The New ‘New World’

What happens when reality hits delusion? U.S. mythology and fantasy will remain resilient. Denial, doubling-down, scapegoating, recrimination and more audacious adventures are the instinctive responses, writes Michael Brenner.

USAID Administrator Samantha Power visiting Kiev, October 2022. (U.S. Embassy Kyiv Ukraine, Flickr, Public domain)

By Michael Brenner
Special to Consortium News

Americans discount the past. They live in the present and imagine the future. Events are assimilated into a mythologized pageant of progress that leads to an ever fuller realization of a more perfect union — liberty and justice at home, goodwill and good works abroad.

Happenings of an unseemly nature are sanitized so as to conform to the self-image of destiny’s child born in a state of original virtue; or they are encapsulated and repressed.

Deep within us, though, they survive in a state of indeterminant hibernation — along with the passions, impulses and ambitions that generated those misdeeds. They become spores, dormant until a favorable environment appears for their reactivation.

What we are witnessing in the United States today is a recrudescence of baneful elements from earlier times: the rapacious society that ruthlessly decimated the indigenous peoples from sea to shining sea; that warred against Mexico to steal half of its lands; that attacked Spain’s overseas possessions to build the early foundation of empire; that policed the Caribbean basin to its commercial advantage; that jailed those who voiced disagreement with the U.S.’ entry into World War I; that has glorified the frontier’s violence, sharp-dealing and wanton destruction of nature denied its status as an heirloom.

Certainly, those unbecoming episodes from the past resonate with what we observe today: in the United States’ rampage through the Middle East, its resort to systemic torture, its belligerence and bullying, its repressive treatment of critics at home, its crude and corrupt electoral politics.

These deeds are at variance with the country’s principles, its self-image, its external image and, too, a 20th century record that included policies and attitudes that aimed at generating public goods and attentive to the general welfare.

Moreover, our largely capable leaders who possessed an ingrained sense of responsibility for the good of the commonweal contrast sharply with our present crop of inept and feckless leaders with whom the nation is saddled.

We now are experiencing a clash between those latter virtues and the revival of those malign, demonic elements wresting free of their sublimation.

Four Evils

A diagrammatic depiction of the United States today must give central place to four interwoven facets of contemporary American society.

They are: plutocracy; the growing neo-Fascist movement; the erosion of fidelity to core Constitutional values, accompanied by a timidity in taking action to defend them.

This is evident in each of three branches of government, at state and local levels, and even among the galaxy of our famed civic institutions that populate the social landscape; and a pervasive self-centeredness that is at once an effective and reinforced cause of the nihilism that is a hallmark of our times — sapping the lifeblood out of the body politic while encouraging all manner of erratic behavior.

The complexity of the composition thus created is impossible to explicate within reasonable limits of time and space. So, let’s simply illustrate how each in its own right is manifest in the country’s external dealings.

The Financial Sector

World Bank Group’s spring meetings in April in Washington, D.C. (World Bank, Flickr, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0)

One: Washington is unable, and disinclined, to pursue any policy that contravenes the narrow, self-defined interests of the financial and commercial powerhouses who control the political parties through electoral campaign donations and bribes, won a de facto tax holiday, monopolize the major media, underwrite foundations and think tanks so as to shape their product, and hatch schemes to infiltrate and reprogram educational institutions at every level as an invasive species denatures the eco-system.

The financial sector is the most prominent, active and influential of these private economic entities. Since they are institutionalized globally, the entire American outlook on multilateral organizations (the IMF, the World Bank, GATT, SWIFT) and their programs is dictated by the benefits that flow from them: earnings for private interests, clout for the government to cajole, coerce or dictate to other countries The abusive use made of SWIFT and the IMF in the confrontation with Russia is case in point.

When we imagine trade negotiations and accords, we visualize mainly the exchange of manufactured goods and natural resources. That is no longer the case. What counts, above all, are financial arrangements. Intellectual property comes second. Energy and agriculture next. Manufactures are an also-ran.

At present, it is China that dominates that sector of international commerce. Its overall manufacturing capacity is greater than that of the U.S., the EU and Japan combined. Add Russia’s capacity (and raw materials) to that number and you understand both Washington’s dedication to leveraging those economic assets that it retains (backed by military assets) and its mounting sense of vulnerability.

A Rising Tide

“Repatriation transfer” at the Hidalgo, Texas, port of entry, June 1. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection/Flickr, Jaime Rodriguez Sr.)

Two: The rise of a potent, expanding movement that should be properly labelled “Fascism with American characteristics” to date has had only a relatively slight bearing on the country’s foreign policy. The monsters its militants seek to slay, the enemies they see as poisoning the well of Americanism, are domestic.

The Russia threat, the China threat, the fading Islamo-fascist threat are not what drives its adherents — although they share the unanimous conviction that all of the above are evil-doers hostile to the United States. Still, it is the turmoil at the Mexican border that really gets their blood boiling — the only “foreign” issue that is as emotional, as bile-producing, as liberal elites, atheists and baby-killers.

What the future will bring in the way of adding an international dimension to this stew is unpredictable. As of now, Republicans are mainly focused on denouncing whatever President Joe Biden does rather than promoting any foreign policy agenda of their own.

Degrading Democracy

Three: The degradation of American democracy is perhaps the most profound development in the troubled state of contemporary America. Its deleterious effects are multiple — and likely enduring if not absolutely irreversible.

Most obviously, an American Republic in which “government of the people, for the people, by the people” is a motto that strikes only a faint, nostalgic note is not the country on which a mighty nation was built and which has been the grounding for the individual as well as collective self-esteem that always has distinguished the United States.

What it does do is to sow doubt as to the superiority of the American enterprise, to weaken self-confidence, to undercut American credibility among other peoples and other governments, and to dissolve that veneer of goodwill — a compound of truth and fable — that so effectively has smoothed the path to global dominance.

Moreover, it breeds a cynicism that spills over from the domestic scene to dealings abroad. Autocratic methods, arrogance, the loss of any capacity for empathy, the zero-sum conception of all relationships are liabilities — ones that are unsuited for an America of diminishing prowess and relative strength in a world moving rapidly in the direction of multipolarity and multilateralism.

