It's My Ball Now, and I'm Not Giving It Back!
I remember during the Florida recount fiasco James Baker, the Bush family attack dog leading the legal charge, saying at one point regarding some decision soon to be handed down, that, to paraphrase (since I don’t remember the exact quote), “If they find in our favor then their decision will be fair and impartial; if they find against us it would be a gross injustice and a proof of their partisanship.” Right then I had an inkling that BushCo was playing for keeps, and that they were using a new rulebook.
But I was unable to adequately express just how I knew this. It’s one thing to have a gut feeling based on my understanding of personality and history; it’s another to give voice to that feeling with critical thought.
When Paul Krugman’s book The Great Unraveling came out it got a lot of deserved press. I read an extended excerpt of it and had to read more. Krugman’s remarkable introduction gave me the theoretically underpinning I needed to help me understand that gut feeling. Apparently he had the same experience when reading Kissinger’s doctoral thesis. Here’s an extended excerpt:
Back in 1957, Henry Kissinger — then a brilliant, iconoclastic young Harvard scholar, with his eventual career as cynical political manipulator and, later, as crony capitalist still far in the future — published his doctoral dissertation, A World Restored. One wouldn’t think that a book about the diplomatic efforts of Metternich and Castlereagh is relevant to U.S. politics in the twenty-first century. But the first three pages of Kissinger’s book sent chills down my spine, because they seem all too relevant to current events.
In those first few pages, Kissinger describes the problems confronting a heretofore stable diplomatic system when it is faced with a “revolutionary power”— a power that does not accept that system’s legitimacy. Since the book is about the reconstruction of Europe after the battle of Waterloo, the revolutionary power he had in mind was the France of Robespierre and Napolean, though he clearly if implicitly drew parallels with the failure of diplomacy to effectively confront totalitarian regimes in the 1930s. (Note: drawing parallels does not mean claiming moral equivalence.) It seems clear to me that one should regard America’s right-wing movement — which now in effect controls the administration, both houses of Congress, much of the judiciary, and a good slice of the media — as a revolutionary power in Kissinger’s sense. That is, it is a movement whose leaders do not accept the legitimacy of our current political system.
There’s even some question about whether the people running the country accept the idea that legitimacy flows from the democratic process. Paul Gigot of the The Wall Street Journal famously praised the “bourgeois riot” in which violent protestors shut down a vote recount in Miami. (The rioters, it was later revealed, weren’t angry citizens; they were paid political operatives.) Meanwhile, according to his close friend Don Evans, now the secretary of commerce, George W. Bush believes that he was called by God to lead the nation. Perhaps this explains why the disputed election of 2000 didn’t seem to inspire any caution or humility on the part of the victors. Consider Justice Antonin Scalia’s response to a student who asked how he felt making the Supreme Court decision that threw the election to Bush. Was it agonizing? Did Scalia worry about the consequences? No: “It was a wonderful feeling,” he declared.
Suppose, for a moment, that you took the picture I have just painted seriously. You would conclude that the people now in charge don’t like America as it is. If you combine their apparent agendas [which Krugman discussed earlier], the goal would seem to be something like this: a country that basically has no social safety net at home, which relies mainly on military force to enforce its will abroad, in which schools don’t teach evolution but do teach religion and — possibly — in which elections are only a formality.
Back to Kissinger. His description of the baffled response of established powers in the face of a revolutionary challenge works equally well as an account of how the American political and media establishment has responded to the radicalism of the Bush administration over the past two years:
Lulled by a period of stability which had seemed permanent, they find it nearly impossible to take at face value the assertion of the revolutionary power that it means to smash the existing framework. The defenders of the status quo therefore tend to begin by treating the revolutionary power as if its protestations were merely tactical; as if it really accepted the existing legitimacy but overstated its case for bargaining purposes; as if it were motivated by specific grievances to be assuaged by limited concessions. Those who warn against the danger in time are considered alarmists; those who counsel adaptation to circumstance are considered balanced and sane….But it is the essence of a revolutionary power that it possesses the courage of its convictions, that it is willing, indeed eager, to push its principles to their ultimate conclusion.
As I said, this passage sent chills down my spine, because it explains so well the otherwise baffling process by which the administration has been able to push radical policies through, with remarkably little scrutiny or effective opposition.
