Thursday, January 20, 2005

Cascade of Debacle
Bush said the other day that he saw his reelection as an "accountability moment." In voting booths from Dixville Notch to Guam, Americans held Bush accountable--for one brief second. Because a plurality of the voters gave him a thumbs-up rather than a thumbs-down, he considers his slate wiped clean, and whatever mistakes he may have made in his first term (even if he acknowledges none of the biggest ones explicitly) are not just erased from history as if they'd never happened, but resoundingly transformed into the right thing to do.

That's not the way the reality-based world works, however. Out here, human beings cannot escape the consequences of their actions so easily. But reality doesn't stop millions of Americans from doggedly believing our country is exempt from the consequences of our actions--and particularly from the consequences of our history. Just as our ancestors could reinvent themselves if they chose, simply by traveling over the next ridge to set up a new homestead, we believe we can still do the same, metaphorically. And what historical memory we do possess is often highly selective--we like to credit ourselves forever for the good we have done (even when we're no longer doing it), and we often refuse even to acknowledge the wrongs we commit, let alone learn from them. These, I am convinced, are some of the primary traits that make Americans Americans in the 21st century.

If we're lousy at using our own history to guide our path in the present, we're even worse at using other people's history as a guide. For example, Bob Dreyfuss of TomPaine.com posted a long excerpt earlier this week from an article by Patrick Lang, who points out how the current plan to reorganize Iraq like an American-style democracy ignores the 20th century history of Iraq. Seen in the light of history, civil war seems almost inevitable--barring some kind of ahistorical miracle, that is.

But when it comes time to bet on what will happen, Americans will bet the ahistorical miracle almost every time, because history doesn't mean anything to us. So when the civil war breaks out, many Americans will claim they never saw it coming, or will place the blame for it on backward desert-dwellers who aren't wise enough to know what's best for them. Never mind that a cursory reading of history could have predicted the whole cascade of debacle we've witnessed in this new American century. Our self-image, grounded in faulty recollections of history--others and our own--makes it impossible for us to believe our actions might make things worse, even when we mean well. Can't happen, we say. If it does, it must be an accident, or someone else's fault. We act for good, always. And we really believe it.

Quotes of the Day: "A Brazilian woman has given birth to a seventeen pound baby. At least someone out there in the world is more uncomfortable than John Kerry and the rest of the Dems are today."--Dave Pell, Electablog.

From Wonkette, Live-Blogging the Coronation: "11:58AM: Four more years, minus about a minute. Just keep the bourbon coming." "12:11PM: On Iraq war casualties: 'deaths that honored their whole lives.' Yeah, all 19 years."

This afternoon on Best of the Blogs: Going Souljah.

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