January 14, 2009

Those Who Enable the Triumph of Evil, and the Choice Before Us

I have been making one critical argument for several years. In "The Barren, Deadly Wasteland that Is Now Our Life," I formulated a foundational question this way (I include both of the following paragraphs to remind readers of key evidence for my conclusion):
Meanwhile, the Democrats say that they now oppose the invasion and occupation of Iraq. But they consistently and adamantly refuse to recognize the criminal nature of what the U.S. has done. At worst, they will say that the invasion of Iraq was a monumental "blunder," and that the invasion and occupation have been executed "incompetently." They cannot and will not say that we have committed a crime of historic proportions. According to the Democrats, if we had committed the crime efficiently, all would be well. In addition, despite all their pathetic mewling that they can't, they just can't end the criminal occupation of Iraq, the Democrats could do exactly that within months. They won't -- while they continue to insist that this "blunder" is profoundly damaging our country. In a similar manner, the Democrats say they oppose an authoritarian executive branch, and that they oppose the incipient dictatorship at home. Despite these protestations, they permitted the Military Commissions Act to pass -- and they have provided no indication whatsoever that they propose to repeal it. The Democrats helped pass the FISA bill several months ago -- an act that significantly increases the government's surveillance powers. At every opportunity, the Democrats either fail to mount any serious opposition or they actively support the further means to a more oppressive government. (In fact, and as I have explained in detail - see "Blinded by the Story" and "Cui Bono?" -- the Republicans and Democrats do not disagree about fundamentals; they both work toward worldwide American hegemony in foreign policy, and toward a corporatist-authoritarian state at home.)

So which is worse? Those who support evil, but insist they believe it is good? Or those who support evil while claiming, at least some of the time, that they actually know it is evil? I didn't write [an intended] post in the form I originally planned for only one reason: given the nature of the evil involved -- the complete destruction of liberty domestically and an unending series of murderous, ungraspably destructive wars abroad -- I consider distinctions of this kind ultimately to be morally insignificant to the point of invisibility. The only fact that matters is that Republicans and Democrats -- two or three honorable exceptions aside -- all act to destroy liberty and to further criminal war abroad. But in a psychological sense, I probably would have to say the Democrats (and certain of their apologists) are worse: to say you recognize evil to any extent at all, yet to fail to oppose it or, which is still more reprehensible, to act for its furtherance, consigns one to the lowest rung of Hell.
In a subsequent article, "There Is No 'Lesser' Evil Now," I quoted Chris Floyd as follows:
No mainstream Democrat will ever allow full-fledged criminal investigations and prosecutions of Bush II officials for torture and the war crime of military aggression. You know and I know that's not going to happen. We will get, at most, some soaring rhetoric about "healing national wounds" and "coming together again" and "moving on." (With the outside possibility of a few small fry being offered up as sacrifices, to let the Dem president preen as the "restorer of the rule of law" -- and also purge the Republicans, and Bush, of the worst taint: "Hey, it was a few bad apples, and now they're gone. We've got a clean slate!")


And let us at last be done with the fatal pretense that what we are witnessing today in the war of aggression and the torture program are some kind of aberration, the result of "bad apples" in the White House and Pentagon. Let us instead embrace the truth spoken by Simone de Beauvoir, about the "war on terror" that her native France waged in Algeria ... :
To protest in the name of morality against "excesses" or "abuses" is an error which hints at active complicity. There are no "abuses" or "excesses" here, simply an all-pervasive system.
With reference to this system, I refer you to my recent essay, "You Aren't Going to Beat the System, Baby", which argues that the acts, policies and appointments of the incoming Obama administration already demonstrate that this system will continue without interruption, and without meaningful "change." This should hardly be surprising: it is this very system that elevated Obama to the Democratic presidential nomination, and that elected him president. Obama will alter only one element: the wars of aggression abroad, the increasingly oppressive authoritarian-surveillance state at home, the torture -- all of it will continue, but with better public relations, with the restoration of "camouflage," and with the resurrection of "plausible deniability." For the overwhelming majority of Americans, including almost all leading liberal and progressive commentators and bloggers, this will be enough to declare that America's "soul" has been restored, that "true" American values have been saved, and that America is once again Good and Noble, unique among all the nations and peoples of history.

