I know I promised music reviews this time, but I just can’t.
I have put aside the purpose of this column several times to report on personal or political issues, and I have to do it again. I woke up Wednesday morning in a different country than the one I thought I went to bed in on Tuesday night, and where I expected to find rage I am only finding confusion within myself. I am unhappy with the results of the election, and that certainly qualifies as one of the year’s biggest understatements. But more than that, I am perplexed as to the actual nature of America, and terrified by a question I keep repeating: has it always been like this?
Here’s what I think we’ve just done.
President George W. Bush lost the popular vote in 2000 and squeaked by in the electoral college by just over 500 votes. Regardless of the deep division in this country evidenced by that vote, he interpreted his win as a mandate from God, and promptly stopped listening to any opposing viewpoints. He cut taxes, increased spending, took us from the largest surplus in years to the largest deficit in history, and responded to the terrorist attacks on September 11 by completely rewriting our core worldview.
In a post-9/11 world, according to George Bush, it is perfectly American to attack a country without cause, because we think they may, someday, become a threat. America was attacked by Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda, but rather than commit our troops to tracking him down, Bush proposed a wider, more encompassing war on terror itself. That war began with invading Iraq, presumably because of Saddam Hussein’s storehouse of weapons and imminent plans to use them against “freedom-loving people.”
We know now that this was never true, that our intelligence was either faulty or fabricated. We know that more than 1000 U.S. troops have died in Iraq because Bush, expecting an easy victory, did not plan for an occupation, and has no clear picture of how we’re going to withdraw. We also know that no matter how many troops die, no matter how much it seems the violent Iraq opposition forces want us out of their country, Bush will continue to say that things are going well, that all is proceeding according to plan, and that every day over there is a great day for freedom.
In his rush to war, Bush brushed aside the United Nations, choosing instead to build a coalition of his own and attack Iraq before the U.N. weapons inspections could be completed. Bush’s arrogance in this matter (and others, including the Kyoto Treaty, which every other nation signed but us) has alienated the rest of the world, and the citizens of many other countries consider the United States not the paragon of liberty and justice that we teach our children we are, but an empire-hungry giant with a crazed, illiterate cowboy for a leader.
Domestically, Bush’s new post-9/11 mindset allowed him to see it as perfectly American to crush civil liberties, the better to ward off terrorism. The Patriot Act alone is worth twenty columns this size, so counter is it to the very spirit of the country it purports to protect. Holding American citizens without due process, and without charge or evidence, just because the government decides it can is unconstitutional. (So is cracking down on “smut” sold to adults, a personal pet project of Attorney General John Ashcroft.) Discussions have already been held regarding Patriot Act II, a proposed permanent extension of the original Patriot Act that would increase the government’s powers even further.
Essentially, whether it comes to the multiple justifications for the war in Iraq (four and counting), the economy (which will not be improved by cutting taxes on the rich), education (left in the cold to fund defense spending and the war on terror), our personal freedoms (which the administration says they are not eroding even as they erode them), the environment (pushed aside as not even a legitimate concern in the face of huge corporate profits) or the very Constitution of the United States (the second amendment of which seems to be the only part they are not determined to dismantle), this administration has lied again and again. There is not one single thing George W. Bush has done while in office that he did not make worse simply by touching it.
The rest of the world has been watching this with a mix of horror and shame. But for the most part, people have been giving the average American citizens a break, because they believed the leftist spokespeople when they said that most Americans do not agree with Bush. They saw the results of the 2000 election and believed the popular vote – more people wanted Gore in office than Bush. And so they waited for 2004, trusting that Americans were just and fair-minded people who would only tolerate being led about by Tex and his oil cronies until they could vote him out.
In case you haven’t heard, that isn’t what we did.
Voters turned out in record numbers on Tuesday – more than 100 million of them, or more than one-third of the country’s population. And 59 million of them voted for Bush. Unlike the 2000 election, Bush clearly and cleanly won not only the electoral vote – 274 to 252 – but the popular one as well, by more than three million votes. Not only that, but voters handed the Republicans the Senate and the House of Representatives, too, so the administration should have no trouble getting through most of its initiatives over the next four years. Additionally, at least one Supreme Court seat is opening up soon, with as many as three possibly becoming vacant, and with a Republican Congress, Bush will undoubtedly stack the court in favor of the hardline conservative viewpoint.
