Friday, July 6, 2007

Red, Off-White, and Blue

Independence Day having recently come and gone, what better time to bring up politics?

(Don't worry, I'll keep things a bit more readably succinct this time. Being new to the whole public blogging game, I'm still in that stage where I feel out just how to best approach my regular posts in terms of length and style. I know I'm in no position to ask you to bear with me here, given that there's millions of other alternatives out there in the "blogosphere" (I feel dirty using that word.), but I'm going to have to ask you to do just that, dear invisible/nonexistent readers.)

So yeah, when you get down to it, just what is Independence Day? A celebration of centuries of sweet sweet democracy and freedom (Ignoring all the racism, misogyny, and general bigotry that has punctuated much of American history.), wherein explosions take center stage? Or a sad exercise in commemorating our past-tense freedoms and democracy that the nation had at one point stood for? These days, it's looking more like the former than the latter.

At this point, we may as well light some incense and leave some flowers by the political branches and their now-deceased system of checks and balances. There was a time, as we can all recall, when we could count on Congress to actually step in and stop the Executive Branch from stomping all over things we used to value - Civil Rights and so forth - but these days? Not so much. Signing Statements, Executive Orders, there's really not much stopping Bush from declaring himself Dictator-for-Life. Save for that perhaps Dick Cheney's more interested in claiming that title for himself, now that the office of the Vice President apparently isn't a part of the Executive Branch (Despite his fondness of claiming Executive Privilege whenever possible. "I'm eatin' those puppies! Executive Privilege!" C'mon, you know you were thinking it too.), nor the Legislative Branch when it simply suits him.

When he's not duking it out with Batman or avoiding any sort of accountability in being anything but in actual public servant, Dick Cheney's finding his own shady ways of classifying documents - even those that hardly need classifying - bringing this administration a lack of transparency that's rather disturbing. Of course, this is a man who keeps man-sized safes in his office, as Jon Stewart revealed in a "You Don't Know Dick" segment on The Daily Show last week. But despite the secrecy mania he's spearheading at the White House, no matter how you look at it, there's no way those things are just hiding illicitly classified documents. Personally, I'd be using them to hide the bodies of my enemies. But then, I don't have any man-sized safes. Nor any enemies, really. Senator Patrick Leahy - whom Cheney himself had told to go fuck himself some years ago on the floor of Congress - has hit him with a subpoena. But will it make any difference? Probably not, given the administration's penchant for waving their hands and erasing any efforts to check their corruption with ease that puts even Harry Potter to shame. Case in point? The effective near-pardoning of Scooter Libby. And Bush hasn't ruled out a full pardon yet either. One needs not look even months ago to recall their simply brushing off efforts to get rid of Alberto "The Geneva Convention is quaint and outdated!" Gonzales.

Suffice to say, it's a scary time to be an American. (And this is merely speaking as a white middle-class male, no less. Things are even grimmer for women and minorities with the continuing attacks on women's rights - especially in regards to sexual health - and efforts to twist the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement in a recent ruling rolling back parts of Brown v. The Board of Education, a case that like Roe v. Wade, should be effectively untouchable.) The Bush administration has dismantled the system we've been so proud of for so long - despite its flaws - with the greatest of ease, consolidating a dangerous amount of power through dirty partisan politics. They played the American people for suckers, and they didn't even have to cheat us the second time around. All they had to do was bandy about bullshit about "supporting the troops," which is nothing more than an empty catchphrase now synonymous with "don't question the Republicans," despite that this Vietnam-esque quagmire of an occupation they've trapped us in has no happy ending. We can't bring back our dead men and women, nor the appalling numbers of innocent Iraqi civilians we've butchered over there. The administration isn't listening to the people, nor acting in their interests, despite the role of the government traditionally being to serve its people. The approval ratings say it all, frankly. But these are not people who've any regard for the interests of the American people anymore. And they likely did not to begin with, given how quick they were to abuse the support they received in the furor following September 11th. And how many people have looked back at the tragic series of events that day, and really wondered why it happened? What have we learned from it? Very little, it seems. And until partisan bickering ends - when at this rate, there's no sign of that - there's little hope.

For many, the election we have coming up in November 2008 represents hope, whether you're supporting Obama, Hillary, Paul, or any of the other candidates promising change. But will we really see that change? The Democrats won the Senate last November by a small margin, but it hasn't changed much. They took the House by a far more solid majority, and they've been trying to push progress in whatever ways they could. But the House alone can do very little. It's hard to say now the American people will react to this. Will we vote for third party candidates and perhaps bring in our first Green Party president? Not likely. Real democracy is choked by our two party system. So that leaves us with two options - keep voting Democrat and hope they can fulfill those promises, or switch parties like Canadians did not too long ago in response to Liberal Party corruption.

