Beyond The Soaring Rhetoric of Obama’s Cairo Speech: A Toxic Innocence At Home

Even as President Barack Obama waxed eloquent in Cairo, Egypt, on the moral imperatives of the community of nations, public opinion polls released in the United States revealed that, by a substantial percentage, its citizens believe torture is an acceptable option for interrogation of suspects deemed terrorists by various US governmental agencies. In addition, other polls show a majority of the American public hold the opinion that the all American theme park of state torture, located at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, should remain open for business and continue to welcome guests from around the globe, taking them for the ride of their lives through the dark id of the American psyche.

These revelations should not come as a shock. Torture, official secrecy, and other sundry apparatus and accouterments of the national security state are about the only viable enterprises remaining in this declining nation. Moreover, one of the defining traits of the insecure (both among men and nations) is to stand, bristling in a paranoid posture, with feet planted in stubborn defiance of changing circumstances, snarling at invisible threats and imagined affronts, as life moves on with indifferent grace.

Recently, in the latest in a series of setbacks and self-inflicted wounds, the national identity of the United States sustained another humiliating blow when General Motors was driven into a ditch, declared totaled, and then stripped and sold for spare parts. This event throws a rod into the smoking engine block of the nation’s dream machine: The automobiles manufactured in Detroit were once symbols of American power, freedom of mobility, even sexual allure. But the world has sped ahead, leaving the US wheezing dust in its wake: The era of high horsepower and American ascendancy, with its glinting chrome conceit and reinforced steel illusions of unassailable power, now sits upon concrete blocks rusting in the automobile graveyard of history.

At present, and for many years now, the American automobile culture has meant little more than feckless commuters stalled in traffic, alternatively sullen and seething in their powerlessness. Yet, this is not the time to throw a populist pity party: The people of the nation face a future circumscribed by their own lack of self-awareness and their refusal of civic engagement. Year after year, they have displayed avidity for little more than the rigged, roadside attractions of the corporate carnival; hence, traffic is heavy on this lost highway, all lanes are jammed on the superhighway to Clowntown, U.S.A.

Seemingly, the nation’s hopes are only being kept flickering by caffeine, antidepressants, and the naive belief that they — accepting, as Americans have, since birth, the narcissistic mythos of the consumer state — are a special breed whose God-kissed destiny would forever fall outside the failures and contretemps of earthly life. Therefore, Americans cling to the core conviction that there should not be any consequences for their own oceanic apathy, child-like credulity, and small time cupidity in regard to their relationship to the elitist power brokers whose financial chicanery and political scheming determined their hapless fate.

Both prole and plutocrat set the wheel in motion, and both wait for some kind of deux ex machina, whereby Fortuna will smile once again on the hobbled nation, and restore it and all its special children to their rightful place — up above the world of regret, reflection, and amends — back upon their highchairs of infantile entitlement. And while the populace waits in vain for the Goddess of Luck to rise from the wreckage of their vanity, they still have a glut of junk food, guns, and porn (some of the last remaining goods produced by the nation) to act as palliatives … miserable substitutes — that they are — for sustenance, feelings of empowerment, and eros.

At present, the citizens of the US moan “poor us” as they stagger through this “time of crisis.” The American people seem as helpless as pitiful puppies whimpering before the multiple and multiplying perils of the present. Yet, they are not wronged innocents, made blameless victims because of their hapless but well-meaning credulity. Nonsense. US consumers have been the beneficiaries of the mad dog policies of the American corporate/national security state nexus. Greedily, they devoured the scraps dropped from the tables of the oligarchs. This PitifulPup/Mad Dog Syndrome defines the era, and is the collective mode of being of citizens of the American Empire (regardless of the public relations makeover the Obama Administration is attempting to pull off worldwide).

