Saying what we're not supposed to say
On the morning of Nov. 3, 2004, the second I opened my eyes after a short and restless night, I was aware of the fact that I am a man without a country.
Since then, I have read statements by other people saying essentially the same thing. One sentence I recall is, "I haven’t left my country; my country has left me."
I wonder if the writers mean it literally.
I do, and within a half hour of getting out of bed the day after the election, I confirmed that my wife shares my intense anguish over what has happened to what was our country.
CNN reported on Nov. 6 that hits on a Canadian immigration Web site had increased six-fold since the election, though of course many of the people exploring that site are in temporary funk and won’t act. Some probably will.
My wife and I have talked some over the past couple of years about moving abroad when she retires, and about possible places to go – places we felt comfortable during short stays -- but haven’t done any serious searching. Truly, while we like other places, we have loved this country deeply.
Now, I think, we’ll get serious. We’re going to revisit at least two countries this year, with an eye to how we would fit into them as full-time residents. I know several other people who are making such evaluations. The possibility arose in conversations in various places over the past year and, always, folks are a little surprised to discover that others also are considering emigration.
Soon, I’ll be researching ways to deal with the fact that this country – remindful of the U.S.S.R. and other totalitarian regimes – makes it extremely difficult to keep whatever small measure of wealth you have built up through your lifetime unless you are very wealthy. Tax breaks in the United States of Bush are for the rich, heavy taxation is applied to ordinary folks who want to move out.
From now on, I’ll spend much less time at ballparks and other places where the blare
of "Proud to Be an American" on loudspeaker systems brings cheers from throngs of thoughtless people who react with mindless jingoism.
The flat truth is that I am, at this late stage in my life, no longer proud to be an American. I am ashamed of the United States, ashamed to be part of it and extremely fearful about where it is going and what it will do to itself and the rest of the world. I share the open-mouthed shock felt by most people around the world when they look at the United States of America and it’s plunge into insanity. It is on a suicidal path and, like many a crazed suicide, seems determined to take everyone else with it.
That was difficult to say, but it is true, just as it was true of Germany in the mid 1930s.
All the reassuring, calming, let’s-be-real pundits to the contrary, by the by, there are real parallels with the Nazis. There is the heavy use of propaganda methods perfected by Joseph Goebbels – accusing the other side of doing what you are doing, as in "preaching hatred," using character assassination on a grand scale, blaming all of the perceived troubles of the country and the world on some group(s) not in a position to fight back on an equal basis, ceaselessly pushing hatred of intellectuals and sneering at those who place reason above blind faith in the leader.
America’s present leaders also seem intent on using endless war as a means to keep an increasingly poor and powerless populace in line.
That is working now, especially where combined with an almost Dark Ages religiosity which mocks science, except for the science of killing, and gives the believer relief of fear and responsibility through subjugation.
And, no, I don’t believe my perceptions will pass in a few weeks, when I get over disappointment at November election results. I’ve been unhappy with election results in the past -- when Richard Nixon was elected, certainly, and when various right-wingers were handed positions of power in my state or country. This is different, and barring an extremely unlikely recognition by the public within the next two years of the awful errors they have made, probably permanent. Over the next four years, I expect the people who created George W. Bush to reshape government so that they cannot be dislodged.
So many things in this country have gone wrong that to merely list them would take volumes. George Bush, Karl Rove, John Ashcroft, Donald Rumsfeld, Tom DeLay and all their grasping allies among politicians and rich business operators are major players in taking the United States to ruin, but they aren’t alone in responsibility. Their shredding of the Constitution – the right they have given themselves to imprison who they will when they choose for as long as they choose, their giving religious extremists veto power over public education and more – is supported by at least a quarter of the population, apparently. The Nazis didn’t have so much support so early in the game.
I spent election day as a volunteer for the Democrats. My task was to drive for people, mostly elderly, who needed rides to the polls. Between runs, I had plenty of time to talk with other volunteers. The fear of another Bush term was palpable among older people, in particular. Many of the elderly are terribly frightened, and not without reason. Social Security and health care programs are high on the Bush hit list. But their concerns are not entirely about themselves.
Among several war veterans I spoke with was one who had fought in World War II, holder of a Purple Heart, in his mid 80s. All of the older veterans, and some of the older women, said they see parallels between Bush and his supporters and the people who created Nazi power in Germany. The wounded vet – a BAR man who was shot in the leg in a battle in France – was especially articulate on that point.
He was most powerful in comparing the mad religionists who gave Bush office with the single-minded Hitler supporters of the 1930s and ‘40s. Both groups were uncompromising in their need to force their will on others, and intolerant of all views that didn’t/don’t exactly match their own, he said, and both groups were/are willing to lie, cheat, steal, even to kill in order to make others conform. Intimidation and the creation of fear were and are favorite tactics, he noted.
