The disastrous state of the union is the consequence of our country’s choice of the W Man as president. What has he taught us?
Lessons We Learned from W
The eight years of the W reign were the worst years I have experienced as an American. When Bush was delivered the election, my Christian believer sister, who saw this as an act of God, said to me, “You just wait and see.”
So, I put my intuitive blinders on. I knew that if I had known W as a fellow undergraduate, I probably would have loved him. Furthermore, Harvard business school taught people how to solve problems by teamwork — an admirable principle. For about a year I tried not to look at what I was seeing behind W’s folksy cowboy charm. It was hard work, because every shred of instinct I had about this man as president was disturbingly unambiguous, alarms clanging in my head every time I heard his stubborn pronunciation of NUCULAR. Starting with the trumped up drumbeats of war against Saddam, the “wait and see” turned to agony, as I grew more and more ashamed of being an American. After W was re-elected, I stayed abroad for a very long time. When people asked me where I was from, I said, “California”.
The night before Obama won, I woke up in a tense rage at all this, a sentiment I tried to deal with by acknowledging its awful extent and its psychosomatic effect on my body, and then, in the next twenty four hours, relaxing and giving myself over to hope in the brown man, who, with his big ears, knows how to listen, and, with his silver tongue, knows how to speak the truth.
The country got what it deserved for electing W. because they fell for his line twice. I was hard pressed to explain this abroad. Nevertheless, there was, throughout, one tiny hope, one possibility – that America had the opportunity to learn a lot of negative lessons from this Administration. Maybe W was sent by God. Certainly, he was the most powerful teacher we could have had, exquisitely suited to our national naïveté and arrogance.
Some of the lessons to be learned are summed up by the man from whom the presidency was wrested in 2000. In his superb book, Assault on Reason, Gore shines a beacon of well-reasoned and informed light on what happened to America in these eight years. Heartbreaking to think that, save for some electoral equivalent of a card trick, this man of reason could have led our country.
Here are some of the lessons:
-Reason is the cornerstone of American democracy, and, when it is abandoned, democracy fails.
-Fear dislodges reason and easily can be used to manipulate the people.
-Power corrupts. The genius of the American Constitution is its safeguards against the usurpation of power by any one person or branch of government.
The Cheney machine was inspired by the idea of an enhanced Executive branch. In ways large and small, they preyed on people’s fears in order to roll back the Constitution’s carefully crafted safeguards, which destabilized the entire system. The administration exploited two kinds of corrosive power – faith-based and financial. It took a thousand years of religiously based authorities in Europe to show our forefathers the fallacy of theocracy and the necessity for the clear separation of church and state, but faith-based special interests, thinking Bush was their man and fed by fear of increasingly rapid change, sought to impose the values of the few on the whole. Behind this were financial special interests all too happy to sacrifice the good of the whole to the wealth of the few.
Civil discourse, the calisthenics of reason, has from the beginning been dependent upon the free public marketplace of ideas. Enabled originally by the printing press, this discourse has been eroded in the last hundred years. The gradual development of the media from printed word, to radio, to television created greater and greater passivity and eliminated the response of the receiver. Since the cost of television broadcasting is so great, it was mostly well-financed special interests that bought up the media and gained increasing control over it, eliminating substantive feedback. In addition, the growing sophistication of propaganda techniques during the twentieth century, has allowed the media to become insidiously manipulative of a nation of self-indulgent couch potatoes. The Internet is, to a great degree, reversing this trend because it is a mechanism for public feedback, and it has been instrumental in supporting the public discourse that brought Obama into power.
So what was the result? Bear with me while I run through the laundry list. Through the use of fear tactics, power grabs, the one-way media, and propaganda, the W administration, largely led by Cheney, falsified intelligence about the connection of Hussein to Al Qaeda, when they were in fact mortal enemies, and the threat of Hussein’s WMD, when there were none, silenced all dissent, overrode the collective intelligence of the world, and perpetrated an unnecessary war. This war has exacerbated the worst elements in the Middle East, strengthened the determination of Al Qaeda, and alienated the world. It has wrecked the infrastructure of Iraq, caused the deaths of countless civilians and thousands of soldiers, and created hell on earth for those who have survived. The true face of this forceful manipulation unprecedented in American history, finally displayed itself to the world in the spectacles of Guantanamo Bay and the torture orgy set loose at Abu Ghraib. Under our leaders we became a cynical hi-tech Goliath. To prosecute this war, the W administration has silenced reasoning protest and plunged the country into astronomical debt, all along leading the nation down the rosy delusion of a sound and ever-expanding economy into an economic crisis to rival the Great Depression. Instead of being the inspired leader of the world, we have become the greatest threat to its well-being. THIS is the sort of thing the Reverend Wright meant when he said, “God damn America.”
So let me indulge in a bit of upside down racism. Perhaps you have to be a privileged White Man to put forth these observations, even though I know them to be the intuition and understanding common to the non-white world.
The excesses of the W man and his administration may have culminated a lesson in hubris and nemesis played out on a global scale over the last five hundred years. In a way, the fate of the European White Man has been spiritually declining, even as his worldly success has been mounting. Emerging from the Middle Ages with the certainty that Christianity was the only spiritual truth, we arrogantly justified our seizure and colonization of the world, extended this mandate into our scientific dominion over nature, and, with the resulting technological advances, trashed the planet. The jumbled egoism of our nationalistic indulgences have brought about two world wars, and now it seems, we have generated a world economy that cannot sustain itself or our environment. Ever since my education tuned me into this greater picture of the excesses of the White Man, I have wondered what the karmic bill would finally come to, and when we would have to pay it. The ancient law is that hubris creates nemesis: this radical self-destructive downturn in the fortunes of the White Man is beginning to show itself.
The lesson of the W reign may be that for all his brilliance, bluster and progress the White Man, by virtue of his very superiority, doesn’t really know how to steward the world, to create harmony and peace. The non-white world has been realizing this for a very long time, all the while knowing that it was globally inapp
ropriate to evince such a view, unless of course, you are the nemesis itself, which incarnates through the likes of Bin Laden and his followers.
Here is a bit of speculation. In our American literary and cinematic history we have often portrayed black characters as having a heartful, earthy wisdom that saved the day when the white folks couldn’t quite cope. Think of Uncle Tom, of Scarlett’s wise Mammy, Uncle Remus, the black boys that helped out Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. A most recent example is the iconic movie, Sex and the City, in which the neurotic, self-obsessed white girl gets shown the way to existential home by an earthy black girl. American artists have all along intuited something. What is it that the black knows that the white may have lost touch with? Africa hardly seems a model for world harmony and peace, but it is the cradle of humanity, the source, the place from which humankind emerged out of the earth. Obama is not an African American who carries the contorted shame of a people stolen into slavery: he is in fact an American African bearing the freedom and pride of the good of the earth, of the source, of life, of being. Listen carefully, and you can hear that he speaks to this good in us all. His mother was one of us, who nevertheless understood the appeal of Africa. Obama is a synthesis of white reason and black source.
Perhaps this is just what the world needs, but, as my sister said, “Just wait and see.”