For meaningful change to occur, Americans must look deeper into themselves and into the collective soul of the nation. Not far beneath the bristling ego structure of the torturer (and his enablers in the general population) is a quaking pup possessed of a monstrous need for absolute control. Incongruously, the torturer is terrified by his victim. The torturer, like the empire itself, cannot control the vastness of life (he sees the world’s uncontrollability as a ticking time bomb somewhere near him he cannot locate) — but his victim, the human fragment of the world quivering before him, can be (must be!) totally dominated. Or so it seems within the fear frothing mind of the Mad Dog torturer. But this does not suffice: The absolute domination of one solitary human being cannot bridle the uncertainty inherent in life. The torturer’s dread cannot be assuaged. In the same manner an alcoholic cannot dominate a bottle of booze by will power, a power drunk nation cannot subdue its terror by practicing torture.

And what is it that invokes such fear in the people of America? Deep down, Americans are stricken with abject fear by the fact that it is impossible to continue being the dominate power on the planet and being indulged, like spoiled children, with all the benefits and privileges such a position affords. The United States tortures to maintain the global status quo. Remember: “Our way of life is non-negotiable.” We’ll torture or kill anyone (even ecologically, the planet) for a tank of gas and a bag of Cheetos (or any of an assortment of tasty, salt-rich snack foods).

If this preposterous way of life was a classic, Madison Avenue ad campaign, its catchphrase might be: “Bet you can’t torture just one.” Or: “Go for it!” Or the latest offering of glistening snake oil that has been marketed to the nation: “Yes, we can.”

But, as far as investigating US governmental policies of torture and then prosecuting its architects and operatives goes, the Obama administration’s mantra has degenerated from, “yes, we can,” to “no, can-do.” Unless President Obama reverses course, he will prove himself not to be an agent of change, but another water-board carrier for the psychopaths of the status quo.

Such a high level of denial only increases the intensity of the murderous libido that flows beneath the surface of American life — that chronic river of repressed rage surging within the psyches of the besieged laboring class, who, despite being burdened by debt slavery and chafed by ever diminishing prospects, still clutch the kitschy iconography of the god of the consumer state. Although that god has fallen, it will not go solemnly to the boneyard of dead myths.

In the contemporary US, debt slavery, a lack of future prospects, the constant threat of bankruptcy and homelessness, and the danger of gun violence are all very real; yet, day and night, alluring media mirages beckon Americans into a blinding wasteland of false hope. Daily existence feels unreal — a constant, hollow communion with electronic phantoms. A chasm of alienation opens between the polarity of unreal expectations and degraded real life situations. Toxic shlock syndrome sets in.

The sense of alienation is so profound that many citizens on the political right believe that President Obama cannot in reality be a citizen of this country; his name is too foreign, his skin possesses a hue too different from their own. His birth certificate must be as bogus as an IOU from Bernie Madoff. He can’t be a real American; he seems no more real, nor connected with the concerns of their lives, than any other ghost in the media hologram.

But guns feel real to these troubled folks. The weapon’s weight in their hands wards off an unfocused sense of dread; its heft, momentarily, mitigates feelings of being helplessly adrift … Looking down the precise beauty of its barrel distills down hazy hatreds into identifiable targets. Within their fog-shrouded minds, the very presence of that “slick-ass usurper” in the White House causes the ground to feel less than solid beneath their feet. Ergo, guns must be stockpiled; massive amounts of ammunition stored for ballast. These treacherous days, that are so muffled by the white noise of uncertainty, must yield to something as clear and decisive as the crack of a rifle shot.

A collective tantrum rages on the right, as their ranks hold their breath and hoard bullets. In the enveloping darkness of political powerlessness, they are sleeping with their Sarah Palin night-light on, then tossing fitfully awake attempting to mollify themselves by gazing mindlessly at Fox News crib mobiles, then scanning the heavens craving a Happy Meal apocalypse.

“I won’t share my toys; they’re mine! I want my tax cut lolly! Now!” Their sippy cups runneth over with rage. Overweight, evincing a junk food engendered, toddler-like waddle, and blubbering in their snit fit of thwarted id, they resemble heavily armed Teletubbies in the throes of an angel dust-induced psychosis.

The nation seethes with cranky, overgrown babies who kill. How could it not come to this, when the nation tortures like little boys plucking the wings from hapless flies? But the Empire of Perpetual Id cannot be sustained. What Obama apprehends, and was the underlying theme of his Cairo stem-winder: The people of the world have grown weary of our brattiness. They wish to rouse us from our long nappytime of exceptionalism. The world has moved on, while too many Americans sit bawling in their toxic innocence.

