So did reason, the poor, gun control, the belief that the truth will out
THIS, TOO, shall pass.
The United States will muddle through, as it’s muddled through before, because the idea of America, and the system that sustains it, is bigger and braver and more enduring than any single subpar president or collective brain cramp of the populace.
But it’s so damn sad anyway. Once again, as Franklin Roosevelt put it, the only thing to fear was fear itself, only this time fear won. Bombast won, the Big Lie won. And of course George W. Bush won, with his staunch certainties in a scary world and his skilled retailing
of “moral values” to an increasingly conservative base. Because this is what happened in the U.S. election: with jobs disappearing, deficits running rampant, their kids being killed in Iraq saving the world from nonexistent weapons, Americans rushed to the polls to keep gays from marrying and women from having abortions. The culture war somehow trumped the Iraq war—evidence of an America not only fiercely divided but in deep denial.
The world, by the way, lost. So did reason, the poor, African-Americans, stem-cell research, the air and water, gun control, the cause of basic competence, the belief that the truth will out.
I thought John Kerry would win and I was wrong. I thought so because the majority of Americans told pollsters they didn’t like where the nation was headed. The ship of state was steaming straight for an iceberg, the captain too stubborn to change coursebut in the end the people were too frightened or too distracted to change captains.
This, too, shall pass. Eventually, with whoknows-what consequences.
Yes, these are very sour grapes. This is a sour day, and whoever won was bound to unleash as much wrath as rejoicing. It’s time now for Americans to unite and yet it won’t be easy behind this president, who divided to conquer. His isn’t the America I grew up in, whose values I was weaned on. That America wasn’t run for the rich, the corporate, the Christian. It didn’t attack other countries without egregious cause, didn’t torture foreign prisoners. It was a beacon, not a bully. Of course, that was the idealized America of history textbooks, of John Kennedy’s Camelot and Ronald Reagan’s
“shining city on a hill.” I was in Europe in the early ’70s, during Vietnam and Watergate, and locals fulminated against the imperialists and baby-killers; Americans stuck Canadian flags on their backpacks. We’ve been pariahs before and lived to shine another day.
So this, too, shall pass. Maybe Bush, for all his stay-the-course rhetoric, will discover moderation in his second term. Maybe this man, so unreflective, unrepentant, captive of the neo-cons, blind to what anyone else thinks or the price anyone else pays—maybe the president who never admits mistakes will, in the post-campaign calm, acknowledge he made some whoppers and try to put things right.
Maybe. We can hope. But then we’ve hoped before. When the Supreme Court installed Bush in the White House in 2000, many Democrats consoled themselves that
at least he’d recognize he had no mandate, that he’d govern modestly from the centre until they could evict him four years later. Sept. 11 changed everything, including Bush. He was right in Afghanistan, calamitously wrong in Iraq: thousands killed for phantom reasons, a by-then toothless dictatorship converted into a made-in-America gift to terrorist recruitment. And all along Bush pushed massive tax cuts for the rich, as if no wartime sacrifice were required.
Change now? After such a stunning validation of the Bush way? Hard to imagine.
Not that Kerry could have fixed Iraq either. It’s unfixable, like many a colossal blunder. If he’d stepped up the assault he’d have been in the excruciatingly ironic position of living his own Vietnam-era question: “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” If he’d pulled out he’d have been the president who lost Iraq and the Republicans would never have let anyone forget it. This is the party, after all, that succeeded in tarring a bona fide war hero as too wussy for terrorist times. Day after day they twisted his words and record into strange shapes, like a clown turning a balloon into a dachshund. They made Kerry into a French poodle and, seemingly stunned, he was too slow to bite back, too equivocal on Iraq. He won three debates but never quite made the sale.
Now the Democrats will tear each other apart, the anti-war wing wrestling moderates for control of the party. And Bush will be left to slop through an Iraq morass of his own making. Thousands more Iraqis, Americans and others will be slain as the country slides inexorably into chaos. Big U.S. companies will keep scoring contracts to rebuild it. Opposing the war will be deemed unpatriotic. But life will go on. The two political camps, struggling for the soul of America, will go at it again, the titanic battle of 2004—at least for Democrats—a tormented memory.
This, too, shall pass. It’s a comfort, however cold. M
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