A Letter to Incredulous Friends Around the World
November 3, 2004
I'm sorry. I really am.
I know it must be impossible for you to understand the choice the American public made on November 2.
It's almost impossible for me, too, and I've lived here all 46 years of my life.
Why would Americans choose, by a margin of more than 3,500,000 votes, to return George W. Bush to office after all that he's done?
After he pulled out of the Kyoto Accords?
After he trashed the ABM Treaty?
After he ignored more than 40 warnings about the looming danger of an attack by Osama bin Laden?
After he failed to capture bin Laden?
After he circulated false information about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction and Saddam's alleged links to bin Laden?
After he bullied the United Nations with slurs of irrelevancy?
After he violated the U.N. Charter by launching the Iraq War?
After he bungled the occupation of Iraq and dishonored America with the Abu Ghraib scandal?
After he promised billions of dollars to fight AIDS overseas and chose to fight condom use instead?
After the ranks of the uninsured at home rose to 45 million?
After he sided with the interests of huge corporations every step of the way?
After he was the first President to lose jobs in 70 years?
And after he redistributed wealth-to the top 1 percent of Americans?
Let me try to offer you an explanation, and then, perhaps, a ray or two of hope.
First, some brutal honesty: A large chunk of the public here doesn't give a damn about what anyone else around the world thinks about the United States. In fact, for many people here, it is a point of pride to ignore the wishes of the rest of the world. Bush played on this nativism by saying, "We don't need a permission slip from anyone" before defending the United States. In the post-9/11 era, this pitch was an especially effective one.
Deep in the psyche of the American mind is the myth of exceptionalism: that we, somehow, are the greatest country on Earth, a shining beacon on a hill, placed here by God himself. This is the American superiority complex, a profound affliction that distorts our perceptions and enables manipulative Presidents to give the marching orders.
Bush himself suffers from an aggravated case of this superiority complex. In fact, he has elevated it to national policy, a policy I call messianic militarism. He actually believes that God has placed him in the Oval Office. And he believes, as he put it earlier this year, "God is speaking through me." God evidently speaks the language of war.
An illustration: According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Bush told Palestinian negotiators, in that fleeting moment when he decided to involve himself in their issue, that God had told him to go to war against Afghanistan, and God had told him to go to war against Saddam Hussein, and now God was telling him to make peace between Israel and Palestine. (God must subsequently have told him to forget about it, because that's what Bush did.)
Another illustration: In his 2004 State of the Union address and in his acceptance speech at the Republican Convention, Bush used variations of the line: "We are delivering the gift of freedom to the people of Iraq. But it is not America's gift. It is the gift of God Almighty." Bush is delivering that gift by the bomb load right now.
Yet his invocation of the Almighty falls on receptive ears in the United States, one of the most fundamentalist countries in the world, as Noam Chomsky has noted. About 90 percent of the American public believe in God, and about 40 percent identify themselves as born-again Christian. Three quarters of the born-again Christians tend to vote Republican. This is Bush's base, and he and his political adviser, Karl Rove, did everything they could to expand that base and bring it to the polls on November 2.
That is why, in one of the debates, Bush signaled that he would appoint anti-abortion justices to the Supreme Court. That is why he came out for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, and why Rove engineered referendums in eleven states on the issue. In each state, the referendum banning same-sex marriage won by a lopsided margin.
These issues are a great distraction from the everyday concerns of working people. But it was magic for Bush, persuading people to vote against their material interests. In Ohio, Bush prevailed in the county with the greatest unemployment, even though his policies helped to create that unemployment. He was the boss who threw the workers onto the street, but the workers voted for him anyway. Their unemployment represents the revenge of empire upon its own citizens, but they saluted the emperor nonetheless.
The churches played a huge role in driving their followers to the polls. Never in modern American history have the churches intervened so blatantly in an election.
When people weren't getting the message in church, they were fed it intravenously by Rupert Murdoch's Fox TV and talk radio. This diet of misinformation was not good for the brain: A majority of Bush supporters said they still felt the war against Iraq was part of the war on terror, even after all the evidence showing no link between bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.
This is the geography of Bush's victory.
But despite all that, Bush won by only a small margin, with 55 million Americans voting to turn him out.
55 million Americans said no to the Iraq War.
55 million Americans said no to Abu Ghraib.
55 million Americans said no to Halliburton.
55 million Americans said yes to working with the rest of the world.
We are with you in your concern for human rights.
We are with you in your concern for the environment.
We are with you in opposing the Iraq War.
We are with you in abiding by the U.N. Charter.
And people here on the progressive side are trying to translate these commitments into power. The broadly defined liberal and leftwing community in America was more impassioned, more determined, more organized, and more united than I've ever seen it before. People here know the stakes. And as citizens of the empire, almost all progressives felt an obligation to consider the harm that Bush was doing to you, the victims and subjects of the empire, and so they redoubled their efforts.
It was not enough, not this time.
But the coalition of forces-unionists, civil rights groups, environmentalists, activists of all stripes, from the old school and from the Internet-will not disintegrate. It will continue to cohere.
And there's another good sign: The alternative media here is stronger than ever before, with "Democracy Now" and "Air America" reaching tens of millions of Americans on the airwaves.
Plus, we can now exchange our messages on commondreams.org and buzzflash and Truthout and MoveOn, thus giving us the capacity not only to communicate but organize instantaneously.
Media activism is also at an all time high, with a new mass movement tugging at the trunks of the conglomerates.
And a cultural insurrection is under way: from Michael Moore and John Sayles to Bruce Springsteen and Eminem and Margaret Cho and Jon Stewart.
We are finally getting our act together over here. We are finally getting our message out. And there is a seriousness of purpose, an urgency to regain power, that is amazing to behold.
No one is rolling over dead.
Like the Red Scare of the 1920s, like the McCarthy period of the 1950s, like the Nixon years and the Reagan years, this too will pass.
And so there will come a day when you and I alike can once again recite the line from Neruda, "America, I do not call your name without hope."
In peace and solidarity,