Friday, February 13, 2004

The Traitorous Citizen
If you’re only going to read one thing today, make it "George Bush and the Treacherous Country" by Steve Erickson from LA Weekly. Erickson describes two Americas—one secular, typified by Tom Paine and Thomas Jefferson, the other theocratic, typified by Cotton Mather and George W. Bush. It’s long and loaded, and it gets into a subject I’ve been on about for years—that the firmer your religious foundation, the more strongly you embrace faith, the less strongly you can embrace democracy:

Whether it’s Christian or Islamic, an uncompromising religious vision can’t recognize the legitimacy of democracy without betraying itself. Democracy insists on a pluralism that entertains the possibility that one’s religious beliefs might be wrong and another’s might be right, and that all religious beliefs may be varying degrees of wrong or right—what traditionalists despise as "relativism." Almost by definition, democracy is at least a little bit blasphemous. It’s a breach of rigorous spiritual discipline, and its mechanisms are among the human works of the modern age, which itself is viewed by fundamentalism as an abomination. Doubt is a critical component of both democracy and its leadership. In the eyes of democracy, doubt is not just moral but necessary; the psychology of democracy must allow for doubt about the rightness of any given political position, because otherwise the position can never be questioned. The Bill of Rights and the First Amendment in particular are monuments to the right to doubt, and to the right of one person to doubt the rightness of 200 million. In contrast, the psychology of theocracy not only denies doubt but views it as a cancer on the congregation, prideful temerity in the face of divine righteousness as it’s communicated by God to the leaders of the state.

Nothing about Bush or his presidency makes sense without taking into account the theocratic psyche. Only once you consider the possibility that his administration means to "repeal the Enlightenment," in the words of Greil Marcus, do Bush’s presidency and his conception of power, their ends and their means, become comprehensible. Doubt is personally abhorrent to Bush; otherwise he couldn’t have assumed the presidency in the manner he did, with decisions and policies that from the first dismissed out of hand the controversy that surrounded his very election. This isn’t to suggest that his presidency is invalid, or to dispute the constitutional and legal process that produced it. It is to try and explain how on the second day of his presidency—in what was his first major act as president—in such draconian fashion he could cut off money to any federally funded family-planning clinic that merely advised women that the option of abortion exists. This was more than just a message to the president’s evangelical constituency that he was undeterred by what happened in Florida in November and December 2000. It was more than just a message to the rest of the country of the president’s contempt for it (which in part accounts for so many people’s intensity of feeling about him). It was, from the second day of the Bush presidency, a frontal assault on doubt.

Refusing to compromise faith by indulging in doubt turns the reasoning for the Iraq war on its head—if you’re a secularist:

The theocratic rationale for the Iraq war and the United States’ subsequent presence in Iraq exists far above petty secular anxieties about justifying either. If the president could barely conceal his impatience on last Sunday’s Meet the Press with distinctions between Iraq actually having weapons or having the capacity to make weapons, between imminent threats or threats that might become imminent, it’s because such distinctions couldn’t be more beside the point. It was never a matter of reasons justifying the war. Rather, the war justifies the reasoning. Some might suggest that the president’s case for the war was made in bad faith, but there is no "bad" in the president’s perception of faith, there’s only true faith that sometimes is confronted with hard tests posed by divine destiny, the hardest of which is whether the president can work his will on God’s behalf, however it must be done. That Iraq had nothing to do with those who attacked America almost two and a half years ago is only a distracting detour in moral reasoning, fine print for those whom God hasn’t called.

Those who think theocratically about the United States see a divinely ordained purpose in America’s very existence. Bush fulfills that purpose in ways that make perfect sense to those who share his religious worldview, but baffle those who do not--and that very bafflement strengthens the hand of the theocrats:

"Everyone says liberals love America, too," writes [Ann] Coulter. "No, they don’t," and probably nothing is more indicative of the ineffectuality and incomprehension of secularists in this civil war than that they would argue. Because of course Coulter is right; it’s not her America that secularists love. Secularists love the America of Tom Paine, not Cotton Mather, but they keep trying to reconcile the two, since both are part of America’s story and since in fact such a reconciliation always has been the dream of America and those who invented it. The secular center won’t accept that there’s a culture war going on. In the desire to reach accommodation, secularists acquiesce to the right on the very meaning of Americanism, not to mention definitions of character. "At least he’s a decent man," someone recently protested to me about George Bush, by which she meant in comparison to the last guy, of course, even when as a matter of public policy such "decency" means the abandonment of AmeriCorps programs, which allowed college students to pay off loans by teaching underprivileged children to read, in contrast with the expansion of the earned-income tax credit by the morally vitiated Clinton, who raised millions of people out of poverty as a result. It’s a decency that impeaches a president for lying about a sexual affair but not about a war. Whatever the many compelling reasons to question whether Howard Dean would ever actually make a good president, the former Vermont governor emerged from obscurity last year to galvanize the Democratic presidential race largely because he wouldn’t acquiesce.

At the end of his compelling article, Erickson finally decides that he’s a traitor—to the theocratic version of America. Me too.

Other worthwhile reads: From Spinsanity: Was Bush AWOL from the National Guard or not? Despite the documents released this week and the blizzard of charges and countercharges, the evidence is murky. Also, with the Republicans launching their dirty war against John Kerry yesterday in pure Nixonian fashion—making an accusation about what the opposition is going to do so as to give them cover to do the same thing themselves—Spinsanity debunks the first of the whoppers about the Democratic nominee-presumptive that are resounding through the right-wing echo chamber.

From Nat Hentoff in the Village Voice: Some conservatives and libertarians are beginning to stand up to John Ashcroft. One of them is Wisconsin representative James Sensenbrenner, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, who has said that an extension of Ashcroft’s baby, the Patriot Act, past its 12/31/05 expiration date without a review of its results would happen “over my dead body.”

That's a lot to read. Better take the rest of the day off and get busy.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?