"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, it expects what never was and never will be..."
With those words Thomas Jefferson cautioned a newly independent United States of America against the perils of, well… ignorance. Jefferson knew that for any people to govern themselves successfully, they must first become and then remain wise enough to do so. That's a very grown up responsibility. It requires a willingness to acknowledge transgressions among those in whom we've placed sacred trust. It requires accepting that our leaders, whether chosen or presumed, might harbor and respond to political and ideological motivations of a kind we'd perhaps prefer to ignore or otherwise rationalize. But failing or refusing to recognize official deceit is to abdicate ones intellectual liberty and swear blind obedience to authority. That is not very grown up behavior. Neither is it behavior worthy of those who would be free.
Yet such is the present. Rather than the enlightened germ of human equality he envisioned, Jefferson's land of the free would today appear to a him a nightmare utopia, a place whose destiny is being sealed by that same blissfully ignorant, blindly obedient segment of the populace his words so eloquently disdained. The home of the brave he loved with such passion is at once a frightened and frightening behemoth crowding out a world made small by the behemoth's influence and reach. Democracy's birthplace has grown to belie the very thing it spawned.
But not even Jefferson's fecund imagination could have dreamed that, in the end, the high office his genius helped create would degenerate into the instrument of exploitation and peril against which he had warned over two centuries ago. Never would Jefferson's worst nightmares have foretold that his republic of the people, by the people and for the people would meet what might well be its end at the hands of a simple-minded, impossibly inadequate, arrogantly corrupt successor to the very office his own tenure so brilliantly served: that of the President of the United States.1
Yet so it is. The America of our founders was a nation of but two-million, but from their numbers came Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Tom Paine, Betsy Ross, Nathan Hale, and Benjamin Franklin, to name but a few. Today, that nation is become a land divided against both itself and the world, and driven there by the divisive manifestation of its now 280 million people's dissonance, George W. Bush. Today, to our national shame, we find ourselves enduring the confused leadership of a single wholly unremarkable American fool, who stands before a multitude of American fools, as they gaze dumbly - one upon the other - mutually unaware that the precipice onto which they've stumbled, has already cracked beneath their weight. Or worse: aware but in childlike denial of the impending collapse their respective actions and inactions - one toward the other - have assured. It is a collapse whose inevitability the rest of the world - a world of 1.3 billion outraged Muslims and ten-trillion eurodollars - awaits.1,3
That an entire peoples, a society that so fondly considers itself enlightened, would so closely and warmly identify with a president whose abject stupidity, professed irrationality, and legacy of failure-compounding-felonious-failure, stands as a bold and damning testimony of our nation's susceptibility to exploitation.1 America's instant mutation from a great and noble society-of-man, into a panic-stricken primeval predator has precedent in the modern world by the likes of Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia and their own subsequent and dramatic collapses. Today, this once greatest of all nations, this land of the still free, but home of the no-longer-brave, is become more notably home of the advertising agency, the gas guzzler, the Pet Rock, astrology, mystic crystals, faith healers, personal auras, guardian angels, acupuncture, weapons of mass destruction, duct tape, gas masks, militias, armchair warriors, chickenhawks, Nostradamus cults, UFOs, Bible codes, breast enhancing cream, penis enhancing cream, snake handlers, missile defense delusions, exploding shoes, TV economists, Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, CNN, dangling chads, spiritualism, and bottled water. America - dysfunctional, post-traumatic America - has withdrawn into the somnambulance of self-deception more completely than ever. And since September 11, 2001, more blindly irresponsibly and pointlessly than ever as well, leaving little hope or possibility that anything but grief and remorse will greet our ultimate, and inevitable awakening with the dawn's early light. This country, the Bankrupt States of America, in two short years has endured a self-inflicted collapse of rationality equaled only by the concurrent supernovael collapse of her economy. While we were alternately shaking our fists and cowering in terror, the American economy has been allowed to freefall $600 billion from the most prosperous period in its spectacularly prosperous history to the status of a banana republic economy characterized by a national debt of $6 trillion and a cancerous deficit of $400 billion with neither a single thing to show for it, nor so much as the germ of a plan for recovery. This society of the ostensibly enlightened that casually gives its president another $87 billion it does not have (on top of the $600 billion), adding yet again to the $79 billion it's already squandered in Iraq alone so that he may further destroy a sovereign country and its institutions, only to presume its reconstruction through corporations his assistants, owners, and family control, is this time perhaps deservedly beyond saving.3,4 America is rushing toward self-destruction. It is being driven there by that which its brilliant founders anticipated, forestalled, and called the Tyranny of the Majority. Every penny in taxes you and I have ever earned and contributed to this country over our entire lives, has been squandered before the alter of misguided ideology. Our dollars, the billions upon billions we've contributed as a peoples, are used daily to murder innocents in the name of profit.5 How, I ask you, how do we not see it? How very much have we never learned from our immigrant ancestors?