Finally, it tends to bring to power in Washington persons whose skills have been honed for the rough-and-tumble of domestic wars rather than for statesmanlike vision and diplomacy.

Disengagement From Reality

Four: Nihilism and narcissism are a matching pair. They go together. A fluid socio-cultural environment encourages individuals to “do their own thing” without fear of opprobrium or penalty. Limits are vague, restraints weak, models that convey the unspoken message are plentiful.

The aggregation of persons so uninhibited accentuates the nihilism of society. A disengagement from reality is the outcome. In the first instance, it is a disengagement from norms and conventions. That leads to a disengagement from the objective features of the environment in which you live and act.

Disregard for the concerns of others (ignoring them or, in more extreme cases, not even recognizing that they exist); disregard for history, background, context; disengagement from tangible reality itself — ultimately disengagement from their former selves.

We are close to a condition that approximates what the psychologists call “dissociation.” It is marked by an inability to see and to accept actualities as they are for deep seated emotional reasons.

(Creative Commons Zero — CC0)

Thus, Janet Yellen is dispatched to Beijing in a futile attempt to persuade the Chinese leadership to moderate their strategy of de-dollarization, and to free American business from the Beijing government’s oversight, on the same day that the State Department warns American citizens of the risks they run by visiting China.

This in the context of an overt public campaign to undermine the Chinese economy via a campaign of boycott and embargo — e.g. denying Chinese companies the right to invest in high-tech sectors or to collaborate with American firms and arresting the CFO of Huawei.

Thus, Biden calls Chinese President Xi Jinping a “dictator” in a free associative string of insults two days after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken returns from his own trek to Beijing in a supposed effort to relax tense relations between the two rivals (in fact, of course, a short-term lowering of the temperature so as to give Washington more time to prepare its anti-China project).

Thus, Biden can declare Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin-Salman a “pariah” to be shunned and then goes hat-in-hand to Riyadh pleading for his cooperation in lowering spiking oil prices by increasing Saudi production.

Thus, as part of the same desperate effort he dispatches an envoy to Caracas to cajole Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro to do the same — the very man the U.S. vilifies and has sought to overthrow by means unfair and foul.

Thus, the entire national security team embarks on a confrontation with Russia on Ukraine in the utterly fanciful belief that its economy will collapse like a house of cards (a gas station with nuclear weapons masquerading as a great power), and Russian President Vladimir Putin (that KGB thug) toppled, once sanctions are imposed.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky and U.S. President Joe Biden during the G7 Summit on May 21 at the Grand Prince Hotel in Hiroshima, Japan. (White House /Cameron Smith)

Thus, the near universal conviction in Washington’s corridors of power that a better trained, equipped, and motivated Ukraine actually could win a war against Russia.

Thus, the facile assumption that you can steal hundreds of billions of Russian assets in the custody of Western financial institutions while paying scant attention to the incentive that gives other large depositors to move their liquid holdings elsewhere and to abandon the dollar.

Thus, you cavalierly blow up the Nord Stream 2 pipeline oblivious to how that act is in stark opposition to your “rules-based order” slogan.

Thus, the Biden White House bubbles with optimism as the foredoomed Prigozhin putsch in confidence that it will be a replay of Napoleon’s escape from Elba and march on Paris. In this latter cluster of cases, we see a display of willful ignorance whereby one’s wishes and desires fashion a virtual reality – a fable – that bears no relation to actual facts but is comforting and convenient.

[Related: Prigozhin’s War]

Furthermore, the vise-like grip this attitude has on thought and policy barely loosens even as the Russian economy proves robust, when Putin is more popular and secure than ever, when Ukraine’s military is being methodically dismantled despite the West’s supplying it with vast quantities of weapons (exposed as inferior to Russia’s) and money.

This conforms exactly to the pattern of behavior that narcissistic individual evinces in their mundane individual lives.

Thus, finally, Ukraine is anointed as a flourishing democracy deserving to enter the exclusive “garden” inhabited by the virtuous – NATO & European Union. This effusion of respect for a country that is a sump of corruption, where all political parties except those of the rulers are banned, where draconian censorship has liquidated any semblance of media independence (far more repressive than in Putin’s Russia), where the mildest of dissenters are exiled or jailed, where statues are being erected to honor Stepan Bandera, the homicidal chief of the Ukrainian SS that were the Nazis’ partners in World War II.

U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bridget Brink on July 4 at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv. (U.S. Embassy Kyiv Ukraine, Flickr, Public domain)

A few, the Victoria Nulands, may know the score but cynically ignore these awkward truths as they relentlessly drive their own agenda for hegemonic control. However, most of the country’s political class who cultivate this deceit suffer from the collective fantasy that America’s nihilism fosters.

[Related: ROBERT PARRY: The Mess That Nuland Made]

Thus, finally, there is Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky who is embraced with the starry-eyed acclaim reserved for the most fulgurant celebrities. The comedian from the Balkan Borscht Belt whose greatest prior achievement was to star in a Ukrainian soap opera where he played a befuddled Ukrainian president.

Promoted by a sleazy billionaire at a time when Petro Poroshenko was polling in the single digits, he ran as the peace candidate who promised to reconcile with Putin. Immediately upon taking office, he was strong-armed by the hard men who provide the steel and uber-nationalist dogma that sustains the post-coup regime.

He has been a remarkably successful front man. His performance is the ultimate tribute to Stanislavski method acting. Put differently, Zelensky is the consummate conman whose unabashed non-stop lying is integral to the part. Deceit becomes a way of life. Truth and falsity are indistinguishable for somebody who rejects the notion that the former has a claim to primacy — it is strictly a matter of personal preference.

This undeniable theatrical talent may qualify him for an Oscar — but his reverential embrace by the West as a hybrid Nelson Mandela/Vaclav Havel — with a dash of Churchill — provides the most compelling evidence of how total the disengagement from reality has become. Zelensky’s wholly fictitious recounting of events — or non-events — then are broadcast as Gospel Truth by complicit, believing media from New York to Melbourne; a perverse variation on the children’s game “Simon Says.”

The oddity in this woeful performance lies not in the serial misjudgments per se. It is that most are not the outcome of a deliberate policy process. Rather, they appear as rash, compulsive and disconnected effusions.

