November 11, 2007

The Barren, Deadly Wasteland Further Considered, and the New Normal

From time to time, I see people who become enraged when they read criticisms of the "Vichy Democrats," when those same criticisms say nary a word about the detestable Republicans. Recently, I saw comments to this effect from one reader at Chris Floyd's place. Here's how the complaint typically goes:
My point is this: No one even MENTIONS 47-0 entire GOP!!! Because we EXPECT the GOP to vote for torture!!! The ... Dems are getting crucified everywhere (which they should) in the CMSM, internet, everywhere...and the 47-0 GOP'ers no one says anything...because we "expect" them to vote this way??? Well, that's not OK!!! By me!!!
Please bear with me, for now I must explain that two plus two equal four to people who say they have found employment as advanced statisticians for decades.

First, some of us sounded alarums about the depredations of the Bush administration, and of Republicans generally, before many others did. I know Chris Floyd did so repeatedly and in detail, and I did as well. Many of my old essays are off-line, due to archive problems, moving the blog, and various other life calamities of varying intensity. But I reposted a piece first published on January 1, 2004 (together with confirming evidence from other bloggers who cited it, to prove it was written then to those of suspicious mind) -- "From the Horse's Mouth: The Path to Dictatorship" -- at the conclusion of this essay. That article concerned the Jose Padilla case, and the destruction of habeas corpus. At the time, I was one of very few people writing about the Padilla case. Its significance and implications did not become apparent to many others until somewhat later. The same is true about a number of other issues.

Second, given the record of the Bush administration and of Republicans over the last six years, anyone who has paid even minimal attention and who understands anything about political theory and principle knows to a certainty that the administration and its supporters stand for untrammeled tyranny, the complete annihilation of liberty, torture, endless aggressive war, and the full litany of horrors associated with history's worst regimes. Mercifully, we have not yet seen the full implementation of these policies -- but history tells us that, if this course is not changed, the most murderous and brutal effects will eventually manifest themselves. Once a nation embarks upon this route, the rest is only a matter of time. In short: it is not news that Bush and the Republicans take one awful, life- and liberty-destroying action after another. That is all they do. That is all they have done for six years. It is not news.

I suppose we could include a passage like this one in every post about such matters: "Bush and the Republicans once again proved themselves to be among the worst enemies of liberty and peace. They are still destroying anything decent that was left of this country. They are terrible, awful, terrible, disgusting, really terrible, reprehensible, truly terrible, unbelievably awful people." Is that better? Feel free to cut and paste that passage as you will. So much for the Republicans.

As for the Democrats: they are opposed to the destruction of liberty, just as they are opposed to wars of aggression. That's what they tell us. They will restore liberty to us, and make certain it is preserved in the future. Additionally, they will return us to blessed, heavenly peace. That's what they tell us. The Democrats tell everyone, repeatedly and apparently as sincerely as they can (for whatever that's worth), that they are different. They're not anything like those awful, terrible, repellent, truly terrible and awful Republicans. They stand for something else, and something infinitely better.

If you are a Democratic partisan, if you care only about seeing Democrats in control of the frighteningly powerful and deadly American state apparatus in the future, if your primary goal is to make certain your tribe is the ruling tribe, you will enthusiastically repeat this codswallop. If you are an extreme partisan and also not especially bright, you may even believe it. For all these claims are lies.

Several days ago, I addressed these issues. In part, I wrote:
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.
See the earlier post for links to essays proving my argument. You might also consult a related post, "There Is No 'Lesser' Evil Now," which has links to still further evidence. (This is not to say there are no policy differences between the Republicans and Democrats. Obviously there are -- but only on narrower issues. I dealt with some examples of this phenomenon in, "Cui Bono?")

The lies that Democrats and their apologists endlessly recycle are but one instance of a much larger system of self-delusion. In fact, it is self-delusion on a national scale. In the "Cui Bono?" essay, I wrote about the roots and operation of our systematized national myth-making:
To believe our government's aims are in fact what our politicians claim them to be is no longer an honest error, not if one watches only 15 minutes of news every few days, even as presented by our wonderful teevee personalities.

While it is not an honest error, it is easily explained. In large part, people continue to delude themselves in this manner because they are overwhelmed by our national myth throughout their lives. Our national propaganda is unrelenting and unceasing: people are taught the myth in school, it is repeated by every mainstream writer and commentator, and it is presented as Holy Writ by our politicians. The United States represents the climax of civilization. As William Pfaff puts it, in writing about the idea that "the American model of society is destined to dominate the world, by one means or another, since it is held to be the culmination of human development":
This conviction is commonly found on both left and right. It was during the Clinton Administration that the secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, proclaimed that Americans see farther than anyone else because they "stand taller." "Globalization" was a product of the same administration, a program for opening deregulated markets worldwide to U.S. investment that was articulated by the administration as part of world society's march towards unification in democracy and market capitalism (and history's end).

