Published in The Moscow Times, May 20, 2005.
They keep going through the motions in Washington, much like the Roman Senate used to meet in solemn conclave and pretend that their flatulent oratory had some effect on the real engines of imperial power. Today, Congressional factions strive in fierce agon over profound Constitutional issues – filibusters, judicial review, church and state, executive privilege. Commentators knit their brows in sage analysis of these world-historical events, while activists choose their champions and drive them on with partisan heat. Yet none of it means a thing.
The U.S. Congress gave away its powers long ago to corporate interests and the almighty executive branch that every legislator secretly hopes to lead one day, Pentagon thunderbolts in hand. (Who would curb Caesar who might Caesar be?) This "degradation of the democratic dogma" has been the work of more than 50 years of bipartisan goonery, but it has now reached its nadir in the festering pit of blood and bile that is the Bush Regime.
American public life is now almost entirely a façade, a deadening – and deadly – sideshow: the multibillion-dollar electoral circuses, the increasingly frenzied "culture wars, the epic clash of interest groups across the media battlefields, the endless making, unmaking and remaking of laws. This non-signifying sound and fury merely obscures the ugly reality: that there are no effective restraints on the arbitrary exercise of power by the imperial court of George W. Bush.
He can wage aggressive war based on lies. He can order the assassination of anyone on earth, anywhere, at any time, without trial, without evidence, at his unchallengeable whim, as we've often detailed here. He can set up torture chambers all over the globe. He can dole out countless billions of public dollars to corporate cronies in no-bid contracts. There is no punishment for these crimes, no political price paid for this corruption, no genuine resistance at all to this rape of liberty from the very institutions and civic structures being ravaged.
What's more, a great many of "the people" also embrace – even celebrate – this brutal reality. It is not at all true, as some progressives would contend, that there is some kind of collective goodness in "just plain folks," some magical kernel of broad-minded, open-hearted, democratic wisdom just waiting to be tapped if only "the people" could be freed from the bedevilling lies of their wicked leaders. Most lies succeed because people want to believe them.
This is doubly true in politics. Not only history but also our own daily experience shows us that those in power (or those seeking power) routinely lie, shuffle, deceive and manipulate. Nothing they say can be taken simply on faith; it must be met with stringent skepticism, examined in the harshest light. This has proved true in every single human society, without fail, throughout all recorded time. Yet millions of people willingly, happily swallow the most blatant political lies at face value. They have no wish to be undeceived, and lose the illusions of their own specialness, their own righteousness, their exalted place in the world. If there must be violence to maintain this place, if someone out there must die, if someone must starve, if someone must wail, then so be it. If the truth convicts us, undermines us, discomforts us, then let the truth be changed. This is the unspoken credo of vast swathes of "the people." Leaders play upon this, they encourage it and prosper by it – but they don't create it out of whole cloth.
This literally unspeakable situation accounts for much of the strange hollowness and sense of dislocation that pervades political life today. Leaders can't possibly say what they really mean or tell the whole truth about their policies, which rest ultimately on violence, corruption, suffering and fear. Nor do their followers want to hear the truth. The pious masks required to hide such unmitigated greed for loot and power thus become more outlandish, more cartoonish. That's why the maskers (and the "just plain folks" who support them) strive ever more ruthlessly to suppress or discredit all dissent – they know that honest skepticism could destroy their ludicrous fraud.
In Iraq, for example, the war criminals of the Coalition cannot possibly admit that they are killing, torturing, and despoiling innocent people in order to maintain and extend their own geopolitical dominance. Bush cannot possibly say, "I tore the eyeballs from that little girl's skull, I churned that woman's entrails with steel splinters, I sodomized that teenage boy and smeared him with his own filth to make a few of my cronies rich and keep the rubes out there fat and happy with big cars, cheap gas and 37 different brands of corn chips" – although that's exactly what he's doing. He can't say, "We know Iraq posed no threat to us but we wanted to invade them anyway, so we 'fixed the facts and intelligence around the policy'" – although that's exactly what was revealed in the just-leaked "Downing Street memo," the record of a 2002 strategy session between Tony Blair and his advisers following top-level talks in Washington.
No, such undermining truths wouldn't do at all. Instead, we get first the implausible lies about WMD and now the laughable cant about a "noble mission" to bring democracy to the "dark places of the earth." This while Bush succors Islam Karimov even as the Uzbek despot massacres his own people and runs a regime several magnitudes worse than the factions recently overthrown – with copious U.S. assistance – in Georgia and Ukraine.
And so the imperial engines grind on, untouched, untroubled, unrestrained, churning the world's entrails behind the façade.
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