AMERICA SUCKS

That’s the title of a poem I wrote back in the 1970s when I was living in Los Angeles and aspired to be part of the post-Beat Generation. In those days I had read all the good guys, Proudhon, Bakunin, Max Stirner, Orwell’s books about being down and out as well as his sojourn in Andalusia. I had a rudimentary grasp of Marxism. Tito and the Italian Communists were still doing the world a favor and being part of the non-aligned movement, not siding with the Soviets or the Americans. Just a few years earlier I had traveled from New Delhi to London and back to New Delhi, overland, through Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey without a hateful word or glance being raised against me. Of course I was traveling on an Italian passport, so that was an advantage. The Americans crossing the borders did get some hard stares and long waits and extra backpack checks before they were eventually waved through to the other side. No wars were being fought. I traveled alone by bus and train, mixed in with the locals and nobody ever treated me badly. In fact, I was able to sleep in a bus station office one night in Tehran because the bus I needed to take would leave at 6 in the morning and the bus station manager figured it would be easier for me if I slept there. Kindness.

Danny 1973 • Green Card photo

When I got to America in 1972, it was Nixon’s country, even though he would be forced out soon. After a year or so in Baltimore, I made it back to Los Angeles, where I had spent my youth, growing up in Beverly Hills (not the rich part) and where I eventually enrolled in LACC, which then got me to Cal State Northridge (CSUN) where I studied English Literature. My friends were all in the entertainment industry, TV, films, advertising, and the fact that I was leaning left politically didn’t faze anybody at all. Leftism was OK. Jane Fonda was a leftie and still working in movies, so what was the harm? Of course I took film classes, worked on student films as a boom-man and grip, wrote scripts, like everyone, but was so beguiled by the Beat Generation, which had been introduced to me in Durban while I was at university there, that I wanted to be Gregory Corso’s poetic heir, be Ferlinghetti’s godson, be published by City Lights and careen across the United States in a wild Kerouac/Kesey journey that would bring my work to the eyes of every American.

Things went otherwise.

My script about an anarchist who steals a battlefield nuke from NATO and tries to blow up Paris was “not the kind of material suitable for production.” My script about a coup in Africa (entitled Coup!) disappeared from the table when my agent went to a script meeting. He said: “Sorry,” with a twisted smile. A few years later I saw the title as a novel, set in Africa, with a plot more-or-less like mine, but cleverly elaborated and changed so that in case my script ever turned up, no copyright infringement could be claimed. Hollywood at its finest. America Sucks.

Meanwhile, I was reading my poetry at various small bookstores in Hollywood, with and without jazz guitar accompaniment. Usually, America Sucks would close out my reading. It drew various types of reaction. Smiles, frowns, some embarrassing side glances, once in a while an angry stare, and once, from a gay poet who followed me to the podium, a humorous comment: “I like to suck!” The laughter he got was a smooth transition to his homoerotic verses. He was a good poet, with great images. He ended up being a professor of literature at a Midwestern university.

I ended up being a lyricist for pop, rock, metal and country music in Germany.

A couple of my friends went on to fame and fortune in the entertainment industry, and we are still friends today. The difference between us is that they were able to understand the system they were dealing with from a practical side. Their skills were needed in the industry, and they made sure their skills were being paid for very well. I was naive. I believed that it was only technical skills one had to develop. Write well and you will be rewarded. But the skill my friends had developed, beyond the technical skill, was the ability to understand how the system actually functioned and how the people in the system did business. One friend of mine, who writes music for films, will not write one single note of music until he sees the money on the table. The other, who works in animation, learned how to make himself indispensable to the company’s success, thus ensuring that he is not shit out of the system at age 50 because his salary is too big.

