No matter how you look at it, the United States has entered an unprecedented era of its relatively brief history. Whether one approaches this reality from the perspective of sociology, political science, or psychology, the conclusion is the same: We in the United States are in a deep trouble of a kind we’ve never experienced before, and few of us are equipped to deal with the implications and repercussions, mostly because we are in denial about how bad things have gotten.
In the ever-widening Special Counsel investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump has gained a new title: “Individual No. 1”, an ominous-sounding designation that hints at the president’s alleged central role in collusion and associated corruption during the 2016 election campaign.
Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman (MbS) will be traveling to Argentina today to attend the G20 Summit meeting in Buenos Aires. It boggles the mind of anyone possessing a moral compass to understand how MbS dares to show his face on the world stage after wreaking destruction on Yemen and ordering Jamal Khashoggi’s murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul two months ago. But MbS, like his good friend Donald Trump, is blissfully free of any capacity for shame, guilt, or remorse.
Last week, the Middle East Studies Association of North America (MESA) held its annual conference in San Antonio, Texas. American, Canadian, French, Dutch, German, British, Irish, Moroccan, Egyptian, Lebanese, Spanish, Indonesian, Turkish, Israeli, and Iraqi scholars and students from disciplines as varied as anthropology, comparative literature, political science, history, media studies, and art came together for four days to share knowledge, browse a tremendous book exhibit, watch films, and reconnect with colleagues and friends. Given the grim state of most of the Middle East at present, one might assume that bringing together a critical mass of people with deep professional and personal ties to the region would be a recipe for glum and tense conversations, and there was a smattering of those, but for the most part, the mood at the conference was joyful.
For most Americans, World War I (WWI) exists in the realm of myth and distant history. No one who experienced it fully is still alive, and the war did not scar and alter the physical and political landscape of the United States as it did in Europe and the Middle East. Monuments to the war are few in America. In 1918, the “big war” in American memory was the Civil War of the 1860s, our most bloody and costly war to date, and one that still reverberates in current politics. The United States only participated in half of WWI’s four gruesome years, and if anything, this marked not the closing of a chapter for America, but rather, the beginning of the U.S.’s role as a major power to contend with on the world stage.