Essentially, anything he wants over the next four years, he should be able to get.
So here’s what we’ve just told the rest of the world. We’ve said that 51 percent of our country – more popular votes than any president in history, by the way – has looked at the above list of crimes and misdemeanors and said, “We’re good with all that.” We’ve said that 59 million voters believe that Bush’s America – a nation of religious and moral crusaders led by liars and profiteers – fits their vision of this country just fine. This is where we want to go.
I am stunned by this. The results of this election leave very little room for doubt – this is where the majority of Americans want to go. We cannot blame hanging chads, low voter turnout or Ralph Nader this time. We held a fair, democratic election, and the people have spoken. They want the guy who talks to God and rushes to war without a plan. They want the guy who lies over and over again, to the country and the world, and then preaches moral values.
Moral values – there’s the crux of it. The primary issues that brought conservative voters out in droves concerned moral values. You can see that reflected in the referendums – eleven states proposed banning gay marriage, and all eleven voted to do so. I have yet to hear a rational reason behind disallowing gay marriage. The closest I have heard casts it as a difference of origin – where you come down on this issue depends on whether you see marriage as a religious institution with some governmental elements, or a governmental institution with some religious elements. Gay marriage is no big deal for the latter people, but a complete redefinition for the former.
That still doesn’t explain the belief that God disapproves of gay unions (or of gay people in general), though. It’s an article of faith for the religious – either that, or they really are as scared of gay sex as they seem to be. (‘Cause it’s icky, don’t you know, and contagious, like a cold. Gay teachers could, just by breathing on them, turn your kids gay. Fact!) What’s always fascinating about the religious right is that God seems to uniformly disapprove of whatever they dislike.
Voting for a lying warmonger because he likes Jesus more than his opponent does is something the rest of the world, God bless ‘em, is probably not going to understand. Whether or not the Bush voters agree with (or even understand) the direction he and his administration have taken this country, they have validated that direction in the eyes of the world. And it’s only going to get worse – Bush considers his vote a mandate. “I’ve earned political capital, and I’m going to spend it,” he said yesterday. “I’ve got the will of the people at my back.”
The thought that keeps me up at night is this: what if he’s right? What if all my moral-values-Jesus-voters-who-don’t-get-it posturing is a sham? What if 59 million people actually do see what’s been happening over the last four years, and fully endorse it? What if Bush’s America is actually America, and progressive-minded liberal thinkers are really the minority? None of that fits with my view of this country, but what if my view is wrong?
I’ve thought about that again and again these last couple of days, and I think I finally have my answer: the hell with it. And here I want to talk to the Kerry voters: we may not be able to see our vision of America right now, but we won’t get any further down the path of progressive change by lying down and giving up. Bush is going to steamroller his agenda through, but not without a fight. And no one can stop any of us from living the way we think Americans should live. At the moment, we still have a First Amendment, which guarantees our right to speak out against anything, at any time. And until they declare us enemy combatants and lock us away, I think we should, as often as we can.
We may be in the minority in America right now, but we can change that. It won’t be easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is.
I hope the results of this election haven’t permanently soured the record number of young and first-time voters that came out on Tuesday. This is democracy – sometimes it works in your favor, sometimes it doesn’t, and sometimes it gives you a clearer picture of what you’re up against. Is the country really this conservative? Sadly, it seems so… for now. We Kerry supporters have a fundamental difference of opinion with Bush voters over the nature and direction of the United States of America. Our president actively detests many of the hard-won principles of this nation, preaching its unassailable goodness to the rest of the world while holding it at gunpoint. Even if we win in 2008, it will be a long, hard climb back from the reactionary, fundamentalist pit in which Bush has left us.
But that doesn’t mean we can’t do it.
Don’t give up. Get to work.
See you in line Tuesday morning.