Learning from annoying people
A half century ago Vidal had the courage to publish a pioneering novel about homosexuality, The City and the Pillar. In subsequent years, however, he has not been candid about his own sexuality. As far as the available evidence goes, he would appear to be a Kinsy 6 or 5--that is, one whose sexual experience is exclusively or almost wholly with his own gender. Yet Vidal has mocked those of us who are working for gay rights as "homosexualists."
His numerous gaffes serve the useful function of lancing Vidal's otherwise insuffereable arrogance. These pratfalls range from his harmless, but ridiculous belief that the word macho is pronounced "makko" (in defiance of the rules of Hispanic orthography) to his pathetic dalliance with the convicted terrorist Timothy McVey.
In my experience Vidal's historical novels are unreadable, the product of many tedious hours of self-imposed forced labor. This is, strictly speaking, hack work, as he produces these clinkers to support himself in the lifestyle he feels he deserves.
Then there are his political views, which lean to poorly-sourced conspiracy views.
In recent years Vidal has taken to pronouncing the expression "American Empire" (or simply "the Empire") compulsively. At first, like many others, I resisted this label. Yet I have come to see that it is just. What else can one say of a country that has troops stationed in some thirty foreign countries--a nation that asserts, though its commander-in-chief, the right to interfere in other nations when and wherever it pleases. The views of foreigners about this manhandling are by definition of no account.
The MIT professor Noam Chomsky is another veteran writer--though in an entirely different field. His early interventions in the realm of linguistics effectively ended the tyranny of behaviorism in the social sciences. Over the years though his own contributions to his field have dwindled, while at the same time his theories have come to seem increasingly problematic, and indeed irrelevant.
But no matter. Decades ago, during the Vietnam War, Chomsky hugely turned himself to the analysis of current affairs. In his view, his incomparable logical powers raise him far above the modest level of pundit to a throne of Pontifical Absolutism.
When all is said and done, Chomsky's views verge on kneejerk anti-Americanism. In common with much Third World opinion, he holds that the United States is responsible for most of the evils in the world. This prejudice is repellent not just to American patriots, but to anyone who cares for a nuanced view of world politics.
Still, I believe that there is a kernel of truth in what Chomsky is saying. For a long time, our leaders were restrained by the Vietnam Syndrome, together with the counterweight represented by the Soviet Union. Now American power is untrammeled, or so it still appears from vantage point of the Pentagon.
Is this such a bad thing, though? After all, despite its egregious faults the United States is vastly better than any Third World dictatorship. Yes, but that fact doesn't give us the right to march in and devastate their political and economic structures. This is especially true when we have noting better to put in their place, as in Iraq.
There is another problem, for we are not masters in our own house. Despite much denial, the power of the pro-Israel Lobby is real. It is aided not just by naive Christian Fundamentists, but also from the commanding heights of American public opinion, powerful individuals who are prepared to sanction any who stray from the path. Just look at what is happening to President Carter. As General Clark has pointed out, the "big money people in New York City" have decreed to the Democrats that they may not end the Iraq War after all, even though that is what they were put in office to accomplish. Now the Senate, under Democratic control, cannot even agree to debate a toothless resolution. The only way to end the war is to end the funding.
I see no hope of dislodging the constellation of exogenic forces that has taken control of our foreign policy. Ideally, that dislodgement would be desirable, for we should cease to be the enforcer of the interests of a country not our own. Yet there is no realistic chance of this happening. The dominant forces are too entrenched. The only remedy is a lasting setback for American adventurism abroad. If we cannot get control of our foreign policy, one can only hope that its malignancy will be disabled by force majeure.
Should I not be more supportive of my country? Indeed, but is it still my country?