At one point in the afternoon, I said something to a woman who appeared to be in her mid to late 50s. She had been very quiet for most of the time she and I were sitting near each other. I wondered if her quietness had to do with the fact that she was one of a relatively few black volunteers among the horde.
No. She was just lost in thought.
I spoke of my worries about younger generations that seem lacking in the ability to think critically, to analyze for themselves what is told them by those in power. Not yet knowing she is a teacher – though I’d have said it anyway – I said I believe our schools have failed for years now to teach or encourage people to think critically. Her eyes opened wide, she sat up and locked her gaze on me.
"You don’t know the half of it," she said with an intensity that surprised me. "Every new batch of kids is less able to think than the bunch before. Everything, everything is fed to them, all bundled up. They’re not taught to analyze, not expected to. In fact, they’re not supposed to."
That, she surmised, is why we have so many citizens willing to accept whatever they are told by people in positions of high power, whether the tellers are bosses, office holders or clergy. Yet the Bush crowd promises to push more forcefully than before the rote-based, no-thinking "No Child Left Behind" program.
Most Americans simply can’t deal with the thought that there are parallels between Bush/Rove and the Nazis. Too absurd. Couldn’t happen here. For starters, some will say, you don’t see Bush railing against Jews or sending them to concentration camps.
OK. But what do you make of the virtually made-up "issue" of gay marriage at a time when the future of the nation and, yes, even the world, is at stake? A time when global warming threatens the existence of much of earth’s life? Think about the Bush campaign concentration on abortion and stem cell research – the latter a nonsensical issue if ever there was one. The Bushies found substitutes for the Nazi’s Jews, found other emotional kindling to fire up fanatics.
More than that, look closely at the extremist Christian views on Israel.
This is true, I swear it: The crusader Christians of Jimmy Swaggart and all that crowd have flooded the White House with phone calls, e-mails and letters every time someone in the Bush administration has made the slightest attempt to slap Ariel Sharon ever so gently on the wrist for brutal actions against Palestinians, and each time the White House has quickly backed away from its criticism of Israel.
The reason is that according to the beliefs of the fanatical born-again bunch, Jews must take over all of what they define as ancient Israel. Once that is accomplished, according to the "Christians" who have such a hold on the South and other Bible-distorting regions, comes the Rapture, when good Christians will be lifted alive and well into Heaven. (Well, they have to push the Jews out of Israel first, but that’s a small matter.) And all of this can happen within our lifetimes if the Middle East chaos can be maintained and the blood kept running, say the preachers.
I did not make that up. It is part of the belief system of millions of Americans who voted for George W. Bush on Nov. 2.
Those are the people to whom the Bush crowd most owe their power, and to whom they now are in thrall. They have profoundly affected American foreign policy, as well as domestic policy and campaign issues built around gay-bashing, hatred of the intelligentsia, gutting public education and widespread rejection of demonstrable scientific facts. They would tomorrow, if their preachers told them to, begin a campaign to teach in public schools that Galileo Galilei was indeed wrong when he declared in the 16th century that the Earth revolves around the sun, just as Copernicus speculated. Death to the scientists!
Those are the people, incidentally, who continue to write letters to the editors, complaining that Kerry voters and urbanites in general are arrogant and disrespectful to religion – even as they work with mad intensity to force their views on the rest of us, to enshrine their religion in American law. Now that’s arrogance!
Does it make you proud, this mental numbness and revivalist passion, this scorn for humanity and planet alike? Do you support the killing for political purposes? Have you noticed that jihad and crusade mean essentially the same thing? Can you see any major differences between the most fanatical Muslims and the most fanatical Christians?
Various environmental protection organizations – tree huggers, if you will – already have put out lists of things the Bush Administration intends to do to destroy environmental protections and, as a result, the health of the planet. On top of what already has been done, it amounts to a program to bring about the death of Earth. And, no, neither is that an exaggeration.
I won’t go into the list here – it is long – but you can find much information on http://www.savebiogems.org/ and other environmental organization Web sites.
Millions of Bush supporters among the Christian right find talk of the environment irrelevant and foolish, by the way. Assuming that the Rapture is coming soon, it is, in their opinion, almost a demonstration of lack of faith to worry about the health of the Earth.
Rational people often look at corporate leaders and say, "What are they thinking? Don’t they realize that they and their children and grandchildren have to live on this planet, too?"
Corporate leaders don’t give a damn about the environment because like others of their ilk since tribe-to-tribe trading began, a majority of them are incapable of seeing beyond next year’s (or maybe just next quarter’s) profits. Desire for power blinds them. Somehow, they figure without giving the subject any thought, everything will work out environment-wise.