Reading this sent chills down my spine as reading Kissinger’s did for Krugman. “A movement whose leaders do not accept the legitimacy of our current political system.” After reading this I knew intuitively that Krugman got it absolutely right. It confirmed my initial impression that America had entered a new period, one with a different rulebook; and it gave voice to that gut feeling I had and confirmed its accuracy.
BushCo is not like any phenomenon the US has seen before. They do not play by the rules people are accustomed to. People still think BushCo is playing with America’s traditional rulebook, and thus cannot entertain notions that once BushCo ascended to power they've switched rulebooks. The BushCo rulebook is very simple. In fact, it can be summed up in one sentence: Heads I Win — Tails You Lose.
Krugman provides a solid defense of his thesis which I won’t repeat here. (Though I do heartily suggest interested people find a copy and read the entire introduction themselves.) He then concludes with some advice as to how to deconstruct BushCo’s message, which he calls Rules for Reporting. These are the Rules (which he discusses in detail within the Introduction):
1. Don’t assume that policy proposals make sense in terms of their stated goals
2. Do some homework to discover the real goals.
3. Don’t assume that the usual rules of politics apply.
4. Expect a revolutionary power to respond to criticism by attacking.
5. Don’t think there’s a limit to a revolutionary power’s objectives.
Ultimately, BushCo has no respect for democracy. Democracy is an impediment to them. They go through the motions because they have to. But as John Dean (yes, the John Dean of Watergate infamy) so conclusively proves in his recent book Worse than Watergate their entire modus operandi is contrary to the democractic requirements of openness and accountability. He even gives voice to a fear that democracy in America may be over. Here’s another extended quote:
It is difficult to trust a co-presidency [meaning Cheney’s very active role in determining policy] hell-bent on enhancing its powers through secrecy, demanding that it be held unaccountable, and willing to mislead the nation into a war (as part of a hidden agenda for America’s world domination). It appears that Bush and Cheney will keep Americans in the dark about dilemmas facing democracy in times of catastrophic crisis; they will dumb the nation down through their official silence. So when the moment comes and terrorists surprise America with an even greater spirit-shattering attack than 9/11, Bush and Cheney will simply push aside the Constitution they have sworn to uphold, inflame public passions with tough talk to rally support (as television news runs endless loops of whatever the disaster, as if no one has seen it, while sensationalizing the event with the 24/7 coverage that the terrorists so crave), and take this country to a place it has been only once. For eleven weeks during the outset of the Civil War, President Lincoln became what scholars have euphemistically called a constitutional dictator. But with terrorism it will likely not be so brief. Bush once quipped, “If this were a dictatorship, it’d be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I’m the dictator.” George Bush, however, is no Abraham Lincoln.
This is not some tinfoil-hat-wearing paranoid crank. This is a down-to-earth political insider very well acquainted with the inner workings of American government, a Republican who worked in the Nixon administration.
Krugman and Dean still hold some hope that America can somehow get rid of BushCo before it’s too late. I think they are clinging to a false hope. I think they are both too afraid to admit the probability of what will most likely happen because they cannot relinquish a belief that America’s democratic tradition will somehow save the day.
I cannot think of any historical instance in which autocrats (or, to use Krugman’s phrase, revolutionary power), after seizing power, willingly cede it. And certainly not by anything as trivial and lowly as an election. Remember, as Krugman says, BushCo is “a power that does not accept that system's legitimacy”. So why would they accept the voice of a people for whom they have nothing but disdain? Can one imagine Stalin or Hitler or Napolean or Caesar or Mussolini or Hussein, etc., allowing themselves to be voted out of office? The notion is laughable.
It's hard for me, because it seems so wrong, to put BushCo's name alongside these infamous historical personages, if only because they all seem to be in a much different league than Bush: namely, they’re not Bush league. BushCo is nothing more than a bunch of megalomaniacal, mean-spirited, small-minded religious kooks, crooked businessmen, and perversely power-hungry idiots constituting one of the worst kakistocracies the world has ever seen. They have cleverly finagled their way into power via the brilliant and bitter machiavellian strategies of Karl Rove, who took advantage of a debased political system, an uneducated citizenry, and a servile corporate media to bully their way into power. BushCo is Nero or Hitler rendered as America’s Main Street Babbitt— small, petty and willfully ignorant; self-righteous and self-important; little corrupt businessmen who desire nothing greater than to improve their portfolio with an eternal supply of cash (after all an Orwellian "War without End", as Cheney calls the War on Terror, is very profitable if you're a war profiteer — the Iraqi quagmire and al-Qaeda recruitment is actually all going according to plan (well, plan B at least)); and little cultish churchgoers who dream of hastening The Rapture (and doing a surprisingly good job of it, too). And they are possessed with a monomaniacal assurance of their moral clarity and their historical calling, masking from themselves their sociopathic lack of conscience and empathy.
