CommentaryBy Marvin Chachere
In thinking about what I ought to tell you regarding these dark days various clichés come to mind: I see no light at the end of the tunnel. The American dream is a nightmare. The American experiment failed. Pride precedeth the fall.
To witness the death of our representative form of government is to feel some of the stages of grief identified by Dr. Kubler-Ross in her landmark study: disbelief, anger, despair… acceptance.
I found it unbelievable that our republic would spill out into the entire globe and, repeating the life-cycle of empires like Rome and Great Britain, our unmatched strength, confidence and conceit would lead to a sense of invincibility from which we stumbled, matured, grew old and collapsed.
Halfway through my eighth decade a surge of books came out that I encourage you to access on your PCs for they contain the reasons for my incredulity. Collectively they describe a nation in deep trouble; the ship of state constructed around the time of the first steam engine could not hold course in capricious modern winds driven by personal enrichment, societal neglect and king-of-the-hill foreign policies. For example, in a category on ominous forebodings of our global entanglements you can download Chalmers Johnson’s trilogy, Blowback, The Sorrows of Empire, and Nemesis and in a different class you can scan Noam Chomsky’s densely crafted Hegemony or Survival in which sharp facts strip naked the current administration’s born-again royal clothing, or click onto Jeremy Scahill’s revelations that a large mercenary army assisted in the catastrophic occupation of Iraq, unregulated and unconstrained.
In general, the nation failed so often and so shamelessly to live up to the promises of its birth that it adjusted those lofty promises bit by bit to fit the nefarious goals it pursued on the back of an almighty “military-industrial complex.” Abandon republican ideals and you abandon republican government.
And if you go further into our past you will notice that our new way of governing—three separate and independent branches held together by checks and balances—though interesting and admirable was not effective or practical. The government prescribed by the Constitution failed its first critical test; it could not solve the problem of slavery peacefully, and thus we slipped into a civil war that nearly destroyed us. The residue of that bloodiest of all our wars still exists, and the Katrina disaster’s racial one-sidedness and the government’s ineptitude intensified my anger.
You might also notice that the impracticality of our new form of governing explains why most new nations formed after World War II did not copy us but formed governments of a parliamentary nature.
That the United States called itself America, contrary to geographical fact, foretells its overarching self-regard. We replaced the Monroe Doctrine with a program to convert the world to our ideals and eventually to dominate and rule it. Republicanism and imperialism are incompatible.
There were subtle warning signs. At the same time that terrorists replaced communists in the fear-mongering, “barbarians at the gates” instrument for tightening regulations and controls, the government’s infatuation with security caused unprecedented and pervasive secrecy, and secrecy is toxic because governance that is not open is not republican.
There were more explicit signs. Less than half of eligible voters bothered to do so, their customary indifference being validated when, despite having received half a million fewer votes than his opponent, the 43rd president attained office by virtue of one vote by a Supreme Court judge. Despair arrived the day Bush II was elected to a second term—“How could 59 million voters be so stupid?” headlined the UK Daily Mirror—and depression set in when international rules against torture were deemed “quaint” and outdated.
Other harbingers of danger included the expanding economic chasm—the poor grew poorer, the well-off grew richer and the rich got super rich. (CE0s of top companies were compensated 475 times more than their employees, on average.) Faith, more than deeds, became the hallmark of morality. Reason was subdued by religion, and science was subverted by it. Everything of value had monetary value. Lobbyists with deep pockets outnumbered legislators two to one. Every problem prompted a legislative solution and every solution was ultimately sanctioned, or not, by the courts. Any person with superior marketing apparatus and enough money could be elected to any office at any level (and thereby improve his/her lot, financially).
Every day my depression was deepened by the repeated and unqualified use of the term “war”—“war on terror,” “War Powers Act,” “war crimes,” “war zone,” etc. Sure, we have a well equipped military force occupying Afghanistan and Iraq. Our troops are killing and being killed. But how could there be a war when the enemy had no uniform, no flag, no unified command and whose most devastating weapons were improvised human and home-made non-human explosive devises?
Finally, life and liberty, once believed to be unalienable rights endowed by our Creator, were destroyed by two laws enacted by the 109th Congress: the renewal of the perversely named Patriot Act and the barbaric Military Commissions Act; the former silenced domestic dissenters and the latter dealt with foreign dissenters as “enemy combatants” denying them both legal and human rights.
The early weeks of the 110th Congress, for a variety of political reasons, sounded the death knell of the republic. Let the following stand for the multifaceted disintegration I have just summarized; it is the source of my depression and the reason for this letter.
In early spring 2007, both houses of Congress passed resolutions, just barely, that urged but did not require the president to prepare to withdraw our troops from the catastrophe he’d created in Iraq. Democratic party leaders boasted that they were taking back powers ceded to Mr. Bush when his party held a majority of seats.
The media feigned alarm—a constitutional crisis! legislative branch versus executive branch!—and delighted in speculations regarding the high political price of confrontation—who will win, what are the loses? Meanwhile, Bush, on the defensive, bullied his opponents, called them irresponsible and accused them of interfering; they dishonored our soldiers, he declared, and emboldened our enemies.
Often appearances hide the truth and just as often a small victory hides a large defeat.
Properly understood, both the nay and yea votes on resolutions setting a time-table for withdrawal from Iraq implicitly concede that the nation’s honor (if there was any) was worth deaths and dismemberments in the tens of thousands, casualties bound to accumulate while Congress and the White House squabbled. Nothing in my time signaled the demise of the republic as surely as this, as if more blood would restore our honor.
Reviewing what I have written, I confess that I have not achieved acceptance, the final stage of grief, and, truth be told, I don’t ever expect to.