My naive idealism, my dreams of belonging to a new generation that could never be what the old generation was, drove me to travel abroad, to a place where I felt more at home: Europe. After all, I’m a European, not an American, even though I was deeply affected by the American culture (or as one of my friends terms it: the American subculture). I was born in Italy. I spent my early life in Zagreb. When I was in second grade at Good Shepherd in Beverly Hills, Dick McCann screamed at me: “You lost the war!” I didn’t know what war he was talking about. It didn’t matter, really. It was made quite clear to me that no matter how well I played baseball (I was an All-Star in Little League and PONY League), no matter how well I was able to surf Malibu, to blend in, I was not an American, and I never would be an American. Then my mother got transferred to Madagascar and my Beverly Hills High School career was broken up just before my junior year, just before some of my schoolmates would not be able to beat the draft despite their rich parents, and some would end up dead in Vietnam.

Boy was I glad then that I was not an American. America Sucks.

From Madagascar, we went to Nairobi, Kenya and I ended up getting a better education at St. Mary’s than I had at Beverly High. I read Shakespeare and the Bronte sisters, was a prime debater, won an elocution contest, and was encouraged to write an article for the yearbook. And it’s where I first started to learn to play the guitar. This was followed by two years of unrewarding university studies in Durban, where my leftist leanings and my love of the Beat Generation, as well as my fascination with drugs, were all nurtured. Sure, there was Apartheid, but we broke the barriers by going to the Blue Note after midnight where an all-black jazz band played to an all-white audience of university students mixed in with jazz-lovers. Boy, it was great to feel like a rebel with a cause, until of course my drug habit kicked me into psychosis and a stint in the Pietermaritzburg asylum, where I was eventually able to recover enough so that my mother could pick me up and take me back to Nairobi.

In Pietermaritzburg

We traveled by ship, stopped in Mozambique, the Comoros islands and in Zanzibar before we landed in Mombasa. I was on a heavy Stelazine Thorazine regimen, but was able to eat a bowl full of shrimp peri-peri in Lourenço Marques with pleasure as my mother and I watched the sunset from the restaurant terrace before riding back to the ship with our driver, George Washington. We sent a hundred postcards from Zanzibar on the day before the revolt which overthrew the Sultan. Our friends got postcards with the Sultan stamps and the new revolutionary government date-stamp. We sent them very valuable philatelic material. I wonder how many of them realized that?

Hieronymus Bosch • Haywain

When I finally escaped from America again in 1980, it was on a romantic journey to Lisbon, where I would write my first book while ghosting a book (for money) for a Syrian businessman. Besides that, I also taught English to a Freudian psychiatrist. It was really fun, because when people asked me what I did, I always replied: “I go to a psychiatrist, and he pays me!” It was my secret pleasure. And it always caused consternation in people. These were mostly people from the music business in Lisbon who wanted to go international, so they would hire me to write lyrics for them in English, for cash of course. No credit. I didn’t mind. I needed to pay rent and eat. Until one day I played some of my songs for one of the publishers and he took me to play live in front of a singer and her manager. They took one of my rock songs, recorded it with Portuguese lyrics, released it as a single, and it shot to number one. With my name in the credits!

Don’t worry. It didn’t make me rich. After all, Portugal is a very small market and 50,000 sold copies of the single made me about $500. Which was enough to buy me a ticket to Germany, the third largest music market in the world. In Hamburg I found that I was not only needed, but that my skill could be well rewarded. And, in contrast to the America Sucks music scene, I got both name credit and money, even when it wasn’t in advance. And then I got lucky. Another number one hit. But this time in France and Belgium with a song for which I wrote the lyrics. But don’t worry, it didn’t make me famous (or rich actually), but it did help me survive for a few years while I didn’t give up my day job as an English teacher and translator.

