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October 7th, 2006
10:41 am
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A glum, dark prediction
I'd just like to take a few seconds here for a digression into politics.

Largely, I haven't said anything about politics lately because I've had other things on my plate. (This isn't to imply that politics isn't important. It's just that, as I once observed, there's no international crisis so major that it can't be interrupted by a small, stupid crisis close to home.)

This has been true even though one branch of my government has just debated and passed a bill that freaking legalizes torture and the indefinite disappearance of anyone the president considers a terrorist. Or perhaps even more true: After all, what the hell is there to say? How far have we fallen that Americans of good conscience have to specifically state, "I don't think our country should be legalizing torture and secret extrajudicial detention of suspected enemies"?

Ah, but now we have a scandal threatening to tear the GOP apart -- the whole Mark Foley sexual-pursuit-of-pages thing. Now that's worth my time to comment on!

... In a meta sort of way, anyhow. See, here's the thing. The nonstop Foley coverage has crystallized something that's been bouncing around in my head the last few weeks: I now have to say, with some regret, that I expect America as we know it to end within my lifetime.

I'm not sure what end is most likely. It might be a simple slide into coup, destruction of constitutional principle, and petty fascist dictatorship. A lasting shutdown of oil imports might spiral into anarchy. A power-mad president might lead a war of expansion, Germany-in-the-1930s-style, that ends up with the U.S. being defeated and invaded by whatever country is able to amass enough military force to fight back. Or that world war might end with nuclear holocaust. Maybe another Lincoln-era-style secession by Jesusland. Hell, maybe California walks into the ocean on December 12, 2012 and I get to drown before any of this goes down; all I'm trying to observe here is the big picture.

I really, really hope I'm wrong. Granted, the last time I said "I hope I'm wrong" -- as the currently fashionable-among-right-wingers "hindsight bias" fad reminds me to cite -- I went on to spotlessly predict our descent into Iraq madness, going 6 for 6* in my fears of clusterfuck.

Back then, I didn't see my fears as an inevitability, just as the outcome the evidence favored. Today, I don't think America is inevitably dead -- but I don't think anything as simple as a Democratic win in November will fix it. (Of course, if the GOP maintains control through 2008, I may have to revise my USA-death timeline up significantly.) There are deep problems with our culture and political system, deeper problems than fresh faces can fix. I don't think a swing left will bring us to where we can address these problems, merely the short-term ones. Democratic control can prevent Bush from dragging us down -- to be honest, I don't expect Bush to be the one to end America -- but I don't think Democratic control will fix the country.

So what does this have to do with Mark Foley?

It's simple. As far as I can tell, the public didn't care about the torture bill. This was such a flagrant attack on American principles that we should have seen streets full of protesters countrywide and worldwide. But Democratic politicians dithered in silence and finally tepidly voted against it, Republican politicians supported it almost to a man, and howls of outrage among the intellectual classes mostly preached to the choir. Meanwhile, just let one senator cyber a couple of teenagers, and suddenly the country's up in arms.

Although there's a political problem here (how could even the Democrats in the Senate only have a 75% anti-torture vote?!), that's not what's going to destroy America. The cultural problem -- which is to say, the public's laser focus on sexual scandal to the exclusion of, oh, everything else our leaders have bungled these 6 years (and, since it's not mentioned there, don't forget New Orleans) ...

... No, more than that, and simpler than that. When we have a public that doesn't care about torture but goes into hysterics about sexual immorality, the door is open. There is now literally nothing that can happen in Washington that the American public has shown it will give a fuck about, unless it happens to involve the diddling of Our Precious Children.

As a leftist with "I told you so" credibility stretching as far back as pre-Iraq War, I've sat and watched the current administration destroy piece after piece of the country I loved in its blind, partisan flailings. In 2004, I tried to tell myself that Bush's re-election didn't mean anything, that even though the public had shown a remarkable collective blindness to the failings of our Worst President Ever, we could ride out the next four years and let folks stay asleep.

But now it's come to torture, and if America hasn't woken up yet, it's going to sleep through the crash.

I'm not seeing any realistic method by which this trend can be turned around. At the very least, it would have to start with impeachment and war crimes trials. I'm not going to deny those might happen -- and, boy, would it be nice to ITMFA -- but America's problem isn't actually George W. Bush.

