With not enough jobs or basic necessities to go around, governments survive by looting, and populations demand self-rule. That’s easier said than done, when governments have a monopoly on force, and violence turns those who are managing against protests.
Ever since the founding of the United States of America, struggling populations around the world have looked to ‘the city upon a hill’ as the nec plus ultra, where, if the streets were not yet paved with gold, it was only a matter of time. While a steamer ticket brought the world’s destitute in sight of the Statue of Liberty, processing on Ellis Island was stressful, and those who already had a place in the sun were not eager for competition.
Never mind (as my Russian grandmother used to say, rolling her r’s), the future was full of possibilities — if not promise. It’s more than a hundred years since my Hungarian grandmother was ‘Oh, so sick’ on the steamship from what is now Trieste, and the United States still doesn’t have free healthcare refusing to follow social-democratic Europe — and most of the world. France 24 is reporting that West German women are finally adopting the East German model under which most have children AND careers, thanks to a reliable network of nurseries. In America, parental leave is gained one state at a time, and most voters still can’t believe that government can play a positive role by overseeing health care.
American television rehashes ad infinitum the latest small details in the fight to rid the country of its president, ignoring the daily struggles of foreigners. While experts debate the definition of ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’ in the age of IT, the President continues on his merry way, from one shocking behavior to the next. (Pundits cannot resist quoting the candidate who famously declared that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and nobody would punish him.)
The Occupy Movement made daily headlines because it was happening ‘right here in these United States’, but the Yellow Vests who have upended France for more than a year get scant attention as they pursue daily demonstrations and other disruptive activities. France 24 is the only television channel reporting on the world and still allowed to broadcast in the US, Al Jazeera and RT having been banned as ‘foreign agents’, and the BBC hardly present. What is worse, few Americans even know it exists. When I returned to the US in 2000 after decades abroad I was shocked that CNN, which covered the world for Europeans, did not do the same at home. When I called their offices in New York, I was told authoritatively that ‘Americans are not interested in foreign affairs’. Gradually, I realized that this mantra has defined American journalism for decades. Looking up an article I wrote during my tenure as a speech writer in the Carter State Department outlining the need for change, I can confirm that this has been a long-standing government policy. (Come to think of it, the expression ‘over there’ born during the first world war to rescue Europe, is still in use, suggesting that the world is still pretty much an undifferentiated blob….)
How then, to expect that the average Joe — or even the Ph.D class, not to mention ‘suburban Moms’ known to finally being ‘turned off’ by Donald Trump — will even know where Lebanon — or Algeria — are located, much less care that their people are rejecting every effort to govern them. According to a Lebanese father of three, so many people are unemployed that they figure they might as well be in the street. Even in their unfriendly climate, Parisians, have a long history of marching through cold and rain while shouting slogans.
Sadly, Americans only hear about foreign places when their military is sent there, either to save or subvert their governments. Now it needs to get out of the way so that people can figure out how democracy can flourish at every level of society.
Deena Stryker is a US-born international expert, author and journalist that lived in Eastern and Western Europe and has been writing about the big picture for 50 years. Over the years she penned a number of books, including Russia’s Americans. Her essays can also be found at Otherjones. Especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.