WASHINGTON -- I admit to a slight depression this week before the Glorious Fourth -- what my beloved mother used to call "the blues" (no relation to New Orleans or Chicago) -- whenever I read the newspapers.
Focus on the central Iraqi desert: all those lunatics with black-and-white pirate flags, like bad children measuring off the sand meter by meter. They are the measure of the savage still within us. It's a ways from there to Ukraine, where pugilist Putin behaves more like a guy from Joey's Gym in Brooklyn than a Russian czar.
And nobody seems to have noticed that the world has become so violent that the Buddhists, who used to be so peaceful in their orange robes asking for handouts, are attacking "the other" in both Burma and Sri Lanka.
China is getting pushy in the South China Sea, as though they own it, and the Japanese, without a MacArthur to swat them at the right time, are making all sorts of changes in their "pacifist constitution" to allow them to stand up to the Chinese -- whom, we can assure you, the Japanese do not like.
And Europe? I believed former NATO secretary-general Javier Solana when he used to tell me bravely in Brussels, "The European Union means that we will never have war in Europe again!" But the Europeans are stuck in a bureaucratic hassle about who should be E.U. Bureaucrat No. 1. This is not a problem being addressed by American newspapers because nobody understands it.
And here in America, "the land of the free and the home of the brave," we seem to be becoming "the land of the egocentrist and the home of the envious." It is not only in the hallowed halls of Congress that one sees the selfish twits we now call members of the House and Senate illustrate their incapacity, but in so much of America, where we cannot decide whether "I" or "me" is the more beautiful word.
Americans appear these days to wallow in despondency; if we didn't, we would see that, after expensive victories in World War II, we momentarily made enormous strides forward. Take civil rights, especially for African-Americans. Who would have guessed in our childhood on the South Side of Chicago that our best efforts toward equality for all Americans would be rewarded in the way it has been? Perfect? No. Given the nature of mankind, amazing? Yes.
Over and over again, our politicians demonstrate how lacking in serious capacity they are. But this stems directly from the tragic dumbing-down of our educational system. Many of these men and women are quite simply untutored, with little grasp of the history and literature that force human beings to excel, much less any understanding of the potential harm they could be causing with their refusal to compromise.
Americans seem to feel that we are the only people in the world who know prejudice and pride. The truth is that we are the only people in the world who have at least the founding belief that all people are created equal and who strive for the implementation of that idea.
As to the world's present problems, take first Iraq. This is by far the most deadly serious challenge, and yet this kind of "return to the past" movement has become common in our "modern" world since I first wrote about it in the 1970s. Then, the Ayatollah Khomeini took over Iran and turned that historically rich and cultured modern country into an ancient country. The entire Middle East was terrified of his actions then; now they focus on ISIL.
The Japan/China animosity has all the characteristics of a pre-martial situation and is profoundly worrying. But Ukraine looks a little better than it did several months ago. The new trade agreement it signed with the E.U. tends to point to both regions getting their houses in order.
And what about us -- what about the U.S. of A.? We're confused because we need, not revolution, but reform. In a historical sense, we've become an old country, and our institutions and our principles are rusty. Revolution is easy; it is all noise and the joy of the moment. But reform?
It is easier to build from scratch than to reform an institutionally complex nation. But it can be done, and if we could stop fighting senseless wars around the world, we might really start trying.
The original Fourth of July was the anthem of "revolution." Today we need, instead, to sing of "reform." Happy Fourth of July!
(Georgie Anne Geyer has been a foreign correspondent and commentator on international affairs for more than 40 years. She can be reached at gigi_geyer(at)juno.com.)
- Politics & Government