Book review: USA: “God’s own country” tends to decay

Mülheim a. d. Ruhr “Yes, his politics makes me sick. It causes a feeling of personal degradation. He insults my mind. He insults all of our minds every day, with the same audacity. He’s been caught lying 100 times, he gets caught after every lie, and he keeps lying anyway. He’s getting too close to me. Like he’s really harassing you and thinking you’re stupid. And you can’t do anything about it.”

When reading these sentences by the eloquent Herta Müller, one inevitably gets the thought that nobody has ever expressed their feelings about Donald Trump’s actions better. But she spoke about Vladimir Putin. What remains of the lighthouse and place of longing of the free world if such a mistake is possible? How is the state of the “leading western power” USA?

Two new publications that look at the same object and yet could not be more different provide information on this: “Insurrection in America” by Stephen Marche and “Danger” by Robert Costa and Bob Woodward.

Yes, Bob Woodward, Pulitzer Prize winner and star reporter for the Washington Post since he uncovered the Watergate affair in the 1970s. Today he is Assistant Managing Director of the newspaper.

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Woodward and his team try to diagnose the current crisis in minute detail. Based on more than 200 interviews with the protagonists and many extras from the political camps, he reconstructs the drama of the change of power from Trump to Biden, where farce and tragedy compete fiercely.

Hier Sachbuchmanier, da Science-Fiction-Manier

The Canadian novelist and essayist Stephen Marche is quite different. In five possible scenarios, he predicts the possible impending second civil war in the country’s history. Woodward – in the best non-fiction manner – lets us know what we could only “nightmare” before. Marche – in the best science fiction manner – gives us “nightmares”, which we already know.

The bitter struggle for the White House tempts and forces analysis. What would actually be normal everyday business in a functioning democracy, namely the peaceful reshuffling of offices, is a glimpse into the abyss in the current situation. Because the defeated does not admit defeat. It was only with convulsive convulsions and the deployment of heavy constitutional artillery (including a “flight of the upright” in the Republican camp) that a power junkie was carried out of the Oval Office. Provisionally. Anyone who now bets on Trump or Trumpism does so at the lowest odds.

An intra-American affair? Not at all. As a prologue to his book, Woodward reports on a telephone conversation between General George Milley, Chief of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, and General Li Zuocheng, his Chinese counterpart.

In view of the disturbing images of the storming of the Capitol, he was concerned that the nuclear power could get out of control. Milley had to promise him that if the worst came to the worst, the president would be cut off from the chain of command.

“He just needs to grow up”

That’s how political thrillers begin that don’t count for a pound more, but Woodward lives up to his legendary reputation. He works with the utmost care. He turns his readers into ear and eye witnesses to dialogues, debates and scenes that – according to the memories of those involved – actually took place. They knew that anything they told him was for publication and could be used against them. They did it out of concern for the country.

Trump’s suggestive power is unbroken. Closest advisers give his comeback good chances. He just has to get a grip on himself, domesticate his tantrums, respect realities and rules, in short: he just has to grow up. At 75 years old. Then not only the “left behind” but also college grads and bourgeois patriots in the voting booth would break the threshold of disgust and vote for him.

Woodward’s 500-page log deserves the title “particularly valuable”. Yet readers learn countless details about the disease and little about the patient.

The pressing question remains unaddressed: Why were and are millions of Americans convinced that Donald Trump is the solution to their problems? Why are you still willing to believe any lie if it just doesn’t reflect the reality of life?

Stephen Marche: Insurrection in America. The Next Civil War – A Scenario.
Translation: Christiane Bernhardt.
Munich 2022
304 pages
18 Euro

If you want to see through the deeper connections, you can now turn to Stephen Marche and his book.

The author of “Insurrection in America” ​​sees clear signs on the wall: “Economic and ecological instability is growing every year. The fruits of the land benefit only those who are at the very top. The government, whose legitimacy is never recognized by all, cannot be trusted. (…) Mastering political intrigues takes precedence over all other matters of government.”

In 1776, the American constitution was the most modern in the world at the time. Today it appears to many as a model of little value. Elementary government duties must hold their own against crippling rage attacks. The judiciary is losing legitimacy at a gallop. The currency “trust” in political institutions is in free fall. Not every German reader will be alienated here.

Predicting the downfall of this system hardly needs imagination. Whatever one could imagine has long since happened somewhere. The founding motto of the “United” States was: “One out of many”. But when the “one” fails, it disintegrates into the “many”. Black and white, north and south, strong coastal and weak flyover states, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Mormons, Scientologists, immigrants from every country on earth.

It was never a “melting pot”, but “neighbourhoods” were possible. Marche writes, “If you wanted to, you could break America 327 million ways.”

For the author, the march to civil war has already taken place. Only the triggering events are missing. “Even today, sheriffs are outspokenly promoting opposition to federal agencies. Militias are already training and arming themselves in preparation for the fall of the republic.

Bob Woodward/ Robert Costa: Danger. American Democracy in Crisis.
Translation: K. Petersen, H.-P. Remmler, H Schlatterer, S Schmidt, T Stauder.
Hanser Verlag
Berlin 2022
560 pages
26 Euro

Already today, the teachings of radical, unattainable, messianic freedom are spreading on the Internet, on talk radio, on cable television, and in the malls. Even today, radical patriots are thirsting to use violence to impose their political fantasies.”

No president today can be a symbol of the country’s unity. He is always just a symbol of division. Ronald Reagan named – from his point of view – the nine scariest words in the American language: “I’m from the government and I want to help you.”

A bloody secession always marks the end of the republic

Stephen Marche has five plays performed on this stage. Just as one calculates climate or pandemic models, he creates scenarios that begin in different ways and then – after a rapid cascade of impact and counter-impact – end in the same catastrophe.

The trigger is random and interchangeable. Whether a local conflict with anti-government patriots, the assassination of a messianic assassin on the President (sic), the fall of New York in a natural disaster or excess violence with a dirty bomb. A bloody secession always marks the end of the republic. Either way, the necessary weapons have long been bought.

This includes targeted information pollution in the media. According to Marche, the conflict will not have the heroic dignity of a classic revolution, but rather correspond to the logic of a reality TV show. “The most extreme opinions, the most lurid conspiracy theories, the prospect of the most spectacular acts of violence receive the most attention.”

Is that alarmism or lust for the sinking? Is an author playing the keyboard of his blossoming imagination here?

The temptation is great to read the book like this and after a sigh (“Oh my goodness!”) put it away with the waste paper. But page after page she loses her arguments. The disturbing attraction of these projections is not their exoticism, but their congruence with reality.

If the big brother weakens, the role of Germany grows

It almost seems like a ritual flag roll call when the author closes his book with hope for the “good” America: “For 250 years there were also legal and political institutions that negotiated highly competing interests and perspectives and so the developed the largest democracy and economic power in the world.” Now at the latest it has become clear that the book does not want to interpret, but to appeal. It doesn’t want it to be like Marche painted the devil on the wall.

Another ingredient in Marche’s novel is the appendix on the possible consequences of a self-absorbed America for Germany’s role. This becomes more important as the big brother weakens. But whether people in this country are willing to preserve diplomacy as a civilizational ability and to deal with those whose worldview we do not share in an orderly manner, whether we keep alive the dream of a self-determined and at the same time rule-based civilization or – as has usually been the case up to now – the tendencies to decay in “God’s own country” is still very much a question.

More: What’s going on in the US? Three books provide answers

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