Right after Hurricane Ike struck Galveston, Texas, a TV news reporter was out describing the devastation. She gave an account of how in one part of the community, the storm lifted a beach house, sending it airborne, and slamming into another beach house. In a voice with rising decibels, the reporter said, "It was like, like a pinata."
The imagery was perfect: A flying house, like a missile, clobbering a stationary one, with the debris scattered everywhere.
Some situations, like this one, require us to have a broad imagination, a wider-than-usual understanding that goes beyond the commonplace to reach reality.
That’s what came to mind reading the current issue of Literal magazine, a bilingual English-Spanish publication that brings a Latin American and transnational perspective to the arts and modern living.
In it Jose Blanco writes an essay that wants to level with us. It reads like a challenge about whether we are ready to level with ourselves in the upcoming presidential campaign. Would we ask the candidates the hard questions, with the hyperbole and distracting exaggerations put aside?
Blanco simply recognizes that the United States is passing from the scene as the world’s only heavyweight economy, that our military has been used like a bouncer in the world community. According to Blanco, a world leader is needed, not another heavy. And when we don’t act responsibly, our country is weaker abroad.
We were the world leader in habeas corpus — guaranteeing the civil rights of individuals to avoid arbitrary arrest and detention, he reminds us. The rest of the world has now witnessed how quickly we compromised human rights principles through extraordinary renditions, Abu Graib, Guantanamo and the Torture Talks inside the White House. How the next leader will restore rights, post-Patriot Act, will say a lot about redeeming ourselves, or whether ours is now a seriously compromised and hypocritical country.
Is the United States one that can lead the world into finding a new monetary system with financial security for all? Can we resolve problems that might seem national but are really global in scope, impacting far more than our neighborhoods and towns? These include treating migration as a worldwide phenomenon, eradicating hunger in the next 50 years, transferring technology, and facilitating education.
Even as our own education reform might be slow, the lack of more education abroad will increasingly become our problem as people seek a way out of their dire straights. Education reform everywhere, as futurist Juan Enriquez has point out, is now a choice between development and underdevelopment.
Blanco raises many questions, each one with a major issue to resolve. He poses them as a citizen of the world who has an interest in what U.S. voters will decide.
Clearly this election is already trivialized into one about "hockey moms" or the revenge of "Hillary’s people," about race, the old and the young, or selecting somebody you would like to drink a beer with. But the stakes are simply too high. And our judgment is in question.
Whose jaw doesn’t drop when Jose Blanco points out the Iraq war costs $341.4 million per day? The cumulative total is about $530 billion. Meanwhile, Iraq’s gross national product is $18.8 million. The United States has thrown into that enterprise 28 times everything that Iraq can possibly produce. With that amount, the whole of sub-Saharan Africa could have been redeveloped.
The question runs deeper than how we got into that war. It is as well about what "victory" means and the real costs of that maniacal pursuit. There’s a Spanish word for that. It is called a "capricho.”
If we don’t watch out, someday, unusual incidents will be called "flying pinatas" and lack of human rights and policy irrationality will be called "capricho americano." And if we don’t do the right thing now, we will likely lose our friends, we won’t be able to influence people, and we’ll all have empty pockets.
(Jose de la Isla writes a weekly commentary for Hispanic Link News Service. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.)