It was also under President Clinton that the unprecedented Pentagon system of regional commands was established that now covers the entire world, responsible for monitoring developments in each region and preparing for possible U.S. interventions under a wide variety of scenarios involving challenges not only to U.S. interests but, as it is said, to world order.

Militarized or otherwise, American policy remains under the influence of an unacknowledged and unjustified utopianism. This is the unanalyzed background to the work of all Washington's foreign policy agencies. It permeates the rhetoric and thinking of Republicans and Democrats alike. It is the reason Americans can think that history has an ultimate solution, and that the United States is meant to provide it.
Pfaff recently noted that the dream of American Empire is one that is impossible of realization. But our ruling class, and virtually all Democrats and Republicans, refuse to acknowledge this reality -- and they will not give up their plans for American world hegemony until circumstances force them to. I suggest that you not contemplate too long or in too much detail how much blood will be spilled, how many millions may be murdered, or how immense the destruction may be before they are made to retreat from these plans.

The myth of "American exceptionalism" is the unchallengeable axiom that lies at the deepest level of our national self-conception. It infuses almost every public pronouncement by every person of prominence. If you dare to question it, you place yourself far outside the boundaries of "acceptable" discourse. To the extent people are aware that you might challenge the national myth, most of them will regard you as "extreme," as "kooky," as of utterly no importance. In terms of our prevailing cultural views and values, they're right.

Frank Rich is an intelligent man, one who is often very perceptive about particular cultural developments. But Rich has absorbed every major element of "conventional wisdom." He challenges the Establishment on nothing of significance. Indeed, how could he? Rich is the Establishment. I've dealt with his failures of analysis before. With regard to our national myth, note this from the conclusion of Rich's latest piece:
We are a people in clinical depression. Americans know that the ideals that once set our nation apart from the world have been vandalized, and no matter which party they belong to, they do not see a restoration anytime soon.
There it is: we are unique. There is not and never has been anyone or any nation that is our equal. We are the best there ever was! I implore you to reflect upon one critical element of this perspective: it is a very short step from believing that you are "set...apart from the world" to believing that you have an inherent right to rule it. If you are the best that ever was or ever could be, why shouldn't you rule it? I've been over this ground many times -- and in almost every instance, this belief system leads to atrocities on an unimaginable scale.

But as I said, Rich is occasionally perceptive. Earlier in his column, detailing the Bush administration's dismantling of liberty domestically (including the abolition of habeas corpus) and the Democrats' acquiescence, Rich writes:
To believe that this corruption will simply evaporate when the Bush presidency is done is to underestimate the permanent erosion inflicted over the past six years. What was once shocking and unacceptable in America has now been internalized as the new normal.
Even here, however, there is another fundamental error typical of partisans. Because Rich, along with Democratic boosters, and along with almost every liberal and progressive blogger, accepts the American exceptionalist myth, they return again and again to the idea that all this damage was "inflicted over the past six years." I'm tired of repeating this point, so listen up:
The current administration is notable for its crudity, its boastful, unapologetic cruelty, and its outright stupidity -- but none of its crimes would have been possible without the policies pursued by Democrats and Republicans alike for many preceding decades. As I summarized this issue in "The Empire at Evening":
With the enactment of the Military Commissions Act, we feel only the vanishing warmth of the final traces of the sun's distant rays, and the shadows lengthen and grow darker. We will not see noon again, or even late afternoon, in our lifetimes.

And all this is not because of George W. Bush, although he has hastened events. How could it be remotely conceivable that such an utterly ridiculous figure would bring down the most powerful nation in the world, even with the aid of his corrupt cabal? He, and they, could not; he, too, is a symptom of the rot that has been eroding the country's foundations for at least a century. Do you think so little of the United States that you truly believe the country you imagine still exists could be destroyed by this?

But Bush is the perfect embodiment of what has brought us here: he captures the arrogance, the determined anti-intellectualism and embarrassing incoherence, the insatiable greed for power and the predilection for violence, and the absolute conviction that fortune and God smile upon him and us as upon no other peoples in the entire span of history, in a single, pathetic, laughable imitation of a genuine human being.