Meanwhile, the most special children whose privileged faces were ever touched by the golden light of the sun, the elite of Wall Street, bang their silver spoons on their skyscraper highchairs, whining, “We want more bonus candy, We want to go for a ride in my Gulfstream Jet stroller, We want to go play in our Dubai sandbox — Gimme, gimme! — Now!”

Every four to eight years, presidential elections are held in the United States of Infantile Omnipotence in which we attempt to personify the nation with an adult face. Usually we fail: Bush with his crankiness and his tantrums of mass destruction; Clinton with his oceanic overreach and his inability to delay gratification; Reagan with his senile, regressed-to-childhood naps … He even called his wife, “mommy.”

Barrack Obama appears to be an adult. Yet, in our childish national psyche, panicked and paralyzed because its arrested development has left it bereft of the ability to navigate the complexities of a rapidly changing world, having Obama as the face of the nation is like The Portrait of Dorian Gray — but played out in reverse — and produced as a pop-up book.

Worse, it appears the nation’s collective mode of being might proceed straight from infancy to decrepitude, only briefly stopping in puberty for a session of online porno-induced masturbation.

Phil Rockstroh is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living now in Munich, Germany. He may be contacted at: and at Facebook: Read other articles by Phil.

10 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. HR said on June 10th, 2009 at 12:40pm #

    As Chomsky has asserted for years, USans prefer to live in a state of SELF-IMPOSED ignorance. “The truth is out there” and very easily accessed these days, but we’d rather listen to and read lies and misinformation that tend to confirm our inflated, and inaccurate, self-image of ourselves. We’ll keep on making pledges to the flag, standing in awe of our screeching, war-loving abomination of an anthem, worshiping our military as it bankrupts us, and telling ourselves the imaginary man in the sky blesses us right up to the day the last of our kind passes from existence.

  2. bozh said on June 10th, 2009 at 2:40pm #

    in other words, more americans than any other people know so much that isn’t so.
    this has happened to most germans in the 30s. This is happnening to most ‘jews’; perhaps jews are even more led astray than any other people with a cult or without a cult.
    it had happened to japanese.
    so, deluding people had been going on for millennia. Deceivers know that a lie is as strong as the truth.
    they also know that a child wld accept a god readily if the authority [for them, parents are even gods let alone authority] tells a child that there is a god who is watching over it.

    tell a child how great america is: just, fair, allknowing; with best constitution, etecetc., we can see that if amers are told that there are people who want to destroy this greatness, amers wld be so hateful towards these ‘terrorists’ that even the torture wld be much of mild thing to do to them.

    innately amers are not evil. Neither were germans in the 30s. They were mistaught, misdirected, and disinformed. Germany, italy, and japan in 39-45 period prove beyond any doubt that lies are efficient and as strong as the truth.

    but please don’t try to affirm this by lying to your wife or kids. Btw, i lied to my wife a lot; that was the only way i cld get her. tnx bozhidar balkas vancouver

  3. Mike G said on June 10th, 2009 at 4:23pm #

    Phil makes some very ggod points in his rant.

    I wonder why he is so fearful of privately held firearms, does he believe that the government held firearms will be used only against America’s enemies and not inward against it’s own citizens to maintain the corporate and political hold of a desperate elite class.

    Is he trying to make the point that Americans depend too much on the second amendment to resolve the upcoming unconstitutional fascist state. I

    f so there, I’d agree, when push comes to shove, too many Americans will Kowtow and turn them all in and line up for the cattle cars. Americans should be more concerned about political solutions than killing solutions

    Phil if you are listening, do not fear defending yourself against criminals and a criminal state that you clearly understand, you don’t want to be a patsy for the criminal state. Find somewhat that will take you to a gun range, I assume you live in city by your rant, firearms are not snakes, they are tools, you know how to use a hammer right.

    Maybe you should start with a hammer.

