By David Farrell
While Trump fiddles America burns.
Politics has become the sport of kings. In America, democracy was taken hostage a decade ago when Super Pacs became legal entities and opened the door for bad actors to legally direct billions of dollars into affecting the outcomes of elections at every level of government.
Democracy in US federal politics was first severely compromised with the Machiavellian appointment of Dick Cheney as running mate for presidential hopeful George W. Bush in the 2000 election. Cheney’s deep ties to American oil interests helped push the US into a war with oil-rich Iraq, an action backed by the UN based on fraudulent information claiming dictator Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction in his arsenal.
It was a stepping stone to secure America’s reach in the Middle East after the unthinkable happened on Sept. 11, 2001, when 19 al Qaeda militants carried out suicide attacks on US soil.
The live coverage of the Twin Towers destruction was a defining moment in American politics and led to the ramping up of surveillance and security measures the world over. Deployment of troops and resources to fight terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan eventually sapped the electorate’s appetite for foreign wars and sullied the image of America’s superiority as a superpower. It also opened up a Pandora’s Box for security agencies and political hardliners to rope the carefree abandon of average citizens and create a labyrinth of agencies, some that were both invisible and seemingly invincible to democratic oversight.
Meanwhile, the lives of average Americans were being decimated by trade deals that enriched corporations and mothballed manufacturing plants across the US. Poverty, insecurity, and a lack of interest in the growing number of have-not grievances in state capitals and in Washington led to increased violence in a country where the right to bear arms is entrenched in its constitution. The long-simmering animosity that grew out of the abolishment of Jim Crow laws and the swelling of cheap labour brought about with the influx of illegals helped to create a simmering powder keg of resentments that have flared with violence on main streets and in shopping malls with unsettling regularity.
The election of a president promising to make America great again, bring home jobs and “draining the swamp” of egregious lobbyists in the nation’s capital were touchstones that fired up long harboured resentments amongst a populace that felt betrayed and angry by the lack of interest in their lives by Washington elites.
President Trump had failed in his promises before the covid virus hit like an unseen meteorite and changed everything, just as 9/11 did. Trump’s brazen rhetoric and capacity for twisting truth had begun to tarnish the sheen on his electoral armour before the pandemic, but the lockdown of the economy and millions of people left wondering if they still had jobs was the straw that broke the camel’s back. And then a video went viral of a white Minneapolis police officer's seemly reckless killing of George Floyd, a black man handcuffed and gasping for breath, on May 25.
The reaction was immediate and in many cases incendiary in cities across the US. George Floyd’s unnecessary and perhaps even willful death is another one of those defining moments in America’s history. It is also another major blow to America’s reputation on the global stage.
Mainstream media, cable news and social media have wittingly or otherwise helped inflame and polarize public opinion, and the nation’s supreme commander has again misread the mood of the electorate and postured badly at a time when the country is in need of calming.
The poisonous and often times pernicious system that is American politics has led some to suggest that an overthrow of the system is the only way to cleanse the swamp that is the ruling perch to both the GOP and the Democratic Party. It is a frightening spectre, the consequences of which are unthinkable–but militias and other militant elements fed with so-called truths by invisible actors make the unthinkable thinkable. One can only hope that the insanity of armed rebellion is quelled by those with power showing some moral spine that has been muted in the past few years.
I spin all this because Warren Cosford called me early yesterday with fire in his belly and urgency in his voice. He wants Canadian radio to let our neighbours to the south know that we stand with them. He wants Canadian radio to daily play an anthem at 3 pm that can give support to Americans seeking change to a political system that has been bought and paid for by greed and avarice.
It's not a bad idea. It may even be a good idea. A sort of new century message akin to but quite different from Gordon Sinclair’s famous June 1973 CFRB broadcast called “The Americans: A Canadian Opinon” that became a media and public phenomenon on both sides of the border after CKLW Windsor re-broadcast it. A recording of it was released as a single in the US and became a Top 30 hit for the septuagenarian and another version, sweetened with strings and narrated by CKLW’s news director, Byron MacGregor, made top 5 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Cosford offers various selections as choices for this show of unity, starting with Bruce Springsteen’s rendition of We Shall Overcome, taken from his Grammy-winning collection of Pete Seeger songs. Other suggestions include another version of the song with an all-star cast from a 90th-anniversary birthday concert for Seeger at Madison Square Garden, Imagine by John Lennon, Wavin’ Flag by Young Artists For Haiti, and our own ArtistsCan version of Bill Wither’s Lean On Me.
My own choice and not one that is likely to be popular is Anne Murray’s spellbinding performance of A Little Good News that became her seventh US No. 1 hit in 1983. It certainly captures the mood of what most of us are thinking bunkered in with uncertainty and the prospect of more uncertainty in the days, weeks, months to come.
Maybe CKLW will think about how a little good news could influence its Detroit brethren. Maybe other Canadian radio stations may wish to send a message of hope to Canadians, and to our neighbours to the south.
What follows is a series of videos and video clips that tell a story about America’s descent into madness. It’s a story with deep roots, unseen forces, and one we can only hope has an ending that leads to positive change in a world in need of people with a vision that is in sync with the will of the people. Our PM’s 21 seconds of silence was not calculated, but it was a moment when a politician said so much by not saying anything at all.