These decisions and actions express an irrepressible urge to fill a want, a desire, a selfish need. They are expected to achieve their aim because that is the natural outcome due the privileged self. This behavioral pattern is pure narcissism — writ large for the collective elite persona.

When Reality Confronts Narcissism

U.S. helicopters on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Midway during the evacuation of Saigon, April 1975. (DanMS, Wikimedia Commons)

It would be erroneous to call this behavior gambling. Gamblers know the odds, they calibrate risk in full knowledge of what the chances of success are balanced against a clear prospective gain. That kind of conscious rationality is absent from the examples noted above.

For a gambler, awareness of realities is crucial; for a narcissistic policy-maker, inhabiting a fantasy world, what they see of reality and how they see it is dictated by subjective want and desire.

What happens when reality punches the narcissist(s) in the face? When the Russian army is on the Dnieper? When deindustrialization joins with inflation to drag the EU into depression? When the Sino-Russian bloc of BRICS breaks the American controlled phalanx of financial overlords? When Saudi Arabia waves good-bye?

When prized organizations of the collective West start to take on the appearance of Wall Street gentlemen’s clubs in 1935 whose complacent and self-satisfied members gazed out the mullioned windows at the growing crowd of militant protestors?

Mythology and fantasy can be expected to remain resilient. Denial, doubling-down, scapegoating, recrimination, more and more audacious adventures are the instinctive responses.

For to come to terms with reality carries two intolerable threats to the narcissistic self:

1) exposing as mere conceit the core, unconscious premise that the world ultimately will always accommodate itself to your wants and needs; and

2) admission of wrong — conceptual, behavioral, interpretative — is fatally incompatible with the exalted sense of self. Vietnam is the outstanding example — demonstrating how powerful, and effective, is the impulse to forget whatever disconcerts the core of one’s being.

The most obvious and important implication is that Americans will be ever more dependent on maintaining that sense of exceptionalism and superiority that is the foundation of their national personality.

A fragile psyche, weak in self-esteem and prowess, is sensitive to signs of its decline or ordinariness. It follows that every conflictual encounter is magnified, loaded with the full weight of the compulsive campaign to confirm a now jeopardized sense of national greatness.

Hence, the obsession with curbing China. Hence, the United States will continue to exert itself energetically on the global stage rather than become progressively more selective in its engagements and choice of methods for fulfilling them.

U.S. President Joe Biden and advisers in a virtual meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, November 2021. (White House, Cameron Smith)

Continuity is a lot easier than reorientation. It doesn’t demand fresh thinking and different skills. Quite frankly, today, the caliber of high- and mid-level personnel would have to be upgraded. Less amateurism and careerism, more experience and sophisticated knowledge.

It follows that the United States will not negotiate any Ukrainian peace deal that satisfies Moscow’s primary conditions.

It follows that its mano y mano contest with China will escalate as Washington resorts to increasingly drastic measures — more so since early indicators of success are disconcertingly rare.

It follows that Washington will pull out all stops to coerce smaller, vulnerable BRICS states back into the fold.

It follows that schemes will be devised to stymie the ramifications of the Saudi-Iranian détente — all in cahoots with Israel.

[Related: Seismic Iran-Saudi Rapprochement Isolates US]

It will accelerate and expand its new-found statist industrial policy whereby a trillion or is funneled to the big players in high tech, IT and energy while erecting barriers to foreign involvement in the American economy.

It will do so even as it continues to demand that the rest of the world abide by neoliberal strictures that open the way for American financial and corporate profit seekers.

The Tender American Ego

As I have written in an earlier commentary:

Americans are struggling to draw into focus their exalted image of themselves and reality. They are not doing a very good job of it. The gap is wide and growing.

Fading prowess is one of the most difficult things for humans to cope with — whether it be an individual or a nation. By nature, we prize our strength and competence; we dread decline and its intimations of extinction. This is especially so in the United States where for many the individual and the collective persona are inseparable.

No other country tries so relentlessly to live its legend as does the U.S. Today, events are occurring that contradict the American narrative of a nation with a unique destiny. That creates cognitive dissonance.

Americanism acts as a Unified Field Theory of self-identity, collective enterprise, and the Republic’s enduring meaning. When one element is felt to be jeopardy, the integrity of the whole edifice becomes vulnerable. In the past, American mythology energized the country in ways that helped it to thrive. Today, it is a dangerous hallucinogen that traps Americans in a time warp more and more distant from reality.

A drive to revalidate on presumed virtue and singularly now impels what America does in the world. Hence, the calculated stress placed on slogans like “democracy vs autocracy.” That is a neat metaphor for the uneasy position in which Uncle Sam finds himself these days.

The U.S. proudly pronounces its enduring greatness from every lectern and altar in the land, pledges to hold its standing as global No. 1 forever and ever; yet, it constantly bumps its head against an unaccommodating reality.

Instead of downsizing the monumental juggernaut or applying itself to a delicate raising of the arch, the U.S. makes repeated attempts to fit through in a vain effort to bend the world to fit its mythology. Evocation of the Concussion Protocol is in order — but nobody wants to admit that sobering truth.

The Russia Animus

Dec. 7, 2021: U.S. President Joe Biden, on screen during video call with Russian President Vladimir Putin. (, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 4.0)

Among the many oddities of the Ukraine affair, the most astonishing is the frenzy of hostile passion directed at Putin, Russia and everything Russian. Nothing close to this has been seen since World War II when Hitler and the Nazis were Satan incarnate. Even then, it was not everything German that was cast as evil. That total condemnation was reserved for the Japanese.

During the depths of the Cold War, it was Communism and the Soviet Union that were the object of fear and antipathy – not quite completely synonymous with Russia.

This puzzling phenomenon cries out for explanation. The first thing to be said on this score, is that the passion and drive have come from American elites. There has been no great wave of popular outrage, no mass demonstrations, no blood-curdling calls for revenge and punishment. No post-9/11 national trauma.

