The Vices of American Values
By Ezrah Aharone
Besides occurring on the same day, what does Michael Vick’s release from prison for funding dogfights have in common with President Barack Obama and Dick Cheney’s dueling speeches over Guantanamo prisoners? . . . Both incidences display elements of a deep-entrenched breach between the “values” that America claims, and the “vices” that America commits.
Speaking at the National Archives with pomp images of America’s founding documents in the background, Obama said closing Guantanamo would “enlist America’s values.” Cheney professed to uphold “American values” too, as he repudiated Obama’s objectives as “recklessness cloaked in righteousness.” Though their conflicting versions of values involved 21-century torture, the head-on moral collision between America’s “creeds and deeds” dates back to when the founding documents were conceived.
When critiquing “American values” you must admit, there’s something troubling about enslavement ending in 1865 after 15 presidents, while the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) was established the next year in 1866. An additional 19 presidents with these same values would then watch a century of lynching and legalized segregation, as legislation was simultaneously petitioned to criminalize the mistreatment of animals. Fast-forward to today and it’s not unrelated that dogfights and other animal stories can plaster headlines, while society yawns with apathy over incessant Black-on-Black murders and warehouse incarceration of Black youth.
Have you noticed that it’s quite popular nowadays to be seen or photographed with pets? . . . As though this somehow signals that a person is “humanized.” Statistics show that 42 percent of American pet owners sleep in bed with animals. Pet industry revenues of $41 billion, exceed the GNP of all but 64 nations. I’m not against pets, so don’t email PETA. My point is that – Perhaps if government and society’s concerns for animals were ratably reflected historically in genuine democracy and humanity, there’d be no troubling record of slavery or segregation yesterday and there’d be little racism, militarism, and torture today.
Obama’s pitch on values may sound good – after 43 other presidents – but by consequence of its vices, America has assorted varieties of dirty laundry in its basement. Like, for instance, the Iran-Contra Scandal where the aftermath ripple-effects of crack cocaine remain menacing and unaddressed in Black communities. Certain nations and groups however with unsettled gripes (call them terrorists, insurgents, enemy combatants, Axis of Evil, or whatever) are not as “politically congenial” as African Americans. Right or wrong, some are willing to respond with their own forms of “fighting for freedom.” Cheney’s pitch on values may sound sinister, but he stands on the fact that America hasn’t been attacked since 9-11. It’s unknown whether this is attributed to waterboarding or running POW facilities like male strip-club joints. What is known however is that, if an American slips on a banana peel planted by “terrorists,” fingers will point and blame Obama saying “We told you so.”
At this stage, America is too deep into the global chess-game of power to suddenly become moralistic. And it certainly cannot afford to lower its guard, which is evidenced partially by Obama’s recant on releasing new photos of “enhanced interrogations,” as well as the Senate’s 90-6 vote to deny funding to close Guantanamo.
Citizens may swallow benevolent versions of America’s values, where firemen rush to rescue kittens from treetops, and Michael Vick volunteers at animal shelters to show he’s “rehabilitated” enough to “throw a football.” But from a US government and security standpoint, war and power is a ruthless business where values apply upon convenience, mostly for the media and textbooks. Remember, America did not amass its “superpower” status by adhering to the nonviolent values of Dr. King or “turning the other cheek” of Christianity. Thus, as the 44th president, when it comes to the sovereign survival of this European nation called America, Obama is a fragmental part of a political continuum of vices that he can neither temporarily escape nor permanently change.