Sunday, June 10, 2007

Cleaning up George's Mess—Part 11: The National Character

The last part of the Harper's Magazine article "Undoing Bush" is by Earl Shorris. This analysis of the damage Bush has done to "the national character" is the most disturbing of all, as it concludes that the Bush administration has a disposition to evil, and that the rest of us by keeping silent (or, worse, cheering) are complicit. The Bush people have fostered our descent toward evil by employing fear, and by banishing virtue. The Iraq war is the predominant feature of this decline.
"The war did not come about because of a political miscalculation or the misreading of an unavoidable accident. It is not an error. It is an ethical failure that has spread through every department of this administration, into the Congress, and down into the states."
As far as virtue goes, Shorris says that none of the preeminent virtues (courage, temperance, prudence, justice) can be found in the Bush Administration or Congress.
"Cutting taxes for the rich and adding billions to the national debt is not prudent. Leaving millions of people, many of them children, in dire poverty in the richest nation in the history of the world is not just. Silencing the press is not temperate, nor is secret surveillance of the citizenry. Failing to put an end to an unjust war because one is afraid, like the Democrats, of repercussions at the polls is anything but courageous."
This is chilling enough, but Shorris explains how we got ourselves into this mess.
"If there was a method for the accomplishment of the fall, it may have been the wish of the country to engage life at a distance, to think, as I am doing here, of grand issues, the works and minds of philosophers and fools, but not to engage a world where white bread is sold by the slice or a man must labor for an hour to earn a tomato. Distance is a means of managing fear."
We see this disengagement everywhere. Where is the willingness to help?

It gets worse.
"The fear that drives the government comes of the inescapable logic of history and self-regard: if we are good and we killed 140,000 people, maninly women and children, on a single morning in summer and soon thereafter repeated the act in Nagasaki as if to prove our willingness to engage in mass destruction, what can we expect of our enemies who are not good? If we responded to an attack on the World Trade Center by invading a country that had no part in the attack and we are good, what can we expect of our enemies who are not good? We are not gods. We have no sense of atonement."
How will we ever recover? As a nation, as a people, and as individuals we need to understand that the actions of the Bush administration, in which we all have been complicit, have been wrong. As Shorris says, we need to understand that "a disposition to evil is not a resolution of fear." What Bush has done will do nothing to end fear. It's only getting worse. But understanding this will be the first step back to virtue.

No comments: