Lebanon, America, and Politics

I just read an article by Thomas L. Friedman, who is an opinion columnist for the New York Times … and I felt it was vitally important to share what he had to say.

He began by recounting the recent explosion in Lebanon and then remarked how so many of the people immediately asked, not so much about what happened, but who did it. And more importantly, what political advantage did they gain from the event.

He then went on to point out how these questions demonstrate several similarities between the United States, Lebanon, and other Middle East countries. Of course our natural reaction is, “What similarities! The U.S. isn’t anything like the Middle East!”

I’ll let Friedman answer …

The United States is becoming like Lebanon and other Middle East countries in two respects. First, our political differences are becoming so deep that our two parties now resemble religious sects in a zero-sum contest for power. They call theirs “Shiites and Sunnis and Maronites” or “Israelis and Palestinians.” We call ours “Democrats and Republicans,” but ours now behave just like rival tribes who believe they must rule or die.

Everything is now politics — even the climate, even energy, even face masks in a pandemic.

And when everything becomes politics — and power — a society (and certainly a democracy) eventually dies.

There is no center, there are only sides; there’s no truth, there are only versions; there are no facts, there’s only a contest of wills. 

Friedman goes on to compare Trump with Bibi Netanyahu in Israel, Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, Viktor Orban in Hungary, Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey and Vladimir Putin in Russia and points out how these leaders:

… deliberately try to undermine the guardians of facts and the common good. Their message to their people is: “Don’t believe the courts, the independent civil servants or the fake news generators — only trust me, my words and my decisions.” It’s a jungle out there. My critics are killers (which is what Trump called his press corps on Friday), and only I can protect our tribe from theirs. 

There’s much more, including how Trump has met his match in Mother Nature and  COVID-19. No matter how hard he’s tried to discredit and deflect the pandemic by making it about politics, he has utterly failed.

I urge — yea, implore — you to read the article if for no other reason than to see how extremely important it is that we change the leadership in this country on November 3rd.

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

29 thoughts on “Lebanon, America, and Politics

  1. Yes. it is. I can feel it and it saddens me. But I also see wrong and right. The more we move one way, the more the opposition seems to move in the other.

    The irony is, it will not just go away. At least not in my opinion.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. How many times can one hit a nail on its head before the nail is so embedded in the wood you will have to burn the wood, or otherwise destroy it, in order to remove the nail.
    Trump is building a cross to divide the right frm the left. Now the nails are embedded solidly at the inersection, or “CRUX OF THE CROSS,” you know what a burning cross will mean to the right, and what it will symbolize to the left, secrecy vs horror.
    Is there any chance of saving America? At this point it is not looking good…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve been arguing for a long time that the US has certain similarities with the Middle East, not so much in the sense of being divided into rival tribes (this implies that the blame for the situation rests equally with all sides), but in a deeper sense. Both the US and the Middle East are traditionally highly-religious societies which have seen the rise of secularism on a large scale, substantial cultural change which undermines religious taboos, and (more recently) a dramatic increase in the number of non-religious people, especially among young adults.

    In both places, this has led to the rise of a militant and sometimes violent religious-extremist reaction — the Moral Majority and its successors in the US, the Taliban and al-Qâ’idah and Dâ’ish (ISIL) in the Middle East. In both cases these militants are determined to reverse the cultural changes that so alarm them and re-impose the dominance of their religious taboo system on the whole society. But again, the “must rule or die” feeling is not symmetrical or equal on both sides. The secular majority in the US would probably be willing to accept Christian fundamentalism as one of many subcultures within a pluralistic society. But the fundamentalists won’t accept that role — for them, only their own rule over the whole society will do. Their stance is fundamentally aggressive, while our increasing militance in opposing them is defensive.

    Lebanon is one of the more secular and educated countries in the Middle East and thus actually not such a good basis for comparison. Though the initial reaction was indeed as you and Friedman describe it, the Lebanese have not been at each others’ throats along tribal lines since then. In fact, they’ve been remarkably united in calling for the resignation and punishment of the officials who allowed the disaster to happen. That is, the impact of catastrophe did not cause their society to fragment still further along existing lines of division. One cannot say the same for the US, were another disaster (the pandemic) has driven church leaders and Trumpanzees to double down on their science-denial and reality-denial, embracing behaviors which threaten the entire society.

    Liked by 7 people

  4. Thank you Nan for directing us toward Friedman’s article. I agreed with every single word.

    The Us or Them mentality in this country has never been stronger. Just the other night I watched Trump telling the world that he had stopped the Dems from meddling in Florida’s mail-in voting process, so now, thanks to him, mail-in voting is okay in Florida. It was a real-time moment of sheer unadulterated and shameless falsehood. I didn’t see much comment about it because–I suppose– we are so numb to the man.

