UQ Wire: Manifest Destiny
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By David Podvin
Unaltered AP photograph of George W. Bush, taken at a fundraiser for Republican congressional candidate Bob Beauprez in Denver, Colorado September 27, 2002
American foreign policy is revisiting the most brutal period in our history. George W. Bush has resurrected the scourge of Manifest Destiny, a depraved philosophy that states we are morally compelled by God Almighty to kill weaker people and steal their land. There is no scriptural evidence that this is the covenant of Jehovah or Jesus or Mohammad or Buddha; the God whose will is now being carried out more closely resembles Attila the Hun. The stated desire for world domination has some observers comparing Bush to Adolf Hitler. It is a comparison that is entirely inappropriate - Hitler did not pretend to love the innocent civilians he was slaughtering.
On the home front, there is also an unwelcome blast from the past. As has happened so many times in American history, conservatives are expediently detecting the scent of treason in the air. The moon is full, and the blood is rising in the wolf. Right-wingers are now working themselves into the irrational, frenzied state that precedes the hunt, lustfully anticipating the carnage they are about to inflict. Yet again, conservatives are patriotically preparing to lay waste to their natural born prey: the evil ones amongst us who endanger this sacred land by failing to conform to the Lord’s fascist agenda.
Having fostered imperialism abroad and McCarthyism at home, and with the stock market teetering on the edge of collapse, Bush is closing in on a Trifecta for the ages. Add the fact that he previously prevented blacks from voting, throw in the current discrimination against citizens who physically resemble the enemy, and Bush has delivered a reprise of the worst of twentieth century America – all deftly compressed into less than two years
The Bush record is a logical extension of what happened in 2000. The theft of that election was not just a power grab – it was a policy statement by someone who has contempt for democracy and the rule of law. The inevitable result is the introduction of the Bush Doctrine. It declares that, while the United States would prefer to behave legally, "We will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self-defense by acting pre-emptively." The Bush Doctrine is the latest incarnation of the Manson Doctrine, which clearly states, “I reserve the right to kill you if I feel like it.”
This is not the best of America.
America at its best exports freedom and democracy, not death and destruction. One of the shining moments in our history occurred when the Marshall Plan rebuilt Europe, even the part of Europe that had just tried to kill us. After defeating our enemies, we fed them and then helped to create free societies in which they could thrive. As a result, we turned adversaries into allies. Contrast this approach with the current situation in Afghanistan, where Bush has replaced the Taliban with thugs of his own and left the peasants to fend for themselves - without food or shelter - by growing opium poppies.
America at its best allows people to read library books without having the Attorney General pass judgment on their selections, and go to museums without being monitored by FBI agents, and publicly demonstrate against government policy without being harassed.
The best of America is George Washington declining to become king because he preferred to live as an equal rather than rule as a sovereign. This stands in sharp contrast to the current George, who attempts to rule as a sovereign even though he fails to qualify as an equal.
The best of America is Abraham Lincoln imploring his countrymen to avoid war by listening to the better angels of their nature. It is quite different than imploring Congress to slash Medicare benefits for old Americans in order to help underwrite the cost of sending young Americans off to die.
The best of America is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., risking and ultimately sacrificing his own life so that others could be free at last. Personal sacrifice is alien to the man who now insists that our country pay a huge toll in blood and treasure to satiate the greed of his campaign contributors.
America is a great country when we follow the lead of great people.
And then there is the America that is led by George W. Bush. While the litany of ways in which Bush has disgraced our nation is seemingly endless, one example is especially compelling. Under Bush, self-proclaimed child of God, America is currently torturing foreign nationals who are suspected of committing terrorism. This return to the caves is cheered by the ruling class and their echoes in the mainstream media, who emphasize that our sadism is different than that of Torquemada and Idi Amin because we are the good guys. The conduct of the Bush administration must always be viewed through this prism, because merely looking at the facts as they exist would lead a moral person to some very troubling and socially unacceptable conclusions. The prevailing wisdom among America’s elite opinion makers is that torturing captured foes is an unpleasant but essential part of our noble fight against barbarism.
The dungeon also beckons indigenous enemies of the state. Bush is petitioning the courts to permit “coercive interrogations” of American citizens who are not even accused of terrorism. The current descent into totalitarian savagery qualifies as one of those many things that are questioned only by traitors.
There is an ongoing struggle between the good America and the bad. It was seen when Dalton Trumbo courageously imperiled his career by refusing to betray his friends before the House Un-American Activities Committee, while Ronald Reagan cravenly informed on law-abiding people in order to save his own skin. It is seen when Congressman Jim McDermott – who served with distinction in the United States Navy in Vietnam – desperately tries to avert an avoidable war because he doesn’t want innocent people on either side to die, while Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott – who served with distinction in the Hair Club For Men in Mississippi – enthusiastically advocates sending other people’s children off to lose their lives for Exxon Mobil.
To Bush and his followers, dissent is indistinguishable from treason. The concept of “freedom and justice for all” never really caught on with conservatives, who have always seen more virtue in “might makes right”. Their philosophy is, ironically enough, Darwinism in its purest form. Conservatives govern on the basis that a well-ordered social structure requires the powerful to strengthen their dominance over the weak. No matter how much Bush tries to pretty up this vulgar philosophy with his mangled rhetoric, compassionate conservatism can ultimately be distilled to its essence: “You do as I say, and no one gets hurt.” This applies equally to the people in the Middle East and the people in the Middle West. America is now being governed by Corleone family values, with Fredo calling the shots.
It has always been true that, when the commander-in-chief rings the war bell, many Americans start drooling. We depend on the personal honor of our leader not to abuse this Pavlovian power. If the occupant of the White House has no honor, then the lone superpower is vulnerable to fits of megalomania. The same ignorant philosophy that insisted, “What’s Good For General Motors Is Good For America” now gives us, “What’s Good For America Is Good For The World.” The world isn’t so sure, so it’s time to lock and load.
The war against terrorism is a worthy one; a good first step would be to get a competent commander-in-chief who prioritizes increasing national security over increasing the oil depreciation allowance. In any case, our greatest struggle is not with dictators or terrorists; it is an internal battle. Will we embrace the principles we constantly claim to cherish, or succumb to the base instincts that are so easily manipulated by demagogues?
Ultimately, the American people will decide whether war is better than peace and conformity is better than freedom. Bush can insist on creating Pax Americana, but he has not consolidated enough power – yet – to act in defiance of an aroused public. If the people of this country do not yearn for a world that exists only to increase the profits of oil companies and defense contractors, then we must take a stand. If we do not want to live in a nation where opposing perpetual war is an act of sedition, then we must register that view at the ballot box.
The crucial yet unspoken issue in the upcoming election is whether Manifest Destiny and McCarthyism were disasters that are best left to the dustbin of history, or whether they are blueprints for governing the United States in the twenty-first century. The Republicans have embraced Bush’s determination to build an empire in the name of all that is holy, while disdaining Benjamin Franklin’s admonition against trading essential liberty for temporary safety. The Democrats have shown no inclination to rule the world, and this alone is enough to make them virtuous by comparison.
The events of the past two years have clearly proven that, in contemporary politics, the lesser of two evils is significantly less evil. There is definitely more than a dime’s worth of difference between the two major political parties: one of them wants the government of the United States to forcefully eradicate dissent wherever it exists, and the other doesn’t.
On Election Day, Americans should reject the return of expansionism abroad and repression at home by voting for the congressional candidates of the Democratic Party.
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