An American God
“the day will come when all the modern nations will adore a sort of American god, a god who will have been a man that lived on earth and about whom much will have been written in the popular press; and images of this god will be set up in the churches, not as the imagination of each painter may fancy him, not floating on a Veronica kerchief, but established, fixed once and for all by photography. Yes, I foresee a photographed god, wearing spectacles. On that day civilization will have reached its peak and there will be steam-propelled gondolas in Venice.” - From the journals of Edmond De Goncourt & Jules De Goncourt
Monsieur Goncourt’s 19th century prediction did come true in 20th century with the emergence of a Man god, The President of The United States. In the salons of developing world, the disenchanted middle classes often conspire to change their existing systems with foreign imports. Punctual German trains, singapore hygiene, chinese assembly lines and an American style presidency populates the wish list of such dreamers. The outright crazies among us may add to it the moral code from Saudi Arabia, Nazi youth mass drills, compulsory voting and a stasi police for surveillance. This resilient wish for a master may have evolutionary origins. Caesars, Popes, Czars, Emperors, Maharajas, Queens, , Khomeini, “Our dear supreme leader” ’s and all such survive by appealing to our brazen masochistic tendencies. Though not an ideal candidate to the above list, The American presidency did burgeon into a “Leader of the World” idol with the ascendency of American military power. Thus supreme commander of US became what even the Caesar couldn’t become,though secular, a god . In spite of being one of the most religious nation on the planet, American homemade gods are the least successful products they ever made. For people outside America, Joseph Smith is still a crazy act and L. Ron Hubbard the father of Tom Cruise. Though the names of native tribes found its way into the nomenclature of weapons manufacturers, their gods never stood a chance. Where the divine failed the secular made a foray, and this time as a constitutional God.
The preeminence of this god was a truism in the latter half of twentieth century. It sailed past the gargantuan Soviet Atheist and observers destined it to be “The One”. In those years American Presidents were the most powerful figures of global imagination. Though they are still powerful, the world has become less pious about them. By the end of Bush years US was in one of its worst economic crisis, It was fighting two major wars in Asia, was no longer loved in Europe and lost the number one economy status. President Obama, Bush’s successor, did make an attempt to erect that idol again with his hope, change and “Yes we can” slogans. Four years down the road ‘disappointment’ and ‘it could have been worse’ are trending. kenosis, The relinquishment of the form of divinity is a tough phase and some lose sanity. Caesar Vespasian’s last words were “Dear me, I must be turning into a god”. The relinquishment of power was by no means intentional, but was a reaction to the changing global politics. President Obama was welcomed around the world with an unprecedented enthusiasm, including a Nobel Peace prize for just being himself. 2012 presidential election saw an inflow of foreign endorsements to the candidates. Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu made his preferences public and so did Chavez who offered an inedible support to Obama. The kind of American exceptionalism envisaged by Robert Kagan and party won’t sustain in an environment where foreign players become influential in domestic process. American exceptionalism will vanish as more countries joins the fray to make the process an extension of global realpolitik.
Domestically, the US electorate has got more polarized and the demographics grew heterogeneous. The electorate is divided into disparate groups, and each has a worldview incompatible with the others. Republican party has moved further to the right and is unlike any other conservative parties in western hemisphere. The two major US political movements in recent times are antagonistic to each other, The Tea Party & The Occupy Wall Street movement. This ruled out the possibility of any candidate winning a US presidential election with a landslide margin, at least in the foreseeable future. Americans will have to live with a system where the outcome will be determined by a few swing states. This creates a permanently disappointed opposition irrespective of the Incumbent. To this group every incumbent will be illegitimate and one example of this are the “Birthers”. On the International front things aren’t any better either. Europe is on a freefall , the major centers of production are now in East Asia, and there are hardly any good news for US from Latin America or West Asia. This doesn’t naturally translate into a decline of America as many perceive. It just made America’s relation with the world more complex and less flamboyant. That American god is obsolete in a world where 1 Infinite Loop, Cupertino is a more popular address than 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The empire has lost one of its main voices, but the conversation will continue. Except that, this time it may very well be a two way conversation.
Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will, The New York Times, May 29, 2012.