  4. Don Hawkins said on June 10th, 2009 at 4:28pm #

    In other words, more americans than any other people know so much that isn’t so and keep heading down the road for little more than the rigged, roadside attractions of the corporate carnival; hence, traffic is heavy on this lost highway, all lanes are jammed on the superhighway to Clowntown, U.S.A. As they head down the lost superhighway to clowntown, USA not really knowing that the system is out of control in more way’s than one and the so called leaders are in firm control of the out of control system and the illusion of knowledge that kept us all together has now turned into the greatest show on Earth in clowntown, USA at least for a little while longer. I guess we could use the knowledge the real thing and reason work together to save our you know what calm at peace while using those cool minds light not shadow science not superstition not fear but knowledge. It’s probably to simple?

  5. HR said on June 10th, 2009 at 4:52pm #

    Boz, your observations concerning Germany in the 1930s are very applicable to what has been going on here for at least the last 40 years, in deadly earnest with the bonding of the right with the Christofascists and the complete blurring of the lines that once provided at least a modicum of separation between the factions of the single ruling corporatist party. It has been so obvious, for so long, but people will call you crazy, or a traitor, or worse, if you try to point it out. I see very little hope for the future these days and have concluded that the people of the world will be better off without unthinking automatons like us.

  6. Don Hawkins said on June 10th, 2009 at 5:08pm #

    HR I watch TV news and stuff and I know I shouldn’t but it makes me feel so smart and HR I don’t think you are crazy now the people for the most part I see on TV crazy is the wrong word. Insane is a much better word. In this out of control system that only needs another Earth to keep going most I see just want to keep doing the same thing over again and everything will be fine that’s insane. Tomorrow tomorrow it’s only a day away.

  7. Mulga Mumblebrain said on June 10th, 2009 at 7:53pm #

    Not for nothing did Gore Vidal call it the ‘United States of Amnesia’. Of course Gore pines for a mythical lost American Republic, but really, the American project has been a plutocratic, elitist drive for world empire since 1776. ‘The people who own this country are going to run this country’, was, I believe, a favourite saying of John Jay, first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and the architects of the Declaration of Independence were the colonies’ rich, who fashioned a state to suit their interests.
    Alfred McCoy has outlined just how far back the roots of Yankee torture practices seen at Abu Ghraib,go. But he does not discuss the even deeper historical roots in techniques like water-boarding used both in the Philippines and against native Americans, and the breadth of torture, which has been used both within US prisons and police forces.
    I think the Yankee pathology has a number of roots. Central is the worship of violence, itself a manifestation of American death-obsession. The Yanks seem to have a big problem with death, and appear to attempt to master it through primitive religious beliefs, fervently held, extreme materialism as if to thwart the enemy by piling up possessions as some sort of defence against the void and by the ruthless exercise of death-dealing violence against the defenceless, as if this ruthless manipulation of death somehow protects the wielder of ultimate power from death’s relentless presence. I wonder how one explains the casual insouciance of a Madeleine Albright in the face of 500,000 Iraqi child deaths, which calamity she was intimately complicit with, with her infamous observation that these deaths were a price that was ‘worth it’.
    The US psyche has also been perverted by centuries of unrelenting influence by market capitalism. As Marx observed, capitalism shapes societies and psyches as ruthlessly as it does economies. Capitalism advantages the greedy and ruthless, the unscrupulous and the egomaniacal, while hindering the morally scrupulous, the empathic and those who see a sufficiency of wealth as more desirable than unbounded avarice. The elites in our sham democracies are almost entirely hereditary. Those who come along amongst these groups, who find that their class greed and indifference to the welfare of others is pernicious, are expelled, or remove themselves from, the business of ruling society. Thus the tendencies to ruthless self-interest and indifference to or hatred of others, are reinforced, by a process of ‘unnatural’ selection. Occasionally new recruits rise from the rabble, if they have proved themselves sufficiently psychopathic. The system thus reinforces itself, and by now is so intractable that the elites are openly looting the US, through financial crime and by the generosity of a political caste entirely bought and sold, to an unprecedented degree.
    Abroad US violence is reaching unprecedented levels. Trillions have been entirely wasted, in a world of hunger and destitution, to erect an archipelago of hundreds of bases, fortress embassies and client regimes, from which the US interferes or seeks to interfere in the affairs of every other society on earth. The egotism is beyond words, and the duplicity unmatched, as the sole criterion for ‘democracy’ becomes total, slavish, obeisance to the US.
    The most amazing symptom of end-stage Yankee pathology, in my opinion,is the dominance of Israel over the US. That one tiny tribe, or, one should say, the worst, the most openly racist and murderous elements therein, aided by the unprecedented money power of Jews within the US and the West, should completely control the US political process, through vilification, intimidation, money support in the notoriously corrupt US political system and media dominance, is breath-taking. That this dominance is used for ill, for the perpetual imprisonment of a people in their millions, their brutalisation and their incessant denigration and demonisation in the media, is vile enough, but that it hysterically demands unflinching praise as a force for absolute good, is clearly morally insane.
    I’m afraid we are just living through a ghastly climax to centuries of social pathology throughout the world, primarily as the result of the dominance of market capitalism, a socially poisonous and ecologically devastating ethical and spiritual disease, and its leading state, the USA. For as long as the US dominates the planet, our civilization threatening crises can only worsen, and the time left to reverse the decline is short.

