Despite America’s exalted vision of itself, never as good or as bad as it celebrates or laments, America was never the Silk Road of the New World. America never sustained peace and market traffic and cultural exchanges for centuries in a global network built by small, honest business persons, traveling through empires and territories that stretched from London and Paris to Istanbul to far flung villages and cities across Africa and Asia to China. Today we talk of China as a threat when we spend more on a war effort in its backyard than it does on its entire military defense. (Maybe China should exercise turn about and send troops to Mexico to help restore the failed drug state along our fenceless border.)
Our greatness lay in the long first stage of industrialism, when Harvard graduates were few, slavery was prevalent, women worked incredibly long, fatiguing hours in sewing factories, domestic violence was in the closet, and miners and factory workers on strike for living wages and safe conditions were targets of private security forces.
Our greatness lay in getting past our differences, something we could always do; it flowed from vast natural resources, from timber and farms to harbors that yielded wealth so easily we forgot our gifts and began to think we were entitled.
Now our differences spill forth. We think we are entitled to drill offshore, to build a new cross-county oil pipeline, or to crush jobs (as Jim deMint does) by not earmarking funds to dredge our harbors to service the world’s fleet of ships. We think we are entitled to shrink government by not going green or building new tunnels or adding high speed trains to our busiest transportation corridors.
My fear is that no matter what he says, it will be business as usual, especially on the networks and in the halls of Congress. I have a sneaking suspicion we are on the Jericho Road.
The fallacy that echoes in the President’s call is that American industry is already deeply involved in those nations, employing legions of workers and investing capital to out compete the US. The most striking example is the President’s appointment of the head of GE, a man who ordered the closing of 10 plants in Ohio alone and moved the manufacture of incandescent light bulbs offshore.
The President’s words – and world – have a fault line, On one side is an ideal, On the other side is reality. For reasons of profit, global outsourcing, corporate strategy, and old fashioned greed, the two will continues to be divided. Unfortunately, we live in the real world where only those who benefit from greed are calling for revolution. Their plans intend to rip the social fabric of the middle class as their contribution to competition.
The world has yet to declared itself saved, but it has missed many opportunities. (“Blue moon, you knew what I was there for . .”) The cleverness in the dialectic is not its interpenetration (opposing influences work both ways, on their own terms), it is always that funky parallel universe of the Red Queen, who earnestly engages in serious discussions of ideas and consequences, who takes on difficult work, but inhabits a world in which her rigorous logic is applied to things that can not be. But for untold reasons, she doesn’t know. Can’t or won’t grasp what’s missing, earnestly goes her own way.
Even economics, and it’s certainly frustrating, is subject to the imaginative terms of culture. Remember what Robert Merton said about deviance: without a negative reaction, it isn’t considered deviant. Some have simply lost their faith in the role others play.