George W. Bush is our fate, and our reward. We have earned him.
If you genuinely believe that our country's basic form of governance could be fatally compromised by one president and one administration in the course of only six years, you think very little of this nation as you imagine it once existed. If that is what you think, you know very little of history, and you understand next to nothing of how political principles manifest themselves over a period of many decades, and sometimes centuries. Consult the earlier essays for many more details.

Yet Rich captures one aspect of the current awful moment accurately, when he refers to what constitutes "the new normal." Many others have commented on this phenomenon, but it is one worth revisiting for a moment. But again, I must emphasize what specifically distinguishes the Bush administration from earlier ones and, which is more significant, what does not. It is not that torture, or aggressive war, or assaults on civil liberties are new in America (see the records of Wilson, FDR and Clinton in that last area). It is only that all these barbarities and acts of inhumanity were camouflaged more effectively in the past. In earlier times, the propaganda and the national myth worked more dependably.

The full title of one earlier related essay is, "Cui Bono? -- and Bush's Monstrous, Deadly Dare." The "dare" part of that article has gone largely unremarked. Since I know many readers tend not to follow internal links, here is how that "dare" went:
It is true that the style of the Bush administration is notably crude and aggressive. But if genuine, widespread opposition to the administration's policies had existed, Bush would never have been able to enact his program in the first place -- and the Democratic Congress would not ratify and sanctify his crimes, as they have done and continue to do. When one appreciates the historic continuity which gave rise to this abominable administration and without which this administration would not have been possible, and when one considers the particular style in which Bush, Cheney and the rest present their program, it is as if they are saying -- both to the nominal "opposition" party and to all Americans:
We're doing what this government has done for over a hundred years. We start wars of aggression to establish American dominance around the world. We began that policy in the 1890s, and we've never stopped. Sometimes we do it through covert operations, and by toppling regimes that won't do as we demand. Sometimes we simply invade and bomb them.

And we've used torture as a standard means of warfare for decades. We just used to hide it better, and we had better PR about how we weren't "really like that." Some of you even said you wanted torture to be brought out "into the open." So we did that.

Beginning with Woodrow Wilson and even before that, the ruling class has wanted a powerful police state here at home. We never kept it a secret, but we made it go down more easily with flowery talk and nice phrases.

We decided to do away with all the camouflage. We recognized what the actual aims had been all along and we agreed with them, so we decided to bring it all out into the open. We didn't want to waste time with all those nice speeches that make people feel better about themselves. Oh, sure, we still do that to some extent. We have to, because you're not willing to face the truth about what we've been doing around the world for 60 years and more, and what we do today.

But we stripped away a lot of the delusions. We knew no one would stop us -- because this is what you've wanted all along, and it's what you want now. You like making the rest of the world do what we tell them. You enjoy it. And whenever you have the slightest excuse for it, real or imagined, wide scale murder doesn't bother you in the least.

You like it. It's what you want. If it isn't, why don't you stop us? You could, you know. If enough of you made your objections known in ways that mattered, we'd have to stop. We're not worried, because we know you won't.

But go ahead. Try to stop us. Try to stop this war and the wars to come, and the mass slaughter, and the growing authoritarianism. Aren't you going to at least try? Aren't you?

Go ahead. We dare you.
The Bush administration has announced to the world, and to all Americans, that this is what the United States now stands for: a vicious determination to dominate the world, criminal, genocidal wars of aggression, torture, and an increasingly brutal and brutalizing authoritarian state at home. That is what we stand for.

And who says otherwise? The Democrats could -- and the most forceful means of doing so, the only method that is appropriate to this historic moment, the method that is absolutely required if we are to turn away from this catastrophic, murderous course, is impeachment. That is the one method the Democrats will categorically, absolutely not utilize -- because the Democrats are a crucial, inextricable part of the identical authoritarian-corporatist system that has led us to these horrors. They have all worked toward this end over many decades, Democrats and Republicans alike, and now the horrors manifest themselves explicitly, without apology, even with the sickening boastfulness of the mass murderer who is proud of what he has done, and who vehemently believes he is right.

So the dare goes unanswered. These horrors are what the United States now stands for. The realization of this terrible fact is slowly settling over the rest of the world, and other nations begin to make plans to deal with the profound threat to civilization and peace that America represents. Only Americans themselves continue to resist seeing the nature of the present moment, and the nature of what this country is. And so most of us wait, and most of us do nothing. We will not move.

The horrors accumulate, the corpses pile up, the blood flows without end, and worse, much worse, lies in wait. And still, we will not move.