Only a few people will be honest enough to name the truth: that this system of evil continues in all its horror, and that better "marketing" (loathsome word) does not alter the nature of the torture and the murder that will go on. For the truth of where the Obama administration will begin -- and a preview of where it is all too likely that the logic of this system will carry it -- is this (from "Killing Truth and Hope -- The Fatal Illusion of Opposition"):
You desperately need to understand this: the next President of the United States, no matter who it is, will enter office knowing that he or she can systematically and regularly authorize torture, order mass murder, direct the United States military to engage in one campaign of criminal conquest and genocide after another, oversee uncountable acts of inhumanity and barbarity -- and he or she will never be challenged or called to account in any manner whatsoever. It may have taken the Bush administration two terms to bring us to the point where such evils are committed and even boasted about in broad daylight, while almost no one even notices -- but this will be where the next President starts.

And for this monstrous, unforgivable fact, you can thank the Democrats and those who whore themselves for the Democrats' success in our disgustingly meaningless elections.
I understand and appreciate very well indeed (better than most of you will ever know) that this view does not win me many friends, or lead to much popularity or a wide readership. But I am convinced this is the truth of our situation, and of the United States. For me, that is enough. I don't offer this fact as an offensively boastful claim to some kind of bravery or courage; in fact, I reject such characterizations as irrelevant and unhelpful, and I occasionally (and momentarily) wish I could soften the edges of my arguments and make them "easier" for many readers. But that course is not "easier" for me, and I am incapable of following it. In significant part, that is because I hear the voices of the victims too clearly. I wish, deeply and terribly, that more people did. (While I am not hopeful about our political situation, I am profoundly hopeful about our future in more general human terms, if you will. I've written about the nature of that hope in essays such as "Flecks of Light, Points of Understanding, and the Gift of Sight," and "Passing on the Sense of Wonder." I will discuss these issues in more detail in future articles.)

I mention these points because yet another piece of powerful evidence for my general argument has come to my attention. The admirable David Swanson has written an article about John Conyers' "new report that updates his previous report originally released in 2005 documenting Bush and Cheney's crimes and impeachable offenses." I commend Swanson's indispensable piece to your careful consideration.

Swanson documents Conyers' history on the issue of impeachment in devastating detail. It is genuine Show of Horrors, and it provides plentiful examples of the rationalizations, equivocations, misrepresentations and outright lies that are required when an individual declines to fight against what he himself regards as monstrous and immensely destructive. Swanson goes through all the major arguments that have been used in the last few years to discourage impeachment -- all the arguments that many of you have undoubtedly seen offered by most of the leading liberal and progressive writers -- and he demolishes every single one of them. I refer you to his article for the details.

I want to focus on a few points in particular. I recently mentioned again in passing (with links to lengthier discussions of this subject) that no meaningful prosecutions of war crimes will be pursued with regard to even one of the major criminals from the Bush administration. On that subject, Swanson notes the following at the very end of his article:
Conyers goes on in his Foreword to enumerate his many reports and announcements, investigations, hearings, lawsuits, etc. Conyers opened a hearing on impeachment (but not really on impeachment) this past July by bragging about all the hearings he'd held. To him, these hearings and reports are, to some degree, ends in themselves. Actual substantive steps that impact people's lives can get lost in the shuffle. One such step would be impeachment, which could happen right now if Conyers wanted it to. Another step would be Conyers' clear and active support for a special prosecutor.

While prosecution of Bush and Cheney would be hard-pressed to fail, and politicians who supported it would be hard-pressed not to rise in popularity, Cheney has given us a preview of his legal defense: "We were never impeached."
I urge you to reflect for at least several minutes on the horror of this result. This is one of the bitter, deadly fruits of cowardice in the face of evil. It helps to illuminate a critical principle, one that would be very simple to appreciate if it were not for the unstinting efforts made by Democrats like Conyers and the most vocal of Democratic apologists to evade the truth and refuse to acknowledge the obvious: each retreat from battle makes the next battle that much harder. The Democrats are always talking about "saving their gunpowder" for the next fight, which will be the genuinely important one. But each act of cowardice of this kind -- and it is cowardice, we should call such acts by their rightful name -- weakens them, rather than making them stronger. Each concession to evil makes evil stronger, while the coward reinforces his own cowardice. Thus, evil consolidates and expands its reach -- and those who would fight against evil are pushed farther offstage.