Things, naturally, are starting to fall apart for BushCo. It was only a matter of time before things would start to spiral out of control, given the complete lack of imagination, foresight and planning involved in their schemes. As Barnum said "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time." Sooner or later their mind-boggling lack of competence and imagination were going to catch up to them so that even their initial supporters are starting to wonder what the fuck is going on.
But they don't care. They are zealots trapped in a crystalline cloud of manichean groupthink, their beautiful minds incapable of entertaining notions contrary to their hermetic worldview, incapable of admitting doubt or error or empathy. They are perfect in all they do. After all, God Himself called BushCo to power, and by God they're going to bring about The Rapture so they can sit on a cloud by His right hand and watch from front row seats as He smites the infidels in a global Armageddon. (How I wish I was exaggerating!) And if The Rapture doesn't happen as planned at least they'll increase their bank accounts via insider investments that profit from human suffering as the world devolves into blistering chaos.
And now that things are starting to unravel they're going to start to panic. They're being forced to contend with realities contrary to their groupthink. And that's when they're going to start to become really dangerous — soon we'll see what these guys are really made of. As Reinhold Niebuhr astutely said "men insist most vehemently upon their certainties when their hold upon them has been shaken." They will shut their minds down even further to shut out doubt. And like a cornered dog they're going to lash out with a relentless fury. You can be sure that they're busily planning how they will come out on top, as winning is the only rule in their rulebook. So they are right now wondering how to create a crisis that gives them the cellophane-thin cover they need to solidify their hold on power. Killing Nick Berg didn't have the desired effect. So they're going to ratchet it up a notch. They're already at work inciting yet more fear with their prognostications of the next terrorist attack — just in time for the holidays, of course! (when was the last time America had a holiday without some warmer color in the background?) — distributing their list of the 11 most wanted evil people with darker skins and foreign names.
One scintilla of hope is that these guys are so monumentally incompetent, bedazzled as they are by their own radiant hubris, it's entirely possible they will commit some tragic blunder (in the Shakespearean sense) and just fizzle out of office. After all, they have made some serious and consequential enemies within the CIA and the Pentagon; the corporate media is making tentative tugs at the curtain hiding the wizard; and they are losing allies and friends faster than a zombie leper with the plague.
But an incompetent gangster with a gun is just as dangerous as a competent one — perhaps even moreso. And like motivated kidnappers entering a siege as they watch John Law assembling around them they are not going to just quietly surrender — they will seek a way out by any means necessary, and if that entails taking out whole towns with them then they will do so without compunction.
And it will most likely work. People will cower with fear and look to their leaders to protect them, little suspecting who was behind the debacle (whether directly or indirectly); and they will gladly hand over their dignity and their freedoms to their sociopathic kidnappers as they duct-tape themselves inside their domiciles to imbibe yet more fear from the glass teat.
When I suggest that there won't be an election in America in 2004 I'm greeted with a variety of reactions that fall along the spectrum from complete agreement and understanding to angry and disgusted claims that I am detached from reality. The vast majority fall somewhere in the middle of polite bemusement, like when your Aunt pats you on the head for saying something entertainingly ridiculous.
I understand each reaction. It's hard for people to accept an idea so far outside their customary experience of personality, politics and history. After all, it's America! It's still a democracy, no matter how bad it looks! Bush may be bad — really bad — but it's still America, and America has elections!
The idea that an election may be cancelled in America is so far outside people's everyday reality that you might as well tell them the earth is round and that it rotates around the sun, or that we are descended from apes, or that we’ll someday fly to the moon (notions, of course, that were once ridiculed but are now blindly accepted as fact). (Note — the parallel illustrates the cognitive difficulty people have with paradigm shifts, nothing more.) People are not ready to conceive of such a paradigm shift occurring in the land of the free and the home of the brave.
