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It’s tempting to get totally disheartened by the recent midterm elections. I certainly did. But don’t despair: Things are going to get much worse before they get worse. Then they’ll get even worse, and then things will start to get better.
I’m not just making a joke. We really are in store for a hellacious next several years. Those of us in the overt Opposition — Resistance or Movement or call-it-what-you-will — are going to take it in the neck, and face dangers rarely experienced in traditional American politics. Better buckle up, friends, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Bush&Co. are claiming a mandate, behaving — as they did after the 2000 election — as if they engendered a huge groundswell of public clamor for their policies; they are not about to back off and behave moderately, in accord with their razor-thin victory at the polls. (Only 40% of the eligible electorate voted on Nov. 5th; the GOP won with just over a half of that vote. A shift of 49,000 votes in Minnesota, Missouri and New Hampshire would have kept the Senate in Democratic control, and a switch of 42,500 votes in House races would have put Democrats in control there.)
[ This makes two elections, the one in 2000 and now in 2002, where the results are suspicious; in the first case, the Supreme Court summarily ended the re-counting of citizens' ballots, in effect installing Bush into the White House. (And, as we now know, had the Florida recount proceeded, Gore, who won the national popular vote by more than a half-million ballots, would have been President.) In the 2002 midterm election, touchscreen computer-voting in key states -- where, just days prior to the balloting, Dems were either leading in the polls or neck-and-neck against their GOP opponents -- may have, could have, been tweaked in enough close elections to tip the scales to the GOP; there were no ways of re-counting ballots, since there were no ballots to double-check against, and, at the last-minute, there was no exit polling, so again nothing to check the computer results against how people said they voted. He who controls the computer-software in the voting machines has potential control over the numerical results, and only three companies control that technology.)
So it’s now clear for all to see: Bush&Co. are moving toward total consolidation of political power — the very thing our Founding Fathers were trying to avoid; recognizing the tendency for power to corrupt and absolute power to corrupt absolutely, they made sure to parcel out political authority to the various branches, with the free press as a further brake on runaway rulers.
In order to achieve absolute control, the Bush Administration has to crack down on all possible avenues of dissent, nationally and internationally.
Filling the Vacuum
Internationally, the collapse of Soviet-style communism left a vacuum in world politics, and the HardRightists saw the chance for the U.S. to move in and take it all. The result is a bullying, threatening, arrogant, in-your-face move toward “benevolent hegemony” across the globe. Or, to express it less euphemistically, the U.S. is behaving like a modern version of the Roman Empire, sending our armies abroad to take what can be taken, to grab what can be grabbed — get out of our way or face destruction.
(Now, this is not to deny that there are bad guys out there, VERY bad guys, who wish the U.S ill and need to be dealt with, but the Bush&Co. approach seems to lean domestically toward police-state tactics, and internationally toward wielding the bludgeon first and using diplomacy afterwards, as a fig-leaf cover.)
Domestically, Bush&Co. already have the three branches of government pretty well in hand, and the minority Democrat party, dazed and confused, remains in shambles; the conglomerate-owned mainstream media doesn’t give Bush&Co. many problems; the university campuses, at least the professors, have been cowed into near-silence. That leaves the anti-war movement and the progressive sites on the internet as the locus of dissent; since neither is very large, or reaching at this point much beyond its relatively small core-constituency, they can be taken care of in due time.
If, however, they start to grow in power and influence, if a genuine Movement begins to take shape — similar to what developed so successfully in the civil rights/antiwar ’60s and ’70s — then get ready, all stops will be pulled and it’s going to get very ugly.
If millions start to show up at anti-war and anti-government rallies, you can anticipate that planted agents provocateurs inside the Movement will create violent incidents that will destroy the credibility of those causes. If the progressive internet websites begin to attract significantly more visitors, inciting more and more protests and Resistance actions, there will be major hack-attacks on a few key websites, as examples for the others, or, in the name of “homeland defense,” offending websites simply will be shut down as being dangerous to “national security” in “wartime,” unpatriotic, treasonous.
Goodbye to Privacy
If you think I’m exaggerating out of paranoid hysteria or simple anti-Bush venom, just examine the recently passed Homeland Security Act and the USA PATRIOT Act (the latter of which was rushed through Congress a few days after 9/11 without most legislators having had a chance to read it). As a result of these acts and other executive fiats, as of this moment there no longer is a guaranteed right to privacy for any citizen.
Your home, your business, your computer files, your emails, your library visits, your credit-card purchases, your phone calls, your communications to your friends and colleagues — in short, just about every aspect of your life now belongs to the federal government. (Where, oh where, were all the anti-big-government conservatives? Oh, I forgot: They now have the power and can drop their principles off at the moral cleaners. It’s OK to have a Big Brother government snooping on all its citizens — except, of course, when it comes to who might own assault rifles and other heavy-duty weaponry, which Ashcroft has ruled the feds can’t go near — as long as you’re the Brother in charge. If Gore had won and tried to carry on these police-state tactics, there would be a rousing GOP outcry for impeachment. It all depends, I guess, on whose Gore is being oxed.)
