Thursday, May 18, 2006

After the Riots

"There are none so blind as those who will not see." (An excellent phrase to Google, by the way.)

I begin to see Sen. Arlen Specter as a straw man, personified. It' s been a roller coaster for many months. Sometimes, he seems riled up, ready to fight Bush on behalf of ordinary citizens, uneasy with the concentration of power, determined to provide Constitutional oversight to the NSA wiretapping, the CIA renditions, the military police torture, and all the other outrages to human dignity and individual rights being perpetrated by our leaders, in our names.

But on other days, Specter is quiet, like when he refused to swear Gonzales in for testimony before the Judiciary Committee, very clearly leaving room for lies, not under oath.

And then it hit me: Specter is playing the bad cop role to Bush's good cop. Specter has no intention of ever actually leading the Senate to exertions of power. He has no intention of checking the president, or undermining the Roberts/Alito judicial interpretation of unitary executive. Specter is there like the recent Congressional briefings on wiretapping are there - to symbolically blow off public steam, to give citizens the illusion of accountability, with no need for the substance.

And when it hit me, another thought bubbled up, about the frustrated messages I pick up, here there and everywhere - "Why aren't more Americans out in the streets? Why don't they see what's going on and do something?" The wall is approaching so fast, the concentration camps are being built right under our noses, the legal protections are all gone, already. Any one of us, American citizens and non-citizens alike, can be spirited out of our homes at any time, sent to a gulag in Eastern Europe, tortured until the end of our days, with nary a peep from so many leaders and so many sheep.

It's a character flaw. The same bubbling optimism that makes Americans so appealing, personally, to so many around the world, renders so many of us willfully blind to what's happening.

We can't live in a country that tortures, and imprisons without trial. We're all about freedom and dignity!

We can't live in a country ruled by a dictator, installed by two fraudulent elections and propped up by a corrupt judicial system. We're all about one man, one vote!

We can't have betrayed the promise of our founders, and lost the Constitution that was to preserve our liberties from power-mad usurpers. We're all about spreading democracy to the unwashed masses of the world!

So I ponder the willful blindness driving the polls that ignore the practical failures of universal surveillance to say "Go ahead, spy on us if it'll keep us safe," and I ponder the bad-cop game Specter is playing, with his Greek chorus of other Senators and Representatives, and I look to Ted Rall's recent essay, at Common Dreams:

"Even if you trust this government, however, there is no way to know what form of government will rule this country in the future. Someday, and this is certain, a revolution or civil disturbance or invasion will topple the system created by the Founding Fathers in 1787. Some successor regime, run by people you don't know and may not like (and more to the point may not like you), will inherit the security apparatus currently being put into place." http://www.commondreams.org/views06/0517-21.htm

I look to Christopher Cooper's insightful take on it too: "Two out of three Americans, polls show, are out to lunch, asleep at the switch, ignorant of history, and likely to be very surprised and very unhappy when the knock in the night comes for them, rather than for the Jew in the ghetto, the Arab in the city, the wetback, the uppity black, the bums in the streets, the agitators, the misfits, the problem children. It was long ago and it was far away, and for some of you it hit before your mother was born, but it was Four Dead In Ohio, and America was killing its own right here at home, and too little too late, but we once threw out a bad president and a corrupt administration. Those guys were bad. These guys are worse."

I ponder the upheaval all over the world - not only the people, but the migrating birds with their avian flu, the drowning polar bears, the beached whales, the scurrying furry beasts who knew about the tsunami and made it to higher ground long before their human cohabitants. And I think that the days of this American experiment can be numbered in the dozens, hundreds at most.

So I find myself increasingly wondering, not only whether the overthrow will be internal or through invasion, but what will come afterward. I like what the Argentines did.

And I dream of the best-case scenario. A giant spontaneous peaceful march to Washington, to relieve the puppets of their positions. A mushrooming of tent cities and picnics in parks, where we all roast marshmallows and hotdogs, and talk about what we want to try next.

"Whew. That was fun," we'll say. "A little scary at the end there. But an excellent founding Constitution. 200-years of fantastic case law. A few brilliant opinions by a few brilliant justices. Sure, there were some built-in flaws. Slavery was very, very bad, and institutional racism isn't much of an improvement. The corporation-as-person idea we should definitely scrap. But all in all, we did slowly expand freedoms for lots of people. We did attract the best and brightest from all over the world. By and large, we did mix everybody together, not without some violence, but not a total failure by any stretch."

Sometimes I have foreshadowing visions of a hopefully-not-to-distant evening, where I'm lying on the grass under some huge trees that no one intends to cut down for lumber or pulp, looking up at the stars through clean, clear air. And the weight of the oppression on so many of our people, and so many more of the world's people, has lifted. We've all somehow become part of a cohesive group that stretches all around the world and is finally making choices for food, and shelter, and reciprocal care, founded in love, not fear. We're agape with mutual respect. It feels so good, the cool grass, the soft night air, the starlight in my eyes, and the blood finally washing clean from all our hands.

But to get there, from here, our characteristic optimism will have to undergo a far-reaching humiliation, a humbling, and a grieving for the loss of might and hubris. What form will that take? Will we be wise enough, understand enough to go through such humbling and grief deliberately, with reflection, until we emerge from the other side, sober and connected? Will we see that there is no way out but to go further in? Or will we deny humility, or transform its message into a call for aggression, and fail again, and lose another ripening chance?


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