Random Thoughts on From Afar
By Zvi November
Most Americans belong to hundreds, probably thousands of diverse ethnic, religious, racial and socioeconomic subgroups that are, potentially, in conflict with one another. Contrast this with the homogeneity extant in Japan! But almost every American also adheres to the national secular religion (the American way) whose theology emphasizes human rights and as much personal freedom as possible. The US constitution is holy because it is a living bible. Respect for the flag, the national anthem, patriotic songs (not often heard these days) and holidays (July 4th, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, etc.) all play a part in this religious solidarity. Sacred sites such as the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, the Washington Monument and Arlington cemetery attract reverent pilgrims.The American political system has a role in this secular religion. It feels natural for American politics to coalesce with the Hollywood-centered entertainment industry. Reagan was an actor, Obama makes lively cameo appearances on talk shows, Bill Clinton plays the Saks and Donald Trump has also been active on TV. The link between politics and entertainment is natural because both spheres tend, in the US, to be lighthearted (sometimes even trivial); often expounding utopian solutions to complicated problems. Fair play and good sportsmanship are supposed to prevail in US politics. This contrasts dramatically with politics elsewhere where elections often prove deadly. For instance, about a thousand people were killed in the Philippines and another 1,000 in the Punjab as part of their election campaigns a few years ago. Individuals and parties critical of the ruling regimes in Arab countries are usually banned or incarcerated or eliminated. Outside of the US politics is a very serious matter and can be fatal for the opposition. So the question is: Can American politics continue to be entertaining and also meet the challenges facing the nation in all its diversity?Recently I read an article by the journalist Selwyn Duke (visit his website) that contends that America is free-falling to its death because it has cut itself off from its traditional Judeo-Christian morality and sense of civic commitment to the common good. According to Duke, the exaggerated emphasis today on individual license to live by whatever rules feel comfortable to you and ignore what is burdensome is undermining the country's social fabric.By comparison, the social milieu in Saudi Arabia is and has always been marginal because, in their political system, there are no political parties and no parliament (only an advisory council). In the dysfunctional Israeli partyocracy, on the other hand, one finds that real political power is held by the Supreme Court, Attorney General, bureaucrats in the Foreign Ministry and the Left-dominated media that molds public opinion. The Prime Minister, his cabinet and Knesset members are really quite limited in what they can do.Donald and Hillary, neither of whom seem to have any deep insights into what's going on in the world, are extensions of the Clinton-Bush-Obama tradition of low quality candidates for the presidency. Until now the USA has been the luckiest of nations. Let's hope and pray that this luck will continue.
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Zvi November, who grew up in New York, served as a Peace Corps' teacher in rural Philippines. He also taught at Hong Kong Int'l School. He earned his diploma from Univ. of Edinburgh, his MA from Syracuse Univ, both in anthropology. Now he is an activist in Israel's Media Watch and other civic bodies.