The shame of it, the stupidity of it, the avoidability of it, each contribute to making America's fall from the heights it had so recently achieved all the more painful. For after standing as a beacon of hope for four centuries, the brash human experiment that became the American nation entered this new century shining brighter than ever and illuminating a world of never-before possibilities for all its people. America's successes were to a great degree seen as humanity's successes. We'd built a big rep for a mongrel society, hell, for any society. A fledgling nation became an unprecedented superpower, a secular, scientific societal model based on human equality for the world to emulate. And make no mistake, it was those successes, piled one upon another through our history, those successes and an open challenge to the world to partake of them, that ended the Cold War, not the unbridled and idiotic military spending of the Reagan years.
Look back to understand what we are (or were and can be again), at what we've done and what we've challenged the world to match. The Mayflower Compact. The Declaration of Independence. The Federalist Papers. The Constitution. The Bill Of Rights. The Emancipation Proclamation. The Marshal Plan. The Voting Rights Act. The Wage Hour Laws. The Civil Rights Act. Each of these declarations was a promise made to ourselves. Each was a world-altering, yet humane act of reformation. Each was a correct and considered response to self-inflicted injustice. Each followed the cognitive recognition of that injustice. Each acknowledged and denounced an affront to humankind before the world. Each was a triumph of the human spirit, and slowly - ever-so-slowly - came to be seen by all of rational humanity as such. Our actions demonstrated to the world that America was before all else, humanitarian.
When viewed on balance, of course it's not been all good. How could it have? Many of America's mistakes rank among humankind's most vile atrocities: Manifest Destiny, Native Genocide, The Trail of Tears, Slavery, Child Labor, Japanese Interment, Racial Segregation. Let's face it, America was - and is - just a young country. It had been abused by its parents, rebelled, broke away from home, grew to gigantic stature and strength and promise all before learning quite how to behave on its own. Americans have always been left to learn their humanity with little frame of reference save the abuses heaped upon them by the overlords they'd left behind. But unlike us, our forbears learned from their transgressions. Each segregated immigrant brought his or her unique experience to America. Many attempted to impose the same injustices they'd come here to escape. Some succeeded. But America alone has both admitted, and corrected the mistakes of its people and its government more willingly than any society before, and we've done so on the world stage. We did not hide our transgressions, or deny them, or even lament them very much. We learned of them, and we corrected them. America's failings were not European, or African, or Asian failings. Neither were they native failings. They were human failings. American triumphs, too, should be shared in credit by all of its people, whatever their shade of pale.
So here we stand at the start of a new age, a country founded and populated far, far more by the descendants of atrocity's victims than by those of its perpetrators. One more time, in what Jefferson called the course of human events our republic is remaking itself. One more time we await the cognitive recognition of an American mistake by the majority of her people. And it's been but a mere instant since that glorious age the world named The American Century.
Here we stand, the work, dreams, and prospects born of our ancestors' sacrifices having been betrayed. Everything they'd learned, everything they'd fought against, everything they'd fought for, everything they left us at the cost of their lives or their time on this earth in the hope that better lives would be created for their children and ours, being squandered before our closed eyes. How did we fall so far in so short a time?
There are those who would say that we did not fall, but were pushed. Either way, we allowed it to happen. We've been neither vigilant, responsible, skeptical, courageous, or adult. We've allowed the treasures of liberty, security, and promise, the sacred trust bequeathed us by our immigrant ancestors to be stolen from us right-by-precious-right and from our children by the very tyrants our fathers tried to teach us to distrust. We learned but little. I would submit, however, that it's not too late. Not yet. We are living another of America's mistakes. Nothing more, nothing less. Some of us have achieved cognitive recognition. Many more of us have not. But it is clearly now our turn to sacrifice if we hope to leave our children a nation of value. The question then becomes, do we have the stuff of our fathers and mothers and their fathers and mothers, and theirs? Will our tranquilized, therapied, I'm okay, you're okay generation be able to face and overcome what we've wrought in but two years? Will we have the courage to retake what we've allowed to be taken from us, from our parents, from their parents, and theirs? Do we have what it takes to correct this latest American mistake? Only our children will know the answer. It will be revealed to them with the dawn's early light. To shamelessly paraphrase, Will our flag be still theirs? Or will our failure be their American legacy?
