Wouldn’t it be nice if some great man would come along, wave a magic wand and make it all better? Anyone over the age of 60 must yearn for the Golden Age of A&W drive-ins, carhops, two tone Chevy Nomads and gas for 29 cents/gallon. Heaven in Suburbia: A new car every two years, a shiny new tract home at a reasonable rate of interest, Mom with her flowered apron in the kitchen, and Elvis Presley on Ed Sullivan. Yes, the good life of the American dream.
Was it all a dream? It certainly was a beautiful illusion obscuring reality. When thinking about the 1950s, it sure is easy to forget the McCarthy witch-hunts for commies, the war in Korea, mutual assured destruction, the social injustices overcome by civil disobedience and a 1954 Supreme Court ruling. In our memory, those years had as many happy endings as the Wonderful World of Disney.
The Cuban missile crisis, the assassination of President Kennedy, and the first televised carnage, Vietnam, shook awake the nation from its post war dream. Scandals ranging from Watergate and Iran-Contra to Clinton-Lewinsky exposed the real Wizards of Oz who were not kindly old men. But even these memories have begun to recede. The last two decades of the Twentieth Century were good for business and even better for illusion-hungry Americans.
Six-and-a-half years ago, the curtain of illusion was ripped away exposing the ugly underbelly of The State.
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September 11, 2001 was not a New Pearl Harbor. It has a salience all its own. In 1941, when the U.S. was attacked by Imperial Japan, Americans united behind their government against an easily identifiable enemy. In 2001, the US was caught by surprise and attacked by a group of radical terrorists. In 2001, the enemy was not so simple to define as in 1941.
In 1941, President Roosevelt mobilized America to fight a world war. In 2001, the Bush/Cheney regime squandered the support of American citizens and the sympathy and good will of the world. Bush and Cheney have taken advantage of the tragedy for political and personal gain.
The events of the past six years need not be reiterated. However, their effect on the country needs to be examined.
We are a nation split in two by one stark reality. This fact stares us all right in the face and yet, so many of us refuse to or cannot see it.
The United States Government does not care one iota for the welfare of its citizens. That means you and me. At best, to the people in Washington DC, you and I are merely statistics. In the eyes of our elected officials and unelected bureaucrats, what is the welfare of one serf out of a population of 300 million when compared to the insatiable appetite of the military-industrial-complex?
When it comes to campaign contributions or lobbying skills, my family and yours can’t compete with the largesse and cunning of Halliburton or AIPAC, Lockheed or Boeing. We’re meaningless plebes of no significance.
The harsh reality of our government’s incompetence on 9/11 sent a shockwave felt across the US. Our government did not and could not protect us. American vulnerability was displayed on millions of television screens. All these years later, the horror of fireballs and collapsing towers is still difficult to bear. And men like Karl Rove and Rudolph Giuliani will continue to milk that horror for all it’s worth.
Instead of the Twin Towers, today, there stand two pillars of belief.
What are the two, equally irrational reactions that flourish among Americans? Both derive from American cognitive dissonance and inability to face the fact The State is not “of the people, by the people, for the people.” After 9/11, Americans have felt the need to lash out and hold someone accountable.
One pillar of belief is represented by the 9/11 Truth Movement. This group is led by scientists, scholars, amateur filmmakers and radio talk show hosts. They are convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that they know The Truth: 9/11 could only have been a federally-orchestrated inside job. The Truth Movement believes the American government to be totally evil and, therefore, to be entirely responsible. It’s the core of their explanation for events on 9/11. Incompetence and apathy never enter the equation.
The other pillar of belief is composed of dedicated, “with us or against us,” Bush supporters. In their view 9/11 must be the result of a massive Muslim Jihad to kill all the infidels in pursuit of world dominance. According to this view, America must annihilate them before they annihilate us. There is only one option on their table, victory through the total military destruction of Islam and the hasty dispatch of all 1.8 billion Muslims.
What do these two opposing views have in common? Adherents to either view desperately need to believe in a simple explanation. Regardless of the explanation on which they insist, both explanations deny the basic fact the Government is incompetent. At the same time it also absolves the faithful of any self-determination.
Have you ever noticed that a sure fire way to send a person into a foaming-at-the-mouth conniption fit is to threaten his or her set-in-stone beliefs? Just try to question supporters of either of the afore-mentioned camps. Any doubt you express is guaranteed to invite emotional rebuttals and angry condemnations. I ought to know. I’ve been dodging the slings and arrows of the outraged, from both camps, long enough.
As an op-ed columnist, my purpose is to ask questions in order to get readers to think. It is not my job either to tell people what they want to hear or to tell them what to think.
As it is, Americans can find plenty of voices out there that will be delighted to tell them what they want to hear. Such voices gather wide audiences of followers. As a result, the split between Americans grows wider. Demagogues gain fame and fatter pocket books at our expense.
It’s not my aim to be rich and famous. What I try to do is to say what I believe people need to hear even if it is not what they want to hear.
So, here goes: What I see today in America is disturbing. We have moved away from involvement in the governing of our country. Motivated by blind faith or de-motivated by cynicism and apathy, Americans have given up on self-governance. People do not bother to vote because they feel it won’t make any difference or they vote for an illusion of a promise.
Newspapers are on the decline as a source of information. Mega-mergers of media conglomerates have annihilated the independent newspaper. Few want to read anyway. They don’t have the time or inclination. So, Americans trust television “infotainment” and mistake it for factual news reporting. It’s so much easier. Television news has forsaken the responsible journalism of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite for glitz and glitter because… that is what boosts ratings… that is what sells advertising… that is what Americans want to see and hear… fluff and sensationalism.
With the development of the electronic mass media we have become stupefied, commercialized and easily hoodwinked. All the while we have trusted in the belief “it can’t happen here,” life will always be a playground and the State is always there to solve our problems, protect us… and take the blame for our own shortcomings.
Government entitlements and consumer orgies fueled by unlimited credit are more precious to us than our dignity. Hard work, high standards and honorable practices are things of the past. We have turned a blind eye to the world outside our borders preferring our own private Prozac World of identical outlet malls.
We have selected our highest leaders on the basis of imagined rather than real qualifications or character. Searching out qualifications would take too much time. We’re too busy, too apathetic and too sure tomorrow belongs to us.
No wonder we are poorly represented when we allow those with fewer qualifications for public office than America’s Next Top Idol to sit in the White House. Our elected officials seek only the perks of office… and we let them get away with it.
American foreign policy has been a disgrace since Woodrow Wilson abandoned the Founding Fathers’ warnings about intervention in European affairs. The smug belief that the U.S. has the moral right and duty to police the world has ended up in a stinking cell at Abu Ghraib and behind barbed wire at Guantanamo.
However, despite the distractions and illusions, we should know better. American citizens alone are responsible for America. It is time to get over the shock of 9/11, to face reality and to take charge of our lives.
It is long over-due to be daring and ask, “What have we been doing to make them hate us?” We must re-assess America’s role in the world. Decades of hypocritical meddling and pursuit of petrodollars in the Middle East have led us to the precipice.
Do we step off into oblivion or do we step back and regain our dignity?
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