Believe it or not, you don’t make millions in the music industry with every hit record, especially if your total share is only about 12% of the author’s part. What? Yeah. The original lyricist gets 50% (actually 25% because the publisher takes half), the sub-lyricist (me writing in a different language from the original) gets half of that 12.25%. It’s OK pay for a few hours of work, but it won’t put you in a mansion and a Rolls. Nor will writing for heavy metal bands and pop groups that want to break into the British and American markets. One of my good friends in the German music industry told me lately that even Nena, with her American hit 99 Red Balloons got shafted by the America Sucks music industry. Let’s put it this way, she got less for her hit song over there than I got paid to write lyrics anonymously for a popular German metal band signed with SONY. Over here, she made tons of money with that song in German and the album and other hits and other albums, which eventually got her a seat as a judge in one of the casting shows that are now so popular. But the America Sucks music industry took what it wanted and said what it always says when your lawyers tell them you want your money: “Sue me!”

Yes, I’m still over on the left field side of the diamond, near the track in front of the fence, taking home runs away from people who try and tell me that capitalism is god’s answer to how humans should comport themselves. The latest homer I took away was the argument somebody made about how generous and kind billionaires can be. Besides the generosity of Microsoft’s founder Bill Gates in regard to a vaccine, this person quoted the 4 billion dollars donated by MacKenzie Scott, the ex-wife of the world’s richest man, Amazon owner Jeff Bezos. Now I am certainly not against wealthy people giving away their money. In fact, I wish they would give away more of it, or even just pay their fair share of taxes. Not paying tax is often a prime source of their wealth. The fact that MacKenzie Scott has decided to give lots of money away is a good thing. “In April 2019, Scott posted her first ever tweet to lay out terms of their divorce affecting shareholders. She gave him [Bezos] 75% of their Amazon stock and voting control of her shares, which left her a 4% stake in Amazon worth $38 billion or so at the time (as of early October [2020], her net worth is more than $60 billion). Overnight, she became one of the richest women in the world.”

Her decision to give away a bit over $4 billion came as a surprise that made other billionaires snarl at the betrayal they felt from a senior member of “the club” that George Carlin mentions and reminds us that “you ain’t in it.” What she has decided to do is to give her donations to charitable organizations that can then funnel the money to those who need it. That’s one way of doing it. Hopefully it will be effective. But it begs the question: Why does this need to be done? The answer is that it needs to be done because America Sucks, and sucks big-time. With a functioning social net and Medicare-for-all, as well as a progressive tax system which reduces the billions in profits to (at the very most) a million in profits for shareholders, the system would be a shining example to what can be done in the world if people are fair to each other, distribute wealth to those places where it is needed instead of funneling money into disastrous wars and the destruction of our habitat.

Of course I am still the naive idealist who went back to Europe where the social net still catches a lot of people, despite the holes that have been poked in it by the capitalist true-believers over the past 20 years. Yet I am happy to be in a place where the wrathful sociopathic energy of the capitalist is confronted with legal barriers that cannot always be overcome with huge amounts of money.

The sad thing is, that though I wrote that poem almost 50 years ago, it’s still true: America Sucks.

Danny Antonelli lives in Hamburg, Germany

NPD USA

Narcissistic personality disorder as a national trait

The Mayo Clinic describes NPD as:

a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of extreme confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.

Describing the national character of the United States as narcissistic is nothing new. Kuni Miyake wrote an insightful article in the Japan Times back in 2018 in which he came up with NND (Narcissistic National Disorder) to describe the United States.

The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology published a paper with the title: “Narcissism and United States’ Culture: The View from Home and Around the World” in which it is made quite clear that narcissism is a trait which is not only excessively prevalent among the people in the USA, but is actively encouraged throughout the culture, especially with its worship of the rich and famous and their extravagant lifestyles. In America this narcissistic plateau can be reached only if one is ruthlessly concerned with oneself and one’s own satisfaction. Lack of empathy for others plays a huge role in all this of course. Americans see this narcissism in themselves and their peers, and people from around the world regard the US as a nation of narcissists mainly due to this evident lack of empathy.

Color lithograph by J.S. Pughe • Library of Congress statement: No known restrictions on publication.

