"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Monday, January 31, 2011

To what extent might Egypt be a harbinger?

Steve Martin wouldn't find much funny in what is happening in Egypt now. It's interesting to see that the common people can rise up against a power structure that likes order, conformity and for people to just keep quiet.
There is always more power in the people than in the puppet masters.
I'm shocked because this uprising seemed to come out of nowhere - out of the ether as it were. But it didn't.
I'm sure there were signs of stress building up. It's just that our myopic American media didn't sense it. All of a sudden our TV screens were awash in images of people taking to the streets. There was so little helpful analysis.
TV news became mesmerized by the scenes themselves. Surely those intrepid news people could penetrate below the surface and answer "why?"
In the early stages at least, there was little of this. We heard generalizations about adversity for the common folk. Life's a bitch for the common folk everywhere. I doubt this feeling alone would propel people into the streets in such a coordinated way all through a country. It seemed almost scripted.
There had to be some powerful political undercurrents at work. Maybe the American media are too scared (or lazy?) to poke around in such matters. It's pretty serious stuff.
The real facts are known in the private meeting rooms in the corridors of our highest level of government. There, I suspect, it's perceived as too touchy to encourage the media to thrash around with it. Why do you think Dwight Eisenhower used to talk in circles? It was the Cold War, man.
Let the media do what it does best: show the streets filled with unruly people. Talk with amazement about it.
From the U.S. perspective, Egypt has seemed like a quiet country. America has had kittens over Afghanistan and Iraq. We have sent the military into "hotspots" like applying Band Aids.
As a boomer I'm skeptical about military adventures because I grew up with Viet Nam. Those who don't learn from history are condemned to repeat it.
We killed an ant with a sledgehammer in Iraq. Thank you, George W. Bush. Or maybe we should thank George's father whose enmity toward Iraq's dictator seemed personal. The Bushes talked about the dictator (or strongman) like he was Dr. Evil.
Saddam Hussein was a regional nuisance and little more. He was contained. Some of the stories of his atrocities were exaggerated or made up. He was no choirboy but he ruled in a distant country that didn't operate according to rules like ours.
We are reminded of our exceptionalism, and its delicacy, by Egypt now. The stakes for the U.S. could be higher with this than with any of Saddam's mischief or misadventures.
Unfortunately our military has been so strained and extended that our options now are more limited than they ought to be. If conflict is fomented that threatens our national interests, what are we to do?
Will we learn we aren't the true superpower we thought we were?
What about the Suez Canal? What about oil prices? Are we relegated to a nervous spectator's role? Can our delicate economy withstand an unforeseen shock? The U.S. got through the so-called "financial crisis" without people taking to the streets. But could it happen here?
If Wall Street, the Fed, the Beltway and other such transcendant and seemingly unaccountable entities are seen as menacing to our welfare, what then?
It hasn't gotten that bad yet. What if it does? Could the U.S. become a giant "flash mob?" Would the government "switch off" the Internet here?
To date the Internet has shown it can overcome all forces to restrain it. The old men of government are perplexed. This is something new and they can't quite get a handle on it. They are used to keeping the masses in check, to making sure the common folk get only the info that will keep them docile.
In Egypt, are we getting another lesson in how those old men can be shoved aside? Is it a triumph for the liberation of information and connectivity? If the U.S. stock market collapses or we get a dramatic burst of inflation, will we see something akin to Bastille Day?
Could the vast U.S. even be held together if a true crisis erupts?
I have read that the underpinning of the Vermont secessionist movement is the belief that the U.S. has become too big and complicated to be governed from Washington, D.C. Perhaps the Tea Party movement, awkward as it is, reflects that belief too.
I remember thinking during the 2008 presidential campaign that if I had a chance to chat with Barack Obama, I would suggest that he set up a working executive office somewhere in the Midwest. It would have great symbolism.
America shouldn't be at the mercy of elite decision-makers concentrated along the eastern sliver of the country. Power got concentrated there in the first place, of course, because that's where Europeans first arrived, bringing their civilization and concepts of government and pushing aside the Native Americans.
Communications technology has changed everything today. Your physical location means little now - nothing really.
This perception of the elites out east, with their disproportionate, ivory tower-like power, could be cured. My suggestion of a "Midwest White House" might do much.
Besides Warren Buffet, we here in the heartland have little to attach ourselves to, in terms of real power. We are sort of left to feel like knaves.
Up until now we have accepted our lot. Our 401Ks may have been dashed but we didn't take to the streets. Not that this couldn't happen. Will Egypt be a catalyst bringing economic ripples that threaten our relatively placid state?
"Oh, it couldn't happen here. . ."
But yes, it could. Maybe all those people selling gold have the right idea after all: Make sure you have plenty of bottled water. Maybe some freeze-dried food too. How about an ambitious garden?
Maybe we'll learn we just can't send the military all over the place. Maybe we'll learn that Saddam's invasion of Kuwait really was small potatoes. Maybe we'll learn that Gulf War I was just an excuse to have Whitney Houston sing the National Anthem with a little extra gusto at the Super Bowl. (Military jets flew overhead, of course.)
We have always tried to show we can be just as heroic as "The Greatest Generation" in World War II. What that august generation would readily tell us, though, is that they would give anything to have avoided that adversity. To have avoided the Depression.
They dealt with the crises of their times, the way they had to, but the world of today presents a much different set of realities. The crises of today rise up and bite you in the butt. But that's how all true crises arise, right?
We cannot rely on our militarism.
This mantra of self-sufficiency might be proven to be right on the mark.
Reliance on foreign oil has been a folly. Maybe it would be good to have small farms. Maybe it would be good to try to rejuvenate our small towns all across the Midwest. Maybe we need a type of populism that neither political party has been trumpeting, such has been their dependence on money from behemoth enterprises.
When will Americans finally tell those behemoths to take a flying leap? Will it take a Bastille Day?
It could start as one giant flash mob. If it can happen in Egypt, it can happen anywhere. Stay tuned. The nonstop images on CNN aren't telling you the whole story.
There are fundamental political undercurrents at work. The ramifications could change our world.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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