Best case scenario, we'll see the left get a real voice again and take the government back, and we could see a rise in respect for centrism in frustration with how much damage partisan politics has done to our country. But even then, the Supreme Court is firmly in the far right's grasp now. That presents a serious long-term dilemma for any future left-leaning administrations to reckon with. But it also provides an insanely solidified amount of power for the current administration. At best, we'll see a somewhat crippled left-leaning political force in power, at worst, a continuation further into near-authoritarian right-wing domination and oppression, down this path the Bush administration has set America on. The leading Republican candidates seem to be largely running on continuing the Bush administration legacy. If one of these guys wins, whether legitimately or by foul play - as this administration has shown they are not above on many occasions - America is in trouble. Cheating would not be hard to foresee, given that this administration certainly would not want to hand any Democrat or left-wing candidate the kind of power they've secured for themselves. Absolute worst case scenario, they could quite possibly simply suspend elections, after keeping us at terror alert red as they have for so long now, simply looking to frighten the American people into supporting them, as has been a long-standing tactic of theirs. That would easily cement an effective dictatorship. Far-fetched? Yes. But a lot of things they've done lately would seem pretty far-fetched if you'd suggested them years ago. At this point, all bets are off when it comes to just how low this administration will sink. And hence, the fear for the future that comes with being an American today - one who values things like Civil Rights, and dislikes xenophobia, anyway.

Don't let anyone scare or bully you into voting for them in 2008 by referencing the events of 9/11. Things need to change, and at this point, bringing it up in debate is nothing short of insulting. "9/11 changed everything?" All that's come out of it in the end is political abuse of the tragedy, which is a disservice to everyone who died that day and their surviving families. It's a cheap shot and nothing more. We could stand to learn the value of peace as a nation. A tragedy like that should have been an opportunity to come together in mourning and mutual acknowledgment of how little violence accomplishes. But instead, the violence-obsessed nation and culture we are, we rose up together in the name of vengeance. Instead of reexamining ourselves as Americans, and all that we associate with our national identity, we rose up to attack the first country the White House pointed their finger at. Afghanistan. I didn't oppose the war there, and it was certainly good that we removed the Taliban for power. But to what ends? We never caught Osama Bin Laden, and he seems to be a relatively low priority these days. It's better to have an uncatchable target and a vague enemy - such as a concept like terrorism - to declare never ending war upon. Another step towards becoming a simple military state. But what will happen as we continue to completely exhaust our military? Another unpredictable, complicated factor.

The Bush administration deftly used our anger following the September 11th attacks to further their own corrupt agenda. That, we now know. But the question remains - what can we do? It seems as though no matter what the American people call through, whether through legislation or activism, we cannot make a difference, and that our voice does not matter. The entire now-broken political system is a joke. So we simply give up and absorb ourselves in our escapist fantasy popular culture, the Hollywood Blockbusters, TV dramas and dumb comedies, and so much more. Our love of escapism pervades American culture today, at times to its detriment. But it provides the escape we need from the crippling depression of American politics today.

And so in the end, what is July 4th? Perhaps it's simply becoming a day of mourning, while we theatrically celebrate a besmirched legacy as though nothing's changed. We choke our arteries with the cholesterol of freedom, watch our war movies that celebrate our militaristic culture, and we never stop to question who we are, and where we're going as a nation. People interpret questioning as a character flaw, after all, as insecurity. We devalue questioning our actions and mistakes over stubbornly sticking to our guns. And this is where it's led us. The future is uncertain and grim. But all of us who know these things, all we can do is keep trying to do what little we can. What little hope this nation has may lie in a complete overthrow - a new American Revolution - to weed out corruption and fix the system. But America today is not a nation of incensed political revolutionaries, we're a nation of people disillusioned with and apathetic to politics today. It's all a game - no matter which team you vote for, you lose. So we absorb ourselves in our escapist popular culture, whatever we can do to distract ourselves from a darker reality and uncertain future and maintain some degree of peace of heart. What we lack today is moderation, having crossed the line between healthy and unhealthy escapism. Call our culture what you will - selfish, greedy, shallow, self-absorbed. These are all legitimate criticisms, we're a fucking mess. But when you look at where we are, and where we're headed, why we have such a culture and act in such a way makes sense. And it's heartbreaking. The American soul itself, in a manner of speaking, is dying. And very possibly the nation with it.

I'd like to end with some sort of hopeful, reassuring message, but it's far too complicated and uncertain to be able to say that everything will be okay in the end. There's a very good chance that it won't. So all I can ask is for all of you to simply hang in there. Do what you can to make this country - and this world - a better place. Even if you can't do much, don't stop trying, even if it's hopeless. It's the only shot we have at creating hope in this dark reality. Don't feel bad for enjoying escapist hobbies, movies, TV, video games, books, and virtually everything else. After all, these are things we still enjoy, and can be quite important to us as individuals. There's no such thing as a perfect society where we're all faceless cogs in a machine living in a workers' paradise. There is no utopia. But we've dug ourselves into a deep, dark hole as a nation. In and of that, all we can do is do what we can, and do our best, vague as these statements are. "What we can" and "our best," these are things that vary from individual to individual, after all. If America is ever to return to any of the beautiful but difficult ideals it stands for, it's a battle that individuals must first fight within themselves as people. And if there's ever to be any hope, this is a battle that must be won.

(Looks like this one turned out vastly longer than planned. The next one won't be so tough to get through, I promise.)

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