Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Politics of Fear and Ignorance: Legacy of George W. Bush

I remember for the last eight years, I always questioned everything that President Bush did. Now I begin to notice how President Obama is also being questioned...however, maybe I am misguided here, but it seems that a lot of things that Bush was criticized for...I don't know...actually happened?

So healthcare is a secret plan to take away our guns? Of course, I remember those who suggested that Iraq was a secret plan to take away their oil, so I am not blind to the crazy partisan rhetoric on the left. Of course, I'm still not sure why we went into Iraq...

It seems plausible to me to say that Obama's plan is inefficient, to say that it's expensive, to say that it's wasteful, to say that it favors corporations over the rest of the country...I may not agree with those points, but those are constructive criticisms. To say that, however, Obama has ulterior motives that he is hiding, is a bit paranoid, I think. Further, where is the evidence? When has Obama said that he has a revulsion for guns? Has he done anything yet in his administration against firearms? What is the reasoning behind these fears?

People believe all kinds of crazy things, so I am not that surprised. We've got people who believe the U.S. government directly caused 9/11, people who believe that Obama was born in Kenya, people who think the moon landings were a fake, people who think the biological diversity of our planet can be crammed into the last few thousand years, people who think Obama is indoctrinating children with the same kind of speech that Bush 41 and Reagan made, and many other strange and unusual things.

America is a funny country. If you beat prisoners, you get off scot-free (see Abu Ghraib). But if you beat dogs, you get to go to prison (see Michael Vick). Do we really believe that dogs are more important than people who live in other countries?

And do you remember the gospel story where the Samaritan women asks Jesus to help her, and he says that he is only there for the chosen, and then the foreign woman pleads with him for a scrap from the table which even the dogs would eat? Can we not spare a table scrap of mercy and justice for the other human beings with which we share this planet?

Sometimes, it seems like America is obsessed with "the other". Barack Obama is "the other". People who live in cities are "the other". People who are Muslim are "the other". People who live in other countries are "the other". People who are gay are "the other". People who are intellectuals are "the other". What happened to give me your tired, give me your poor, give me your huddled masses, yearning to break free?

And yet I remember the American heritage of anti-immigrant sentiment. We hated the Irish, and we hated the Chinese, and hated the Eastern European, and made laws to limit the number of people from these groups who could immigrate to the United States. We interned thousands of innocent Japanese civilians during WWII because we were afraid of them.

America has been afraid for far too long. There is too much fear in America.

George W. Bush played on the public's fears, with his Orange Alerts and his war peddling (weapons of mass propaganda??) and his "Axis of Evil" rhetorical ploys, and this is his legacy: the political discourse in America continues to be poisoned with insecurity, anxiety, and blame.

I once thought that Barack Obama could be the kind of President to stand above all this, to inspire our country and renew our confidence and optimism, to lead with intelligence and vigor and honesty, to move our country in a more open and less fearful direction. Now I am not so sure.


ananias said...

I think Obama had similar hopes. But he's one man. And the 535 people who do make our laws must become pawns of corporations just to raise enough money to be noticed in an election.

Over the course of my life (I'm about 30 years older than you) I've watched Evangelical Christianity become all but a subsidiary of the republican party. (Or visa versa, it's difficult to tell them apart these days.) From getting In god we trust printed on our currency, to modifying our national songs and even the pledge of allegiance, this infiltration of all levels of government by Christians has been a very well organized and effective campaign. I think this is one of the greatest challenges real Americans face: how to take back our country from the organizations that have hijacked it.

I've gotten to the point where I don't think we should bother trying to fix our government, because I think we could do better more easily. I believe a meta-government will emerge once a site is created that does an effective job of harvesting our collective will and insight reaches enough people.

In a way it's already happened. The election in Iran became a crisis for that government solely because the internet made it impossible for them to contain the story, or their corruption. Will it really be that much longer before there is very little any government can get away with because the sheer numbers of little brothers that are out there watching catch almost everything?

Alex said...

I agree largely with what you're saying about how many of the people in Congress are forced to become pawns of corporations in order to be re-elected.

It's funny when you describe how Evangelical Christianity has become a subsidiary of the GOP. I remember hearing that many supported Jimmy Carter...now I laugh. It's true, that's the Republican base today, and it was the Moral Majority that voted for George Bush. But thankfully, the country is changing.

I also wish that America could move beyond infiltration by radical Christians. Of course, I am worried about the predominance of radical attitudes in the military, especially when I hear about the proselytizing in Colorado Springs at the Air Force Academy or when I hear stories of people who have been discriminated against because they do not share the same brand of fundamentalist Christianity. It's not an appealing thought.

I think we have to fix the government we've got. I would like to be able to do what you're suggesting, but what is the mechanism to be used? It's obvious that the Internet was great for the Iranian protesters for a time, but where are they now? Either the Internet can only do so much, or its full potential is yet to be harnessed now.

I am glad that there are more individuals watching the government, but where are our institutions of yesteryear? Sure, there are a lot of Andrew Sullivan's and Paul Krugman's and Glenn Greenwald's, but who is listening to them? There are plenty of voices, but only limited exposure. Millions of people turn on their televisions and watch Glenn Beck who is actively trying to misinform them, or they watch Wolf Blitzer or someone like that who is not trying to inform anyone, but is only trying to entertain. The depreciation of news into entertainment has worried me for some time.

There are some promising signs...but I am highly uncertain about the future. I suppose I'll just have to wait, and do what I can to shape the world I'll envision.

ananias said...

Twenty years ago the web was only an idea in the mind of a single individual. Today almost half of the world's population is using it. You might even say that we don't so much have a web as we're caught in one--we are now adapting to it more rapidly than it is adapting to us.

I don't know of a single religion that was ever anything but a political technology. So it's not exactly surprising that even our founding father's best attempts to separate the two have failed. I wonder these days whether or not this might be a good thing after all. It's changed my focus from wanting to be a good American to wanting to be a good earthling. I simply ignore political boundaries of every sort. I liken them to vestigial organs of the living things we call societies. They exist as a fluke of the evolution of the population of societies and have no intrinsic utility of any kind--nothing more than completely artificial and meaningless ways of dividing ourselves.

I think we're economic creatures, not spiritual ones. I think we are enamored with the metaphysical realm because it's so free of entropy. That's how I explain the craving so many seem to have for a spiritual connection to the universe. I'm not exactly thrilled by the predicament we find ourselves in as organisms--with such an insidious foe to overcome. (But if you could see my room you'd know I'm not putting up much of a fight.) I just think we're crazy to keep pretending we're something that we're not. Gosh, if we want to become spiritual beings we absolutely could. But if you want to go anywhere you have start from where you actually are. It makes the journey impossible to just pretend you're already almost there. Yet that's what most of us do.

Alien Brain said...

I'm enjoying reading both of you as you discuss these ideas. It seems you may be from a similar tribe...