But, you say, none of this affects me. I’ve never done or thought anything traitorous, and I don’t have a Middle Eastern name, so I don’t have to worry. Doesn’t matter. A ticked-off neighbor or colleague at work denounces you to the authorities as insufficiently patriotic or as engaging in “suspicious behavior” — even though you’ve done or said nothing wrong — and you’ve got a file opened on you. The security police begin nosing around, and suddenly you don’t have a job anymore. Or you are classified as a suspected “enemy combatant” and are locked away on a military base, with no contact permitted, no lawyer permitted, no judicial oversight permitted.
(Though Bush and Ashcroft promised, prior to the passage of the USA Patriot Act, that the bill referred only to non-citizens and that nothing like that would ever happen to Americans, it already has. In the future, there may well be more citizens “disappeared” into the American gulag; all it takes is a piece of paper signed by Ashcroft, with no appeal process permitted. Welcome to the brave new world of permanent war, permanent insecurity, permanent martial-type law.)
Friends, as some of us have been warning for more than a year now, we no longer are inching toward a kind of fascism in this country. We’re just about there. Using legitimate post-9/11 fear in the citizenry, Bush&Co. have been able to shred Constitutional guarantees of due process and rush these draconian acts through Congress; aside from a few courageous leaders on the conservative right and those of us on the civil libertarian left, few have objected. Americans, it seems, are quite willing to trade their several-hundred-years-old rights for the illusion of “security.”
Worse and Worser
Manipulating that fear for their own ends has been the number one focus of Bush&Co. since 9/11. But the origins of their grab for power go back much further. These goals and tactics were in the planning stages and worked-out theorhetically for years before. The events of 9/11 — which many of us argue were known in broad outline by Bush’s inner circle and permitted to happen (now we know why Bush&Co. have fought like crazy to prevent meaningful investigations of pre-9/11) — became the convenient hook on which to hang the total power-grab that we’re witnessing now.
So, yes, things are going to get much worse, and then worse still. The worst kind of ideologically-driven judges will be appointed, thus controlling the judiciary for decades to come. Roe v. Wade will be overturned. Laws regulating polluters will be relaxed. Bush’s huge tax-giveaways to the wealthy will be made permanent, thus ensuring there is not enough money for social programs to aid the poorer and middle-class elements in society. Corporations will be turned free to pillage the economy even more; greed will be enshrined as the new deity. What public programs can be privatized will be privatized. Many union protections will disappear. Key aspects of Medicare and Social Security will be diluted. Etc. Etc.
I’m not making this stuff up. These are on the agenda, openly talked about in GOP circles. These will be the effects of Bush&Co. policies for the next two years — the Administration began acting in this reprehensible manner mere weeks after Nov. 5th, relaxing anti-pollution regulations in the Clean Air Act, re-nominating already-rejected HardRight judges, etc. — and, if nothing changes, for the next four years after that, and so on into the foreseeable future unless a true Opposition can educate the American populace and turn things around.
Miracles and Work
Now I suppose it’s possible that a miracle could occur. 1) Moderate GOP Senators Snowe and Specter and Chafee could see how extreme the Bush program is becoming and “do a Jeffords,” deserting the Republican party and moving over to the Independent side, which would put the Democrats back in control of the Senate. But don’t hold your breath; there are too many perqs that go with being part of the winning team.
2) Or, conceivably, some of the sleazy financial scandals and energy scandals could pop up to bite Bush and Cheney and White and the rest of the crew. But don’t count on it. Many of the investigators used to work for Kenneth Lay at Enron.
3) Or, as in so many other cases when one faction thinks it has total control of the situation, Bush&Co. in their arrogance and feeling of invulnerability could go way over the top and have to face a backlash of alarmed, angry middle-class Americans, bent on impeachment. Conceivably, it could happen if and when the full truth emerges about Bush&Co.’s pre-knowledge of the 9/11 attacks and doing nothing to prevent them. Again, don’t hold your breath.
So, it kinda looks like there isn’t going to be a deus ex machina resolution to this political drama. This being the case, how do we get to that political turnaround?
Well, friends, I suggest that two roads are diverging in the yellow woods, and we’re going to have to choose whether to keep walking on the bushpath and get swallowed up in a society that breeds further chaos and despair in its relentless move toward profits and power and imperial domination. Or whether to take the road less traveled, which requires action and courage in our attempt to move this country back toward the light, back toward hope and concern for our fellow citizens and for peace and diplomacy rather than imperial wars.
Which way we choose will make all the difference, not just to the future direction of the government, but how we feel about ourselves, as individuals and as a people.
The shadow forces are in the ascendancy and have begun to wreak havoc on the world, on our country. Unless we can devise intelligent, creative ways of stopping them, or at least slowing them down and moving our society back toward the light, we are in for a longer, colder, darker winter than needs to happen. That is our call, our mission, our destiny — if we are willing to join in that struggle.
In the coming days, we will, we all will, be speaking more about practical ways to turn this greed-and-power-and-war machine around. But for now, it is most important that we take some time to think deeply about where we want to go, as individuals and as a country, and start to position ourselves for right, and effective, action.
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. — co-editor of the new progressive website The Crisis Papers (http://www.crisispapers.org) — has taught American government and international relations at various universities, and was with the San Francisco Chronicle for nearly 20 years.