“The American Century”. In early 1941, the famous publisher Henry Luce wrote an essay with that title in his then-influential periodical Life Magazine, urging America to enter World War II. The phrase became part of Luce’s legacy and after the War came to signify America’s military, economic, and cultural dominance. Think Rome in the century after Christ’s birth or Britain in the 19th Century.
According to the FBI’s website, “Congress has defined a hate crime as a criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation.”
“We are all shaped by our pasts and we carry elements of the past into the future. Nothing can threaten the future quite as much as the debts of the past.” claims 2016: Obama’s America .
If you worry about America’s debt and sneaking socialism you will applaud the insight of this recently released film; if you dislike its conclusions or don’t care you will doubtless see it as political propaganda.
That being settled, what caught my interest during a preview of the film? It was the personal, psychological angle that framed the story: how the immigrants’ background affects their perspective. Note, I didn’t say “the immigrants’ experience”. There are a number of ethnocentric films that focus on how immigrants weathered discrimination in America , but this film begins further back.
2016: Obama’s America probes the pre-immigrant backgrounds of two men of recent immigrant stock - outsiders to traditional America – in an attempt to explain how we can look at a glass as half empty or half full.
The film points out that the two protagonists, Barack Obama and Dinesh D’Souza, share a lot in common: the same color skin, Third World childhood experiences, Ivy League education, and grandfathers who hated colonialism.
Both Obama and D’Souza were raised to mistrust world powers. Yet according to D’Souza he always admired America , even if it could not live up to its exalted ideals. Why, he wonders, would Obama want reforms of the sort that have failed to bring prosperity elsewhere, including their homelands?
In attempt to answer that, the film focuses on the thread of Obama’s genetic, political, and cultural heritage. D’Souza’s hypothesis is that an “anti-colonial framework” left over from Obama’s Third World background influences his domestic and international policies today.
I would be almost content to throw out the entire concept as so much balderdash, and believe that we are all islands, self-made in our concepts and dreams, but for acquaintances who bear living grievances of ancient wars, and for echoes of empires a storyteller left ringing in my ears.
Many years ago I spent stretches of time with an RAF Wing Commander. Seldom have I met someone with more tales to tell – or better told. Most of his life was spent serving Britain across the globe, which meant garnering innumerable experiences. These he processed through his “Rule Britannia” worldview and served up with good humor and laughter. It felt like Kipling had come to life.
To my surprise this Brit saw American immigrants as using elected offices primarily to exert influence in favor of their homeland. Being of long-term American stock, in my naiveté I took at face value that Americans were using their elected offices for America , just as our citizenship vows and constitution implied. It hadn’t occurred to me that, as he saw, the Kennedy family was first and foremost Irish. Thus, a storyteller opened my eyes to how the national and cultural past plays into some people’s view of current politics.
In America - the “ New World ” - we live externally encased by electronics and modern construction. Likewise, internally we tend to feel independent of our past. We feel like spinning tops rather than beads strung sequentially on the string of human history.
In the “ Old World ” this is less often the case. You can feel it when you meet people overseas, or listen to their stories. For example, the BBC’s “Story of England” series takes a single village in central England and follows the life of its common folk over millennia. As an American who has moved a lot, watching it gave me a strange sensation, surreal and a bit wistful: to think of generations never moving away… of being connected to your past through the ancient garbage in your own back yard.
Over the past year I’ve been thinking about how decisions my parents and other ancestors made affect where I live and what I do today. 2016: Obama’s America will make you think about your own America . How did the choices your ancestors made affect how you live and think today?
Several years ago, my student Nathan Harden transferred from Claremont McKenna College to Yale. Although I was disappointed to lose one of our stars, I was happy for Nathan. Having gone to graduate school at Yale, I knew the intellectual riches that it offered to undergraduates. As his excellent new book points out, his experience turned out to be bittersweet. Mingled with the intellectual dazzle was something darker. At this point, I need only quote the publisher’s summary:
Joan Roberts has died. Now, that may mean absolutely nothing to many readers. But for those who love the American musical theater, and regard it as one of America’s premier contributions, the death of Joan Roberts marks the end of an era. She was the last of the Rodgers & Hammerstein stars to pass on. Her death comes only a month after that of the immortal Celeste Holm, the only other Rodgers & Hammerstein star to go on this long.
Out of nowhere, on Aug. 1st appeared a seemingly out-of-place news item in the UK Jewish Chronicle, delivering a stale and inaccurate bit of information concerning Alex Cvetkovic, the subject of my Algemeinerarticle this week:
In his lyrical and heartfelt introduction of his running mate, Governor Mitt Romney said one thing that particularly struck me. Romney spoke of Wisconsin Congressman and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s Midwestern background, and how it instilled in him a devotion and love of America. And then Romney said—in a brief biographical note—that Ryan’s father had passed away when he was young.
The condemned (to repeat history) Is the world a lost cause? Is it on the brink of being completely overtaken by Islam? How close are we to the ultimate clash of cultures pitting the West’s modernity against the barbarism that is radical Islam? Well, if recent goings-on surrounding the London Olympics is any indication, way too close.
Congratulations to Mitt Romney on his wise choice of running mate, Wis. Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee. While he may not have the star quality of a Newt or Sarah, Mr. Ryan seems to have the intelligence and prudence the country needs. We need his discipline. During the past few presidents’ terms, it’s clear that heavy government spending did not equate with robust economic growth.
A remarkable 92 year-old man died quietly in Tel Aviv last month. Few people even in his home country of Israel knew his name, let alone were aware of his daring exploits and heroism. A legend to whom the world owes a great debt, his obituary was missing from North American newspapers.