I like the USA even if it does drive me nuts. But I fear the rage that poisons everything there.
So much emotion. Some “Jimmy” I’ve never heard of is singing “I Will Always Love You.” The karaoke bar is rocking. Gives you goose bumps. Yesterday, there was a different program going on here. A pale kid tortured his way through “American Soldier,” a song about duty, pride, honor and death. Syrupy kitsch that unwittingly exposes all that has gone wrong here, while sounding like the war quotations in my Latin textbook: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori — “It is sweet and glorious to die for one’s country.” These days, they sing “cause freedom don’t come free.” It’s 107 degrees outside.
Welcome to the USA. The first time I visited Las Vegas was nearly 30 years ago. The roulette balls are still spinning, the one-armed bandits still clatter away and their commercial idea of fun here is still to be found on every street corner: alcohol, games of chance, floor shows and sex. In my pleasantly cozy hotel casino, one of the croupiers wears an Elvis getup.
Thirty years ago, Ronald Reagan was president. Now, friends from every corner of the globe are partying on the roof of their parking garages: “contras” from Nicaragua, African butchers and Afghan mujahedeen. One of them, dressed in harem pants, stood near me on the desert sand at a weapons show and moaned in ecstasy at every explosion. Later, he probably had tea with Bin Laden. People who have no understanding of the world should not try practicing global politics. Now Donald Trump is bellowing on every TV channel, testing our national reflexes. He wants to be president — an unlikely prospect, but by no means inconceivable. The gaggle of Republican candidates mirrors their confusion: These praying mantises, business tycoons, hyper-patriots and libertarians are all conservative — but for different reasons.
Business as usual? I finally saw “American Sniper” on my flight — Clint Eastwood’s depressing concoction about a sniper stationed in Iraq. On closer inspection, it also shows the brutalization of people’s souls. On the monitors above the line of arriving passengers, breaking news shows the latest shooting spree. The street scene is dominated by anything XXL. The breakfast buffet at my hotel is dominated by anything sugary. Oh, wait . . . there’s an apple. My Styrofoam plate crackles like spray construction foam.
What has changed since Reagan’s day? Politics seems to be more venal than ever and political culture is drowning in Uncle Scrooge McDuck’s money bin. George Washington is reported to have invested $195 in his own election (1757). In 1960, John F. Kennedy spent $9.8 million on his, Bill Clinton had to pony up $92.9 million to become president in 1992 and Barack Obama’s re-election in 2012 cost around $1 billion. The Washington Post reported, “A small cadre of super-wealthy Americans is dominating the fundraising for the 2016 Republican presidential nominating contest, doling out huge sums to independent groups that overwhelm total contributions to the candidates.” No, that wasn’t how it was reported in Russia Today, but in The Washington Post.
Then, there’s the overall tone. It continues to get more and more strident, and the attacks never let up, while people continue to lose faith in the American dream. Because only a handful, a small minority of people, have benefited for decades. The masses seem traumatized, first by wars all over the globe and then by the hateful infighting at home. America has a bad case of post-traumatic stress disorder, and Obama can’t alleviate it. It’s an anger that poisons everything.
But everyone around me is laughing merrily. The dice roll, the roulette wheel spins and tricks are trumped. The bartender asks me if I’d like another beer. And it tastes pretty good.
About this publication