The following essay would be the lead of Vol. 11, No. 4 of A-Clue.Com if it were still an e-mail newsletter. Instead I’m now publishing it on this blog and offering it via RSS and e-mail links found on this blog’s main page. Enjoy.
Many people call this karma. I prefer to think my karma runs over your dogma, but it’s true. The seeds of your destruction are contained in how you rose to prominence.
In my own case the fall of my income is a direct reflection of its rise in the 1990s. I would much rather write than do anything else, even market myself. I hit a mother lode with Internet Commerce, which I fell into through my work as a business reporter, but when it played out I just drifted into writing about other things, heedless of what the market wanted or my connection to it. My bad.
Everyone knows those cautionary tales of celebrities whose rise was fueled by a drug-induced worldview, and then were felled by a drug overdose. Or the artists who became mere copyists of themselves, creating the same thing over-and-over until it killed them. Or the businessman who cut corners until he cut himself into jail, the ruthless who were ruthlessly put down, the socially conscious who drove their creations into a ground of good intentions.
Well, the same trend holds in American history. The way eras end reflect how they began. The same assumptions that began an era become over-used and destructive when a new era emerges.
- Jacksonian Democracy, north and south balanced by the west, ended when we ran out of west that could be balanced.
- Lincoln’s Union, the money power driving all before it, could not deal with the rise of unions, and became inherently corrupt.
- Teddy Roosevelt’s Progressivism, a system of incremental change, could not deal with Hoover’s Great Depression.
- FDR’s Thesis of Unity and liberal experimentation became disunity and chemical experimentation.
So it is today with the Nixon Thesis of Conflict. It was born in a search for enemies, both foreign and domestic. It triumphed with the Cold War, but is ill-equipped to deal with the rise of Political Islam, the challenge of China, or the need to save the planet from global warming and pollution.
In all the previous cases where a Political Thesis reached its sell-by date and a new Crisis came upon us as a result, there were fears that the whole system would fall. These were real fears, with a sound basis in fact. And it is amazing, in retrospect, how close we came, each time, to a system collapse.
In fact, each of these systems did collapse.
- The Civil War did destroy the united States which had previously existed, replacing it with a United states that had one policy, one ideology, and one system of laws.
- The Progressive era did destroy the corporate state which preceded it, creating a new system of checks and balances against corporate power.
- The New Deal did destroy this state in turn, moving the power center of the nation from New York to Washington, D.C.
- And the Nixon era has placed specific behavioral boundaries on all the American people, it has made government the perceived enemy, and it has made unquestioned Nationalism a central value.
(Sometimes we’re so unconscious about these things. The old Washington baseball teams were the Senators — the new one is the Nationals.)
In the current case, then, it should be no surprise that the Bush Administration practices secret government. It ignores all bounds on Presidential power. It threatens to make the President a King. The logical next step would be a coup of some sort, the imposition of direct martial law over some real or imagined crisis. It’s the only way to overcome the one remaining check on Bush’s power — the end of his term of office.
Is this a real threat? Is this mere paranoia? No, it’s not.
Is it the outcome I expect? No, it’s not.
The reason for that is the crises we have already faced. Each has made us stronger. Each has made us more conscious of the constant threats democracy faces, how precious our system is, and how important it is to maintain it. Each has given us great stories of courage, examples we can follow and emulate, forefathers and foremothers who implore us to do the right thing, no matter the risk.
My parents’ generation risked their lives under the FDR Thesis of Unity, and millions died, on beaches, in jungles, or face down in the snow. Tom Brokaw called them The Greatest Generation for a good reason.
What made them that way? It was their Capra-corn belief, fed by Hollywood, that they were heirs to a great legacy, one that was worth dieing for. And they were willing to die, every one of them, not just those who did but those who survived.
It is this wonderful, naive faith in America that George W. Bush has so horribly abused. By throwing away our great military men and women into a fight they were not trained to win, one that no nation has been able to win in the last 100 years, a war of occupation against the heirs of Earth’s Oldest Civilization, he has committed an enormous crime against history. And not just American history.
I utter this reminder quietly. There is no immunity for war crimes. Ever. There is no law you can pass, no wealth you can gather, nothing you can do, once you commit such a crime, that will absolve you before the ultimate bar of history. Bush still thinks he can get away with it. He can’t. Saddam Hussein thought he could get away with it, too.
Edmund O’Donnell (right) was born in 1898, and fought in World War I. He survived, married, and had a little girl. Then he died, in 1927, of kidney failure. There was, and is, no history of kidney disease in his family. But many of the chemical weapons used in World War I could have poisoned him. Or perhaps it was one of the many industrial chemicals he came back to work with.
He never knew his daughter. My mother has only vague memories of him, big strong hands holding her in the water. She was 4 when he passed.
After he died, local veterans gave the family a small metal plaque (below), with stakes, which they could place on his grave each year, and with a hole at the top for a small American flag. It stood by the home of my great-aunt, his sister, when she was forced to move west by ALS, from which she died at age 83.
I saw it when helping clear out the place, and brought it home. It now stands in my own garden, a visible reminder for my own son of what it took to get him here. In a few years he will be the same age his great-grandfather was when he went to War, and I’ll remind him here of that sacrifice, and the obligation it leaves all of us, to be willing to put our lives on the line, so that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the Earth.
That naive faith will roll over Bush like a steamroller, crushing him and all his works underneath, leaving only the lesson, of boundaries that must not be crossed, of crimes that must not be committed.
It is the ultimate weapon, and something to think hard on, as the crisis rushes toward us, as the gas rolled over the trenches toward my grandfather a century ago. We will stand strong. Because he did.