America's problem is that it's gotten the leadership it deserves.

* Possibly 5 for 6, if you want to argue how many deaths it takes to kill "lots of people," but that's still an impressive batting average.

Current Location: ~computer_desk
Current Mood: sadsad
Current Music: Radiohead, "Go To Sleep"

(32 comments | Leave a comment)

[User Picture]
Date:October 7th, 2006 01:52 pm (UTC)
Two quick answers: 1) There are some people behind the scenes who still give a damn, but the biggest problems is the perception that it's already over. It's just not getting any easier. Suffice to say, if we continue to have such shoddy leadership in the executive office, there will be a war...

The SS already exists in our military. I know this, because I have to work for them (they were appointed above me)...

[User Picture]
Date:October 8th, 2006 06:45 am (UTC)
> The SS already exists in our military

Personnel are a short-term problem. Culture is a long-term problem.

We can fix the first. (Hopefully, after November, at the very least, Rumsfeld will be getting the boot. This may inspire a shake-up of the upper ranks that cleans house enough to curb the damage done.) What is going to be significantly harder is to fix the fundamental American apathy toward governance; the right-wing propaganda machine turning increasing fascistic; the unraveling of our checks and balances; etc.; that have allowed the personnel problem to occur in the first place.
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Date:October 7th, 2006 02:35 pm (UTC)
Sexual doings are a hook. People can conceive of it easier than what's happening somewhere to dissimilar strangers. The idea of argueing legalese for the sake of some prisoners doesn't grab Americans as possible, even if they think of it as good; the idea of coming down on a representative for sexual misconduct not only seems more accessible, but has a certain amount of vindictive glee to it (watching the unassailable flail and fall).

The media knows this, and would build this up at the best of times, even more so when it is expedient to do so.
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Date:October 8th, 2006 12:22 am (UTC)
This. It's also far simpler to be able to point to the corruption and selfishness of the Republican administration with something mentally accessible as a backdrop. The complaints that can be lodged against the GOP based on their conduct relating to Foley are a perfect parallel to what can be said about how they handled Iraq. But since most people know 16-year-old boys and very few people know Iraqis, it changes the mental context for who's being screwed.
(Deleted comment)
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Date:October 8th, 2006 06:33 am (UTC)
The United States being alone among industrialized nations in not providing guaranteed health care to all its citizens is the single biggest reason I couldn't stomach staying with the Libertarian party.

Uniquely American issues like the growing disappearance of the middle class, the virtual destruction of the minimum wage, and attacks on Social Security are making me increasingly ashamed to have ever supported them.

(This is not to ignore things like the infiltration of the government by the Religious Right. But that's a different topic.)
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Date:October 7th, 2006 03:29 pm (UTC)
*nods* As depressing as it is, if America can ignore the passing of these kinds of laws, American culture is going the way of Iraqi culture. Or even Nazi culture. I see the signs - the directing of fear at a minority (and terrorists are a minority. You're not going to find a (to make a straw man of Bushes bogeyman) turbaned, AK-74 wielding, ranting terrorist under every bed. They're a minority.), I see disturbing echoes of libenstraum in the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. As a matter of personal opinion, the Republican government is almost as right on the political spectrum as the Nazi party. The only thing I'm missing is a reason - Hitler came to power for good reasons, even if his policies were utterly reprehensible. However, America was in good shape when Bush first came to power (even though he didn't technically win, but that's been talked to death several times over.), so why did he win his first election, even after proving his unsuitability to lead? I think, IMO of course, that it's the disturbing tendency in America to ignore politics. I'm seeing the same thing over here - that politics have no effect on everyday life, that politicians are stupid and ineffective, that discussing it is boring. It troubles me deeply - isn't it a lack of oversight on the part of the public that lets laws like this through?
[User Picture]
Date:October 8th, 2006 06:27 am (UTC)
It's partly the attitude that you describe, and it's partly the cynicism that says that there's no point to voting in The Other Guys because all politicians are equally bad.

