“When Desiderio Arisa, the former Minister of War, suspected in 1916 that the United States was in the Dominican Republic to ‘teach’ him and his compatriots ‘how to behave,’ he was right on the mark.” — Alan McPherson, A Short History of U.S. Interventions in Latin America and the Caribbean
||||||||| The United States used to land troops in the banana republics of the Near-Equator to ensure that the fruit companies got their way. It built and then manned the Panama Canal for decades, after ripping off Panama from Colombia and setting it up as an artificial state. Time and time again, the U.S. of A has ignored world opinion and just done what it damn well wanted. But at some point — starting roughly when Carter gave back the Canal in 1977 (officially handed over in 1999) — the U.S. began to be soft.
||||||||| 1977 is a good starting date. All In The Family was airing on TV, showing an embattled white man named Archie Bunker, and this program described the ennui of White America facing the beginning of the vast demographic changes that would come across the land through the Twenty-First Century. All In The Family, and other TV programs, were defeatist and depressing, fundamentally. Bunker had to accept a Polish son-in-law, breaking his Anglo hegemony. America had to accept a Latin American canal, breaking its Anglo hegemony. The two are connected.
||||||||| When the Vietnam War was playing out on television, America-as-an-empire went on hiatus. The disappearance of the Imperial Mission accompanied the deaths coming across on the tube. Later, during the Gulf Wars, the Imperial Mission would resurface, but for the Seventies — including New York City’s brush with bankruptcy — were dire.
||||||||| The trailing off of Flower Power in the mid-Seventies signaled the growing up of the Hippie Generation. Those growing pains and the general maturation process combined to weaken American strength further. It was during the weakness period that America got used to being soft (on controls). America would still go into foreign lands, guns blazing, but no longer would it act unilaterally to set a cowboy boot on a dark-skinned individual’s neck. From now on the UN would become paramount, Canals would be sent back, Central America would be left alone, and America would enact the pro-Latin America “Good Neighbor” policy. All these things and more would seal the deal and mark a transition to a new phase in Empire’s history.
||||||||| What started out as self-doubt became a genuine moralizing force to Do Good. The phases of Empire flickered like moving cards, and settled on the Ace of Friendship. America finally wanted to be liked. The popular kid in the hallways found a use for the four-eyed losers in the back alleys of the school. America-the-Popular and America-the-Good combined to form America-the-Reasonable.
||||||||| Reasonable decisions suggested moderation in most things. On December 31, 1999, when the Canal was restored to Panamanian hands, few newspapers in America protested the transition. The days of Yellow Journalism were over. There was no Hearst to attempt to mold the hearts and minds of American readers. Only the independent journalists, working separately across the land, went about the business of manipulation.
||||||||| America could have taken over the entire Western Hemisphere with ease if it wanted. It would have faced a hundred brushfire rebellions, but it could have done it, starting with Canada. America has been holding back for a long time now, and its “holding back” has grown tighter and more strict. It’s like fucking a chick and holding back on coming: America has been keeping from climaxing militarily in its essence since the mid-Eighteen Hundreds. This is a long-term trend, the trend toward softness. America’s refusal to kill arbitrarily marks a period of intense self-development within the borders of the country. The growth of Houston, Orange County, Dade County Fl., and the entire Sun Belt has reflected an ongoing project within the country, taking external energies and making them internally great. Skyscrapers boomed in the sky.
||||||||| America is the twittering skylark of the world now. It calls out to all nations to be more peaceful and peaceable. Through its Hollywood movies and internationally-sold TV shows, it transmits the same message: Think before you take. Hesitate on the side of goodness. Gone soft, America has sold homosexuality and gay pride alongside Mom and apple pie now for more than a generation. The mix is an uneasy one, but a soft America can encompass it all.
||||||||| And that’s the final lesson: softness allows one room for new options. Being strict and coming in a chick is a hard act to maintain. When it’s easy come, easy go with girls — as with Canals — you can relax into a new reality for yourself. The reality is that America doesn’t want to be hated, and has relaxed to accommodate that wish. That wish, bound up in the need for survival, is going to stick with America a while longer, until the needs of expanding America grow urgent, fuckable … desirable.