Because the simple truth is this. With the American Century's end, came the perhaps unexpected (perhaps not),6 unnecessary, and hopefully temporary end of so many things American: the year 2000 saw the end of our functional democracy; 2001 the end of our perceived security; 2002 the end of our rationality; 2003 the end of our global fraternity; 2004 will see the end of our privacy; and unless we find that strength buried in our genes, 2005 will see the end of our intellectual liberty; 2006 the end of our prosperity; 2007…
The possibilities arrayed before us on the Millennial threshold were many. We had, as President Clinton said, "..an opportunity to lead the world." We grabbed, instead, an opportunity to run it.
Contrary to popular opinion, America's myriad possibilities were not co-opted by the horrors of nine-eleven, but were in fact multiplied by them, multiplied exponentially. Because, for the first time in its history, America found the entire world standing with her. Despite the vigilante-like inferences and Ox Bow Incident approach to vindication characteristic of our cowpoke-from-New England president, neither Iraq nor any nation was responsible for the horror. Neither was any nation spared its grief. To a greater degree than ever before humanity transcended politics on a global scale. Even in America herself, the people united behind their then-foundering president. For the first time in memory, a misguided act intending to isolate and punish a specific people, was instead seen as an act of unfathomable hatred committed by idiots against all people. No atrocity, wherever or whenever it might have occurred, had so galvanized the squabbling world the way nine-eleven galvanized all of rational humanity. Every people saw and felt their own kind crushed beneath the towers' terrible weight. Every shade of flesh was as easily ripped by the mangling iron. Every color save blood red faded in the mud of Ground Zero.
Yet somehow, from the ashes and tears, the America born of her founders' experiment in liberty and human dignity emerged valid, stronger than ever before, more unified and whole, and all at the moment of our greatest prosperity. For a very short time - but a time unique in all of time - the entire world felt one people's shock, awe, grief, anger...
"Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad" Euripides
But then, in a flash all the rational pursuit of innocence and guilt and right and wrong and mercy and vengeance and justice was gone. All of the proselytizing over punishment for the guilty turned to an exploitative witch hunt intent on punishing those superficially similar to the guilty, while the guilty themselves run free, aided in their flight by the very government whose people they'd violated.8
The decimated towers themselves, whose own similarity their immigrant architect proclaimed "A living symbol of mankind's dedication to peace in the world" were turned instead to a symbol of a different kind.7 They were mutated by an at-once frightened and exploitative political establishment into a symbol of hatred, invoked and invoked again to instigate renewed polarization and rage and anything but peace in the world.
If that rage happened to be turned against anyone unfortunate enough to culturally or physically or geographically identify with the murderers, so be it. Jefferson's admonitions have been made manifest, mutated into a vulgar self-fulfilled prophecy by the abject stupidity of his impossible successor and those who would blindly follow him. And, blinded by that very rage, we allowed him to steal our children's' future. We allow it still. Were we not forewarned?
"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, it expects what never was and never will be..."
Of course it's heresy to compare Thomas Jefferson with George W. Bush in any context, contrast included, but I doubt that any president since Jefferson has better represented the bleak future Jefferson's words portended. Because simply put, never has an American administration more thoroughly capitalized on its countrymen's ignorance than has this one. Never has a president had so powerful a tiller as today's mass media, or so fertile a field of public credulity in which to sow the seeds of exploitation. Neither has any gaggle of fanatical advisors ever had a landscape so completely cleared of the obstacles of preconception, so empty a tract into which they in turn can sow their personal ideologies as is the wholly commonplace mind of George W. Bush. Nowhere in this president's head is one likely to find the cluttered forest of ideas which characterize the great leaders. No. To a man, America's great presidents have been men of their own ideas. The great ones have been men who turned to their advisors seeking refinement of those ideas, but not for the ideas themselves, not for direction, not this completely.