But mostly, it's the attitude you describe. People just can't work up the intellectual energy to understand when the basic principles they value about their country are at risk. (That's the charitable explanation -- as opposed to "people don't cherish not-torturing as an American value" -- but I'm sticking to it.)
[User Picture]
Date:October 7th, 2006 05:13 pm (UTC)
Hey, if you decide you need to run for the border, let us know so we can tag-team you on your way north? Assuming you want to run north; south might be a better deal for you, especially when IF they close the state borders.

In my ideal revolution, Washington, Oregon, and California take advantage of the national chaos to ceceede (sp??) and join western Canada, Alaska, Hawaii, and Baja California, to create the United States of Cascadia. Not only do we have all the natural resources, we also have all the movie stars and we have all the fun too, bitches.

... I know, it's not going to happen that way... I can wish. :P
[User Picture]
Date:October 7th, 2006 11:44 pm (UTC)
What does TL;DR mean?
[User Picture]
Date:October 7th, 2006 05:16 pm (UTC)

I am more afraid of our president than I am of the terrorists.

The possibility of a Democractic win in 2008 would be overly optimistic considering Diebold's ability to control the elections. (And that alone should make people furious.)

About a half century ago, President Eisenhower predicted (with what is in hindsight alarming accuracy) that letting the military-industrial complex get out of control would destroy everything America stood for.

The current war in Iraq is not about freedom or oil, it's about money. We have the best politicians money can buy. Lobbyists and PACs donate a few million to our elected officials, and in return get billion-dollar contracts, paid for by the American taxpayer. It's an investment that gets an obscene return, more than any stock or mutual fund.

So given our elected officials' choice between accepting six figures from a defense contractor to do their bidding, where the only possible accountability they have is to be voted out next term (at which point they take their golden parachute and retire), or not take the money and actually listen to what their constituents want, well, that's not really a hard choice, is it?

Meanwhile, back at home, the Walmartization of America continues while right-wing propaganda machine FOX News continues to deceive the general public. Because it isn't a crime to lie to the American public.
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Date:October 8th, 2006 06:11 am (UTC)


Agreed on all points, although I have hope Diebold doesn't have quite enough power to swing this year's elections their way.

The reason the last two presidential elections were vulnerable is because the electoral vote system let them take control of just a few chokepoints (Ohio, Florida), and subtle nudges to those would have an influence nationwide. But Diebold can set Ohio to 100% GOP, and except for Mike DeWine keeping his seat, that doesn't have a drop of influence in 2006 on the dozens of races across the nation where their machines aren't in place.

If the Democratic tidal wave is large enough -- and, now that Foley and Hastert are getting raked across the coals, it just might be -- it's possible all Diebold can do is prevent a few bruises.

> it isn't a crime to lie to the American public.

To the contrary, it seems pretty rewarding on all fronts. And this is one of the things that most strongly supports my prediction.
[User Picture]
Date:October 7th, 2006 05:26 pm (UTC)

I agree with you.

Bax, I am sorry to say I agree with you. I've felt this way about the U.S.A. since 1995, when it took a Canadian author - Margaret Atwood - to show me what my country and people were capable of. We are fundamentally no different as a people than the Germans were in the 1930s and 40s. The same kind of madness can sweep through the American people.

As Kady can tell you, when I read The Handmaid's Tale, my whole political perspective crystallized. That was when I began to realize that I had to find a way out of the U.S., and started to look north, to Canada, for my salvation, because if this country descends into totalitarianism (which I think is likely), or even breaks up (because the U.S. civil war didn't really settle the issue of secession, only postponed it), people like me - gay, leftist, agnostic/pagan, nonconformist - will be first up against the wall. It was, after all, the Jews who saw what was coming and got the hell out of Germany that survived World War II.

Paranoia? Sure. But IMHO, a healthy paranoia. The events of the last 5 years have only made me feel even more right about what's coming.

[User Picture]
Date:October 8th, 2006 06:01 am (UTC)

Re: I agree with you.

Totally understood, especially wrt the "events of the last 5 years."

I'm feeling a lot better right now about the near future than I have in a long time. The 2004 elections were a pretty crushing disappointment, but in the context of history, it's becoming more clear that the momentum that gave me hope for them has done nothing but build; this may just be the year they explode.

