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posted: 11/5/2017 1:00 AM

Historical resentments feed conspiratorial atmosphere

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By Georgie Anne Geyer

Even the careful reader of the news these days could be forgiven for believing that the driving forces behind world events are economic.

The White House repeats jobs, jobs, jobs. The Democrats chime in with calls for increased maternity leave and better pay, while American corporations stubbornly refuse to bring back the more than $1 trillion they have stashed overseas to avoid taxes.

But this widespread assertion is dead wrong. What we are grappling with are primarily problems of global, historical resentment, leading to an unquenchable thirst for revenge, and to conspiracy on one level or another to achieve it.

To test my thesis, think for a moment of what an ominous week it has been, as if Halloween were really bent upon frightening us all.

Let's start with conspiracy, a word Americans have always felt was foreign to our makeup. And yet dark, conspiratorial thinking over dark, conspiratorial events has dominated the news.

This fall, for instance, the Trump administration acted to release long-held documents from the investigation into the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Wonderful, people thought -- but some of the most dangerous documents were held back, and we are now overtaken by a more advanced conspiratorial mood.

Interestingly enough, news reports about the documents that were released were most focused on just one part of the mystery: the question of whether Fidel Castro and Cuba had taken part or even overseen the terrible murder that changed America. Conspiracy, for sure.

Forgive me a personal remembrance, but in one of my many interviews with Castro for my biography of him, "Guerrilla Prince," I asked him how he felt about JFK's death. Fidel insisted he liked the American president. But I didn't believe it.

In fact, he HATED the Kennedys, and he hated the United States for its humiliating interventions in Cuba, from the Spanish-American War of 1898 through the Bay of Pigs to Bobby Kennedy's impassioned attempts to kill Castro himself.

Not only that, but Lee Harvey Oswald had been at small private parties at the Cuban embassy in Mexico City, where he also had contacts with the Soviets. My friends, nobody got into the Cuban embassy in Mexico in those days unless you were a "special friend." And in Cuba, Fidel was back in touch with the Mafiosi he had thrown out when he took over in 1959. They wanted their casinos back and hated the Kennedy brothers for their actions against them nearly as much as Fidel did.

Conspiracy? Can you truly think not?

Now we come to Russia and to the amazing news that broke Monday on possible Trump campaign contacts, and perhaps collusion, with Moscow. And again we find, strangely enough, that in vast Russia, Vladimir Putin is acting out historical Russian resentment and hatred of the West.

Ah, but conspiracy is such an Old World charge. Conspiracy was the Serb "black hand" killing the Hapsburg emperor-in-waiting in Sarajevo and starting World War I. Conspiracy is so Balkanesque, so "cinema noir," so, well, un-American.

Yet even as we stand firm in our denial of this world of darkness, we are faced with the news of China's new "emperor," Xi Jinping, having himself symbolically crowned -- before our very innocent eyes! -- as the supreme leader of China into the seeable future.

"Hide your strength," the great reformer Deng Xiaoping said. "Bide your time." But we weren't biding anything, while the Chinese were, step by quiet step, building themselves into, as Xi put it, a "leading global power" to make up, finally, for their "century of humiliation" in the 19th century under the British.

So "jobs" is not the prime motivator of the world today. This world, still wrenched by its post-colonial tremors, is filled with people busy getting even. And we now see the same qualities of "grievance politics" inside our own borders and inside ourselves, especially in the angry, left-behind, white working class that elected Donald J. Trump.

Being ruled by resentment may not be how we think the world should be -- or how it could be in the future -- but if we look at the world honestly, and if we look at ourselves honestly, we will have a far better chance of solving our own problems and thus righting the world, as well.

Doing this will involve not creating new resentments militarily, nor will it mean returning to the old innocence that characterized much of American history. Rather, it means dealing intelligently with those grievances and those memories -- while also being aware of cunning false grievances.

It's not an easy world, but it IS a manageable one. We have to start by getting the words right.

Email Georgie Anne Geyer at gigi_geyer@juno.com.

© 2017, Universal

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