  8. Don Hawkins said on June 11th, 2009 at 5:03am #

    Advertising is legalized lying. H. G. Wells

    You can tell the ideals of a nation by its advertisements. Douglas

    If advertising had a little more respect for the public, the public would have a lot more respect for advertising. Adams

    Advertising is a valuable economic factor because it is the cheapest way of selling goods, particularly if the goods are worthless Lewis

    The man who stops advertising to save money is like the man who stops the clock to save time. Thomas Jefferson

    Living in an age of advertisement, we are perpetually disillusioned. The perfect life is spread before us every day, but it changes and withers at a touch. Joseph Priestley

    If you read adds from the 1920’s or 30’s, 60’s and then the adds of today any changes? Much more respect for the public is it still legalized lying are the goods being advertised kind of worthless call call now. Can you still tell the ideas of a nation by its advertisements? Here’s one you don’t hear to often. “Ladies and gentleman people of Earth are you ready for peak oil and climate change”? “Come join us in Iceland where property is now at rock bottom prices”. “You only have until about 2018 but act now call now don’t wait this is a limited time offer”. “Come on get off that lost superhighway to clowntown, USA and come join us the time is now just fill out the easy form and see if you qualify call, call now”.

    Two million to start Capital calm at peace one voice. There is still time but not on the lost superhighway to clowntown, USA trust me on this one.

  9. Don Hawkins said on June 11th, 2009 at 5:41am #

    This not a game people and to watch the so called leaders here in the States it seems so. Cap and trade the Bill is an illusion and we hear the best we can do right now. Why is it the best we can do? Could it have anything to do with special interests? Can we take coal and make gasoline yes we sure can and we can also leave our kids a ruined Earth. Can we get oil out of a rock yes we sure can and we can also leave our kids a ruined Earth. Can we keep consuming like there is no tomorrow yes we sure can and we can also leave our kids a ruined Earth. Needing another Earth to keep this present system moving forward that’s a business term is not a joke. The speed we have used up and polluted our planet is breathtaking and so far the plan is full speed ahead. Just to see one plan that makes sense, reason would be a fresh of breath air. So far not a one just more illusion. Shocking isn’t it.

  10. bozh said on June 11th, 2009 at 2:20pm #

    i’d be much surprised if the US ruling class didn’t know what you have said about finiteness of resources and leaving for future generation a scorched earth.

    so i’ll go on with my observations with knoweledge that they are aware that we can’t go on like this for much longer.
    So what’s up with world plutos? Well, for one thing billionaires comprise just 000001% of world pop. And they know that when people begin to gasp for air and die from heat/winds/floods, plutos can find a heaven in novaya zemya, alaska, or siberia, and elsewhere.
    that means that save 10-50mn people in novaya zemya and elsewhere, all others wld perish.

    that solves global warming, warfare, energy needs, etc.
    or am i mistaken? Have they not thought of that? Give me some feed back, please! tnx bozhidar balkas vancouver
    as an aside, am i scared about giving my real name and city i live in? not much for me but i am concerned for my wife!
    and i do not condemn people who do not use real names. They have the right to be wary.