December 13, 2004
(Swans - December 13, 2004)
I was struck in 2004 by how many people vowed they would leave the country if Bush won re-election; a widespread oppression and anxiety that forcibly reminded me of the massive emigration from Germany after the Nazis came to power and the first brutalities of the National Socialist Party came to light. I took such a vow myself and am still deliberating the pros and cons of flight.
After the election, that resolution changed. It was now our bounden duty, we were told, not to flee but to strengthen our resistance against an emboldened right wing administration, which had emerged with more power and determination than any of us could have foreseen during the campaign. The "real patriots," we were told in one op-ed piece after another, were those who buckled down and reaffirmed their allegiance to dissent -- to continue the struggle against the neocon "new order" which would now be forcibly imposed.
Conspiracy theories about rigged voting machines notwithstanding, the Bush ideologues, abetted by hordes of determined evangelicals, had won the day. In a democracy, the majority is entitled to the spoils of their victor and clearly the majority had opted for the continuation of a pre-emptive war, the imposition of a militant democracy on a population temperamentally opposed to it, a ban on same-sex marriages and the repeal of those laws which permitted women to exercise sovereignty over their own bodies. What became inescapably clear was that a majority -- small but decisive -- were in favor of strictures that were abhorrent to almost half of the population.
The blue and red maps of America which accompanied the election process were a clear indication -- not only of the country's division, but of the preeminence of conservative ideology -- in the heartland, the West, the South, throughout rural America. Most of the United States, like most of Russia immediately before and after the Russian Revolution, was dominated by a lumpenproletariat -- simple-hearted and simple-minded men and women who not only accepted the status quo but wished for it to continue; good hearted, God-fearing, fun loving, myopic, gullible, complacent "just plain folks" who swallowed whole the political homilies and empty jingoism; who feared no trespass upon their civil rights, their children's well being, the country's reeling deficit, or the rectitude of foisting "an American Dream" on nations in the mid-East in spite of the suffering and rejection that dream brought in its wake.
This new and burgeoning lumpenproletariat could easily assimilate the abuses of Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib. They seemed tacitly to accept the rubric that all was fair in love and war -- especially war. After all, the innocents who were being tortured were, on the whole, foreigners who had it coming to them, didn't they, blowing up our troops and decimating courageous young men and women who were risking their lives to bring them Democracy? Morally defensive, there was no thought to our traditional sense of morality, which was constantly being eroded as it always is in battle conditions where animus against the enemy is a prerequisite to victory -- although its aftermath invariably rots the moral fiber of the victors and inevitably breeds a generation of vipers.
The appalling fact is that America is not divided between Conservatives and Liberals, but between The Rational and The Irrational. The rationalists preach to each other in the up-market papers and on Web sites like this one and, while they do, the irrationalists blithely rationalize the consequences of unjust wars, occupying armies, the need to forfeit personal liberties for the sake of a nebulous security, the inevitability of "bad apples" (both in the armed services and the armored corporations) and the ubiquity of political corruption throughout the nation.
We have become a nation incapable of moral indignation. Every crime, every proven corruption, every lapse of ethical behavior is met with a shrug. There are no protests in the streets -- or at least damned few, and when they do occur a captive media makes sure not to publicize them for fear they may be labeled unpatriotic. We loudly champion our freedom of speech but use it only to exchange gripes with like-minded dissenters in obscure publications or remote Websites. We no longer put ourselves "on the line" and God knows, we wouldn't dream of placing ourselves "on the barricades." And why should we endanger our safety when all around us we see justice adulterated, where every crime is a cue for a plea bargain, where the price thieves pay for thievery is simply the apologetic return of stolen goods and not the imposition of penalties we used to associate with egregious crimes such as fraud, graft, larceny or embezzlement. Knowing that the law can always be bought and the richer the client the smaller the penalty, our constitutionally-based sense of justice is mocked as it is diluted.
This is not a harangue against "the party in power." It is an expression of disgust with the mechanisms of democracy itself. When the lowest common denominator is always assured a victory, no nation can pursue the Higher Life predicated on the exercise of liberty, for behind all the propaganda that underpins a true democracy, there must be a mixture of rationality and virtue, and when neither exists, the word itself becomes a mockery. And when protest is simply the assumption of a dissenting "position" without action to drive it home, we must acknowledge there is an appalling disconnect between manifest wrong and judicial redress.
2004 was a great eye opener. It revealed the impoverished nature of our citizenry, the bedrock of fatuity on which the republic is now founded: the alarming realization that there can never be a reconciliation between citizens divided by a Fundamentalist sense of righteousness and an historically-based sense of justice.
The impulse to flee a homeland as politically schizoid, as irretrievably psychotic and wantonly irrational as the United States of America is nothing more than an act of self-defense. In the midst of a fire, you rush outdoors for safety. In the midst of madmen, you seek the sanctuary of sensible people; in a society populated by a hard-hearted, weak-minded, morally ambiguous lumpenproletariat, you seek out the higher ground of a more civilized community. You cannot adjourn a conference in order to convert the intentions of hungry lions, you can only run as fast as your legs can carry you.
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America the 'beautiful' on Swans
Charles Marowitz is a writer whose work has appeared in The NY Village Voice, The New York Times, L.A. Times, L.A. Weekly, Sunday Telegraph (UK), London Times (UK), The Observer (UK), Sunday Times (UK), and many other newspapers and magazines. He has written over two dozen books, the most recent being The Other Chekhov, the first English-language biography of the actor-director and theorist, Michael Chekhov, published by Applause Books, NYC.
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