‘We are here for your fucking freedom!’ a US soldier bellows, pointing a gun at a crowd of sceptical locals. The nineteenth-century concept of manifest destiny propelled American settlers across the expanse of their own fledging country, and its legacy lives on in modern-day Fallujah.
It’s easy to see how the less-sullied manifest destiny of earlier times, which powered the penetration of the west, farming and building along the way, remains an important aspect of the American psyche, how it served as moral engine to the unification of both coasts and the completion of a country according to a utopian idea of the rural idyll following revolution and civil war. This concept underpinned the creation of the modern world’s most powerful nation state, a new Rome.
More recently, manifest destiny has become associated with the American dream. We might claim that it operates abroad as the moral justification for America’s self-styled stewardship of the world, but James Truslow Adams’s ‘American Dream’ is still remarkably effective at keeping the folks at home busy. The idea that people, as a result of their individual qualities, should achieve happiness, and that such happiness is inextricably dependent on wealth creation, personal property and status defies actual experience, yet the dream endures. (There is a Randian sting, though ‒ if you don’t achieve this happiness, perhaps you lack the necessary intrinsic qualities. It might simply be that you are a loser, and are thus culpable for your own dire situation.)
Decency, fairness and co-operation are not alien to America, but perhaps the increasingly aggressive intervention of American interests abroad and the American dream’s tendency to offer false hope to its own people mean that the only way to preserve America’s egalitarian qualities is to commit an act of heresy towards what has become a toxic mix of ideologies.
What is modern dissent? In the 2016 presidential election, 48.2% of voters went with Hillary and, effectively, oppose the presidency of Donald Trump (who won 46.1% of the votes). Yet much of their consternation appears to be based not on fact but on opinion, opinion derived from tastemakers, shallow pundits and colourful memes. Vociferous popular disapproval did nothing to prevent Trump’s election. Could it be that when people are bombarded by inflammatory messages, polarising hyperbole and downright lies they lose faith in the power and function of facts and truth? …
Fifty years on from the 1968 student uprisings, in a period of unprecedented tumult and critical awareness in America, Trebuchet talks to Abby Martin with a hopeful, if wary, interest in hearing her take on reporting, journalism, politics and art.
Abby Martin: America had never seen that kind of people power before, where millions of student and youth activists took to the streets to demand an end to the imperial war machine. Yet the obvious fact is that their lives were literally on the line with the implementation of the draft. Today, the military industrial complex has become much more efficient. It’s privatised the armed forces to eliminate the need for the draft. The death and misery wrought by the US Empire is largely outsourced around the world, and has little effect on its population today. Unfortunately, I think things in the US have to get a lot worse before we have another show of force in the streets like that to truly bring politicians to heel.
Is it true that if you show people the truth of what’s going on there will be change or do the public simply not care. Is there a difference between the American public as opposed to the American state?
Abby Martin: It’s a conundrum. As someone who has dedicated their entire professional life to exposing the evils and wrongdoings of their government, it’s hard for me to accept that people may just be too cynical to care, even if they knew how bad things really were.
I do think the majority of people in this country are thirsty for knowledge, that they want to understand how corrupt the system is and to change the world for the better. But people are disillusioned and disempowered for a good reason. We don’t live in a democracy, we live in an oligarchy – a system run by a small group of influential very wealthy people.
A 2014 Princeton study5 shows us that the chance of any legislation passing is only 30%, even if 100% of Americans support it, because of the corporate stranglehold on the legislative process. James D’Angelo of the Congressional Research Institute has looked at the way transparency has been weaponised in our society to actually reinforce corporate power. Americans are fooled into thinking that the visibility of Congressional voting makes the representatives accountable to their constituencies, yet it only makes them accountable to their corporate donors.
As Goethe famously said, ‘The best slave is the one who thinks he is free’ – the perfect recipe to control society is to make people believe they have free will when really the parameters of the system will never allow true change to actually occur.
Read the full article in Issue 3 of Trebuchet magazine, available here.
Michael Eden is the Arts Editor for Trebuchet Magazine, an artist and researcher working in London and the south east, his artistic practice is concentrated on painting and he divides his time between this and lecturing in art history and contextual studies.