Instead, the fury is generated by our government leaders (Blinken, Sullivan, Nuland, Harris, Pelosi, Cruz); from the media world’s clueless news presenters-cum-propogandists, from the seemingly demonically possessed editors of The New York Times who have discovered the thrills of ‘yellow journalism,’ from the likes of Peter Gelb, general manager of the Metropolitan Opera, from the scores of Nobel Prize winners who in concert have lent their weight to the crusade; from the university presidents presiding over pious vigils who are thankful that the spotlight is shifting away from the innumerable scandals they are paid hefty sums to whitewash; and the Gold Medal to the International Olympic Committee who bans crippled athletes from competing in the Winter Paralympics because their passport says ‘Russia’.

All are hugely self-satisfied. None of them ever blinked an eye as the United States for 20 years has killed, maimed, starved and tortured hundreds of thousands in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria et. al. in exercises of brutality that have left the country’s security in a more precarious state than when the onslaught began.

Why the Historical Hostility?

The United States and Russia have never fought a war. No bad blood is between them. The one, minor incidence involved the American expeditionary force deployed near Archangel and at Vladivostok during the Russian civil war in 1918-1919.

This symbolic gesture led to just a handful of casualties. There also were a few dogfights over the Yalu River in Korea where some MIG pilots reportedly were Russian. That’s it. It is doubtful that more than one American in a thousand ever heard of those incidents.

The Cold War, admittedly, was a multi-layered hostile confrontation that lasted for 40 years. But military combat was limited to proxies. Then, too, the two countries were allies in the great test of World War II. Without Soviet/Russian fortitude and sacrifice, Germany may not have been defeated.

In other words, one sees no basis for the visceral antagonism toward Russia and Russians now on display. Among many, even at the highest levels, emotions shade into outright hatred.

It is hard to find equivalents; that is to say, analogous passions certainly are to be found in the annals of history, but never against an essentially benign background. Hormone rushes and sound policy are not compatible.

Ascriptive Division

Moscow River at night, 2015. (Joe Lauria)

Societies all have affinities and aversions with others based on race, ethnicity, language, ideology or religion. They can lead to empathy and bonding or a sense of separation and distaste. Often, the latter sentiments have fueled or aggravated competition and conflict. The examples are too numerous and obvious to denote.

When we turn our attention to Russo-American mutual perceptions, we observe little in the way of rooted ascriptive divisions. Both are overwhelmingly Caucasian and Christian in heritage. Catholic vs Orthodox rivalries are distant in time and place. Ethnically, Slavic Russia does not stand in stark contrast to the multitudinous American mix.

The contrasts and divergences derive from the all-out ideological war between the Soviet Union’s aggressive secularism accompanying Communism’s threat to Western politico-economic foundations.

A Nation of Shared Delusions

Americans are good at forgetting. They also are good at relying on national myths to keep their lives buoyant. The two go together. To make sense of this we should recognize that the essence of the American experience is the common belief that the country was born as Destiny’s child – hence, American history is viewed as a pageant of progress, of achievement, of success, of fulfillment.

Any deviation from that exalted norm has to be neutralized. That is done by one of a number of ways: by recasting the occurrence as something other than what it in fact was (Korea; in a minor key Venezuela); shift time perspectives to highlight less negative images (Pearl Harbor and World War II); foster a deceptive narrative from the start (Syria, Ukraine); sublimate.

A country that was “born against history” had no past to define and shape the present. A country that was born against tradition had no rooted and common sense of meaning and value that cut deeply into the national psyche. A country that was born against inherited place and position left each individual at once free to acquire status and obliged to do so for insignia of rank were few.

Strenuous displays of patriotism have a contrived cast to them. They suggest strained efforts to overcome doubt more than they do genuine pride and conviction. National self-confidence is not demonstrated by gigantic flags seen everywhere from used car lots to hot sheet motels, the ubiquitous lapel pin, the loud and gaudy demonstrations of chauvinism at sporting matches, the bombast of shock jockeys, or the belittling and condescending treatment of other peoples. Rather, those are sure signs of weakness, doubt and insecurity.

 National Anthem being played on Memorial Day, May 29, at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. President Joe Biden, upper right, with hand over his heart. (White House/ Cameron Smith)

Here, again, we have a discrepancy between public attitudes in general and political elites – especially the foreign affairs community. Its pivot is less intellectual than it is one of feelings: pride, self-esteem and national esteem. It is among the latter that we find an acute concern about America’s standing as Number 1 in the world: supreme, dominant, and hegemonic. A gnawing sense that the U.S. is losing that status, that it is becoming an ’ordinary’ power is unsettling.

Fading prowess is one of the most difficult things for humans to cope with – whether it be an individual or a nation. By nature, we prize our strength and competence; we dread decline and its intimations of extinction. This is especially so in the United States where for many the individual and the collective persona are inseparable.

No other country tries so relentlessly to live its legend as does the U.S. Today, events are occurring that contradict the American narrative of a nation with a unique destiny. That creates cognitive dissonance.

America’s exalted sense of self is rooted in the belief that Americans are pace-setters and world beaters in every domain. The state of affairs sketched above – marked by impulsive enterprises that underline a foredoomed, audacious ambition to gain global dominance – does not represent cool strategic judgment.

It is the national equivalent of ostentatious iron-pumping by bodybuilders worried about losing muscle tone. Those worries never disappear, though, even as one becomes muscle-bound striving ever more energetically to reassure oneself that nothing is creeping up behind you. The mirror is much preferred to the backward glance. More important, they fool themselves into the false belief that other, more relevant adjustments to reality are either unnecessary or intolerable.

The tension associated with a nation so constituted encountering objective reality does not force heightened self-awareness or a change in behavior if the dominant feature of that reality is the attitudes and expressed opinions of others who share the underlying delusions.

Michael Brenner is a professor of international affairs at the University of Pittsburgh. [email protected]

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.


44 comments for “The New ‘New World’

  1. lester
    July 12, 2023 at 15:21

    An excellent analsis! The segment on the irrational hatred of Russia could easily be paralleled by one on the irrational hatred of China! In ehter case, the “sin” of Russia and of China is t5hat they are not submissive to the divinely inspired USA!

