I’ve said it before, and current events provoke me to restate it: it will turn out to be a good thing that Bush cheated his way into office twice.
That’s for those who aren’t directly hurt by the war, naturally. Obviously the dead Iraqis, which at this point must number nearly three-quarters of a million if The Lancet’s last estimate of 600,000 was more or less accurate, and their friends and families, are hurt. I would argue that all of Iraq has come out behind in the war except for those who took power, and even they rule a country greatly weakened by the loss of professionals and the ruin of much of the infrastructure. You don’t hear people asking, “Aren’t you happy that Saddam’s gone?” much any more. Iran, for one, would certainly answer that question in the affirmative.
Then there are the Americans who died or were maimed or will suffer from post-traumatic stress from now on. And their families and friends. Altogether, a staggering amount of tragedy, nearly all avoidable as far as I can see, and most of it not only predictable but predicted.
So what the hell am I talking about? Well, I once argued (at, I admit, excruciating length, but the idea was what provoked me to start blogging, so I beat that horse as long as I could) that progressives won the war, though we lost nearly all the battles. We couldn’t stop the war, but we won the battle for hearts and minds. We now have the American public listening to us, and moving closer to our positions.
For those of us still relatively unharmed from the war, there’s the general movement away from the Republican party in particular and so-called conservative values in general. The Pew poll, widely reported last week, showed the Republican party losing big time.
The current gap between Republican and Democratic identification — which Pew measured by counting people who said they leaned toward a party as well as those with firm allegiances — is the widest since the group began collecting data on party allegiance in 1990.
The survey found that the proportion of those expressing a positive view of Democrats has declined since January 2001 — when Bush took office — by 6 percentage points, to 54%. But the public’s regard for Republicans has cratered during the Bush years, with the proportion holding a favorable view of the GOP dropping 15 points, to 41%.
Even non-Bush-related issues, such as the number of people who expressed support for “old fashioned values about family and marriage” or who support allowing school boards to fire homosexual teachers, have moved left by about ten percentage points. If you haven’t seen the graphs, I recommend them, they’ll give your spirits a lift. From more support for government programs to less social conservatism to less religious intensity, the country is moving in a consistent direction, and it’s not one the Republicans would choose, at least not the Republicans of the recent past.
Of course a lot of this is revulsion to the war. But it’s also become clear to most Americans what a small man George W. Bush is, and by extension how limited the ideas he represents are. He does well to invoke the images of Truman that still cloud the public mind; they’re the same sort of guy, and he can only hope he slips under the radar like Truman has.
It doesn’t seem likely to me; for one thing, this administration is thoroughly corrupt, and apparently considers the Constitution quaint along with the Geneva Convention against torture. My understanding is that historians generally end up as fans of stability. What originally made the US special was the establishment of a stable republican system. The system has remained pretty stable for a couple of centuries, if you leave out the Civil War, but even the seceding states set up a similar system of government. That system is stable because the country as a whole accepts the idea of the rule of law with the Constitution at the base. And the Constitution damn sure doesn’t include a unitary executive.
So that’s what I mean about the results of the Bush presidency. A country that has been madly and destructively “intervening” in foreign countries since it came of age well over a century ago has again been brought up short at the sight of the destruction created by its putative elected officials. It’s ugly. Perhaps this is what Bush means when he says Americans suffer from the war because they have to see the images on TV. Apparently he doesn’t realize there’s an off switch; I suppose he always had someone to do that sort of thing for him. But it does hurt our self-image to realize that we’re now hated throughout much of the world, even in Britain and Canada. And you don’t hear much in defense of the Bush Doctrine any more. When McCain waxes bellicose, people roll their eyes: has this guy been on Mars for the last four years?
Overall, I think the biggest win to come out of the years of the Bush presidency, from a sort of people’s-history point of view, is the wide-spread realization that people everywhere are pretty much fed up with this imperialism crap. For a while Americans appeared to believe that an empire run through the banks would be more stable than one run by overt militarism. But the internal contradictions involved in a republic running an empire ended the Roman Republic. They combine now with the globalization effects that William Greider details in One World, Ready or Not. We’re not the biggest and baddest on the block any more in any way except military, and that’s bogged down in a defeated country on the other side of the world. If there were any military threats in the world, they’d be hitting us now.
We’ve reached the stage of imperial decline where finance dwarfs manufacturing as the source of our wealth, and that bodes ill. Kevin Phillips, in American Theocracy, quotes a citizen of a previous empire:
A seventeenth-century Spaniard enthused: “Let London manufacture those fine fabrics, … Holland her chambrays; Florence her cloth; the Indies their beaver and vicuna; Milan her broaches; India and Flanders their linens … so long as our capital can enjoy them. The only thing it proves is that all nations train journeymen for Madrid and that Madrid is the queen of parliaments, for all the world serves her, and she serves nobody.”
By that time the glory days were already over, and what it really proved was that the empire was fading. You can’t maintain imperial-size power by moving money from one account to another. The Spanish, the Dutch, and the English all went through the financialization phase, and in every case it happened as the empire was losing its grip.
But my point is more than that the country is turning away from all the things Bush claimed to represent. That might change once he and his henchmen are out of office and we get out of Iraq. If we do.
Emmanuel Todd describes in After the Empire some demographic shifts that are changing the world. The two biggies are the achievements of universal literacy and zero population growth. These have provoked reactions from traditionalists in every society they visit. As people become more aware of what’s going on, they begin to question it, which upsets power structures. And they stop generating cannon fodder. The power structure generally reacts violently.
I don’t think Todd has the US in mind when he’s describing the effects of literacy on a society, but I think his ideas apply here as well. We still have a huge section of American society that believes in a literal devil, that Moses parted the Red Sea, and so on. Many of them believe that Armageddon is devoutly to be wished for. Then there are the Christian Reconstructionists, who define democracy as heresy. In many ways the US is as fundamentalist as any of the Islamic countries.
Todd’s ideas seem to me to fit the culture wars that have kept Americans tuning in for the last several years. Parts of the US are being dragged kicking and screaming into the modern world. Some become violent, some wake up. And for those do wake, there’s a network of like-minded people around the world who now realize they’re not alone. We have the power to change the world.
In the end, the world will breathe a sigh of relief when George W. Bush leaves office. Assuming he doesn’t try to skip out on that responsibility with another signing statement.