But the meme that the 2004 election may be pre-empted or cancelled has entered the mental space. As Maureen Farrel shows in her article the right-wing attack dogs have already begun the process of getting people to accept the possibility that the election may be called off should the attack happen close to it, especially after seeing how it affected the Spanish election. Another meme is out there about the October Surprise that will occur shortly before the election, as Ben Tripp discusses. (Many scenarios are discussed in the comments section.) Kurt Nimmo discusses one such plausible scenario in some detail.
It seems that anyone who's paying attention just naturally assumes that there will be some kind of October Surprise. The only unknown is exactly what form this will take. And it’s only logical that people are broaching the topic now, from both the left and the right, given the great confluence of inter-connected factors pointing to the same conclusion. It seems that the October Surprise is historically overdetermined, and everyone senses it. But perhaps the most fascinating thing about the speculations are that the left and the right are saying the same thing, but for very different reasons: the brown-shirts want to get people accustomed to the idea of suspending the constitution so that when the time comes they’ll have an easier time accepting it; and the lefties want to educate people to the exact same thing, but so as to motivate them to prevent it.
Whether or not an election transpires it seems BushCo, in their nefarious, reptilian cleverness, has covered their bases, from fixing a potential election with Diebold’s black box voting machines, to abrogating the constitution after an attack shortly before the election. People need to reckon with the fact that BushCo is playing hardball for keeps because they are absolutely convinced that they deserve to be in office (especially seeing how God ordained it), and because they do not see democracy as a legitimate political construct. They will do absolutely anything they can to hold onto power. They are not going to let go.
If their polling is high enough there might indeed be an election to give cover to their power grab. (They like cover when they can get it — think UN. But they’ll do without it if they want to — think UN again.) If their polling numbers are low — which they most likely will be (though it’s doubtful it'll drop too far below the 40% guaranteed by their fundamentalist constituents) — there will definitely be an October Surprise of some sort that will either boost their polling numbers, or, should that fail, provide an excuse to delay or cancel the election, maybe even going so far as to suspend the constitution. (It's also instructive to recall that Hitler and the Nazis never had more than 37% support from the German public.)
On the one hand, from the elite power broker’s point of view, there's so little policy difference between Kerry and BushCo that it doesn't matter to their paymasters who wins. Thus the pretense of an election will still be taken seriously by the media and their buyers. The one place where there is a difference is decisive: Kerry is a spineless windsock; BushCo are rabid and fanatical zealots. It’s pretty clear who would win such a fight, seeing how rabid fanatical zealots will probably not just shrug their shoulders and give up their house should an election politely ask them to pack up and move.
Of course history isn't written in stone. I could be dead wrong about this. And I deeply hope I am. But history and psychology have their structural patterns, and when circumstances are right those patterns play themselves out. America is in one such pattern: democracies and republics have a historical tendency to devolve into imperiums and autocracies if the conditions are right. And they are: America has zealous leaders convinced of their historical importance and rightness (many of them serious and dangerous believers of their God-given role in helping to bring about The Rapture); they control a huge and mighty power, without peer, and seek to expand its hegemony; they have untold wealth and riches filling their coffers, which are rapidly depleting as they pay for wasteful and costly expenditures from the pockets of generations to come. There are enormous class differences, with their concomitant social injustices. There are enormous and deep cultural divisions that are only getting wider and deeper. The political system is so debased and so detached from the everyday worries and concerns of its citizens that they have removed themselves from the political arena because they don't see any hope of changing things. This same citizenry is willfully ignorant and deluded, wanting nothing more than bread and circuses as they pull the wool further over their own eyes; and because their skills at critical thinking are so lacking (for a variety of reasons) they are susceptible to increasingly rabid demagogues filling their heads with lies and hate, and all too readily believe the dissembling prevarications of their leaders because they have to, because they need to cling to their assailed belief systems and institutions. The society lives in increasing fear and instability as their country foments enemies actively intent on causing great damage, thus setting in motion a spiral of increasing police powers at the cost of decreasing civil rights. Elections are empty and dead rituals where money rules, as power is for sale to the one who looks best onscreen and tells the most attractive lies. The legislative body is comprised of representatives without intelligence or imagination or integrity, who pass laws only with the consideration of how it will affect their electability next time ("a politician is an arse upon/which everyone has sat except a man" e e cummings); the judiciary is increasingly packed with stern and tendentious antebellum throwbacks for whom civilization stopped in 1776; and, finally, the executive branch is filled with groupthink Manichean power hungry autocrats whose greatest desire is to fulfill God’s will while lining their pockets. All the ingredients are there, and there is little to stop the momentum.
