Like a dog returning to its own vomit, I found myself being drawn into the minutiae of the 2008 presidential candidacy races. I was going to do a post on how Republican candidate Mike Huckabee’s use of Chuck Norris tied in perfectly with what appear to be two focus areas of his campaign: purporting to be on the side of the downtrodden (with class war talk about ‘servant classes and ruling classes’) whilst demanding the righteous macho kicking of foreign ass.
And I don’t know precisely where I was going to take it from there, but then I came across an article from Allan Nairn with a sensible line on the President of the United States, the job for which Huckabee and the rest of them are applying. I am grateful to it for saving me from writing a tortured post weighing up the merits of different candidates and speculating on outcomes.
One American deciding. Millions of lives. Fates determined almost in passing.
If you pull back and think about it — slowly — doesn’t it all seem a bit improper?
For most political Americans the answer would probably be that they haven’t yet thought about it, because in US politics, the existence of such power is taken as a no-need-to-think-of given.
But at the other end of the stick — or the other end of the rifle, where the bullets come out — there is a bit more consciousness of this remarkable fact about today’s wildly unbalanced world.
Its why the US presidential campaign gets heavily covered in the popular press of, say, Malaysia, while on the other, US, end — the trigger end — editors are only dimly aware that that country exists.
It is also why, say, junior US Congressional or Executive Branch aides — or, for that matter, US journalists — can get treated like pashas when they visit weaker countries overseas.
If people figure out that you or your perceived (or real) team have the power to kill them or feed them, they tend to — as one would rationally expect — act toward you accordingly.
For years, those actions have tended toward deference — though lately there’s sometimes been more anger — but both the deference and the anger flow from the same realization: that when you talk to extremely powerful people, you are talking to he (or she) who can shape your fate.
Of course, concentrated power is not a modern or a US invention, and it will always exist to some degree. But, as with many things, it is a question of, first,: to exactly what degree? And second, power to do what? To take my life, if you feel like it?
In today’s world, power is so skewed — in its distribution, its nature, and in its very scale — that people like, say, American presidents can take out villages and barely know or remember it.
I once interviewed former President Ford on the phone and asked him if it was true that in a meeting with the dictator Suharto he had authorized the East Timor invasion.
Although I had told Ford’s staff in advance that I was going to ask him about that meeting, he replied — I think, honestly — that he just could not remember.
He said the meeting had had a long agenda — a fact confirmed by the later-declassified transcript — and Timor was somewhere down the list, so he apologetically said that he couldn’t be sure.
In fact, Ford did give the thumbs-up and, thereby, launched — within a day — what would become the greatest proportional slaughter since the Nazis.
If you’re the ruler of any other country (including China, Russia, England, or France, the arguable candidates for distant — very distant — #2 world killing power), you don’t have to stick Post-It notes on your computer to remember what countries you’ve caused to be invaded, or have provided with “lethal aid” (the actual Washington term for US assistance to the killing capacities of friendly forces).
How could such power possibly be legitimate? It can’t be, by definition.
Even though you may have won a vote, and the voters are sovereign, the voters do not have the right to authorize you to facilitate murder.
People should not be running for president, they should be running to abolish the American presidency — and state — as they are now constituted, that is, as institutions that assume killing rights that no one has the right to give them.
Bold emphasis mine.