Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 33 No. 8. 10 June 1970
America in Crisis
America in Crisis
The symptoms of manic depressiveness in the US are ominous. There it plenty to suggest that by the next Presidential election in 1972 the American nation will be in a state of nervous collapse—somewhat like the French in May 1968 but with the illness more deep-seated and with no enthroned great white father to re-establish sanity. Heaven knows what then becomes of our western civilisation. Half the syndrome, at least, is shared by all the West; what is peculiar to the US is the volatility of the American nation; the volatility and the power. Americans are people about whom one can generalise; and Americans over-react.
In the US the extremes of Right and Left are now gathering emotional force like polar oppositcs. The pace is a little terrifying. The New Left, however, cannot win, beyond a brief blaze of anarchy: they can never command the money, never capture the massive organisational machine or the forces of order. The Right can win.
In the middle lies the depressiveness; the mania floods in from the extremes. In the lumpen middle there is no longer any conviction, courage, hope; no strength or direction at all. What is left of these things in the US belongs to the extremes.
Today there is no noticeable leadership for the masses in the middle. The Kennedys came nearest to providing it—Jack, and brother Bobby. Whoever was responsible for the two murders, and that of the moderate Negro leader Martin Luther King, has brought powerful allure to the dark alleys of political extremism.
The big Party protagonists in November's Presidential election seemed a pair of political corpses—Humphrey with his dyed hair and verbal gas; Nixon, whose voice and personality still have that synthetic quality of a man reconstructed out of the parts of others. The witty columnist Art Buchwald was advising his readers to "Vote No for President". To the mass of Americans, vaguely conscious of impending crisis, the choice appeared bewilderingly dismal.
If George Wallace did not receive the votes many expected in 'the '68 election, it was because that bitter and insubstantial figure was not—when the moment of choice arrived—a credible President. Yet even that sixth of the electorate that voted for Wallace was enough to expose the yearning among millions of Americans for a leader who could personify their own frustrated patriotism, their alarm at the riots and declamations of violence from the Negro militants, midst dismay at the identification of the college students with these militants, their innate assumption of Negro inferiority, their disquiet at the obscenity and imbecility of the university population, their unease at the fashionable prevalence of a third sex on the campus, their scorn of groping intellectualism, their resentment at the intellectuals' flagrant scorn of them (Americans find intellectual snobbery irresistible) and their exasperation at climbing taxes spent on loosely-controlled welfare programmes for the apparently indolent at home or the ungrateful abroad. Wallace always gives a simple answer to what the lumpen middle consider their simple questions. Wallace, or the Wallace prototype, will surely remain on the national scene.
Many who voted for Wallace would have voted for Bobby Kennedy had he lived to be the Democratic choice. Kennedy, they said, gave them a sense that he was speaking for them, understood them, and meant what he said. So docs Wallace.
Richard Nixon is not of the stuff to rally the dispirited centre. In the next year of two the people of America, the greatest nation on earth, the leader of the Free World, most rich, honourable, democratic, envied and beloved among mankind, will find that they have lost a protracted war in which they have sacrificed more of their young men than in any war in their history, the first war they ever lost, and against a piddling, coloured, Communist enemy of negligible wealth and technology.
In the midst of this trauma they will be witnessing their own youth at home exhibiting classic symptoms of decadence. People have a instinct for recognising the decadent, and an amount of permissive argument fools the collective instinct. The message is there today every publication, button, poster an pronouncement of the New Left pleading [unclear: fc] escapism through ever more desperate sexuality mindless violence against authority, Negr militancy, student power and contempt for country.
The young are searching away from the high for identity and purpose, and this search will grow more frenzied as their predicament grow worse. This predicament is the virtually total elusiveness of concrete challenge. They all have, enough money—unlike their parents who grew up in the Depression. Physical challenges are not longer available—the frontier has gone and Alasks; is a cold, grim dump; most demanding sports in for the professionals. It is the sub-college youth and the Negro who get drafted; and because Vietnam is being lost it is a discredited cause.
There is no international crusade to participate in like the World War of their fathers They no longer have any moral barricades to storm. Darwin's theory of evolution is still a banned subject in Mississippi, and in six States ; woman may still be awarded a divorce if her husband makes love to her in any other than the missionary position; but, by and large promiscuity, drugs, long hair, pornography, obscene language in print or from the platform, 'and freedom from soap are all accepted with a shrug or applause. If there is any tyranny left it is a tyranny of the crutch. In 1959 58 percent of undergraduates listed Mad as their favourite magazine: today's favourite, Free Press, all drugs and orgasm, shows no intellectual advance, but a deeper opting-out of reality.
