Day by day, in small things as in large, the evidence mounts before our eyes: in spite of their immense wealth and power, the Americans just don’t get it.
I am repeatedly brought to this state of bewilderment at this time of year by a relatively insignificant event, the United States Open tennis tournament. For reasons that are totally obscure to me, they use this event, which they boast is watched by hundreds of millions around the world, to give the most vulgar, cloying, sick-making demonstrations of their power and naivete. I will never forget the impression left with me a few years ago, the first time the black Williams sisters played each other in the final, when that match was preceded by a sickening demonstration by the United States military, with some singer or other emoting the national anthem as a huge, court-sized flag was unfurled to dwarf everything in sight. Do they really not have any idea of the impact such a demonstration makes on people who live in other countries?
Apparently not, because this year’s opening ceremony was an even more cloying, disgusting event. It purported to be a celebration of four Americans who embodied all of those virtues that Americans seem to believe attach only to them. The event was stage-managed by the CNN reporter Christiane Amanpour, who shed the military-style fatigues of an embedded reporter, and got all dressed up for the occasion. She established the moral framework from her opening speech, when she said that people from all walks of life are faced with problems, and whether the challenge is “cancer, or communism” or any one of a long list of other dodgy situations, Americans can be found who have given it their all.
The linking of cancer and communism, as if no one in his or her right mind could challenge this connection, set the stage. The first of the honorees was an Afghan woman who was forced to leave her native country to escape the Soviet occupation (communism!). She found tennis only after being brought up in the U.S., and tennis had since become for her the standard-bearer of the American dream (this goddamned American dream, so woefully popularized by Barack Obama during the last election, the very same dream that he seems consistently to have betrayed in the eyes of so many who supported him. I don’t suppose it occurred to any of the organizers that the killing of tens of thousands of Afghanis represents, in the eyes of millions around the world, the flip side of this same American dream.)
Second, for reasons that escape me, came James Blake, the tennis player, honored for having recovered from various illnesses and setbacks (cancer!). Third came a woman who has been the ten-time singles champ at wheelchair tennis (cancer!). And finally came Martina Navratilova (communism again!), who similarly escaped from the clutches of the dread ideology and found tennis, fame, fortune, freedom, in the United States of America.
All this was followed by the usual marching soldiers bearing their flags and banners as a 12-year-old black boy, the very symbol of American freedom in that he was, like tens of thousands of other 12-year-old Americans, overweight, performed one of those incomprehensible, wavery versions of the National Anthem before the vast court-sized flag was unrolled to dwarf everything in sight.
Of course, I suppose an event like the U.S. Open, in which young people get paid sickening sums of money just to play tennis, while (according to a devastating article in this week’s Guardian Weekly), millions of ordinary middle-class Americans are slipping into full-time, irrevocable unemployment which has destroyed their prospects in life, I suppose such an event does represent a desirable standard-bearer for American capitalism. Are the so-called 99ers part of this American dream, I wonder? They are the millions of people (already six million, and growing in leaps and bounds every week) who have been drawing unemployment insurance for the maximum 99 weeks, and have been cut off to face the loss of income, homes, food and everything else promised to them by the American dreamers, for whom it is not even worth looking for a job any more, so remote are their chances of finding one.
What ultimately is most distressing about these exhibitions is not so much their vulgarity as the arrogance with which they seem to assume that such virtues as hard work, loyalty, patriotism, freedom and compassion --- virtues that are held by people in every country in the world --- are somehow owned and operated only by the citizens of America.
To some of us, America is a symbol not of those virtues, but of the fact that anyone who doesn’t make it has only himself or herself to blame, and is for the high jump. And by the fact that the nation is run, in every aspect, by the owners of wealth.
Do Americans need sensitivity training, as the world is changing around them, and their empire falls into decline?