The lay religion of America is Americanism, a key tenet of which is that America is the world’s leading “good guy,” and fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice and the American way. (That last bit, about the “never-ending battle for truth, justice and the American Way” is lifted from the opening of the old “Superman” TV show of the 1950s.)
Donald Trump is about as cynical about truth and justice as they come, but he understands the power of the Americanism religion, and invokes it, without referring to it, in matters like the stupid, reckless decision to assassinate Gen. Qassim Soleimani of Iran.
Soleimani, in the Americanistic viewpoint, was a villain, working for the dark side. Arranging his assassination was therefore an act of Americanistic justice. Anyone looking at it otherwise is engaging in some kind of un-American or even anti-Americanism. In Trumplandia, this logic is considered solid.
I’m not arguing that Soleimani, a warrior with plenty of blood on his hands, was a sweetheart. But warriors, including those who kill for America, get blood on their hands. We celebrate their victories, including their bloodshed, and don’t dwell on whether everyone they killed deserved to die.
Some version of this moral relativism is, I would suggest, pretty much how the world works. But I do believe that Americanism invites us to blind ourselves to difficult questions of when killing is heroism and when it is murder.
If you can set aside that act of willful self-blindness, it’s not hard to imagine how the Trump-ordered murder of Soleimani looks to most Iranians.
I’ve benefited through the decades from the geopolitical analysis of Noam Chomsky, long one of the leading intellectuals of the American left, who sort of specializes in exposing and elucidating the obvious moral/ethical double standards at the heart of Americanism and other forms of jingoism.
So Chomsky sat down with C.J. Polychroniou of Truthout, who asked him whether the killing of Soleimani should be viewed as an “act of war,” and Chomsky, calmly and rationally, as is his wont, merely suggested that people consider how they would feel if the tables were turned.
Chomsky replied, in part, thusly:
“Suppose that Iran were to murder the second-highest U.S. official, its top general, in the Mexico City international airport, along with the commander of a large part of the U.S.-supported army of an allied nation. Would that be an act of war? Others can decide. It is enough for us to recognize that the analogy is fair enough, and that the pretexts put forth by Washington collapse so quickly on examination that it would be embarrassing to run through them.”
The full Chomsky interview can be read here.