The Most Hyperbole In the History of the Galaxy, Or, Does Democracy in America Really Hang by a Thread? | Charles Duelfer

The Most Hyperbole In the History of the Galaxy, Or, Does Democracy in America Really Hang by a Thread?

The recurrent statements following the chaos of January 6, were nothing, if not cataclysmic, i.e. “democracy hangs by a thread!”

Unfortunately, foreign friends and allies tend to watch events in Washington via television like everyone else.  On multiple occasions conversations with such friends reach a point when they gently suggest that they must re-evaluate their own security and policy positions in light of the circumstances (weakness/chaos) in Washington.     

Fortunately, even the casual foreign observer of American television reporting (and other media) may notice the preponderance of the use of hyperbole.  If you don’t declare that something is the worst or best in the history of the galaxy, then you don’t have an opinion worth airing.  Only superlatives get attention.  Or so it would seem…especially related to President Trump.

To foreign friends I caution against quick reactions.  Look beyond the latest news cycle before compromising with China or Russia.  I urge them to consider the longer term.  Decipher the current narratives promoted relentlessly by elements in the US. Groups/individuals have substantial stakes in sustaining those narratives.  Without steering foreigners to any particular conclusion, I think it is constructive to advise some historical context.  The easiest and perhaps shortest way I have found is to remind interlocutors of 1968. 

In April that year, Martin Luther King was assassinated and riots engulfed Washington and dozens of other cities.  Blocks in Washington were burned and took years to recover.  Armed National Guard troops were deployed to restore order around the country.  Live ammunition was distributed and used.  In June, Robert Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles.  In August, the Chicago Democratic convention (which nominated Hubert Humphrey after Johnson declared he would not run) was engulfed in riots. 

The Vietnam War tore the country. Thousands of Americans and Vietnamese were dying (remember the 1968 Tet Offensive). War protesters flooded Washington filling the Mall.  The Black Panthers got headlines and there were shootouts and trials.  Remember the Huey Newton and Bobby Seale trials?  Later in 1968, Shirley Chisholm became the first black woman elected to the House of Representatives. Yale decided to admit women undergraduates.  Nixon beat Humphrey by  .7 percent of popular vote.  And remember George Wallace? He carried five southern states.  Perhaps reading American’s distraction, the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia putting an end to “Prague Spring.”

Oh and by the way, don’t forget we were balancing the threat of nuclear war with the Soviet Union throughout all this.  The United States had 300,000 troops in Europe to deter Soviet aggression.  There were tens of thousands of nuclear weapons all over the planet, ICBMs, SLBMs, B-52’s, large and small nuclear artillery, etc.  Accidents happened.  In 1968, a B-52 crashed in Greenland with four nuclear weapons on board. Yikes!  While Greta Thunberg, may never forgive the boomer generation for not reining in carbon emissions, at least total thermonuclear war was avoided.  Think of all the dead pandas and whales.

After 1968, the country eventually got out of Vietnam.  While Nixon was consumed by the Watergate crisis, the country advanced.  Social issues evolved in ways unimaginable in the 1950’s.  Arguably, the United States became stronger socially, economically, militarily, technologically and scientifically (we landed on the moon in 1969).  Democracy did not die as was predicted by many.  Western democratic societies endured and the world was not incinerated by accidental or intentional nuclear war. 

So while the confluence of current narratives requires pundits/parrots to shriek in full-throated superlatives, I suspect the current divisions in the country will heal as they have in the past.  And new divisions will inevitably follow.

The United States and its like-minded friends and Allies will, at worst, muddle through.  The connective tissue of our common ideals is strong.  The inventiveness of people unleashed from authoritarian governments is strong.  Our capitalist system tempered by government energizes innovation that serves the people. Cell phones have done as much as anything to raise living standards globally. While we may scare our friends (and ourselves) with the hysteria promoting assorted narratives and interests in the media, I strongly suspect we’ll come out stronger.

And consider whether Xi’s China or Putin’s Russia will help you be what you want to be.

This entry was posted in Allies, China, Elections, journalism coverage, NATO, Russia, Uncategorized, United Nations and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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