president seems to be able to reframe these fragmented challenges as "harassment" rather than a direct consequence of his own misdeeds and evasion. Meanwhile, he exercises no leadership to call the USA out of its slide back into ecological panic, dehumanization, and state destruction -- in fact, he actively feeds these appetites.

As the presidential campaign of 2020 draws nearer, we need the House of Representatives to conserve and focus its energy, and the always-wandering attention of the people, on the single task of holding the president accountable by the comprehensive remedy for high crimes and misdemeanors prescribed by the Constitution: impeachment. Donald Trump must not be allowed to enter the 2020 elections with his legitimacy as a candidate for president conceded without an honest and focused fight. Let him go on trial in the Senate with all the evidence presented in one coherent stream. Let the Senators, serving as jury, go on record forever, in full view of voters, with their judgment on the suitability of this man in light of our nation's heritage of idealism.

A first substantial step in the U.S. Congress toward revoking the Authorization for Use of Military Force (aka the perpetual war authorization).

Terrence Malick makes a film about one of my heroes of faith, Franz Jägerstätter.

Challenging Apartheid tourism: the case of Palestine.

What is happening to Iraq's Christians?

Fact and (science) fiction, and our plans to return to the Moon.

Argentinian harp player Xime Monzón...

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