In all honesty I cannot imagine any scenario in which BushCo willingly leaves office. I'm not a praying man, but I pray that I'm wrong. I would love it if someone would come to me the day after the 2004 election and say that I was indeed detached from reality and didn't need to move to Canada after all. I just ask that they wait until that day to say it.
Once again, history isn't written in stone. There is no certainty, no fatalism, no inevitability when it comes to something in which innumerable factors contribute a cause to an effect. Who knows what could happen? Maybe Smirky McClusterfuck will be born yet again when he bumps his head during an intense prayer session and an iota of conscience bewilders him and he gets to thinking that maybe he isn't interpreting his favorite philosopher's Sermon on the Mount correctly. Or maybe Penis Cheney’s hummingbird heart will grow a few sizes because the People down in Whoville sing a song of love and peace that touches his soul.
Or maybe the public will awaken from its fear-laden trance and will see what’s happened to their beloved country. They’ll proclaim "Enough!" and refuse to bow to the fear tactics of BushCo and their brown-shirt attack dogs. They’ll pull aside the curtain to reveal the emperor-wizard and see that he has no clothes. They’ll toss the Diebold Bush-voting boxes into the trash heap and demand that their votes be submitted by hand on paper. They’ll turn off Limbaugh, Coulter, Hannity, Savage, FOX — in fact, all TV — and start avidly learning the truth for themselves as they hunger to discover how such a great country could have fallen so hard and so fast. And they’ll be angry when they see what’s been lost, and they will brook no deviation from the law of the land should BushCo attempt it.
But I have almost no hope for this scenario. When the majority of Americans still believe that Hussein had a hand in 9/11, and that America had the support of the world when it attacked Iraq I hold little hope that Americans will cast off their illusions. They don’t want to. As Ward Churchill says
Having been conditioned your entire lives, the way we are all conditioned our entire lives, to receive sound-bite answers to questions we have never had the critical ability to form in our minds, forecloses our ability to interrogate reality and draw conclusions from it. That is the function of the media. That is the function of the educational system you understand. It's not to teach you to think critically, which is educational in value. It's to teach you what to think. That's indoctrination.
That's a rather different thing, to be indoctrinated than to be educated. We have this problem here in this population called "ignorance." And some of this population actually is. But when you say the word "ignorant" it's supposed to mean you didn't have the information: "I didn't know about it. I was ignorant of it." No, that's to be uninformed. And truly, there are a lot of people uninformed about a lot of things here. Uninformed is one thing. Ignorance is another.
We've got an ignorant leadership. We've got an ignorant intelligentsia. Ignorant means to have the information right there in front of you and ignore it. To draw conclusions in the face of the evidence; to pretend that the evidence does not exist — clear evidence of genocide and war crimes — to pretend it's something else. That's ignorance. That's close to being a synonym for duplicity. That is something very different than being uninformed. You have an obligation to become informed. Once informed, a person has an obligation to act upon the information, not to become an ignorant individual as a result.
That Americans choose to remain uninformed, that they choose to remain willfully ignorant of the culpability of their country’s role that led to the situation in which it finds itself — despite overwhelming and conclusive evidence — has always been America’s greatest threat. BushCo is this essence made manifest. A democracy can only survive with an educated and informed citizenry. When a citizenry embraces ignorance and removes itself from the political arena then it creates a power vacuum that is filled by those with ambition who simply grab it. Ultimately it’s not BushCo that is America’s greatest threat to itself and the world — it is the refusal of its citizens to look clearly and honestly at themselves in the mirror, their unwillingness to shed their complacent and willful ignorance. Ward Churchill’s book On the Justice of Roosting Chickens: Reflections on the Consequences of U.S. Imperial Arrogance and Criminality is an excellent mirror for those with the balls to look in it with honest intent.
Actually, I can imagine one scenario in which BushCo leaves office before dragging America through a nightmarish hot war. The only possibility I see involves, ironically enough, those governmental agencies customarily employed by the cabal in power to fend off their usual perceived threats in the name of "national security." BushCo has irreperably damaged its relations with the CIA and with the Pentagon. They have pissed off some serious and powerful people in these agencies. I have no idea what they could do, or how they would do it, but the CIA has successfully overthrown democracies for the US throughout the world. Perhaps they'll do the same for their own country.