But as much as the near future seems like a ray of sunlight breaking through the clouds, the deeper trends are making me start to think this is the eye of the hurricane.
[User Picture]
Date:October 7th, 2006 08:44 pm (UTC)
Urk. I've been feeling this way since at least the first Gulf War. Hell, it seems like the American public tuned out in 1980.
Date:October 7th, 2006 08:57 pm (UTC)


Problem is, skimming the bill, I don't see where it is that it does legalize forms of torture. Not that I consider it improbable that a bill that did that would be passed. I do see the redaction of habeas corpus for aliens who are "enemy combatants", and I can easily see how the definitions of "enemy combatant" and "unlawful enemy combatant" could (and most likely will) be abused, as they have an unpleasant tendency to centralize power in the military and in the executive branch. Where does it say that those people are permitted to be tortured, though?

Maybe I just missed that part…

[User Picture]
Date:October 8th, 2006 12:02 am (UTC)
Here's a more thorough discussion of it. Torture, to be sure, doesn't seem like the main point of the bill -- suspending habeas corpus, etc., are far more blatant and troublesome -- but (to use the wording of one of my commenters above), as long as the bill does give a free pass to torture techniques such as waterboarding, it's a hook.
[User Picture]
Date:October 8th, 2006 12:23 am (UTC)
And I'm not writing this country off until the courts fall into lockstep.
[User Picture]
Date:October 8th, 2006 05:54 am (UTC)
While the courts are still sane, America is safe from laws that would destroy it. Not all of the scenarios that I'm worried about are ones that would be stopped by judicial oversight.

Beyond that ... I think you're right in that the most likely scenario is simple executive/legislative overreach, and the remaining shreds of checks and balances are still enough to keep that from happening in the short term. But. Without knowing just how long, and how lasting, the current swing left is going to be, it's hard for me to have faith the courts can protect us much beyond the next presidential term or two.

Keep in mind that Hamdan v. Rumsfeld -- a necessary and basically sane decision -- was decided 5-4. (Technically 5-3, but Roberts recused himself exactly because he had voted against Hamdan in a lower court.) The aging court is just one member from becoming a majority of presidential cheerleaders. It's still an open question whether the Democrats will be able to retake the Senate this year (though I'm a lot more optimistic about that than I was in 2004), and I don't doubt Frist's GOP would pull the trigger of the nuclear option if it let them cement control of the courts.
[User Picture]
Date:October 8th, 2006 03:54 pm (UTC)
I don't have a solid one-two-three logical progression or bulleted list to support myself, here. I have 26 years of observation and countless facts and history references squirreled away so far in the back of my head that the fuzzy pattern-matching becomes considered intuition. But I agree with you. And I've always thought that. I've always thought a lot of specific, pessimistic things on the national scale. I intuited as a freshman comp sci major when the IT boom was going to bust and not listening to full-fledged professors tell me I ought to quit school and grab a money job because I already had the skills four years of a degree was supposed to give me. I figured that was a fluke, but there have been other cases, and I saw the current political climate clearly on sept 12, 2001, so I figure I've got a good chance of being right again.

I refuse to become a complete survivalist nutjob over it or live extravagantly thinking the time I can do that is running out. I do plan on leaving the country, still, in more solid, long-term feasible plans than "wah run to Canadia", and that, for now, is about all I can do.

I'm not really sure what the point of bothering to comment in detail is, but I did just want to say that as a fellow observant not-complete-nutjob, I agree with you.
[User Picture]
Date:October 9th, 2006 02:28 am (UTC)
Back in the 1990s -- it's embarrassing to admit this, but necessary -- I actually earnestly thought that Bill Clinton might attempt a military coup if he were voted out of office.

'Strue. Fear breeds myopia.

As such, I agree -- it's important to take a not-nutjob view of the near future. Yes, Bush has been systematically destroying the country's political foundations; and yes, he's demonstrably worse than Bill Clinton ever was; but we never were at the point where a flat-out power grab would pass by the American people, and I don't think we're near it yet. If it was going to happen at any time, it would have been during the 90%-approval moment of late 2001; now that the GOP is in such dire public-opinion straits, I don't think there's any immediate danger.

There is a very real long-term threat. Laying the foundation of solid plans now just strikes me as wise. But I like your take on it. This is a time for quiet action, not panic.
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