    We are not “watching” a train wreck. We are on the train, and it is wrecking.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. When Aotearoa New Zealand passed legislation banning the use of nuclear weaponry in its territory, America unilaterally removed this country from the ANZUS treaty and effectively cold shouldered us for the next two decades. I also remember the comments of George W Bush at the outset of the invasion of Iraq when our government made the decision not to take part: If you’re not with us, you’re against us.

    And from afar, it seem that the concept of “if you’re not with us, you’re against us” is a widely held viewpoint within America. It applies equally to politics and religion, as it does to international relations, but also applies to almost every aspect of American life.

    Admittedly, the Internet tends to exaggerate the extremes and downplay the middle ground, but even on my brief visits to the US, I felt that most people had beliefs that they were absolutely certain were correct. I was on several occasions chastised for being “wishy washy” because I openly admitted that my opinions and beliefs were tentative – based on my experience and information available at the time – and that new information and/or experiences may cause a change in what I believe.

    I think perhaps it’s only in America where God can be only a supernatural entity (real or imagined) and nothing else, where non-Christians cannot be Quakers, where universal health care means loss of freedom, tyranny even, as does gun control, and where many people cannot differentiate between social democracy, and communism.

    An analogy that feels like an appropriate fit, and I emphasise this is a personal observation and a generalisation, is that there is a tendency towards black and white thinking in America more so than in Aotearoa New Zealand and other developed nations

    Liked by 6 people

  6. This is the real social cost of moving away from liberal values and why I will continue to argue that partisanship to narrative – believing narrative over reality – is the problem no matter what political preferences one may have. Without a common value system – systemic values – there can be no social cohesion. There can only be winners and losers, those in power and those out of power. This is the model, the narrative, we are being told is not racist, not bigoted, not hateful. It’s a pack of lies.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So are you saying the NY Times writer is promoting his narrative over reality? Because if you aren’t, then I (as usual) am unable to see any connection between your comment and the post topic. Instead, I continue to see you banging away with your extrinsic opinions on the state of U.S. politics.

      If you disagree with the writer, that’s certainly your prerogative. But if that’s the case, please be specific and share with us the exact points that are contrary to your perspective.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I agree that the US – and much of the West – is becoming like the Middle East in the sense of a growing widespread return to tribalism. The author describes this local tribalism as Democratic vs Republican. But I disagree that this is the result of thinking ‘everything is politics’ like it is in Lebanon. My point is that the root cause of this tribalism in the US and much of West is this belief in narrative and not ‘everything is politics’. The narrative – whether it’s religious or political or social or economic – drives the tribalism. In this sense, the political leanings don’t matter, assuming that the various tribal narratives are either correct or incorrect, that it really isn’t ‘everything is politics’ that is the root cause. It’s belief in any narrative because competing narratives always produce social division and, if unchecked, conflict. That is what’s going on today in the US.

        The solution to tribalism is acceptance and support of liberal values within a liberal democracy over and above any competing narratives – especially movements like today’s social justice and BLM – that urges people to unite behind it and view the Other as an enemy rather than support the country’s liberal institutions flaws and all, support a system of common values based on shared rights and freedoms that creates the necessary public arena in which competing religions and politics and social views and economic models can coexist. All of us are We The People and not teamed up as Us-vs-Them. That’s the destructive narrative.

        Defeating Trump will not address the tribalism problem. Defeating Biden will not address the tribalism problem. Addressing the misplaced belief in narrative – a spin that should be imposed on everyone as if true or face negative consequences – with a return to shared and common liberal values for all will address the tribalism problem, will reduce racism, will reduce bigotry, will reduce poverty, will reduce discrimination, will reduce hatred, and so on. That’s the path to avoid the kind of tribal violence, graft, corruption, tyranny, and ineffective government that populates much of the world today… including the Middle East and many downtown sections of Main Street USA.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thank you! That was a much more defined comment — and one that had a lot of meat.

          Now, my question to you is this … you’ve defined the problem. Then you go on to say a return to shared and common liberal values will address the problem. Any ideas/suggestions on how to do this?

          Further, you point out that tribalism is at the root. So how do nations get around this? Through a leader that addresses it and promotes working together towards solutions? Or must we go through some kind of major catastrophe that forces people to pull together towards a common good?

          It’s easy to see what’s “wrong” — not as easy to make things “right.”


          • Hey, if there were a magic button…

            All we can do is what we can do individually, starting out with understanding the problem. Without that step, no solution to the problem can be reached; instead, we have a downward spiral that we see today. And the problem has been festering for 50 years as children have been, and are continuing to be, taught not how but what to think, taught to frame understanding of the real world within a framework that denigrates liberal values as if they were responsible for all the other problems while, at the same time, rejecting real world overwhelming evidence to the contrary. (With a country full of black professionals, black councilors, black mayors, black governors, black senators, black police chiefs, black generals, and yes, even a black President, it take belief of the religious kind to assume systemic anti-black racism requires fundamental change.)

            It takes belief of the religious kind to compartmentalize one’s thinking to believe one is doing good while supporting those who act against these shared liberal values. So the teaching is like any other indoctrination (and those who do it usually protected from criticism by those who think well of themselves for doing so). And the recovery is just as difficult. It’s very hard to break through to a mind already certain that the framework for a particular Us-vs-Them narrative is correct and beyond reproach or criticism of any kind when overwhelming evidence from reality is already rejected for supposedly moral and ethical considerations as part of that narrative. (You know, the “You are a bad person for criticizing religion… think of all those poor and lonely old ladies you are hurting! Why do you hate God so?”)

            As you well know, when your closest ally is reality and reality is rejected by a believer of the religious kind, then what is left? Well, you tell me. There are a thousand different ways to address why belief of the religious kind is a vice but it starts with a willingness to try. And you know the cost that can come with that. You’ve certainly encountered this with religious indoctrination. Now it’s spread to the social, political, and economic arenas. Overcoming belief in any Us-vs-Them narrative is a long and arduous social process… but one that has to start with understanding what the problem is: faith-based belief. This current faith-based belief structure of the social justice narrative is no different but far more immediate with nightly rioting and destruction and a skyrocketing crime wave… all of which plays into strengthening Trump’s hand. Note that nowhere (that I can find) is media reporting polling numbers that put Biden ahead by comfortable double digits have fallen to mid-single digits. That’s what the rioting has produced. But the long term harm to accepting shared liberal values – no matter who wins the next election – is growing as institutions collapse domino style to what some supporters like to call the New Left, the new narrative, the new faith-based social justice movement. Everything from Harvard and the NYT to universities and large businesses across the country. And the worst effect? Self-censoring out of fear of causing offended feelings and suffering social consequences. As far as I can tell, that willingness to stand up and criticize has to start with me doing what little I can to do my part. Imagine what could be accomplished if everyone felt the same way.

            Liked by 1 person

  7. I have trouble with the framing of the argument. As someone else pointed out saying “tribalism” implies that both sides are engaged in these tit for tat manichean worldviews. At some point it is legitimate to ask if a differing worldview represents an existential threat to you, your loved ones, even your country.

    I’m going to use Matt Shea as an example. He has argued that his “biblical basis for war” and the killing of all males who do not agree” were “hypothetical,” but is it hypothetical because he is unable or because he wouldn’t really do it. We can’t know, but given his overall behavior and worldview it seems that it’s hypothetical because he lacks the power to enforce his will on others.

    I cannot condone that kind of ideologically based homicide. But I fail to see how that makes me “tribal.” So how do you deal with one political faction that willingly embraces pockets who condone ideological cleansing? If we want to avoid the label of being “tribal” do we have to let the Matt Shea types of the world kill the men who disagree with them?

    I’m not even going to contemplate their plans for the women.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I saw Friedman’s piece earlier this week and had given some thought to using it in a post, but hadn’t yet gotten around to it. You did an excellent job with this one, Nan! Rather than attempt to re-invent the wheel, I shall share your work … thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Reblogged this on Filosofa's Word and commented:
    Earlier this week, Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote an excellent article that I set aside to address when time permitted. Meanwhile, our friend Nan over at Nan’s Notebook, wrote an excellent post about the issues addressed in Mr. Friedman’s piece regarding our current political situation. I urge you to read Nan’s and Mr. Friedman’s words and ponder … ponder where we are heading if we are foolish enough to allow Trump to spend another 4 years in the Oval Office. Thank you, Nan!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Nan, there are two important issues here. Friedman is dead on accurate that we are governing off our extremes, not a middle. That has caused many a problem on governance and the lack of leadership. As General James Mattis said, this president does not even try to bring us together.

    The other issue is common sense governance over chemicals and where they are stored. Thinking what happened in Lebanon cannot happen here is not only wrong, it does not remember recent history in Dallas. Per Wikipedia…

    “On April 17, 2013, an ammonium nitrate explosion occurred at the West Fertilizer Company storage and distribution facility in West, Texas, eighteen miles (29 km) north of Waco, while emergency services personnel were responding to a fire at the facility.[7] Fifteen people were killed, more than 160 were injured, and more than 150 buildings were damaged or destroyed. Investigators confirmed that ammonium nitrate was the material that exploded.[8] On May 11, 2016, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives stated that the fire had been deliberately set.”


