The Wall Street Journal carried a story recently about companies that specialize in a particular kind of personal training. They hire soldiers who've finished their tour of duty in Iraq, then unleash drill-sergeant routines -- intimidation, screams, punishment, humiliation -- against "recruits" in fitness programs. If a participant skips a session, the article noted, "active-duty or former Marines who run the sessions have been known to show up in full uniform at the boot-camper's workplace, demanding an explanation." Grown men and women, with free will, with brains, are paying good money for that sort of sadomasochism. Companies are putting employees through it. News media are in awe.
But there's nothing surprising here. "The martial enthusiasm of the people" that Edward Gibbon detected as a telling ingredient of Rome's decline is at it again in our own imperial splurge. The camouflaging of America has been the undercurrent since Ronald Reagan's invasion of Grenada in 1983. That was step one in the rehabilitation from Vietnam and the burial of 1960s idealism -- what even George Wallace once called "the sissy attitude of Lyndon Johnson and all the intellectual morons and theoreticians he has around him." So it is today. Athenian ideals are for sissies. America is the new Sparta: harsh, Darwinian, unforgiving. That it is increasingly unforgiven abroad doesn't register. The country is too busy indulging its autocratic self-esteem. The United States is so comfortable with extremes that it is often willing to dance with fundamentalism, speak the language of reactionaries and -- in the name of security, efficiency, law and order -- tip the hat to methods of fascism. This is the case in virtually every sphere, public and private.
Conservatives or Republicans dominate all three branches of the federal government, the Federal Reserve, every federal regulatory agency and every advisory board to such agencies as the National Institutes of Health and the National Endowment for the Arts. Republican governors rule over 28 states. The Republican Party controls both legislative chambers in 20 states, compared with 19 for Democrats. In some states, Florida among them, Democrats may as well not exist. And in some states, Kansas among them, medievalism is making a comeback as faith is confused with science.
Disaffection with the current regime isn't disaffection with the right-wing nation. The Republican Party has a long way to go before being "defeated by the rust of its absolute power" (to borrow Gabriel Garcia-Marquez's phrase). It still can depend on liberals to provide no alternative, though heaven knows the country is ripe for alternatives on health care, Iraq, the tax heist of the last five years and diminishing opportunities. Admittedly, it's hard to get a message out when the messengers are stacked against you.
No more liberal than their shareholders' bottom line, Hollywood and the media are the Olsen twins of hacksaw capitalism with a human face. And the corporate workplace, on which most of us depend and whose language many of us are forced to speak, does daily calisthenics to the tune of Mussolini.
Still, conservatives find room to rail that the victory is not total enough. Universities, the last major American institution still escaping the grasp of the closers of the American mind, are under attack for being too liberal. Ex-Marxist turned neo-whatever activist David Horowitz is peddling an academic "bill of rights" to ensure that conservative viewpoints are heard on campus. It's the kind of affirmative action conservatives angrily deride when the tables are turned. What next -- a drill sergeant showing up at the door and screaming that you're not thinking conservatively enough?
The way some homeowner association rules are written, I wouldn't be one bit surprised.
Tristam is a News-Journal editorial writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2005 News Journal Corp.