How Bad Is It?

Look, I’ve steered clear of political commentary for a couple of months now. I know it’s annoying, and I know it can be a downer. But it’s important we take stock of whether we can do anything – as Americans – about our domestic and global predicament. Then, we artsy types can descend back into the hallucinatory haze of our cultural creativity. Yes, the band that played on the deck of the Titanic was quite talented and a good distraction from the matter at hand, but there may yet be a few ways to prevent this boat from sinking and if we don’t tend to it, no one will.

I’ve been working on a documentary about influence professionals – in both the marketing and political sectors – for the past several months. And, believe it or not, even most powerful conservatives seem to realize that our foreign and domestic activities are no longer guided by any sense of over-arching policy. In three short years, and as a result of a partisan decision by the Supreme Court as well as some extraordinary voting irregularities, we ended up with a regime that spent what remained of America’s financial capital since the 1990’s and it’s diplomatic capital since World War II.

This is not business as usual. While protecting national interests will inevitably lead to violent behavior (until the idea of the nation state itself is succeeded by something more evolved) the actions of the US government over the past three years has been spasmodic, unplanned, and unconcerned with consequence. Yes, America has done nasty things in its history – but it doesn’t generally do so as unilaterally or with such little regard for the opinions, interests, and lives of others.

And the world recognizes this. For just one example, shortly after 9/11, fewer than twenty percent of Arabs believed that suicide bombings against the United States were justified. Now, 85% believe such attacks are justified.

Civil liberties in the United States are in the process of being suspended, with little probability that John Ashcroft will be utilizing his new powers for effective counter-terrorism. (He’ll just keep arresting hookers.) In a bow to Democrats, the Bush regime created the Department of Homeland Security, but kept its director utterly uninvolved in security meetings. It is not a real Department.

Our negative impact on the globe is so severe, that issues such as the deteriorating environment are now of secondary importance. (Yes, global warming is real – even if a handful of former scientists will accept money to say it’s not a statistical certainty, just a high probability. Like the probability that your heart hasn’t stopped at this very second.) Today, there are shorter and more immediate paths to disaster.

Our promotion of global violence combined with our inability to act in concert with allies, has led to the greater probability of failed states (that are capable of breeding terrorists), military resources stretched beyond capacity (we stripped our tanks in South Korea of their weapons in order to send them to Iraq), and a marked decrease in our ability to gather intelligence. (As Juliette Kayyen remarked at the Nation conference last night, “Arabs around the dinner table all knew Saddam had no weapons – it was just Arab machismo.”) Without allies, we are forced to see everything through our own eyes, and incapable of formulating a strategy, much less dimensionalizing one.

The reason I’m writing now is because the most common question I’m being asked at talks and in emails these days is, “Just how bad is it?”

In the past, I’ve likened myself to someone talking people off a “bad trip.” For the most part, I’m an optimist, and I do work hard to help people see their way out of self-destructive mindsets. That’s a lot tougher to do, today, as America appears poised to become one of the world’s truly misguided, destructive forces. But all is not lost.

We in America are now aware of how precious – and tenuous – is our right to vote. If the corporations set on taking over the voting process have their way, computers made by Diebold will be our new electoral college, and voting ‘irregularities’ will become institutionalized. Just watch as exit polls and official results move wider and wider apart. (Yes, the machines are rigged.)

That’s why the upcoming election is so important: it’s one thing to lose our government to a coup d’etat. It’s another to allow that regime to stay in power. No, Americans don’t like to take to the streets, and our police forces have gotten a bit more violent with those of us who do. But I do believe that we still have the vote, and that we must not let our cynicism and despair keep us from the booths.

That is way bad guys get to win: they frighten or, in our case, disenfranchise the enemy.

So, please vote. Many of those who would normally vote against the current administration will be stricken from the voting rolls, or intimidated away (they’ll be told, for example, that police will be present at the polling places to arrest people who haven’t paid their traffic tickets, etc.). But even such dirty tricks should not be able to prevent the recall of a sitting president by such high margins. If everyone who wants him out actually goes and votes, Americans can prove to the world who we really are.

Indeed, it will probably take longer than most of us will be alive for America to restore its reputation and standing to early post-World War II levels. But that’s really okay. If America were to rejoin the international community, even in a humbled, hobbled fashion, the world would be a much safer and more enjoyable place.

So, in answer to your questions, how bad is it? Really really bad, but not irrevocably so. In fact, it could be even worse; but only if you allow that to happen.