Monday, November 19, 2007

One More Cause for Alarm

. . . when you’re above the law, when you are the law, the phrase about the ends justifying the means has a real meaning . . . .If you felt that the state which you worshipped above your God was endangered by the life of one insignificant man, would hesitate to have him shot? . . . . That’s the danger of Fascism, of state-worship. It supposes . . . an egocentric unit. The idea of the state is not rooted in the masses, it is not of the people. It is an abstract, a God-idea, a psychic dung-hill raised to shore up an economic system that is no longer safe. When you’re on the top of that sort of dung-hill, it doesn’t matter whether the ends are in reality good or bad.
Eric Ambler,
Cause for Alarm (1938)

That quote above (from one of Mr. Ambler’s excellent spy novels of the 1930s) rang a bell in me and led me to ask whether or our country truly, really, seriously, not-playing-the-Hitler-card fallen under the dread shadow of fascism?

Like Mr. Ambler, I’m defining the concept pretty narrowly. Some years ago, I remarked to an office mate about how what passed for the Left in those days (and now) was “agin’ everythin’ and fer nothin’.” The officemate shot me a shriveling look of offense and piously sneered, “What are you? Some kind of fascist?” (Well, heavens to murgatroyd, ah sure don’t want to be accused of that, now do I? Ah, jus’ better shut mah mouth and sit on the QT, and keep my sorry-ass curiosity to myself!)

The word “fascism” has become so debased, it’s come to mean “anything I don’t like” and that can encompass a range of things too numerous for clever examples. Thanks to the debasement that politics brings to language (see George Orwell) fascist has become a lazy solipsistic catch-all slur, the bullet-word of a sort of red-necked leftism: “They’re all the same and you’re probably one of them too!”

Another assumption lurking behind the sneer: the anarchist’s seductive assumption that all power in all of its manifestation is always fundamentally evil, no matter the means, no matter the ends: in this flattened, sentimental Moral Universe, Franklin Roosevelt and Hitler occupy the same space, alongside Social Security and the Holocaust. (An interesting discussion for another interesting day.)

Still, after stripping away the pejorative angle, fascism describes something that actually exists in the human political universe, even though the best historians have a hard time pinning it down exactly. As Eric Ambler demonstrated himself to be sophisticated, thoughtful writer, I’ll take his definition and return to our question:

Is the United States, under the administration of President Richard B. Cheney, becoming a classically fascist state, say in the manner of the original fascisto Benito Mussolini? I have gleaned three or fours bits of evidence, but, for the sake of brevity, I’ll address this one:

Ladies and Gentleman, the President of the United States . . .
"... and those WMDs are wight inside my widdle head!"
(Photo from the White House website!)

The Cheney Administration believes, with transcendent consistency, that they have not, and are not at this time, making any mistakes.

This relates to Mr. Ambler’s notion of the “god-idea.” In a press conference of April 13, 2004, reporters asked President Cheney’s Chief Aide what he thought was his biggest mistake while serving in the Cheney Administration. The Aide, a famously inarticulate Connecticut native, was unable to answer with anymore than a practiced Texas drawl: “I wish you could have given me this written question ahead of time.” (I came up with several snarky responses to that, but, really, I’m dumbfounded this guy is allowed to negotiate with Vladimir Putin.)

Unidentified Cheney Aide on Interview for Next Job

The Aide was not the only one to see himself as floating in such an exquisite state of perfection. The website Think Progress, (Warning: I sometimes don’t) in its summary of responses to this question of Mistakes Made, reports former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez saying he couldn’t think of a single mistake he’d made during his six years in the Cheney White House. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice gave essentially the same answer in March 2007 when asked about the war in Iraq: “I don’t know.” Did she mean, “God, we’ve made so many, I don’t know where to start.”? Or is it more like, “What mistakes?” (Then again it could be “Don’t ask me! I just work here!”)

It’s been said by commentators smarter than this space that Cheney and his minions live in a bubble. Mash the word “bubble” together with Mr. Ambler’s “God-idea” and you get something called “The God Bubble.”

I dutifully resist blanket statements, but here’s one that I think can stand the historian’s test: All dictators live in the God Bubble. All those with a drive toward Absolute Power (I’m not counting the kid who just wants to be President—OK, a senator--someday), those laser-minded visionaries who see the humanity and the world as expendable clay, live in this bubble. They float contemptuously apart from the webbed and sticky reality of the world outside. The rest of us live with the consequences of both our own decisions and those of others, but those in the God Bubble see themselves as creators of reality, to paraphrase a former White House aide. The idea, the ideal is all that matters. It is the real reality. The rest is dross, including you and me.

They can never say “Ooops, sorry, screwed up” and change course. Their egos and their ideals are one and transcendent, so all decisions become final. If the scales do fall from their eyes, the God Bubble, pierced suddenly by sharp reality, bursts and down the dreamers fall like stone into the web with the rest of us. (As with people who lose their religion, it would probably drive some of them insane.).

The inhabitants of the God Bubble, I’m talking about, in fact, even seem to ignore the likely fate of their own Republican Party, sacrificing those who still support them in the bitter face of everything they’ve done. Their precious Theory of the Unitary Executive, an abstract idea (besides being inherently fascistic) that so flunks the test of reality and is causing bad consequences that are yet to be realized, matters more simply because of what it is: an Abstract Ideal. The Fate of the Nation be damned. It’s almost . . . treasonous. It’s certainly beyond impeachable.

It’s not pitiful and I don’t at all feel sorry for them, no matter how “sincere” their defenders and apologists claim they are. (Sincerity is an amoral quality, the province of monsters and saints alike; the Nazis were the epitome of it. Every single con artist I’ve ever dealt with oozed it like sap.) We choose our leaders in the rightful expectation that they’ll act like grown-ups, especially in matters of war and peace. The shock of the September 11 attacks was no license to experiment on the world with abstracts or an excuse to react like a squalling infant. We needed tough and cunning leadership, sure, but they also needed to be clear-headed, open-minded, cool, nimble and fiendishly skeptical.

Men and women who lived in the world as it is, not inside the God Bubble. History punishes inhabitants of the God Bubble always. It's time we the people punish them. Impeach the bastards. Now.

No comments: