Page 10


THE FINAL PHASE OF EMPIRE MORRIS BERMAN AUTHOR OF THE BEST-SELL1NG THE TWILIGHT CF AMERICAN CULTURE on the stock exchanges and big business, the lesson didn’t last very long. Berman argues that our downfall really occurred when Richard Nixon abrogated the Bretton Woods Agreement \(limiting the fluctuation of foreign currencies, with the dollar pegged to the began to wash into America’s banks, with the immediate consequence of investors pulling back money from American manufacturers, to avoid the expenses of taxes, pensions, and medical bills, and turning instead to plunder Third World countries for cheap human labor. In turn, that pulled the plug on most cities, which saw their tax bases shrink as unemployment, crime, and vagrancy soared. But the disintegration began earlier. To soak up loneliness, the car was invented at precisely the moment in which cities were losing their shape and meaning. Americans took to the road, and soon radio filled the evenings in lieu of friendly chats with neighbors. The television peddled corporate wares to an overworked, jaded public no longer interested in plays, symphonies, or music played in local parks. Isolation and boredom became the constants of American life, with work taking up most of the week. The result was alienation from all forms of civic participation, and a corresponding numbness toward changing the situation. According to Berman, presidents Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, Bushes senior and junior, and Clinton are all villains of modern political history, the undertakers of American society as they rig small wars to keep us distracted. The one exception is Jimmy Carter, a modest redeemer, who emerges as a sort of hero who tried to slow down corporate and military expansion, and to hold back the forces that would usurp government in the name of free enterprise. After that, le deluge. The worst of times has come with the election and re-election of George W. Bush. Berman reserves his real fire until this moment. He describes Bush as a “dry drunk,” a “man-boy unable to empathize and a Christian fundamentalist sadist. The closing chapters of this dark book argue there is no way to turn back the doomsday clock on America; forces are too well aligned to stop the final disintegration and collapse of the nation. “A world awash in suburbs and shopping malls, television and sensationalism, cell phones and Burger King, Prozac and violence, fundamentalist Christianity and sink-or-swim ethics, is no vision for the future?’ Of course, Berman was writing this book in the grim aftermath of the Bush re-election, when Republicans held both houses of Congress. It looked darker than it does today, with Democrats back in power and already making changes in Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s first “100 Hours?’ Who knows, it could get a little better before Berman’s doomsday clock tolls midnight? The danger of writing a book on the political moment, regardless of how wide the historical canvas, is that when things do change, contradictions ensue. The midterm elections demonstrated that the American people are rethinking 28 THE TEXAS OBSERVER MARCH 9, 2007