The luckless modern youth cannot go hungry; he cannot—outside the discredited conflict in Vietnam—see a way of testing his courage in an honourable cause; he cannot even shock anybody any more. And so he must push his behaviour before him into infinite licence and disorder. Only when he meets me batons of the ludicrous police, who like to play at storm-troopers and carry their presumption of hostility to the point of inciting it, does he at last, with deep relief, meet an obstacle—something palpable to run up against and hate. But even Chicago was not a Budapest or Amritsar.
Tom Stacey's article on this pag [unclear: ome] questions which will be discussed at greater length in [unclear: lement] on America to be published in the next issue of [unclear: SA]
In the depravity and vulgarity of the New Left, the strain of genuine idealism, the search for the right to suffer, becomes totally lost. Glancing through the "Hippies" and "Yippies" (Youth Independence Party) and Black Power's widely circulated newspaper, you will find an advertisement for the sale of pro-Dubcek posters in the midst of advertisements from importuning homosexuals. At the election rallies of George Wallace, the young protesters waved the flag of the Viet Cong. They tout for donors of blood for an enemy in a war which, however misguided or futile, the masses sense to have been unquestionably moral in its original motives. Or they pack the rallies of Negro firebrands declaiming hatred and drawn from organisations like the Black Panthers or Ram (The Revolutionary Action Movement) whose literature is printed in Peking. Many of the protestors are college drop-outs—wasters of taxes paid in part by millions who never got near a college.
I do not write of the excitable fringe of university life. A recent poll taken at Harvard found that 40 per cent would rather (so they said) go to prison or into exile than submit to being drafted for military service, and over 50 per cent had taken drugs.
That the dilemma of intelligent American youth is the dilemma of the entire civilisation makes it no less acute: a faceless establishment) unaware of its own power; a mechanisation that is not just dominating the individual but enslaving him; an economic technique that has all but removed man's ability to make choices and decisions that mean anything; a manner of life for the big organisation office-worker (which most young men must become) that is stealthilypage 11
[unclear: finising] the male; a surfeit of quantity and a It in obsolescence of quality that induces a petual sense of loss and incompletion; a [unclear: Itkal] system which, by means of spurious and advertised freedoms such as the four-yearly sidential vote, becomes an "instrument for olving servitude"—in the words of the cadable guru of San Diego, Marcuse, whose gnosis is accurate but remedies indecipherable. Then that vast conservative swathe of the adult [unclear: sulation] alert enough to expect significance in can perceive that significance diminishing. [unclear: The] computer is taking over more and more of is tasks. A factory hand released by technology into ever greater leisure may be [unclear: itsnt] to watch the "boob toob" (TV) or go [unclear: ling;] man educated towards an expectation of attributing, whose existence is made [unclear: crfluous] by cybernetics, is looking to a tiny of enforced leisure with tremors of teria.
[unclear: It] is a blind man's buff; reality perpetually live, dodging the touch. The New Left, indering for challenge, identifies itself with violence that belongs to the restive, employed Negro, The deprived Negro, in his [unclear: nmy] ghetto, who protests his lot by violent or action, becomes an heroic figure to the significant, white because here at last in their marshmallow. I will beat him to death with a marshmallow, 'cause he's a punk ... All or my hostility, all of the hatred that I have in my heart, all the bitterness I have in my heart-and I have it—is for the pigs and the power structure, the machinery of oppression, and that we have to deal with for ourselves and for posterity whether they like it or not."
So it continued for 50 minutes. Then he led his audience in six "Fuck Ronald Reagan" cheers, in which virtually all the students and faculty in the hall delightedly joined. Around him were posters of his party, the Black Panthers, bearing the quotation—"The racist dog policemen must withdraw immediately from our communities, cease their wanton murder and brutality and torture of black people, or face the wrath of the armed people." The central policy of the black Panthers is to arm the Negro.