  2. Michael Kritschgau
    July 12, 2023 at 10:41

    The only problem I have with this article is that Michael Brenner plays fast and loose with the word fascism.
    As someone said here, there is no bottom-up fascism. Fascism starts with the political and then the state. Yes, the seed lies in the collective as well, as it did with Nazi Germany, but ultimately it was the political and the state that acted it out.
    Also, I know that to some degree Consortium News has socialist undertones but there seem to be a total ignorance of the totalitarian capabilities of the far left – what is usually known as communism or bolshevism or Leninism.
    Neo-communist ideas are just as dangerous as neo-fascist ideas.
    People being worried about what happens at the Mexico border are anything but fascists, they are worried citizens. To believe that all immigrants who pass the border are well intended citizens is infantile and borders on self-destruction.
    Some populist ideologues can use this fear of “the other” to pump up fascistic ideals but the thing is that both sides, left and right, can use this fear for their own political ends. This populism isn’t just a far right tool, the far left can also use it.

    As for the U.S sins of the past, well, the Americans of today are not guilty of the sins of their forefathers. We cannot condemn the son for the crime of the father. The only things that today’s Americans can be responsible for is for the deeds of their country now. The rest is history. Tragic but nevertheless, history.

  3. J Anthony
    July 12, 2023 at 08:46

    Great piece that examines the crux of the problem here in the US- an insidious form of reality-denial that pervades all levels of society. For those of us who understand this, it can be quite maddening. Rather than attempting to make up for our sordid past our so-called leaders have doubled-down and are taking us all over the cliff. Optimism is difficult to maintain in the face of our current trajectory.The only hope is that enough of the citizenry open their eyes and their minds and band together against the rapacious oligarchy, but sadly this is proving to be impossible.

  4. Alice
    July 12, 2023 at 03:50

    ‘Magnificient” is the first word that I thought of also – in my mind and in my soul!
    How fortunate we are to have this man, this writer, this brave teacher-journalist
    in our midst.
    I have read this piece four times already and need to back again and again to
    let it seep into my being. It is that good!
    We need more persons like Mr. Brenner to ‘tell it like it is’ (whether individuals
    believe it or cannot find it in their being to accept. This piece is an important study of where we have evolved
    from an infant nation inching our way from a hopeful group of immigrants seeking freedom, Democracy,
    and all that that word means.
    Thank you, Mr. Brenner, for a much-needed view of where we have been and what we
    have become in our Journey for those values and protections that our forefathers found
    in the Nation that they adopted and worked so hard to develop and to maintain.
    Not overlooked in this piece is the necessary, blunt, and accurately just review of where we have
    failed to live up to our earlier hopes and attempts to build a nation that is what our
    immigrant peoples sought.
    Don’t stop, Mr. Brenner. We desperately need more of your truth and wisdom!

  5. Robert Emmett
    July 11, 2023 at 18:08

    J-Zeus! Even if we were to rid ourselves of today’s feckless leaders, the “spores” of their delusion, deeply embedded by mass media & big tech, will live on? Until what, we’re wired into an unquestioning One-Thought-Mind? Feel like I’m trapped in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

    These so-called leaders are expending gargantuan amounts of resources in an effort to corner whatever markets they think will help them to hold out the longest in a time of looming ecological collapse. So, yeah, they’re feckin’ nuts & have lost their goddamned minds.

    The imagination flinches at what possible forms breakdown will take, once it reaches critical mass then tumbles through the coming decades for our children & grandchildren to deal with.

    At least there’s no claiming it’s brave, this “New World” you describe.

  6. Coleen Rowley
    July 11, 2023 at 15:54

    What happens when it becomes impossible to keep”making our own reality?!”
    What happened when Hitler and close confidants had retreated to their bunker and could not muster enough ego defense to face the end of their dreams?! In such cases of serious wrongdoing and the ensuing despair when reality finally takes hold, ego defense is the powerful force that typically prevents suicide. But what if Hitler had had the nuclear button in that last bunker? I’m afraid it would not have been his gang’s mere suicide but omnicide. I’m afraid that’s what the world is now facing.

  7. Herman Schmidt
    July 11, 2023 at 12:10

    Power is not given away, it is taken away. The way that is done is impossible to know other than to lay out possible factors that could shape the future. Changing alliances? Commercial transactions? Military outcomes?
    Internal political upheaval?

  8. Diana Johnstone
    July 11, 2023 at 11:50

    A stunningly lucid appraisal of the American pathology. It is all so clear and seemingly invisible to European leaders who have been indoctrinated in the humble belief that America is the better Europe, the future model that they must follow with no independent thought to the needs and welfare of their peoples. Professor Brenner proves that in the heartland of the empire, despite its drastic decline, it is still possible to grasp reality.
    Diana Johnstone

  9. IJ Scambling
    July 11, 2023 at 10:48

    Particularly valuable here, I think, are the psychological insights or provocations in the analysis. These hit directly into the heart of the problem. For example:

    “We are close to a condition that approximates what the psychologists call ‘dissociation.’ It is marked by an inability to see and to accept actualities as they are for deep seated emotional reasons.”

    “For a gambler, awareness of realities is crucial; for a narcissistic policy-maker, inhabiting a fantasy world, what they see of reality and how they see it is dictated by subjective want and desire.”

    I believe we need more investigation of this psychological side of the decline. In the face of reality the US collectively has pursued delusion since at least 1953 and the coup in Iran. Time after time events have been cloaked in delusion mythology, what Michael Brenner refers to as “dissociation” above.

    From Wikipedia:

    “Delusions have been found to occur in the context of many pathological states (both general physical and mental) and are of particular diagnostic importance in psychotic disorders including schizophrenia, paraphrenia, manic episodes of bipolar disorder, and psychotic depression.”

    Today, more than usual in this period back to 1953, the use of terms such as delusion, narcissism, schizophrenia, nihilism, disengagement, bullying, egotism, mania, manipulation is more frequent, more widely dispersed, more the cause of division and tension, the subject of suppression and censorship than at any time over the period. The column of comments here indicates a community of skeptics and a considerable, disillusioned public. Criticisms at one point, in my memory, were more widely and immediately condemned. A critique of the Vietnam War was violation of holy grail for a very long time. Protesting students were actually shot to death at Kent State.

