January 03, 2009
I May Be Goin’ to Hell in a Bucket, Baby…
We begin the new year with
- Wall Street and the banks, once again indistinguishable, once again reeling from a series of scams, the latest one impacting institutions around the world, and the entire operation threatening to take everyone else down with it
- Israel slipping in one more attack under a departing President, hoping to express the old mojo after being embarrassed the last time, but, like its patron in Iraq, looking weak instead
- The President-elect who ran on a message of change signaling continuity to the old guard
- Friends of the Bushes, once again the new FOBs, once again absconding with significant portions of the public treasury and getting away with pleading national security
- The American legal system seemingly helpless and impotent against the crimes its government has committed
If you’re old enough to remember any President other than George W. Bush, you might think you’re having a flashback. While I deny the existence of such phenomena, I agree that the natural question as we enter 2009 is whether the Republic is over.
The sainted founders looked to Rome for examples. But it’s not a happy prospect, so we change channels. Have we crossed the Rubicon? Or perhaps we’re not ready for Caesar, but we’ve just seen Marius, or more aptly Sulla, both critical figures in the conversion of the Republic to the Empire. And Gibbon begins his Decline and Fall with the first Emperor.
One of the ways we know such metaphors are exceedlingly imprecise is that we’re talking about mythical competence on the verso page and historic incompetence on the recto. But perhaps we’re not as far removed from the past as we like to think. As a very wise person once put it,
Men always, but not always with good reason, praise bygone days and criticize the present, and so partial are they to the past that they not only admire past ages the knowledge of which has come down to them in written records, but also, when they grow old, what they remember having seen in their youth. And, when this view is wrong, as it usually is, there are, I am convinced, various causes to which the mistake may be due.
The first of them is, I think, this. The whole truth about olden times is not grasped, since what redounds to their discredit is often passed over in silence, whereas what is likely to make them appear glorious is pompously recounted in all its details. For so obsequious are most writers to the fortune of conquerors that, in order to make their victories seem glorious, they not only exaggerate their own valorous deeds, but also magnify the exploits of the enemy, so that anyone born afterwards either in the conquering or in the conquered province may find cause to marvel at such men and such times, and is bound, in short, to admire them and to feel affection for them.
It was this sort of thinking that made his name synonymous with Satan’s. Old Nick paid attention, and that’s verboten.
Realistically, folks, could it be any clearer that we’re watching the fall of an empire from inside? Our denial of imperial status affects these events not at all. No prisoners are released, no torturers jailed, because we fail or refuse to recognize reality. Reality, as Alan Watts was fond of saying, is not a concept. If you doubt that, ask an inmate at Bagram. If he’s still alive.
What does it mean that the rest of the world is headed for greater literacy at a time when so many Americans believe that what they believe matters more than facts? We’re on the way out. The empire, thank God, is failing. So now, as Joe Jackson says, what the hell do we do?
No, seriously, what do we do? Do we wait for Obama and Pelosi to save us? Will Senator Franken end the deadlock? Can we affect the world through Change.gov?
Posted by Chuck Dupree at January 03, 2009 02:10 AM
If the Bush takeover is complete, and if the looting has been as extreme as it sometimes appears to be, we will have returned to what I would term "economic feudalism". Next up. The economic dark ages. Russia has regressed since embracing capitalism (see Klein's The Shock Doctrine) and seems to be close to the dark ages if not already in it: suicide up 100% since communist policies were in place, violent crime up 400%, the population has been declining each year since capitalism was instituted there, and on and on. The looting was complete. To quote the man lauded by the capitalists for his work- Dr. Zhivago, Boris Pasternak: "I understood the need for the revolution, but why did it have to be so violent". When we introduced capitalism in Russia, we induced more death and destruction on the Soviet Union than the Revolution in 1917 did. These statistics won't come from the US Government. But Naomi Klein has meticulously researched the records and revealed the truth, much like the great journalist I.F. Stone used to do.
The future for America looks dark, at least as viewed from the reality of Naomi Klein's greatest work of historiography, The Shock Doctrine.
Paul Craig Roberts summed it up rather neatly a little over a year ago:
The Romans brought on their own demise, but it took them centuries. Bush has finished America in a mere 7 years.
Indeed. But if our decline is indeed underway, if our republic is moribund, then it started under Saint Ronald of Reagan. Specifically with Iran-Contra. But it's not Reagan who bears the blame, but those who decided before the hearings started that impeachment was off the table. And what was their reasoning? That the Ronster was just too darn popular to be held accountable.
That's the Rubicon, folks. The Founders knew their history. They were painfully aware of the track record of both republics and democracies. They did everything they could to set up a system that would give this one better odds. They anticipated greed, corruption, venality. But they did not anticipate that the branches charged with acting as a brake on the executive would simply shrug their shoulders and mutter, "He's just too popular." I guess we can't blame them for that, really. Men who had very much risked their lives, their fortunes and their honor most likely could not conceive of their successors being afraid to risk their approval ratings.
And so, here we are.
A couple of years ago, my son took a course in ancient empires at the community college. As I drove him home one evening he said to me, "We're sort of in decline now, aren't we?" I had to agree that seemed to be the case. "I thought it might happen within the lifetime of my children," I told him. "I never dreamed it would happen within the lifetime of my cats."
Neither of us said anything after that...
As long as Americans continue to believe that George W. Bush is and was the problem, there's no hope.