Been there, done that; now we’re creating a new reality.
by Jim Catano
From subverting the Constitution to debasing America’s international image to the point of disgrace, the Bush administration has caused many Americans to hang their heads in shame and despair. But ironically, “43” has done exactly what we needed and precisely what we deserved… a “gift from God,” if you will.
For the sake of full disclosure, I’m one of a growing corps of those best described as spiritual agnostics. We don’t see God as a guy in the sky who rewards or punishes humankind based on a set of principles that He (or She) makes up and puts down in print through a prophet or other medium and which we must obey to escape divine wrath. Instead, humankind is seen as part of and directly connected to the harmonies of the entire cosmos—making us as much “God” as anyone or anything else… part of the great web of life and active participants in the drama of all creation, interrelated and interdependent. It also makes me and everyone else responsible for the realities we create for ourselves out of the beliefs we hold in our heads and hearts.
If, in fact, this philosophy accurately describes how our lives play out, then we, the citizens of the United States, are not really the victims of Bush, Cheney and the other characters who’ve been calling the shots in Washington. Rather, we’re the creators of what we’ve just exper?ienced. The least we can do is try to figure out why we created it and how we can do better in the future.
Clearly, the mindset that has driven American politics and economics didn’t come into existence out of nothing. The reason we started acting like an empire is because, at a fundamental level, we believed we had to. We Yanks developed a fondness for material stuff early in our national experience. That appetite drove the westward expansion to secure new real estate for the goodies those lands could yield up. If previous occupants stood in the way, we assembled cavalries and armies to take care of the problem. Romantic literary and celluloid myths even arose to help us feel good about our efforts.
When the fuel to satisfy our ambitions shifted from hay to coal and then to petroleum, we adapted and went global with our empire in subtler but just as effective ways. We mounted secret forces to infiltrate foreign governments and displace and replace the leaders who couldn’t be bought or convinced to step aside. And from the Spanish American War to Iraq War II, we sometimes still roll out our military when the more economical covert actions fail to produce results.
In Iraq, however, we once again saw that the rest of the world doesn’t always kick back and let us to play out our agenda. We’ve encountered stiff opposition from those who find our involvement offensive either for religious reasons or due to their own nationalistic, regional or ethnic self-interests. And when the cost of direct conflict became too great, we tried a new tactic—buying off both sides in a civil war. That, of course, is the primary reason for the reduction in violence in Iraq in recent months despite what the salesmen for the troop surge wanted us to believe. And the Bush Administra?tion skillfully kept quiet how much it spent in its “Bribes for Peace” program.
But did George Bush really do anything we collectively didn’t want him to do? Of course not. He’s the manifestation of our own desire for unlimited material prosperity fueled by cheap fossil fuels and the other resources that make our lives comfortable despite all the negative impact on the rest of humanity and on the global environment. Yes, besides doing us the great favor of showing us just how bad we can become as a people when we act out of fear, W did exactly what we wanted him to do. We even allowed ourselves to be conned into thinking our involvement in Iraq was something else (like bringing democracy to an oppressed people, fighting terrorism or eliminating dangerous dictators and weapons) when we knew all along… perhaps just subconsciously… that it wasn’t.
Yes, we the people are the “gods” of the American adventure in Iraq and its outcome, and most of us who realize that are just as responsible as those few who cling to the belief that our nation is on some kind of a selfless, righteous errand.
The inauguration of Barack Obama may usher in a new era in American life. Those who supported him hope he’ll deliver on the promise to put diplomacy first and to re-earn the respect of the world. Some of us are even optimistic that the economic crisis can teach us that we can all live on less “stuff” and inspire society to fuel itself on cleaner, renewable resources rather than burning up our planet’s innards which are both running out and perilously warming it.
If we can pull all of that off, we’ll indeed be the gods of our own salvation. If not, we may prove to be the gods of our own destruction. Either way, we’ll be the creators of our future, and we’ll absolutely deserve the reality we create for ourselves. Whatever happens, we can thank God for it.
Jim Catano is a freelance editor and writer living in Salt Lake City.