    To look back at Obama’s commencement address in 2014 is today very difficult versus all the self-congratulation it contains and received at the time. Herein is “the one indispensable nation” comment not just once, but twice in a back-patting exercise of oneself, the angelic leader, with America decently keeping the world safe. I don’t think Biden could get away with this kind of rhetoric today, even with the adoring gaze of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and CNN.

    Obama’s speech:


    This kind of self-congratulation and assumption of noble purpose we sometimes generously call “hubris.” I would call it arrogance, a different breed of assumption. It is astonishing that a world leader could designate his nation and himself as indispensable in a context of world-savior even if what he was saying was anywhere near the truth. The question as ever is will we wake up?

  10. vinnieoh
    July 11, 2023 at 10:14

    Brenner’s piece jangled so many different nerves:

    “These deeds are at variance with the country’s principles, its self-image, its external image and, too, a 20th century record that included policies and attitudes that aimed at generating public goods and attentive to the general welfare.”

    During GW Bush’s administration, as they attempted to drive a stake through the heart of the last of “The New Deal ” America, it became apparent just how much the gilded oligarchs had clawed back: how was it possible that during the height of the cold war this nation was yet able to pass The Clean Air Act, The Clean Water Act, The Surface Mine Reclamation Act, numerous labor fairness acts, and numerous “consumer” protection initiatives, and yet in the early years of the new century after the collapse of the Soviets and in “our unipolar” triumph we could no longer afford all those responsible collective achievements? Mind you all of those accomplishments were not solely the work of “bleeding heart liberals,” but also with the input and belief of conservatives.

    Many good comments here; more to come I’d guess.

  11. susan
    July 11, 2023 at 09:01

    This country was doomed from the beginning and now we want to take the entire planet down with us – we’re all just selfish, greedy bastards!

  12. Sam F
    July 11, 2023 at 08:21

    Michael Brenner well describes the moral degradation of “elite” servants of plutocracy, who fight recognition of the endless failures of their selfish and vain foreign policies with more of the same. But he attributes that vaguely to “nihilism” and loss of moral norms. It is due to (1) the unregulated market economy, (2) the failure to protect political institutions from corrupt economic power, (3) their elevation of the lowest tyrant personalities to economic, and (4) their failure to educate their citizens on the dangers and corrections of tribaliam and tyranny.

    The severe degradation of US institutions due to the corruption of economic power over political parties is undeniable. Democracy was lost due to neglect of the Constitutional convention to protect federal institutions from economic power, followed by failure of the people to do that in the exuberant emergence of the middle class after the Civil War. The people had the military power after the Revolution, allowing democracy, and still had labor and election power after the Golden Age, allowing the New Deal, but now have no military or economic power over a completely corrupted government.

    The loss of moral norms in domestic and foreign policy is due to the cult of selfishness in the unregulated market economy of the West, and its elevation of the lowest tyrant personalities to economic and political power.

    The essay contains much truth, and would benefit with some editing to avoid some redundant cycling, and improve focus on cause and effect.

  13. Curtis
    July 11, 2023 at 07:27

    Another brilliant insight from one of our deepest thinkers.

    Add to the list in paragraph four of “baneful elements from earlier times” the century and a half of chattel slavery that was a basis of the economic growth and current class and race divisions.

  14. Cal Lash
    July 11, 2023 at 00:26

    Well said.
    Thank you

    • Bushrod Lake
      July 11, 2023 at 10:28

      Keeping it simple: narcissism and nihilism are the shadow component of the U.S.A.

      Keeping it simple: Narcissism and nihilism are the shadow components of the U.S.A. Trump was the perfect exemplar.

  15. Roslyn Ross
    July 10, 2023 at 23:05

    And this comment is the core foundation of all that is wrong with the United States

    and which has been the grounding for the individual as well as collective self-esteem that always has distinguished the United States.

    and all that has ever been wrong with it because the delusional belief in American exceptionalism is what is destroying it:

    Individualism is not an American invention or a solely American practice as history so clearly reveals. And all nations have had and have collective self-esteem because that is what makes them a nation and that is what unites them.

    If Americans could stop believing the fantasy that they are special, different, unique, better, exceptional then they might just save themselves. While Third World desperates may be lining up to get into the US, the vast majority of people living in the developed world are just enormously grateful they were NOT born American.

  16. robert e williamson jr
    July 10, 2023 at 22:56

    Micheal Brenner should be widely considered a “National Treasure”.

    This man writes and makes clear sense of very elusive factual points that define what the U.S. has become, and why this change has happened.

    SEE: Disengagement From Reality

    It is at this point where I would like to make a major point in my way of assessing the reality (actualities?) in which we all find ourselves.

    Brenner writes, in the forth paragraph there; “We are close to a condition that approximates what the psychologists call dissociation. It is marked by the inability to see and accept actualities as the are for deep seated emotional reasons.”

    I have held for years now that the majority of Americans are crippled by their self absorbed approach to life in general. The number of those who vote as opposed to the number of eligible voters that exist is one great indication. Our country has outgrown it’s governance and those in government love it that way. In order for the layman or laywomen to learn enough about the day to day workings of the federal government I figure one would have to dedicate five to ten hours a week to the effort to be even basically educated on those events. These days with the atrocious main stream news it is all but impossible.

    What to do, what to do? The most simple fix, ignore the elephant in the room to help sooth the anxiety one feels from the knowledge the situation cannot be changed for the good or otherwise corrected.

    Dissociation, I believe is the direct result of the attitude that why worry about it if it cannot be changed.

    I also believe the subconscious knowledge of government lies so foul they dull the human emotions contributes to individual denial of government wrong doing on almost any level, especially with those who have weak foundational knowledge of our country’s history and civics It is easier for the masses to simple take up religion, alcohol or some other distraction. This aids in the dissociation in my opinion. Regardless I see things very much as Mr. Brenner does.

    One last thought, few things are as unnerving as the thought that our own intelligence apparatus may have been instrumental in the murder of a setting POTUS and the U.S. Department of Justice has been severely compromised by those who created a CIA that resembled their own vision of wresting control from those elected to serve the American Public. This reality has, as it should, has built up the level of anxiety among the masses in this trouble nation of ours.

