Today is 4th of July, your Independence day. Before you all dress up as bald eagles and get shitfaced on microbrews or whatever it is you do, I’d like to tell you that actually, parts of the world do fancy you. Of course, not without reservations – but for those of us who have the mixed blessing of direct experience with communism – mixed because it sucked colossal ass, but having the experience is invaluable – you’re still by far the world’s least douchy superpower.
Before I get to the confession of reserved cultural admiration, I’ll open by decrying your political and social divisions. Your choice broadly between a liberal and conservative option (notwithstanding that neither is either) is a double bind. Each of the two parties leaves half your liberties largely intact, but takes away the other. You get to choose between social and economic freedoms, but can’t have both. You’re being “Divide and conquer”ed.
Perhaps due to the history of my own country, I am more worried about radical elements on the American left. Because the ultra ultra radical hard right have no chance of succeeding with the racism and biblical laws, but the ultra radical left with their imaginary issues and appeal-to-nature anti-science do.
Today, seeing a portion of Americans flirting with authoritarian systems and trying to drag the country that was once a beacon of hope and a semi-mythical promised land in the eyes of millions of people stuck on the wrong end of the Iron Curtain – trying to drag that beacon precisely in the direction we have spent the last 25 years frantically trying to get as far away from as humanly possible – is disappointing. And it goes to show that the greatest tragedy of human history is the non-transferability of experience. Nonetheless, I can try to share a bit of it.
Perhaps we have in the past romanticised America. But even the real America was vastly preferable to the real Eastern Bloc. America was the land where cool jeans came from, where people had opportunities and choice, and where everybody’s friend’s friend had a rich emigree relative who would send him back cool stuff and bootlegged movies, which people would secretly (and illegally) watch in the darkened basement of that one guy in the entire town who had a VCR (and wasn’t a secret police agent).
America was also the place where you didn’t go to jail for watching a movie, and where the fact your great-grandfather owned a small bakery didn’t forever bar you from higher education. So there.
Seeing America leaning towards what we shrugged off at great cost only recently and imperfectly, then, even if in relatively subtler Gulag-free variants, is anti-climactic. We were hoping more of the world would become free and stay that way, not that a gigantic battle will be fought on the home soil of what was the very symbol of freedom. In the 90s, we certainly didn’t imagine there would be a real danger of much of the world backsliding into totalitarianism.
The price of freedom is eternal whack-a-mole with changing forms of tyranny. The substance does not change, and pattern recognition kicks in once you’ve seen one or two of them close up. Here’s hoping that it also works at least a bit when written out.
In conclusion, I honestly wish that every American who flirts with the idea that socialism (or its modern green and politically correct variants) might after all be a practical idea (and the Soviets just did it “wrong”) could share in the historical experience of postcommunist Europe, appreciate how shitty it really was, and how good you guys, despite all your problems, really have it in comparison.
Happy 4th of July, ’Muricans. Don’t tell anybody we like you.