State of the Union – from humility to nuclear hubris
Two prophetic warnings ignored, an authoritarian body politic now fatally infected by Covidism and militarism is on the verge of nuclear war
“In holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.” – President Dwight D. Eisenhower, farewell address to the nation, January 17, 1961
Eisenhower’s final public address to the nation six decades ago contained two of the most prescient warnings ever issued by a US president to the citizens he served.
He sounded the alarm about the rise of a “military-industrial complex”
He exhorted Americans to guard against a loss of democratic control to an entrenched “scientific-technological elite”
Both injunctions have proved tragically visionary and predictive. After more than 60 years of intervening history filled with costly, largely pointless and enormously destructive US military adventurism, and the contemporaneous rise of an anti-democratic technocracy that has been on full display during the past two years of the Covid pandemic, they are undeniable.
President Joe Biden’s March 1, State of the Union address (SOTU) made it clear that Eisenhower’s stark warnings have congealed into official policy in today’s US imperium.
FROM HUMILITY TO HUBRIS
A leaked Feb. 24, 2022, memo from one of Mr. Biden’s top pollsters outlined key talking points for his March 1, SOTU address.
It’s time for Democrats to take credit for ending the crisis phase of the COVID war, point to important victories like vaccine distribution and providing economic stability to Americans, and fully enter the rebuilding phase that comes after any war.
Here is what he actually said.
It's time for America to get back to work and fill our great downtowns again with people. People working from home can feel safe and begin to return to their offices. Most Americans can remove their masks and stay in the classroom and move forward safely. We achieved this because we provided free vaccines, treatments, tests, and masks.
Nothing in pandemic “Science™” has changed, but polling for Mr. Biden and Congressional Democrats ahead of the Nov. 2022 midterm elections is at historic lows due to inflation, a perception of gross incompetence and nearly universal pandemic fatigue in the face of heavy handed government overreach. The SOTU speech was crafted to put the best possible face on these failures and to “talk about turning a corner on Covid” as dissenting expert criticism continues to mount.
Russia invaded Ukraine the same day that Biden’s pollsters delivered their final SOTU recommendations for pivoting away from unpopular pandemic policies. He nonetheless carried through with the announcement (to a maskless Congressional audience) that his administration was reversing many of his most punitive pandemic mandates and restrictions.
However, Covid took a back seat to Mr. Biden’s shiny new war. The opening one third of his speech was dedicated to indignantly excoriating Russian president Vladimir Putin over the invasion of Ukraine and detailing the administration’s response.
Leaving aside the breathtaking cynicism embedded in Biden’s plan to simply walk away from the human carnage inflicted on innocent Americans, including children, after more than a year of brutal, authoritarian pandemic mandates and extra-constitutional restrictions, none of which worked as promised, it is clear that Biden has lost credibility.
While he and his advisors are happy to embrace the timely distraction offered by his new persona as a war president, he will also be forced to talk about his oversight of the second historically unprecedented foreign policy debacle in less than six months at a moment when 56% of Americans already believe that his first year in office has been a failure. Even before the Ukraine invasion, 67% of Americans disapproved his handling of foreign affairs in the most recent Harvard-Harris poll.
The public skepticism is well founded. Mr. Putin is certainly a bad actor on the international stage. Yet even if one accepts the hyperventilating media storyline that he is a brutal madman and a modern incarnation of Ivan the Terrible, he is as easy to read as this war was easy to avoid.
There is no mystery at all about the fact that all Russian elites, not just Putin, see NATO’s incessant, US-led courting and arming of Ukraine as an existential threat. According to a 2020 memoir published by Biden’s own CIA Director Bill Burns, “Russians of all ideological stripes—not just Putin—loathed and feared NATO expansion.”
Further, the West has known for nearly a decade that Russia was building military bases on Ukraine’s perimeter. There has been ample opportunity for diplomacy, de-escalation and direct negotiations with Russia aimed at alternative solutions. None of this was pursued, least of all during Biden’s eight years as Vice President with Ukraine in his portfolio.
Breathless media coverage about “Russia’s massive military build up” has been disingenuous at best. As recently as Dec. 9, 2021, Biden was assuring President Zelensky of Ukraine that NATO membership was “in their hands.” And for three months, the US, knowing that China is Russia’s strongest ally and principal funder, shared satellite photos of Russia’s troop build up with the Chinese, who then shared the intel with Russia.
Alternately venal and vindictive, corrupt to the core, fatally incompetent and mentally unstable, Biden nonetheless has one core competency – he is fully capable of bumbling the US into nuclear war in a desperate attempt to keep himself, and his corrupt handlers, a techno-militarist cabal of careerist DC elites, in power.