I spent too many years working with high-level corporate executives; I know that selective blindess to be the rule. In fact, it seems more the rule now than 20 or 30 years ago. And much of American organized labor, what’s left of it, is equally as foolish. Use the magic word – "jobs" – and you can sell most union leaders anything short of immediate personal suicide. You don’t even have to produce actual jobs.
Those are the obvious big issues, but to large extent they are the results of other things going on in this country.
The right is forever screaming about "morals" and "values." Pundits by the truckload tell us that Kerry and other Democrats lost in 2004 because they didn’t appreciate and connect with the "values" of the American people.
People like me, and millions around the world, ask in disgust, "What values?"
Morality, as defined by the American right is intimately and apparently exclusively related to sex. The extreme Christians, like the extreme Muslims, seem both terrified of and enthralled by sex. Makes one think of high school jokes about folks who ain’t gettin’ any. Bush and his followers give many indications of emotional underdevelopment.
One of the major issues promoted by Karl Rove and gobbled up by the Christian right was fear of gay marriage – or even fear that gay couples could have any legal rights. Without that issue, Bush almost certainly would have lost the election. (Or lost it by a big enough margin that he lost his office, since it may be that an honest count would have given the election to Kerry.)
We can pity the people who are so fearful, and feel sad that their marriages are so fragile that they will fall apart if some strangers who live across town or many miles away get married. But I resent that such simplemindedness has given us a presidency that is leading to the ruin of the United States.
I can at least understand strong feelings about abortion, though I cannot abide the fact that fanaticism on the issue was equally at fault in giving us Bush and his destroyers of life.
And the stem cell issue is sheerest idiocy. It is a false issue, rooted in a 13th century religiosity that says, in effect, that science is wrong if and when any religious leaders says it is wrong. Such declarations usually are made for political purposes, of course.
Sex aside, here are some of the key "values" of America today, or at least of that suburban/rural portion of America that has saddled us with the worst and most dangerous presidency in American history. These are the values that they demonstrate every day:
To win, at anything, is the highest value of all, but a win truly is satisfying and exciting only if in the process you do someone else harm.
"Let’s kick ass," is the favorite saying of millions, and it is not entirely metaphorical. Lying and cheating are just part of the process. And that’s why Bush supporters were not in the least bothered by any of the dirty tricks used by his campaign and the campaigns of various Republican Congressional candidates, nor by the blatantly unethical and in some cases illegal methods of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay in his exercise of power.
(Where do the Republicans find all those superbly dressed pretty boys who so willingly perform the most vile acts in order to get and maintain governorships and congressional seats? People like Minnesota Congressman Mark Kennedy who used vicious lies and character assassination against a decent Democratic candidate and won, and because he won is now being touted to run for the Senate? Is there a special prep school that churns out armies of those soulless bastards?)
Above all, according to the credo of the modern Republican, one’s self and, by extension, one’s immediate family are the only people one can or should care about. Charity often amounts to giving things one has worn out or no longer uses to a church sale or some other resale outlet.
Countless Americans disdain, even hate, the poor. People whose parents richly clothed, fed and amused them and supported them financially through college (perhaps with the aid of publicly funded student loans), maybe even provided the down payment for their own first suburban house, will look you in the eye and tell you "I earned everything I have, I did it all myself" and they will believe it and they will spew ugly fictions about the poor and "welfare cheats."
Roughly half the population, apparently, believes, each and every one, that they "deserve" whatever they want. "Need" and "want" mean the same thing. Parents never connected "deserve" with "earn" in the minds of their offspring.
Much of the country obviously believes it’s fine to have a war to impose the will of the American right on some other country, so long as the children of the poor do the fighting and dying. That can be assured, by the way, by keeping them poor, so that the only chance they have to better themselves economically is to join the military.
The United States is "the best country in the world" and has the right to tell all others how to function, folks believe. No evidence is required and, in fact, evidence to the contrary on any subject is ignored. For example, America has "the best health care in the world" although it rates low by almost every conceivable measuring stick, from infant mortality to number of deaths by heart attack or cancer. Millions of Americans have no access to regular health care. The number of children without health care has climbed by more than 5 million since G.W. Bush gained the presidency.
Lives of non-Americans, especially those of darker pigmentation, have little value. Don’t believe that? How much concern is displayed in this country over the roughly 100,000 Iraqi civilians who have died violently since we invaded their country?.
While I’m here, I will do what I can to bring about the electoral defeat of conscienceless opportunists such as our Senator Norm Coleman (hand-picked by Bush operatives for the office) and other Congressional adherents of the lie, cheat and steal school of campaigning. But if I can go, I will go.
I have had enough and more.