I am not a Pollyanna.
I feel the need to say this because I have gotten so many messages since my last blog post, both from people thanking me for suggesting a basis for hope that is grounded in reality, and from people who feel certain that now, any remnant of hope is merely insulation from reality. I want to talk about the second category.
One message used the words “emotion,” “reflex,” “swagger,” “arrogance,” and “bragadoccio,” to characterize the “footsoldiers of divinely mandated army” that elected Bush, concluding that “Evangelical Christians are reproducing at higher rates than Pacific and New England coasters. The future of America belongs to them.” (“Tomorrow Belongs to Me” was the anthem of Hitler Youth’s confidence in the 1,000-year Reich as portrayed in “Cabaret”; I wonder if the echo was intentional.)
I understand the need to grieve. I’m grieving, believe me. But before grief gives way to killer bee-type panic, I’d like to offer a few words.
The first word is memory. Does anyone remember how surprised we were when the Berlin Wall tumbled, when Vaclav Havel ascended to the head of the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia? When Nelson Mandela walked away from Robben Island? The Soviet Union and its client states, like the apartheid regime in South Africa, generated an aura of permanence — a faith in their own omnipotence and staying power — so seamless that almost everyone believed their propaganda. The proof is in how astounded the world was when they began to crumble. (Heaven on earth didn’t arrive, it’s true. But for the people who risked prison merely by speaking out, let’s just say the improvement was significant.)
The second word is paradox. We have a habit of believing bluff assertions of might, often when they come from those we mistrust or dislike. Personally, I think it’s rooted in a daddy thing. When Mom says “Wait till your Dad comes home; he’s going to give you a licking for that,” she creates an image of Dad as mighty powerful, a figure of fear and awe. When the actual existing Dad does drag himself home from work, he’s likely to be worn out from a hard day of doing others’ bidding. In the big world, his power is puny. But in the little world of the family, everyone pretends that Dad rules, doing their parts to make him feel better.
Exactly whose daddy are we supporting by buying into the idea of Bush as all-powerful? He’s bungled the war and ruined the economy, just as he made an utter hash of every business his father’s and his friends’ money bought him into before he hit on politics, the family business, as his career path. Driving home from the supermarket yesterday afternoon, I heard former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown (a Democrat) on NewsHour applauding Bush as the man who can fix this country’s problems. (My friend tells me he was being sarcastic, but you had to see his face to know it. I certainly didn’t discern it from his radio voice or the other guests’ responses.) Jim Lehrer asked the usual fake questions — how will Bush “reform Social Security”? — and neither Brown nor any of the other guests pointed out that the only thing wrong with Social Security is that the fund has repeatedly been raided to pay for other things.
What is to be served by meekly accepting questions, accepting terms, as they are posed by this administration? What is to be served by contributing the power of our own belief to the fiction that these people are able and in control of events? Why do we, who know how starkly naked the emperor is, want to join the chorus singing the praises of his clothes? Bush has successfully positioned himself as our national daddy, but I daresay no one reading this believes or desires that. Why then support the illusion he has superpowers? It’s a paradox.
The third word is realism. If we are so good at predicting the future, why weren’t we right about who was going to win the election? The Bush gang will do damage; I shudder to contemplate what is possible. But we have no idea how soon the Bush administration might shoot itself in the foot. There are plenty of obvious possibilities. Bush and his cohort are about as rife with self-dealing and ethical breaches as an administration can be, and surely some journalists and crusading attorneys will remain on watch for the next four years. Nearly three-quarters of this country’s growing federal debt is on loan from foreign banks and investors. Yesterday I heard market research that said flagship American brands (Coke, Nike) were declining in Europe due to anti-Bush feeling. However much Bush repeats that he doesn’t care what other countries think of the United States, even his friends on Wall Street are going to see more and more reasons to care.
Bush’s arrogance, his sense of having been anointed, blocks the quality any ultimately successful politician must have, a “sense of reality” (as Isaiah Berlin put it). To quote one of the president’s favorite books (and allude to the great heap of fallen mighty we’ve seen accumulate in the past few decades), “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” I could go on for pages listing this administration’s vulnerabilities.
There is no way to prove the assertion that “The future of America belongs to them.” Or to disprove it. In fact, when it comes to the future, my guess is just as good as anyone’s. If we can’t know the future, then the future we choose to believe in is the one that we shape, the one that shapes us. Given that, why choose to believe Bush’s propaganda? Haven’t we got better things to do with our power?