If one thinks of Eisenhower as the last fully adult US president, this descent into potential nuclear chaos and infantile dysfunction has been in process for more than six decades.
A MILITARY INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX OUT OF CONTROL
In Eisenhower’s farewell address, he noted that the “conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience,” and then detailed its implications for the future.
The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.
In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.
We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.
Is it too late? In Dec. 2021, Joe Biden signed the largest “defense” budget in US history, an estimated $768.2 billion, representing a 5 percent annual increase and totaling more than twice the combined annual military expenditures of China and Russia. Some experts estimate actual US military spending at well over $1 trillion annually.
Every US state and nearly every Congressional district are dependent to varying degrees on military spending, which means that Congresspeople rarely oppose increased outlays. Analyst Rebecca Thorpe, author of “The American Warfare State,” has documented the alarming, and intentional, diffusion of arms spending into every geographic capillary of the nation.
The Pentagon is the largest employer in America. Despite steady declines in the nation’s manufacturing sector, U.S. weapons producers continue to generate hundreds of billions of dollars each year while providing a source of reliable employment for more than 4 million Americans.
Defense jobs are spread out across every state and a preponderance of U.S. House districts, including many suburbs, small towns and geographically remote locations that lack diverse economies.
Defense manufacturers and subcontractors for each weapons system deliberately distribute defense dollars across as many congressional districts as possible, specifically targeting defense industries in more remote, rural areas that are inordinately reliant on the defense dollars that they receive.
In effect, war is in the national DNA. A nation that spends 200% more on weapons and warfare than its two largest geopolitical competitors is no longer in a defensive posture. The annual Pentagon budget is designed for permanent warfare, not peacekeeping.
Faced with the clear possibility that Russia may use nuclear weapons during the war with Ukraine and the West, no one should believe the foolish official lullaby from Mr. Biden that the US will not respond in kind. The entire militarist technocracy is malignantly synced to just such an outcome.
CAUSES AND CURES – YOU CAN’T VOTE YOUR WAY OUT OF THIS
Eisenhower’s farewell address was only 1,741 words. It went through 22 drafts, partly because he valued concision, but also because he did not want his warnings about the emerging technocracy and militarist elite to be lost in a too lengthy text. (For comparison, Barack Obama’s endlessly self-referential farewell was 4,293 words, and Biden’s logorrheic March 1, SOTU speech was 6,641 words.)
In spite of Eisenhower’s prescience, Presidential scholar Andrew Bacevich nonetheless believes the autocratic genie escaped from the bottle during his presidency.
"I think we should view the speech as an admission of failure on the president's part, an acknowledgment that he was unable to curb tendencies that he had recognized from the very outset of his presidency.”
While Eisenhower clearly recognized the twin threats to democratic freedom, he nonetheless abetted the growth of both phenomena with his “domino theory” of communism; his planning for the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion; and creeping US involvement in Southeast Asia that eventually led to the Vietnam War. His failed campaign to deter and contain Russia ultimately fueled a nuclear arms race.
The most salient question is why? Why was Eisenhower unable to slow or reverse these corrosive tendencies even though he recognized them? Bacevich observes:
“Our political institutions demonstrate an unwillingness, or an inability, to really take on the big questions. And the American people – many of them distracted by all kinds of concerns – aren't paying attention."
Eisenhower’s stark warnings ultimately led him to the conclusion that even as president and Commander in Chief, his powers were limited, and that there was only one truly viable solution.
"Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals."
Does the US have an “alert and knowledgeable citizenry”?
TOWARD A MATURE CITIZEN DRIVEN POLITICS OF COMMUNITY
Over the past ten years, I have published about a dozen articles on the decay of civil society and the transformation of citizen driven democracy into a form of political consumerism. In 2017, my concerns about this decline of civic life led me to found the Reimagining Politics educational project.
Since my first article on this theme in November, 2012, titled “The Election as a Marketing Spectacle,” I have moved steadily away from a belief that so called representative democracy can or should be salvaged. It is neither representative nor democratic in practice.
My travels and field research across Europe and the Americas for four years, before the pandemic forced the shutdown of political life everywhere, made it clear to me that there were brilliantly promising and potentially duplicable and scalable direct democracy citizens’ projects in every country. This profusion of civic creativity and experimentation seemed to me to be one of the most hopeful developments in decades.
There is also a large and growing body of academic research on new theoretical models of direct democracy, exemplified by the innovative exploration of mandatory universal civic service in the work of Yale professor Hélène Landemore.
Modern civilization faces a very real threat of nuclear war over Ukraine.
Everyone now has a life and death stake in not only fighting this madness, but in pursuing all viable possibilities for the creation of a boldly imaginative, mature and optimistic citizen-centered politics of community for the future.