The striking fact is that not only the students-eager to advertise their discovery of the sex act and excited by the idea that anyone should have the daring to publicly advocate shooting back at the police as a political right-but also the faculty and indeed much of the radical intelligentsia reacted to the stopping of Cleaver's lectures by threatened strikes and boycotts, by earnest declarations that the State educational system was in the hands of Fascists, and that Cleaver was an heroic victim of racism and tyranny. What are their criteria of judgement? At one dinner with members of the teaching staff of California University, at which these opinions were being voiced, I discovered that none of my fellow guests had heard of Solzhenitsin, Daniel, Sinyavsky, Tartu or Bukovsky; none of them had heard of the five years' hard labour passed upon Pavel Litvinoff and Larissa Daniel for unfolding, in Red Square, a little notice demanding "Hands Off Czechoslovakia". Nor were they particularly interested. The brave new surge of American radicalism would throw up barricades at home willy-nilly.
Against this background of fashionable violence in political protest, plain crime has been proliferating wildly.
Now, the patient, unaroused and leaderless middle of the American electorate knows in its bones that the Left can never achieve power on its own voting strength or ability to disrupt. The bulk of the Trade Union vote is already anti-Left and anti-radial. By even the most generous count, not more than 12 per cent, of the population is Negro; students come and students go; the drop-outs and the hippies are a rabble. Such an agglomeration, even under a single leader of stature like F.ugcne McCarthy, makes no appreciable political substance. They feel themselves today to be the pacemakers in American society, the morning stars of the coming revolution. Their survival depends on the tolerance of the great majority in the middle.
Over the next few years this same majority, that has come to lack all conviction, will see all their dismays running together—the fever swamps of the New Left, a Negro minority close to open rebellion; violence, robbery and rape in the streets; the ignominious disaster of Vietnam; and, at the back of it all, a suspicion that their very existence is futile. I do not believe that it is Mr Nixon who will give them the inspiration they need. The end of Vietnam could so easily lead them into an economic recession in which their hire-purchase payments will bite like a yoke but their taxes will not be eased. Already the vote for Wallace, which far outstripped any "third party" challenge since Theodore Roosevelt's breakaway Progressive Party in 1912, suggests an attraction for the simplistic responses of the Far Right. It need not take much more for the lumpen middle at last to grow exasperated and to chuck power to the right, changing the shape of America and our world.
"And what rough beast, its hour
come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem,
to be bom?"
midst is someone with a whole range of [unclear: uifest] grievances reacting with a virile inter-challenge to the whole system.
It is in part to satisfy their own psychological ds that white liberals have obliged the nerly passive Negro to exercise his right to equal. Since before the death of Martin her King, the non-violent methods of Negro assertion had become discredited: today the te New Left finds vicarious satisfaction as the [unclear: ro] militants gather all the support. Violence political ends is not just condoned by the Left, but advocated. There is a fast-growing lines for violence. And in Vietnam, a quarter he combat troops are Negro, men trained in [unclear: pons] soon to be returning disillusioned to
[unclear: their] restive kinsfolk searching for jobs. Already in eight. New York negroes is on relief. Yet where does "legitimate" political protest crime or psychopathic violence begin? In the [unclear: lem] demonstration, following the murder of tin Luther King, the New York police were not to intervene by the progressive Mayor, Lindsay, unless trouble spread beyond a ain point; the Negroes must be allowed a [unclear: oal] release for the shock they had endured, [unclear: ing] those days New Yorkers watched on their vision screens gangs of Negroes breaking rough the shop-windows of the Jewish stores in em and staggering off with washing machines television sets while the white police stood with their hands clasped ostentatiously behind r backs.
Lindsay's order was a brave one and very ably saved New York from the devastation [unclear: ch] reactions to King's murder wrought in [unclear: er] American cities with large Negro ulations. Yet to the ordinary citizen it [unclear: cked] of the prevailing liberal uncertainty and [unclear: aed] likely to lead the protesting rabble into king that they had the established "power [unclear: cture]" (in the current pejorative phrase) on run.
On the West Coast, the self-regarding llectual elite evidently does believe it is [unclear: ing] the side with it. The universities have a in a ferment since the autumn when the [unclear: ro] militant, Eldridge Cleaver, a convicted st proud of his confessed crime, and the [unclear: ed] and Freedom Party's former candidate for Presidency of the USA, had his course of ares on Afro-American studies to the students he University of California stopped by the e educational authorities. In his last address 7,000 students of the University, Cleaver thus: "I say Ronald Reagan (the elected [unclear: ernor] of California) is a punk, a sissy and a [unclear: ard]. I challenge him to a duel to the death t now. He can choose his own weapons. He choose a baseball bat, a knife, a gun or a