Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The real foreign policy issue is that Americans don't care

Pretending for a moment that the nation witnessed candidates discuss foreign policy, let's examine the real missing piece: caring about the rest of the world. That Americans never have is illustrated by the career of the late Sen. William Fulbright (D-Ark).

Fulbright, he of the international exchange scholarships, held what today would be regarded as wildly liberal views -- for a senator. He came to be a vocal opponent of the Vietnam War and a voice of reason in favor of foreign aid. He opposed the Bay of Pigs intervention against Cuba, and was just as critical of President Johnson's offhand dispatch of troops to the Dominican Republic in 1965.

Less well known, Fulbright also voted (alone) against funding the investigative committee from which Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-Wis) carried out the witch hunts that still bear his name, McCarthyism.

Yet guess what?

Fulbright also joined the Southern filibuster against two Civil Rights Acts (1957 and 1964) and voted against the 1965 Voting Rights Act. he wrote an impassioned "manifesto" against the Brown v. Board of Education ruling by the Supreme Court in 1954.

Why was Fulbright a schizophrenic, a racial segregationist domestically and internationally a liberal? Because the folks back home in Arkansas never cared about foreign policy, so long as they could keep their white bathrooms separate from the facilities for the "colored."

That same apathy and uncaring for the world is how two candidates managed to speak about United States foreign policy without mentioning the European economic crisis or Africa's continuing civil wars and failed states, with the inhumanity they cause, including recently a "rape epidemic" (since when does such a thing even exist?).

How come the only thing said about Latin America, by Romney, is that we can sell more American goods there (never mind the pauperization and corruption brought on by the insatiable U.S. consumption of illegal drugs grown there)? Oh, Romney is great at putting the squeeze abroad and humiliating even Britain. Great diplomacy, Mittens!

But he's not alone.

How come Obama couldn't come out and flatly contradict Romney regarding "dictating terms," precisely the reason millions hate our government and, by proxy, us? How come he couldn't say the Islamic world would never receive a visitor who came from or was in route to the hated cousins in Israel no matter how much sensitivity he expressed? How come he didn't tell Romney that his view of China's currency manipulation is badly out of date and that China has been experiencing an economic slowdown?

The answer is that Americans, the only people who get to vote for the effective President of the World, don't give a damn about anything happening in the next county, let alone Canada, Mexico or the other several hundred nations out there.

And them furriners are clever critters. They watch our TV and see our movies. They know most Americans think people in Buenos Aires speak Portuguese.

If we don't respect or even know anything about them, what makes us think we should lead them?

American leadership is really the result of a set of huge historical accidents, not the mythological know how, not kindness, not superiority of any kind. Perhaps it's time a leader showed us that.

Friday, October 12, 2012

October 12 marks the birth of a cosmic race

New York Italians in Monday's Fifth Avenue parade celebrated the deed of their compatriot Christopher Columbus on this date half a millenium ago. Indeed, October 12, 1492, was the beginning of a cosmic race.

That date was the start of the mestizaje* (or blending of human colors and ethnicities), today most evident in the lands the Spanish once ruled, into the universal human descent from which all Americans, both U.S. Americans as well as those from the other nations of the American continent.

You can see the new cosmic race in the Afro-Czech children of Chicago, their peer Indo-Hispanics of Bogot√° and Luso-Japanese of Sao Paulo.

The year 1492 marked the unexpected, sudden and painful clash of very different social cultures, the European and American Indian; to them, by force, the Africans were added. Today we know that they were three branches of a forgotten common family.

Europeans and Native Americans had in common the Asian steppes. From there, some had migrated toward the sunset into Europe and then across the Atlantic. Others set off to the sunrise to Mongolia, then across the Bering Strait. Both had come from India, from the Asian Mesopotamia and, even earlier, from the universal human cradle in Africa, home also to the Americans whose forebears were tragically kidnapped and enslaved.

Add to them the Chinese who built the railroads of North America and Panama Canal, the Japanese who brought fisheries to Peru and from ancient India the governors of Louisiana and North Carolina.

Some might dispute details of my history and prehistory; others might argue that there are three Americas (North, Central and South), not merely one. Still, the essential idea that I have sketched with a broad-leaded pencil persists.

We are all fraternal kin, of one common humanity, who rediscovered each other in the one "New World" continent that runs from the Strait of Magellan in southern Argentina and Chile to the Arctic Ocean north of Canada and Alaska.

Sure, there is much to correct and remedy. Notably, those of European origin, among whom I count myself, have been cruel to our human kin. Nevertheless, the great epic migration to the continent of America cradled and gave the first footing to the restoration and expansion of a new human fraternity.

In 1904, for example, Haiti gave the world the first republic led by Africans and in 1969 an American man took the first human steps beyond our planet, on the moon.

Today marks the universal kinship that is the future of the great American cosmic race.

* In reflecting on mestizaje and the "cosmic race" I acknowledge my intellectual debt to theologians Virgilio Elizondo of San Antonio, Texas, and Gustavo Gutierrez of Lima, Peru.