Vidal’s Imperial America

Daniel Avatar

Amidst an American political ethos of media perpetuated illusions, gulag-prison systems, voter disenfranchisement, a voided bill of rights and authoritarian governing tactics, Gore Vidal, self-proclaimed defender of the American Republic continues to conjure Jeremiad prescriptions via revisionist history, essentialist analysis, and of course distinguishing witticisms. In his latest collection of essays Imperial America, the final book of three collections of essays covering the “Bush Junta,” Vidal’s inimitable voice seems to filter the latest hysteria in purist, anti self-congratulatory terms; still attacking the root of the old cold-war enemies, entrenched oligarchy’s, administrative units in lieu of individual rights, and apocalypse hungry madmen.

Denying the relevance of ambitious scholarship as overly specialized, Vidal has opened his range of commentary to the entire gamut of American life, a much different approach than his earlier more pointed essays usually covering a single New York Times article, court case or election. Vidal’s pose is now hinged on the ad hominem replacing his focused analyses for inclusion of the entire spectacle, not hesitating to draw historical analogies of twenty first century America to decayed Imperial Rome. With only a small group of friends still making noise, Vidal has to be treasured as a dying breed of anti-polemicists, dangling on a withered branch with the likes of Noam Chomsky, and stifled post Marxist professors.

To understand Imperial America, Vidal proposes several moments of significance in the history of American policy making, which naturally reverse the logic of establishment truisms. One must begin in 1950 when Truman transformed the country into a war based economy by taking 2/3’s of federal spending for armament build up, in order to maintain an elitist monopoly and funnel all profit to the corporate sector. The second moment Vidal mentions is the death of the Empire in 1985 when economic imperialism was posited as the only escape from an inflated capitalist economy in the face of a rising Asiatic menace. This fundamental model has been replaced by the Bush-Junta’s authoritarian crusade that is first and foremost designed to cut the capital gains taxes as a thank you to the corporations that put the administration into office, and of course anxious to invent new evil’s in a Christian context based on their Reaganite moral majoritarian mentors. Vidal would like America to revert back to the logic of Henry Clay and eliminate all pretensions as global policemen in the face of a rising Asia and accept isolationism as a doctrine where we can then stimulate education and promote professional training. Vidal’s pessimism for this occurring is enlarged with the enemy-making neoconservatives running the show.

The bothered genius of Imperial America no doubt tantalizes the reader with heady historical analogies and witty connections within the rampant absurdity of American political life, but his own intelligence seems to be the only end. While providing cogent cases for a fraudulent privatized 04’ election, and delivering a rational diagnosis for the separation of God in public life and even impeaching the Bush-Junta, Vidal’s momentum seems to lack pragmatism. Over the second half of the twentieth century Vidal attracted a sophisticated audience, in Imperial America, the old sage seems content to place himself as the sole arbiter for another America that no one else seems to know anything about.

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