    Thanks to Micheal and the CN Crew

  17. Riva Enteen
    July 10, 2023 at 20:45

    The US, unashamedly, declares that war is good for business. That is sociopathic.

  18. Walter
    July 10, 2023 at 18:53

    The author may be mistaken when he opines “…remain resilient…” and so forth.
    Those who are delusional and who act on their delusions are destroyed. They make the termination list. They do not remain or become “resilient”. Long experience has brought us wise sages, who advise and warn>

    Quos Deus vult perdere, prius dementat; translated, “evil appears as good in the minds of those whom god leads to destruction.”
    and ;[1] translated, “A god implants the guilty cause in men / When he would utterly destroy a house.

    Not much room for compromise, eh Comrades?

  19. Cindy
    July 10, 2023 at 17:52

    The official obituary of the soul of America has been written. The only thing missing is the spiritual foresight of the Book of Revelation.
    Humanity is found lacking.
    Evil always holds the steering wheel.
    Only those who will look up beyond themselves are granted the Grace of understanding the truth.
    Victory over evil does not exist via fallen mankind.
    The War on Truth has been with us since the beginning of time.
    Woefully and thankfully we are in the last days.

  20. bardamu
    July 10, 2023 at 17:44

    Michael Brenner makes some excellent observations here, but his fear of fascism seems to at least partly miss the primary direction of the danger.

    There is nothing intrinsic to fascism that makes it particularly populist. It is not as though the US were ruled by cultured and sage antifascists that are threatened by waves of maddened poor. This sort of description, so self-serving to governments and academies, never altogether fit the circumstances of Italy or Germany or Spain in the 20’s or 30’s. It fits less well today.

    In the 30’s, empire and despotism correlated with manufacture and nationalism. After 1940, it has more strongly correlated with finance, black markets, and subversive psyops, and it has become more so each decade. This makes despotism more international and internationalist each decade, just because the power base of the more important despots is clearly international. For the moment the dollar remains an international currency. That looks to change soon, but fascists in the Ukraine get orders that come from the White House through England, to tell them that they cannot make a peace. Official sovereigns in the US, the Five Eyes, and the NATO countries are hired by moneyed interests, largely or exclusively corporate, and the portfolios of key individuals and families in these corporations are heavily cross-invested, both between industries and between nations. The government of Ukraine spends its citizens to keep Western support for its leaders for another day an another month. The troops die, and the country empties out. One wonders how long the dragontooth bombs will remain on this new landscape.

    These are despotic measures. If fascism refers to despotism, if it refers to the enforced conjunction of government and capital, then the fascist line is carried forward by the neoliberal AKA neoconservative factions of the United States, along with related movements in other countries. If by fascism we refer to despotism, this is the primary danger of fascism, though has become in deed a somewhat different fascism than what existed for Franco or, to a somewhat smaller extent and with distinct differences, Mussolini or Hitler. We call parts of this group “neoconservative” because they are members of the Republican Party. But other members of the same faction we call “Neoliberal” because they are members of the Democratic Party. In neither case to I refer to the voters, who have all sorts of conceptions. I refer to most of the principal professional actors.

    There is no bottom-up fascism. If you want to see dangerous fascists, look to your “leaders,” and look right now.

    If you want to consider coups, cast your reading back to Edward Luttwak, fifty years or so ago. The field of media and communications has changed since his study, but otherwise, coups remain as they were: if you are serious, you need to get a) the executive b) the military and c) communications. You need to get them all at the same time. We certainly have people working on that, but they are not the buffoons and useful idiots who walked into Congress on 1/6, and they are not any group of populists or poor people. They work from where you might expect them: positions of power.

    • Caliman
      July 11, 2023 at 00:10

      An excellent and thought provoking comment. Thank you.

  21. kaboro
    July 10, 2023 at 17:38

    Superb article. The world needs more people like Michael Brenner.

  22. CaseyG
    July 10, 2023 at 17:23

    Thank you for writing this as I enjoyed reading this and agree with so much of it. I think that because America is truly such a young nation, and because it was far enough away as to avoid a lot of damage in WW 2—- and because of that–many Americans both in and out pf government think that America will grow mighty and strong for ever and ever—Of course all nations believe that but read world history and see the ups and downs of so many nations.

    The only thing I would want too change is that the words of OF the People BY the People and FOR the People ” are in the wrong order. Yes I know that sounds piddly, but we were terrorized in the 8th by being told that if we didn’t get that phrase right—we would have to repeat the 8th grade! : ) Of course that wasn’t true but we 8th graders made sure that wouldn’t happen—- a horror to have to stay behind.

    Thank you for this article, It was really an important one to remind Americans that nothing lasts forever—-not even nations. And truly nations do rise and fall—-Sadly much of those currently in the American government don’t seem educated enough to think things through clearly. Thank you for reminding many of us that nations rise and fall and there are no guarantees of,” forever nations.”

  23. John Woodford
    July 10, 2023 at 17:14

    Talk about a wake-up call!!! Unfortunately, the much ballyhooed US mass media, champions of free speech and a free press (if you read their p.r. about themselves) do not expose to the American public this sort of solid analysis and objective look at our past, present and grim future if we do not wake up. I wish I could donate via PayPal but, since I can’t, I will donate in honor of this essay some way or other. In the meantime, we should al spread Michael Brenner’s essay as far and wide as we can.

  24. Jeff Harrison
    July 10, 2023 at 16:37

    Very interesting esp. since he repeats himself at the end of the piece. I do have an objection here:
    “The tension associated with a nation so constituted encountering objective reality does not force heightened self-awareness or a change in behavior if the dominant feature of that reality is the attitudes and expressed opinions of others who share the underlying delusions.”

    The attitudes and expressed opinions of others never represents an objective reality. Objective reality involves facts, not opinions.

  25. Lois Gagnon
    July 10, 2023 at 15:52

    This is a great analysis of the declining power of the US and the denial so many engage in to avoid facing that decline.

    I would only add the capture of all US institutions by a rapacious corporate elite whose only objective is to maintain their wealth and power at any and all costs. These power trippers didn’t come by their status by being true to democratic values and adhering to human rights standards. They are the ones who choose our debased leadership. They have made it clear they have no problem arming and training literal Nazis to put the screws to Russia.