History provides far too many examples of this pattern. While it can be difficult to make judgments in individual cases without knowing the details concerning a person's knowledge and understanding of the issues involved, we can say that, generally speaking, it is not possible for national politicians and those who are very active in politics (even as writers or bloggers) to be unaware of this pattern. Thus, in the case of Conyers and others similarly situated, the failure to engage the battle is cowardice to the extent they sincerely oppose that which they themselves consider to be evil. To the degree other factors are in play, we can say that this is the system they want. Here, the failure to impeach these criminals means, among other things, that prosecutions for war crimes may run into an insurmountable objection, if they are pursued at all (which I view as impossible for the reasons I have enumerated).

I also want to note one particular passage from Conyers' new report, which Swanson also focuses on. Conyers writes:
What, then, would be the precedent set by a House vote against the impeachment of President Bush or Vice President Cheney for deceiving our nation into war, allowing torture, engaging in warrantless domestic surveillance, and retaliating against those who attempted to reveal the truth about these acts? In my view, a failed impeachment – by an almost certainly lopsided vote – would have grossly lowered the bar for presidential behavior and caused great damage to our Constitution. More immediately, a failure to impeach President Bush and Vice President Cheney would have been trumpeted by their allies as a vindication for them and for their overreaching policies. To all of us who treasure our constitutional form of government and our standing in the world, and mourn the loss of life in a war built on deception, I know the failure to impeach is a deeply unsatisfying outcome. As one who has participated in more impeachments than any other Member of Congress, I came to the realization that this is the reality of this moment in history. Faced with that reality, I had a choice: do nothing; or redouble my efforts to peel away the secrecy of this Administration, expose its wrongdoing, and protect the liberties and freedoms of the American people. I chose the latter course.
This is a suffocating blanket of lies, overwhelming in its lethality. It demonstrates, more powerfully than any fictional counterpart, the tortured byways frequented by those who have become complicit in evil. I am convinced that, in some form, Conyers is aware of the great betrayal he has committed; nothing else could explain the convolutions that inevitably drag him into this pit ruled by cruelty, barbarism and death. In different ways and to different degrees, the same is true of all those who choose the same path. I again point you to "Thus the World Was Lost," for a notably terrible historic example of where this choice can ultimately lead.

In his article, Swanson points out how this passage from Conyers inverts and distorts the truth. Not only does Conyers rely on "the false claim that failure was guaranteed," but he entirely omits any consideration of what might have been achieved if he had chosen to lead on this issue. Yet this is the pattern followed by the Democrats on every significant issue in recent years: leadership is the one trait they absolutely reject, across the board.

Swanson also points out just how small and petty Conyers' actual concerns likely were:
But suppose for the sake of argument that failure was guaranteed. Would an attempted impeachment not have sent more of a warning to future presidents than doing nothing at all? Didn't the senate acquit Clinton and didn't we still see Al Gore try to run for president pretending he had never met his boss? Again, Conyers is taking a narrow view. He would have had to be the man who led a failed impeachment. Never mind that the world would have honored his attempt. His colleagues would have seen a failure. And he would have been at odds with his party and perhaps been stripped of his chairmanship. These probably look like big significant things to Conyers. To the rest of us, a failed impeachment in 2007 or 2008 would have provided us with an ideal list of whom to reelect and whom to toss out on their ears in order to make impeachment happen in 2009.
Appreciate just how pathetically shabby this is. Conyers might have lost his prerogatives within the existing system. That possibility carried more weight than defending liberty, justice and fundamental human decency.

Thus, the lesson: when you choose to be a critical part of a system that has become this corrupt -- and the endless corruptions of our corporatist-authoritarian-militarist system have been documented at great length here and in other places -- you will not ameliorate or "save" it. The system will necessarily and inevitably corrupt you.

Finally, that is the choice that confronts Conyers, and all of us: you can remain or become part of a system dedicated to destroying liberty and peace -- or you can choose to withdraw your support, to whatever extent is possible given the particulars of your life. I have never suggested, and I am not suggesting now, that the choice is always obvious, and it is certainly not easy -- but that is the choice. It is long past time to pretend otherwise.

Choose with care, and wisely, if you dare. As I have said before:
[T]hese horrors are now what the United States stands for. Thus, for every adult American, the question is not, "Why do you obey?" but:

Why do you support?

Or will you refuse to give your support? Will you say, "No"? These are the paramount questions at this moment in history, and in the life of the United States. We all must answer them. Our honor, our humanity, and our souls lie in the balance.