Since most people are not familiar with the political situation in 1899, a quick description of the cartoon might be helpful: Uncle Sam stands on a map of China, which Germany, Italy, England, Russia, and France (Austria in background sharpening shears) want to cut up; Uncle Sam clutches the Trade Treaty with China and says: “Gentleman, you may cut up this map as much as you like, but remember that I’m here to stay, and that you can’t divide me up into spheres of influence.”

Published in Puck on August 23, 1899, the cartoon emphasizes the role the United States played in enforcing what was known at that time as the Open Door Policy. It prevented any country from creating an exclusive territorial trade zone in China and ensured that all countries involved could trade on an equal footing. It saved China from being cut up into pieces like Africa had been, and the Chinese were permitted to get tariffs for their goods, but they were not consulted on whether they were in favor of the policy. It was imposed upon them from above, with the United States once again making sure that its own national interests were protected.

Uncle Sam is “Putting His Foot Down” in an unmistakable gesture of authority, in the belief that he is the most important and the most powerful person in the world. The Mayo Clinic description of NPD fits so well, it’s uncanny. And, the operative narcissistic phrase here is in the caption: I’m here to stay, and … you can’t divide me up into spheres of influence. In other words, I’m the boss! an attitude that has not changed since then and, after 4 years of the most brazen narcissism a president has ever shown to his people and to the world, it is even more prevalent among the “folk” of the US than ever before. A prime example of this is the racism that has now come out of the closet into the public sphere.

Racism has all the traits of narcissism listed by the Mayo Clinic, with the most important being: a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism. Every white supremacist has fragile self-esteem and hates any kind of criticism, especially if it’s true. Yes, it’s true that white people have enslaved and maltreated and exploited people who they deem to be non-whites for hundreds of years. Bring this truth to the ears or eyes of a white supremacist and their fragile self-esteem cracks open the protective shell and lets out the demon living inside. This demon has been released aplenty during the past and looks like it will continue to haunt us well into the future.

The governing capitalist elites of the United States are no different. They know that their positions of power are only attainable because they have acted with a complete lack of empathy for others, herding wage slaves into factories to produce goods which will enable an accumulation of enormous profits that will never be fairly distributed among the “folk” for the benefit of the many instead of the few. Why should this profit be distributed anyway? It was capital than enabled it! Capital may have been the yeast in the dough, but labor enabled the manufacture and distribution of the goods. Yeast does not grow the wheat, harvest it, grind it into flour, add the water, knead the dough or heat the oven or put the kneaded dough in the oven, nor take it out when it has reached the right consistency and is finally edible. Without the labor and the natural world the raw material comes from, no bread. Capital is, like yeast, an ingredient, but all it does is consume the sugar in the dough and burp out carbon dioxide gas and alcohol called ethanol. This gas gets trapped inside the bread dough due to the presence of gluten, thus making the dough rise. The alcohol gets evaporated in the baking process. Dough that uses yeast rises slowly and for a longer period of time. The more gas that forms in the dough, the higher the dough will rise and thus, the fluffier your baked bread will be.

So if capital is like yeast, why should we consider all the burped out holes in the bread as its right to an enormous return from the bread when it is sold. After all, the yeast only creates places where there is nothing present but air: i.e. an inflated sense of their own importance. And if you think about it, yeast is not a necessary ingredient at all. Bread can be baked without yeast. It’s called no-yeast bread. And of course there is matzo as well. Flour and water.

