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August 29
Partial Transcript, Abrams Report, April 5, 2005

This is an archive of blogs with Big Ideas.

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August 1, 2003
 
It's change-of-pace Friday. My web buddy Silvarti posted this on the Atlantic Online Politics and Society forum and graciously gave permission to repeat it here. So, take it over, Silvarti:
 
Preface: Yesterday Radio ie had a guy from the Ayn Rand institute who argued (against all evidence and all opposition) that corporations were an extention of American 'liberty.' I wrote an email in which I tried to show how corporations have supplanted (hijacked?) nation-states as primary political entities.
 
A corporation isn’t human. It has no fears, no dreams, no regrets and no hopes. It cannot be killed and therefore doesn’t fear death; it has no passion and therefore cannot be moved by love; it has no god and therefore has no faith; it has no meaning but the generation of profit and therefore excludes all meaning but its own.
 
From the maelstrom of Western civilization the US Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution arose as a philosophy and instrument of government.
 
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
 
Government is established among people to secure those rights for ‘all’ mankind. When corporations gain those human rights, yet by structure and function deny those rights to others, they act in a profoundly undemocratic and unamerican way.
 
Corporations act to promote the interests and rights of only those who work for and profit from the corporation; they act exactly as feudal domains acted in the Middle Ages. The peasants have power only insofar as they contribute to the well-being of the fiefdom; lack of productivity means exile from the essential needs the fiefdom offers in exchange for work. Meanwhile the barons and counts, their families and retainers, all live comfortably for generation after generation. Their only claim – in the middle ages – was the claim that God gave them the right.
 
When those aristocratic rights were overthrown by the American colonists, a new age of mankind arose. It arose with knowledge gained from the hundreds of years European experience: the religious wars, the wars of succession, civil wars and state or monarchial wars. From the suffering brought by the aristocracy upon the ordinary man, through both war and injustice, the US founders imagined, “a more perfect union” consecrated by “We the people.”
 
Where were the corporations at Valley Forge or Concord or Philadelphia when our progenitors pledged their sacred honor and their lives in this most noble and ennobling cause of “government ... from the consent of the governed.”?
 
They wrote the Constitution not for the recently born corporate aristocrats but for their posterity, “We the people.” They wrote the Constitution not for corporate profit taking but to “establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty.”
 
As Grover Norquist’s dream of drowning the government in a bathtub becomes so much closer to reality through the actions of the Bush Corporation, we might want to wonder the larger scheme.
 
What would take the place of a ‘drowned’ US government but a confederation of corporate states regulated not by the consent of the governed but by the edicts of the privileged and monied few. Indeed, that looks to be the goal of the Bush tax cuts – the substitution of rule by law with rule by corporations. The peasants during the middle ages were as free to abandon their homes and their liege’s domain as we, today, are to abandon the corporation for which we work. In doing so, we abandon our regular paycheck, our health care, our hopes for a better future, and – ultimately – the prospects for our families and our children.
 
How is this prospect better than the monarchical system our forefathers fought against? How is this a better for anyone but the latest batch of “barons and counts and their families and retainers?”
 
Corporations are as inimical to the American way as feudalism and its bastard daughter, fascism. -- Silvarti
 
Beautiful, huh?
 
Worth a Look: My web buddy stirling newberry has written some good articles on the Draft Wesley Clark web site. Check it out!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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July 31, 2003
 
American Apocalypse
 
George Monbiot wrote in Monday's Guardian:
The United States is no longer just a nation. It is now a religion. Its soldiers have entered Iraq to liberate its people not only from their dictator, their oil and their sovereignty, but also from their darkness. As George Bush told his troops on the day he announced victory: "Wherever you go, you carry a message of hope - a message that is ancient and ever new. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, 'To the captives, "come out," and to those in darkness, "be free".'" [Monbiot, "America Is a Religion," The Guardian, July 29, 1003]

One can argue (as Monbiot does in his article) that America has always been the Land of Religious Nutters, from the Pilgrims to the Mormons to Aimee Semple McPherson to Tammy Faye Bakker. But I think something new -- or relatively new -- is happening.

For example, this past week in Salon, Michelle Goldberg wrote about Bush worship among young Republicans:

Some attendees were driven by spiritual conviction that seamlessly encompassed faith in two messiahs, Jesus and Bush. For the true believers, Bush is a man of wonder-working powers. Jason Cole, a 22-year-old senior at the University of Iowa, grew enamored of Bush when he heard his earnest, simple talk of God during the 1999 presidential campaign. Cole says he has little interest in working in politics beyond the 2004 election. "I do it," he explained simply, "because I love President Bush."

If Bush and his successors remain in power for the next decade, Cole believes, we'll have a world "where leaders say what they mean and follow it up ... millions and millions will enjoy the freedoms that our forefathers fought for. Democracy will spread across the world. Iraq was a phenomenal start. In Africa, the United States is helping Liberia and giving AIDS relief. Soon, they'll be back on the economic track. People now living in squalor will experience a home-owning boom like that following World War II. Look at how Staten Island was developed ..."

