Walking through a rundown section of a major North American city a few years back I overheard a woman telling a down-on-his-luck-looking man that he didn’t need a second chance. Second chances come along all the time, she said; what you need to do is to clean up your act. To be sure, she could’ve been speaking of the U.S.A. Just think of all the chances the U.S.A. has had since the end of the Cold War to pursue peace in the world; but it doesn’t clean up its act.
The Berlin Wall came down nearly thirty years ago, remember? The Cold War ended shortly thereafter. The U.S.A. at last, finally, had a chance to move from a war economy to a peace economy, and genuinely contribute to global peace. But what happened? George H. W. Bush continued to build up the U.S. war machine. Then, in a demonstration of the New World Order he had spoken so much about, he unleashed this on Iraq, showing the world the U.S.A.’s desire to be the sole superpower. And though he was popular after his war, the economy soon soured and he lost his re-election campaign.
Then what happened? The man from Hope, Bill Clinton, entered the world stage. And people actually thought that he would pursue a peace agenda. All that money and energy devoted to war could finally be funneled into our schools, hospitals, parks, libraries; it could be directed toward cleaning up the mess made of the environment. After the injuries of the Cold War, and the Reagan-Bush years, the quality of life of the majority of people could be significantly improved. All that went in to building prisons and fighting wars could be channeled into building an infrastructure of peace. But what happened? Bill’s a champion of the business class, and that’s antithetical to global peace. The economy was deregulated. The prison/police/military industry ballooned. Contrary to promises made to the Russians only a few years before, NATO expanded to the east. NAFTA, GATT, and other free trade agreements were signed, dealing a brutal blow to labor; so-called welfare reform increased extreme poverty. And if it hadn’t been for Monica Lewinsky, Social Security would’ve been privatized as well.
The next thing you know, George W. Bush was installed in office by the Supreme Court (contrary to the assertions of dimwits, like the musician Moby, who continue to scapegoat Ralph Nader for this bit of history). Well, nobody thought that George W. Bush would be directing the energies of the U.S.A. toward peace. Yet, just as hope, says Pope, springs eternal in the human breast, another chance did arise. In the aftermath of 9-11 there was an outpouring of goodwill from the rest of the world toward the US that provided an opportunity, a chance, for a meaningful change toward peace. As everyone knows, though, this opportunity was not taken either. The U.S.A. did not clean up its act. Rather than the pursuit of peace, Republicans and Democrats alike launched a war designed to last indefinitely (and it’s still going on).
As Bush’s second term wound down, and the economy deregulated by Clinton plummeted, Barack Obama appeared. Promising hope and change he beat McCain and became, to the delight of millions throughout the world, the first black person to win the presidency. And there was yet again another chance for peace. The world extended all these gestures of goodwill. The new president was even awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. Remember? But what happened with this new chance for peace? The “war on terror” continued. Drone strikes increased. The security apparatus of the Bush years only strengthened. Wealth continued to polarize. People were hounded and deported as never before. The chance was blown – again.
And now it’s 2016, the quincentennial of the publication of Thomas More’s Utopia, and we have another chance for peace, and a new generation of people striving for it. But the question remains: will the U.S.A. clean up its act and direct its energies into the development of a peaceful world?
If the U.S.A. does begin to clean up its act, it seems safe to say that it won’t come from Hillary Clinton. In spite of her attempts to present herself as a friend of the common people, and the earth, she’s never stopped promising to pursue the neo-liberal policies of her husband and Obama. She’s even promising to appoint Bill to head her economic team. That’s no change. That’s cleaning up the U.S.A.’s act about as much as fracking (which she promotes) cleans up the environment. And the Republican candidate, Trump, with his waterboarding and xenophobia and racism and pledges to suspend much of the Bill of Rights? He won’t use this chance to further anything but war and misery. That only leaves Bernie.
Bernie’s got flaws, no doubt. For instance, he shouldn’t talk about breaking up the banks; he should talk about nationalizing them. And he should talk about nationalizing (or, better yet, internationalizing) more than just that – not to mention debt amnesty. In spite of these shortcomings, however, he’s the only presidential candidate who could, however slightly, help the U.S.A. to clean up its act. Sure, Sanders most likely won’t be able to get much accomplished. At least, though, he’d prevent Clinton or Trump from accomplishing their maniacal plans. And just doing that would help the U.S.A. to clean up its act – even though what we really need is for the U.S.A. to change its act altogether.