Friday, August 12, 2005
9/11: The American Dream Deferred
The subject of the evils of the Bush administration will occupy historians for generations to come. How a criminal racket came to occupy the White House and project its power over the nation and the world in precisely the ways that the Constitution was designed to prevent is indeed an intriguing tale. Is there a crux to this story, one which gets at the essence of the Bush administration's ruthless subversion of democracy, its astonishing abuses of power, its frightening control over the corporate media-state? Let me suggest that if there is one, it centers on 9/11. Because 9/11 is really at the heart of the American experience of the past four years. I believe that the recession ("recovery") which has now lengthened into a period of prolonged economic stagnation is the direct result of post-traumatic stress syndrome. Of course, as I argued earlier on this site, so is the popularity of Paris Hilton, as is every other sign of cultural and spiritual decay which now forms our common lot in life. Everyone who lived through 9/11 knows how traumatic it was. I for one regularly had feelings of dread, terror, and impending doom for a full year after the attacks, when the next attack seemed imminent. And while those feelings have mostly faded for me personally, I believe that as a nation we have yet to come to grips with 9/11 and its implications for the future of our national life - that confused, post-9/11 slogan "everything has changed." We have yet to define as a nation what has changed, what hasn't, and how we can best live with the changes. The significance of 9/11 is felt as some kind of epochal trauma ("Ground Zero,") some generational event, but what is it? Instead of comprehending and then rationally and humanely responding to that trauma, we have sunk into a post 9/11 malaise, now dragging out over four years, in which the cultural and spiritual foundations of the country have sagged beneath the weight of displaced grief and anxiety. As anyone who reads the tea-leaves of popular culture knows, America is just not itself these days. This is where the Bush administration comes in. It has been the central task of the Bush administration ever since the President addressed Congress in the days afterwards to interpret America's experience of 9/11 back to us. This is what the Bush administration has said: "You feel a sense of unimaginable grief and rage. You feel helpless, confused, and lost. You want revenge, but you are unable to attain it. Only an absolute authority can conquer absolute evil. You must surrender your freedom in order to be protected by this authority. If you refuse to surrender, you'll be destroyed." If this message in any way reflected the actual American experience of 9/11, then one would have to accept the Bush administration's narrative that the nation as a whole has given its blessing to the new imperial government, and that any resistance to that government must acknowledge its marginality. But it doesn't. In fact the Bush administration's interpretation of 9/11 is its greatest achievement and its biggest lie - a lie which is at the heart of all of its other lies, including the rationale for invading Iraq. I believe that the general confusion with which the average American now regards the post-democratic political process - for instance, the confusion about gay marriage during the 2004 elections - is the distance between the Bush administration's interpretation of 9/11 and our own experience of it. What most Americans actually felt was a sense of communal rebirth never before experienced in many of our lifetimes. The overwhelming instinct was to regard the attacks as an opportunity and indeed a calling to revive the spirit of democracy in this country - a call to a renewed sense of citizenship and public responsibility. Most Americans wanted more than anything to respond to the attacks with charity, self-sacrifice, and national purpose - the spirit which animated the nation during WWII. That desire certainly had a component of assertiveness to it - almost all Americans supported the initial operations in Afghanistan, recognizing the need to find the terrorists and bring them to justice. But it wasn't a blind lust for revenge. It was surprisingly sober - it was a genuinely realistic acknowledgment of the reality and temporal power of evil and the response which a moral and convicted people must make to it. In other words, most Americans felt in the wake of 9/11 the advent of a truly righteous struggle which would unite the country and heal its damaged democratic institutions. In that spirit, America looked to the President for leadership. And Bush told Americans to go shopping. That disappointment has been as damaging and lasting for Americans as the attacks were. Americans from all walks of life showed up with a willingness and desire to serve that had not been seen in this country in fifty years and were told that our efforts were unwanted and unneeded. George W. Bush's utter failure to understand the significance of 9/11 was an obscenity. His instinctive retreat to militarism and consumerism so completely missed the point - this had nothing to do with materialism! This had nothing to do with war! This had to do with community! - missed everything good that America was trying to tell Bush about itself and instead landed on everything bad, that it constitutes a failure of historic proportions. Bush is a simple-minded man, a virtually undeveloped ego-state, with a bastardized understanding of the value of human life and the meaning of this country. Faced with America at its most heroic and most generous, Bush simply could not understand what was happening. A revival of democracy happening at his doorstep was the last thing in the world he wanted to deal with. He and his co-conspirators have spent the last four years shoving it under the rug, skillfully manipulating every seam in the national fabric to prolong a culture war which desperately wanted to die on 9/11. Thus it is not so much American grief that has gone unmourned (we've done plenty of that) as it is a genuinely selfless love of country, a desire for service, a willingness to sacrifice, which has been turned away and turned against ourselves.
Posted by weazoe at 7:30 PM