    We are under the control of a mafia like state. It will take a lot more of empire’s subjects parting with their illusions to rest power away from the criminal class running things.

    • JonnyJames
      July 10, 2023 at 18:05

      A mafia-like state, yes indeed. And, jokingly I say: (or maybe seriously)

      But I prefer the old-school Cosa Nostra (mafia) – at least they were more honest and loyal to their clients. They didn’t pretend to care about “the rule of law”, “democracy” and “human rights”.

      • Valerie
        July 11, 2023 at 05:37

        Jonny, you get my “first good laugh of the day” award with that statement. It’s so true. I’m still laughing. Thankyou.

    • Susan Siens
      July 11, 2023 at 15:05

      I haven’t yet read The Dark Quadrant, but I did read Whitney Webb’s One Nation Under Blackmail. There is no “like” in our mafia state, it is the unholy marriage of organized crime, corporatism, and government.

      Unfortunately, there is little visible parting from their illusions by Americans. We seem to live to distract ourselves from reality.

  26. Richard Romano
    July 10, 2023 at 15:48


  27. vinnieoh
    July 10, 2023 at 15:42

    Always great to read Michael Brenner, and another Special to CN. This immediately elicited many further thoughts, but I’ll have to read it at least one more time.

  28. JonnyJames
    July 10, 2023 at 15:33

    One thing to add about hostility to Russia. Russia has served as the Eastern “Other” for many centuries and shaped the invention of Europe and Western Christendom. One could start with the Roman Empire: the Greek East and Latin West. The Romans revered Greek culture but also had negative stereotypes about Greece.

    Then the Great Schism (1054) after years of disputes, finally separated the Orthodox East and Roman Catholic West. More negative stereotypes about the East, especially Russia, developed: heretics, backward, barbaric, savage etc.

    By the time of Napoleon, these stereotypes (based on fact or not) were already deep-seated in western European culture. Russia was vast, a threat to western civilization etc. Russia was underestimated and the consequences were disastrous for Bonaparte. Russian troops were in Paris in 1814, but did not stay long.

    The Crimean War is another example of western hostility. Then the western intervention forces (1919-21) mentioned in the article By the 1930s, both Churchill and Hitler were very negative on Russia. Churchill clearly favored the Nazis over Stalinist USSR. Nazi ideology considered Slavs and especially Russians as racially inferior and outright subhuman. (untermenschen).

    In short: there are CENTURIES of negative sentiments/fear of the Russian bogeyman to draw from in “western” culture. The US is just an imperial settler outpost of west European culture. The US has in a way, inherited a long history of British hostility to Russia.

    Then on top of that, we have US policy of Full Spectrum Dominance, the so-called Wolfowitz Doctrine and US Dollar hegemony that has to be maintained. Russia has not cooperated with the “unipolar” power, and insisted on its own security; so must be eliminated as a challenge. Alarmingly, Cold War 2.0 appears even more dangerous than 1.0. The US and vassals appear to be on a suicide/death mission: either bring Russia (and China) under control or launch a nuclear war against them once and for all. I hope I am wrong.

  29. Dienne
    July 10, 2023 at 15:31

    Without Soviet/Russian fortitude and sacrifice, Germany *would* not have been defeated.


  30. DisonfectantSunlight
    July 10, 2023 at 14:58

    An important article from an independent thinker with deep knowledge of the past and present as well as interpretative skills that come from inherent sense of right and wrong and the ability to distill the facts based on sound educational background.
    The degree of censorship is unprecedented in the West, as the author is personally aware of in the last year or so.
    Only a major event or events could stop this run away train of Narcissism, Nihilism, subjectivity and wishful thinking.
    If we are fortunate enough to avoid a Nuclear war (Big IF), peaceful ending to the hegemony is close at hand with inevitable expansion of Multipolar world based on Sovereignty of the countries with their distinct cultures, languages, belief and hopes.
    It’s also likely that new economic system/systems with new currencies and trade routes will arise starting with BRICS+.
    The new world will be governed by new multipolar security architecture making nearly thousand U.S. Military bases unsustainable and obsolete.

    • Valerie
      July 11, 2023 at 05:45

      “interpretative skills that come from inherent sense of right and wrong”

      Thankyou. That sentence jumped out at me. I believe this is where things fall apart, as “right and wrong” seem to have no meaning nowadays. I also agree with the whole body of your comment.

  31. Susan Siens
    July 10, 2023 at 14:57

    Nothing in the least bizarre or confusing about American ruling class animus toward Russia, the one country on Earth that could be completely self-sufficient due to its abundant natural resources. Greed is the elite’s middle name.

  32. July 10, 2023 at 14:57

    Superb takedown. I too am baffled and frustrated by how impervious to reality virtually all facets of US media, government, politics, and culture have become. I also frequently recall the Vietnam debacle.

    Glad to admit that I had to look up the definition of “fulgurant”!

  33. Caliman
    July 10, 2023 at 14:57

    What will indeed become of us when reality hits delusion? I agree with the author that the American sense of delusion has proceeded so deeply into our very soul that we will prefer the illusion to reality and be rather impregnable to the latter.

    You see it everywhere … even science and research are being corrupted to the expected outcomes born of delusion. We expect things to be a certain way; when reality looks different, it is reality that is wrong, not our delusions. Or as “Bush’s Brain” said many years ago:

    “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

    How can that level of delusion be combated?

    • Susan Siens
      July 11, 2023 at 15:08

      I would love to know! Women who support men in women’s sex-segregated spaces have been shown mugshots and videos of men who have pretended to be women and gone into women’s locker rooms, toilets, etc, and engaged in criminal behavior. Even with clear evidence in front of them, the supporters of men’s rights refused to believe what they were seeing.

      • Tim S
        July 12, 2023 at 12:16

        I assume your comment was intended to be on some other article. Try copying it there.

  34. Joseph
    July 10, 2023 at 14:24

    Bravo Mr. Brenner, and Consortium News. A great, essential article that highlights so much. So much that is censored, obfuscated, and diminished by the corrupt, complicit, and criminal mainstream media.

  35. Jim other
    July 10, 2023 at 14:06

    Mr Brenner, does anyone hear you? I hope someone does.

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