The capitalist doesn’t distribute the profits from the sale of produced goods because that money is needed to buy up and control the natural world where the raw materials are hidden or available in plain sight, and to exploit the labor of the local population in order to get those raw materials and transport them so that the goods can be manufactured by labor at a profit for the people who have a deep need for excessive attention and admiration. The people living on the land to be exploited have no say in how the materials are mined or gathered – either they cooperate or they will be eliminated from the game. That’s what Uncle Sam is telling the Europeans in that political cartoon. The fact that the Chinese have absolutely no say in the matter doesn’t even need to be mentioned. It’s a given. After all, they don’t count. They are only the ones who will provide the labor and the raw materials. They belong to the non-white underclass. The Opium Wars of the 19th century, instigated by Britain and then Britain and France working together, reduced China to a country with absolutely no say in its own destiny. And they didn’t have a say until Mao went on his Long March (against the fascist Japanese) and took the land away from the colonial capitalists who would have liked to return after the ultimate defeat of Japan and Germany. Of course this liberation of China from the grip of the western capitalists has been a long-lasting insult to the fragile self-esteem of Europeans and Americans, and a battle for revenge has been in progress ever since the establishment of the PRC (People’s Republic of China).

The English Imperial Octopus (Public Domain)

Do other nations suffer from narcissistic personality disorder? Of course. Nations around the world act in their own self-interest all the time. Many nations believe they are special. And authoritarian leaders of countries cannot cease to exhibit their deep need for excessive attention and admiration. That includes Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping. However, not since the demise of the great empires has there been a nation as powerful militarily and as narcissistic in its national policy as the United States. Americans actually believe they won the second world war all by themselves. They believe their ideals of freedom and democracy should be the political religion governing the world. The fact that their antiquated system of government was constructed to protect an oligarchic status quo is not even in the periphery of their consciousness. Other nations have crafted together more egalitarian forms of democracy, with less influence from the oligarchs sitting above. Eliminate the Wild West cowboy capitalists and egalitarian democracy should stand a better chance of success. Without Uncle Sam and his heavy boot stomping on the earth to tell us all who is boss, we might have a real chance at getting to a place where egalitarianism is possible.

Oh, but the narcissist will tell us: It’s for your own protection that I wield my power! No, it’s to protect profits and oligarch narcissists that stifling trade deals are crafted and countries like Bolivia are treated like vassal states, while countries like Cuba and Iran and Venezuela, who refuse to cooperate with the capitalist powers that be, are punished as renegades, and every attempt is made to force them to pay for their lack of respect. A complete lack of empathy for the people who live in those countries is part of the package of assertion of dominion. No wonder torture is back on the agenda in the USA, it has been used as national policy for decades: You want the pain to stop? Cooperate!

The French Communist Party got the message long ago and even created propaganda posters against US imperialism and its threat to colonize France. The current French government is, however, full of non-empathetic narcissists and continues to do all it can to thwart the will of the people while allowing the American capitalist octopus to slide its menacing tentacles into the European Union.

No! France will not be a colonized country!
Americans stay in America! (Public Domain)

Frankly, like many people who no longer live in the United States and among Americans and the constant stream of nationalistic propaganda they are subjected to through their media channels, I have grown tired of the constant whining from American oligarchs that Europe has no right to force them to pay a fair share of taxes on the enormous profits they make from cyber business and franchise business in Europe. Google and Microsoft and Apple and Facebook demand to be recognized as the greatest thing that was ever given to mankind. Living here in Germany it reminds me of the Deutschland Über Alles that was once so prominent in the thinking of the people here and still finds expression in the national anthem, as well as in the way fans regard their national football team. [Aside: Why do you think Uber chose that name for its company? They most probably would have kept the umlauts over the U if they could have gotten away with it. After all, their business model is predicated on being Über Alles.]

Unfortunately, we are going to be stuck with American narcissists for a while yet. The German narcissistic personality disorder system collapsed rather quickly. The American NPD system is taking a bit longer to collapse. The hollow center will fold in on itself eventually and will cause disarray and chaos, but maybe that inflated sense of their own importance and that deep need for excessive attention and admiration will dissolve into a realization that cooperation for the good of all will save Americans from further destruction in the future.

Don’t hold your breath!

Psychology Today gives us “8 Ways to Handle a Narcissist”, but it’s not going to be easy to get the United States to recognize that it can benefit from professional intervention.

Danny Antonelli lives in Hamburg, Germany