From the desk of Roland Rocchiccioli – 24 January
They will, 100 years hence, stare incredulously at the photographs of the insurgents storming Washington’s Capitol Building.
HISTORIANS will debate, and conjecture, how the United States came to this sorry pass.
Australian post-war baby-boomers wallowed in the wake of the euphoric victory of the Second World War. They believed, fervently, the United States of America was the shining beacon; the land of the free and the home of the brave. They saved the free world. While that first flush of naivety has faded, the recent images of the domestic terrorists defiling the Capitol Building, the meeting place of the United States Congress and seat of the legislative branch of their Federal Government, was incomprehensible.
Not since 24 August 1814, when the occupying British troops ransacked Washington and set fire to multiple government and military buildings, including the White House (then called the Presidential Mansion), the Capitol Building, and other facilities of the United States’ government, has there been such a confrontation.
We have travelled far in our journey from those times when the free world viewed the American ethos through the roseate prism of the television shows: My Three Sons, Leave It to Beaver, Petticoat Junction, Perry Mason, and The Mickey Mouse Club. Theirs was the existence to which we aspired; a way-of-being to be emulated. We bought their cars; we learned their history; we read their comics and books; we watched their movies; we allowed the American syntax to contaminate our written and spoken language (there is no such word as ‘got’ – except in America!); and we believed, absolutely, Uncle Sam would keep us safe and free from the threats of the less-friendly world.
The failed Korean military engagement, followed by the disastrous Vietnam War, about which Prime Minister Harold Holt said of Australia’s involvement, “All the way with LBJ”, were stark lessons. As the gingerbread wore-off and the less attractive base ingredients were exposed to the harsh light of day, an unpleasant truth was revealed. America was no different to most other places in the democratic world. The relentless propagation of the American dream, in its multifarious manifestations, was a figment of the Hollywood dream machine’s overly fertile imagination. In short: we were tricked.
In the same spirit, and emboldened by President Trump’s diatribe of spurious conspiracy theories, apportioning of blame, and highly improbable promises, a mob representing his 73-million followers assailed the seat of American democracy, the institution which protects and nurtures their very existence; however, it should not be of any great surprise.
The seeds of American political discontent have been festering for generations. For too long, too many have been denied and ignored. They have endured years of disenchantment, inequality, marginalisation, alienation, generational poverty, racism, bigotry, and bleak hopelessness. However flawed, the reach and magnitude of social media has provided them a voice.
Paradoxically, the politicisation of politics has damaged the system. Politicians’ alacrity to play fast-and-loose with the truth is dangerous and engenders serious consequences. Retaining political power has become more important than good governance. Veracity is not mandatory. The line between truth and lies has been blurred, possibly indefinitely.
For society to function effectively we have to believe; to apply the benefit of the doubt, and to trust others in their interactions and communications. When figures of authority prevaricate, repeatedly, and with conviction, it becomes more difficult, even impossible, to persuade the populace of the dangerous deceit.
Disturbingly, research shows only a 54 per cent accuracy rate in people’s capacity to detect deception. There is a propensity, across all socio-economic milieux, to believe in a leader’s messages, even when the truth is being bent. Democracy is fragile.
We would do well to heed the words of the German playwright, Bertolt Brecht: Watch closely the film clips of your leaders walking and talking, as they hold in their cruel hands the threats of your fate.
Roland can be heard with Brett Macdonald each Monday on 3BA at 10.30am and contacted via [email protected]com.