The College Republican leadership echoed this pious optimism. Paul Gourley, the party's treasurer, is a chiseled, broad-shouldered 21-year-old from South Dakota. "I am religious, and my religious beliefs steer me towards this party," he says. Bush is somebody "students can identify with, somebody students can follow. His energy, his passion for America and freedom and his religious beliefs ... I think he's going to be one of history's great presidents. We're all honored to live during this presidency." [Goldberg, "Beautiful Young Shock Troops for Bush," Salon, July 28, 2003]

Stupifying, isn't it? And, truly, I cannot think of another American president who was worshiped like this. Lincoln was not a religious icon until after his death. People admired the Roosevelts and Eisenhower and JFK, but they also had a grand time making fun of them. Kennedy in particular was hazed by comedians relentlessly while he was in the White House. The hazing turned darker for Johnson and Nixon, because of Vietnam.

But even though conservatives took offense at barbs thrown at Nixon, they didn't worship him. Even in those long-ago, dark days when every other auto had an "America: Love It or Leave It" bumper sticker, and every matron in the land sported a rhinestone flag pin to show support for the President, I don't believe anyone would have been shunned for saying the President had chicken legs. (By now we've all heard about the singer banned from a Borders bookstore for saying "George Bush has chicken legs. He needs to pump some iron." [link]) Nixon looked damn peculiar. Even his admirers could see that. They didn't worship the guy.

Ronald Reagan may have been the first Divine President. He openly evoked the connection  between Communism and Satan that American religions had been preaching throughout the Cold War. In doing so, he became an icon of Christian America to the Religious Right to a degree not true of Eisenhower or Nixon or any other 20th century president.

According to historian Gary Wills, “… the Antichrist, took visible shape for these Christians in the Communist empire — which is why they were so excited when Ronald Reagan referred to that as “the Evil Empire” and “the focus of all evil in the world.” A leader who would recognize that was, for them, another sign.” [Wills, Under God: Religion and American Politics (Simon and Schuster, 1990), p. 150]

The Bush-worshipping Young Republicans are children of the Age of Reagan and no doubt see Bush as Reagan's rightful and God-appointed heir.

But that's only part of the picture. To see a larger part I recommend a book by Karen Armstrong, The Battle for God: A History of Fundamentalism. Armstrong makes clear that Christian fundamentalism is not an "old-time religion" at all, but is a movement that began in the late 19th century and evolved into a national political force in the 1970s. Fundamentalism today is splintered into several fragments, with multiple doctrines that would be baffling to the Apostles. Examples: Premillennialism and Christian Reconstruction.

"Fear is at the heart of fundamentalism," Armstrong writes. "The fear of losing yourself." This is true of Islamic fundamentalists like Osama bin Laden as well as our home-grown types. Liberals cherish tolerance, democracy, pluralism, and civil liberties; fundamentalists fear these values as weapons of  (their)annihilation.

…It is important to recognize that these theologies and ideologies are rooted in fear. The desire to define doctrines, erect barriers, establish borders, and segregate the faithful in a sacred enclave where the law is stringently observed springs from that terror of extinction which has made all fundamentalists, at once time or another, believe that the secularists were about to wipe them out. The modern world, which seems so exciting to a liberal, seems Godless, drained of meaning and even satanic to a fundamentalist. [Armstrong, The Battle for God (Ballantine, 2000), p. 368]

More progessive people, including progressive religious people, don't understand the fear. If John chooses to become a Buddhist, how does that threaten Mary, a Christian? Mary is still free to be a Christian. How does recognition of gay marriage threaten heterosexual marriage? How is a man and wife affected by what a gay couple is doing in private in another house down the street?

A wise person I know said that we all live in a box, and the walls of the box are made up of who we think we are and what we think the world is supposed to be. Anything that threatens the integrity of this box threatens us -- meaning our self-identity and whatever hegemony we subscribe to. This is true of everyone, to one degree or another. It's true of fundamentalists to an extreme degree.

The Fundie sees the Other ("Other" being anything that is not-Fundie) as something like the pod people in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. There is no such thing as peaceful co-existence. One must, eventually, vanquish and destroy the other in order to exist.

It is essential to see the fear of extinction underlying all fundamentalisms in order to understand fundamentalists. It is easy for someone who is not afraid of modernity to see that fundamentalism is a denial and betrayal of true "old-time religion." Fundamentalists preach exclusion, hatred, and often violence; in doing so they repudiate compassion, which is at the heart of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and the rest of the world's great religions.

It is self-evident to Fundies that it is righteous to hate the Other and to fight back against ideas and values that violate their hegemonies. You can quote the Sermon on the Mount or 1 Corinthians 13 at Christian Fundies until you turn purple. They will not understand what you are trying to tell them.

From the Christian fundamentalist point of view, a President who is part of the Other is illegitimate, even if he wins by a landslide. On the other hand, a President who is One of Them is annointed by God. This explains why so many cannot see how utterly incompetent the Bush Administration is. To perceive this incompetence would cause their universe to split apart.

Fear is the reason many Americans want to re-make the Middle East in our image (Goldberg describes "No Muslims = No Terrorists" bumper stickers). Fear is also the reason America will fail. Fundamentalist Muslims also fear the Other, especially western Christians. No matter how benevolent the Other may be, it will be feared, because in their minds the Other represents annihilation.

There are forces other than Christian fundamentalism in Bush's base. The neocons, for example, might be seen as political fundamentalists. Some of the Young Republicans in Goldberg's article may have little interest in religion, but they are seeped in the Fundie worldview and share the same fear.

Let's face it: The War on Terrorism has turned into the Mother of All Religious Wars. This is a war nobody can ever win.

The war on Saddam has made the U.S. less secure, say foreign-policy experts.

Herbert: Dying in Iraq

Copyright 2003, 2004 by Barbara O'Brien

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