    Liked by 1 person

  11. Thanks for this Nan. Friedman speaks the truth, as he so often does. The right-wing autocrat dictators seem to be gaining a foothold in the world. It can only signal a further breakdown in our societies. That we have one here, the supposed heartbeat of democracy, makes things more ominous than ever before. We should all be afraid, yes, but we must also continue to denounce and reveal these idiots to be the self-promoting narcissists that they really are.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. People give the president to much credit, a president by myself cannot protect the world from all dangers. No president can. Why don’t you all criticize Obama and Biden for hundreds of thousands of deaths from H1N1. You make excuses for him because he is a socialist. Trump didn’t create the division. He was elected because of the division. People are sick of the division and cry baby politics. Sick of socialist demanding everyone must believe a certain way. Biden can not and will not heal the division. He may pass laws to stamp out all opposition like a good socialist. So I guess with tyranny he may eliminate the divide, but not by dialogue and healing.

    Liked by 1 person

        • The question was not, are you a communist? Non-sequitur.
          I think every president since George Washington has been elected by divided interests, the desire for change. When an incumbent proves himself unable to govern, then we need to remove him/her from office and look fora better candidate. Democracy.

          You are responding to an article about the disintegrating political system by presenting an excellent example of some of our problems. You start by posing a what-bout-them and you extremely exaggerate the deaths in 2010. The actual number was 12,469 deaths. H1N1 was not politicized but face with realism and confidence in the medical/scientific community.

          You bawl like a calf in a hailstorm while you complain of ‘cry baby politics’. You commit the very offense you accuse others of. One word for that is projection.

          In the article, the journalist stated one reason for our intense division is that neither party has an anchor point outside our own vision. But we do. We have The Constitution of The United States. During the term of this president, we have seen the disabling of each administrative department. We have seen the courts stuffed with judges chosen because of their stance on conservative issues. We have seen the ability of Congress to perform its duty of checks and balances disabled by those judges who ruled against Congress’ ability to subpoena witnesses; an issue which should never have been sent to the courts and the courts never should have accepted. The Constitution gives Congress the authority to investigate suspected illegal or unconstitutional acts.

          A good troll would have made a better opening argument than yours. Because of that, I think you went off on a rant without checking any facts. It seems you simply try to string together some partisan talking points with no real understanding of the issues. You are trying to defend an indefensible person.

          I am not going to call the impeached president som names referring to his mental, emotional, or intellectual health. I will simply remind everyone of an overlooked fact that bears directly on our problems. In April of 2017, only three or four weeks after the inauguration, Steve Bannon and Kelleyanne Conway addressed a Conservative meeting to explain for them the agenda of the new administration. The GOP would be under Trump’s control and their plan for the deconstruction of the administrative state.

          Don’t take my word for it: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/23/us/politics/cpac-stephen-bannon-reince-priebus.html
          The Trump administration is going about the destruction of our Republic. Nothing less. See the video.

          I apologize to everyone for this long response.

          Liked by 3 people

  13. The idea that we may be on the cusp of a civil war has been growing ever stronger in my mind. In part, because I recently watched a Frontline on the war in Iraq as told by Iraqi citizens. Before the war, they say, they never thought their country could become so divided. Sunnis were neighbors to Shiites. Christians and members of other religions also lived peacefully in the same areas. Granted, they lived under a cruel dictatorship and when Saddam was gone, a massive power grab ensued. But, after 17 years of violence and cruelty, the divisions appear un-mendable. In so many historical instances of war and resistance, people thought it could never “happen here”. The fact that history repeats itself coupled with the Trump administration’s continued dismantling of our government worry me.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hello Carol! I’m really glad you’ve joined our little group. I hope you’ll stick around. 🤞

      I think your comment about a civil war is much too close to truth. Actually, in many ways, it’s already happening. And unfortunately, the “one” who is going to bring back “law and order” is the prime instigator.

      Oh and BTW, you’re not the only one that’s worried!

      Liked by 3 people

      • I’m fascinated by war and seek out books and documentaries on the subject. I somewhat regretted leaving such a bleak comment on your post. This week, I’ve been rewatching a film about the Algerian war with France which reminded me that “It’s hard enough to start a revolution, even harder to sustain it, and hardest of all to win it.” In some ways this is bitter consolation but it oddly gives me hope.

        Liked by 3 people

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