So while we indulge ourselves in speculation on how few Americans actually voted for George W. Bush or his snarling understudy, I submit that no Americans voted for Karl Rove, Grover Norquist, Ken Lay, William Bennett, Condoleezza Rice, Richard Perle, Billy Graham, Paul Wolfowitz, William Kristol, John Ashcroft, or Don Quixote Rumsfeld. Yet it is this gaggle of ideologues whose ideas are leading our country. Our president is but their ventriloquist's dummy. And while I doubt that George W. Bush has ever considered or even encountered Thomas Jefferson's words of warning - nor would he much comprehend them if someday he should - his cadre of handlers most certainly has, and they comprehend them just fine.
They regale us with references to the "Bush Doctrine" and its plan for a new American century. Who among you believes that this sneering martinet - a man incapable of speaking in sentences on those rare occasions when the words are his own - is smart enough to have intuited a doctrine?! How supremely insulting such a presumption is to the genius and principles of our nation's founders, if apparently not to most of its people.
If there is a doctrine to be found amid the rudderless lunacy of this presidency, it is a doctrine of deceit.9 Were we not forewarned?
"You can fool some of the people all the time, and you can fool all of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all the time." Abraham Lincoln.
Whether Honest Abe actually penned those words or not (there is conjecture), he would today agree that the observation stands incomplete. For today we have nationwide polls. They show to an accuracy of plus-or-minus 3% just who can and cannot be fooled at any given time.
And that knowledge is being expertly used and abused to mislead a credulous and childlike American majorty.10 For example, this very month, Bush launched a publicly funded public relations campaign. Meanwhile, papers around the world were reporting things such as the almost indescribably dismal failure of the Middle East "Road Map" for peace, the undenied reports of high treason from the White House in the Valerie Plame affair, the return of Afghanistan to the Taliban, its renewed stature as the world's leading producer of heroin, the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq (other than our own), proof that our 317 American soldiers have died and a like number were maimed for Bush's outright lies, verification that Colin Powell lied before the U. N. General Assembly on Bush administration orders, verified reports that the Bush administration flew Osama bin Laden's relatives out of the US on September 11th, the failure to find either Osama bin Laden, or Saddam Hussein, the highest unemployment among American workers since his father was president, and a poll released by Time magazine Europe showing that 86% of Europeans consider George W. Bush the most serious threat to world peace of any man alive. Despite that the rest of the world was being made aware of all this, despite further that Mr. Bush finds $166 billion ($79B + $87B) of our American tax money to spend on Iraq, yet still has paid not one penny of the remaining $13 billion he promised New York City at his emotional September 2001 Ground Zero lie fest, despite all this real news, the TV talking heads and newspapers in the US chose to lead with a report that Bush's public relations campaign had resulted in an 8% jump in his popularity. That's right. This was the most domestically reported political story on the worst day of American casualties in the middle east in three months and the deepest federal deficit in American history, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, ad infinitum. Incredibly, this sweeping and instantaneous influence over American public opinion in the face of such extreme adversity and failure, cost the Bush reelection organization nothing, nada, not one red cent of their own money.
Disturbing? Certainly. Impressive? Undeniably. But does not such an incomprehensible level of public credulity, coupled with this radical administration's disregard for truth beg a far more troubling question for thinking Americans. Simply stated, if he gets an 8% jump in the polls for free, what sort of public popularity will be purchased with the $300 million Bush and his Rightist legions are putting behind his 2004 campaign?
I think against hope that the answer to that question is clear by now. For these polls reveal far, far more than that which is immediately apparent in their dry statistics. These polls reveal a permutation not considered even by the cynical likes of ol' Honest Abe when he wrote his now-famous words about which of the people can and can't be fooled. What these polls show - and why they are held in an almost religious reverence by the likes of Bush and his dubious political advisor Karl Rove - is that you can also fool most of the people most of the time. And today, beneath the rubble of Jefferson's democracy, that's apparently all it takes to disgrace and sack America.
For those willing to face it, there's an irony in all this. That irony, that supreme irony, is this: our first unelected president has invoked the Tyranny of the Majority11 and done so to stunning and disastrous effect. Will history reveal that therein lay the true and only Bush Doctrine?
- END -
Footnotes & References:
- Definition: A phenomenon characterised by a homogenity of public opinion, caused by the peculiar psychological dynamics of public democratic politics, and resulting in little tolerance for difference of opinion. Public opinion is seen as authentic rather than ascribed, and therefore has a great deal more moral force.
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