England is a land with a long sad history of brutal, stupid, and outright crazy kings, so it’s not perhaps unusual that a Brit should see more clearly than we do how monarchical George Bush has made America. Last week in the Nation, Simon Prentis laid it on the line.
To those of us here in Britain, there is an Orwellian edge to the news that George Bush is invoking executive privilege to protect his policies from Congressional investigation. Just like that scene in Animal Farm, when the newly liberated animals start to believe that some are more equal than others, it sounds like the President of the United States has reverted to the divine right of kings.
Actually, it’s more like the divine right of emperors but why quibble. The supposed divinity of emperors rests on the supposed divinity of kings, one simply an extension of the other. Prentis’ basic point is dead on: while the corporatocracy and its conservative handmaidens want to return America to the Glory Days of the Robber Barons after the Civil War, Bush and his right-wing enablers have pushed the clock even further back – to before the Revolution, before Washington and Jefferson and Adams, when America was ruled by a monarch who threw people in jail whenever he felt like it for any reason or no reason at all, when the Colonies were vassals of an unstable, very sick king (porphyry, they say, which afflicts its sufferers with fits that resemble insanity not a little) and who had no political representation and were subject to arbitrary punishments and ludicrous laws.
For some reason, we still, 230 years later, have Tories – monarchists – in our midst, and two of them are running the country. Prentis asks, “Wasn’t that something you guys fought so hard to escape from?” and the ironic echo of the question bounces between the walls of conscience like the condemnation of a friend betrayed. Yes, we did. And now we have finally turned against our beginnings, our founders, and our tradition by allowing a self-appointed, self-anointed king to build himself a throne in our very capital.
We should be ashamed of ourselves.
With the dispossessed of every land flocking to your shores in search of life on a level playing field, you were a beacon of hope for those on the run from tyranny and oppression. France even sent you the Statue of Liberty, a gift to mark your first centenary, and a fitting symbol of what you represented to ordinary people everywhere.
I sometimes wonder that Lady Liberty doesn’t crack free of her foundation and drown herself in the Harbor in despair for how far we’ve come from the ideals she represents, for how cynically we use her to prop up our image even as we show contempt for the freedom and equality she symbolizes.
From a nation who welcomed immigrants and promised everyone a decent chance, we have turned into a xenophobic nightmare country of borders lined with barbed wire fences and vigilante patrols, and filled with a hatred of foreigners. Our promises have turned to threats, our playing field runs in one direction – uphill – and if we welcome strangers at all, it’s the welcome of a prison guard to a new inmate.
For a while, you shone as the best hope for stability and civilization in a world now facing a new kind of tyranny, the ideological impasse of the totalitarian state. But as the cold war ended, the mad math of the military buildup left you the de facto policeman of the world.
What a chance you had then to use such awesome power for the good! To use that unique moment in history to reform the international institutions, make them truly democratic and bring the dream of world peace to fruition by consent! But the price of freedom, then as now, is vigilance; and somehow the lumbering giant of American democracy fell asleep at the wheel, tranquilized by its own success.
We didn’t just forget the compact of democracy – “All for One and One for All” – we actively rejected it. It was too much work and anyway, American Idol was on.
Besides, we had been told by acres of conservative snake-oil salesmen that the “promise of America” was the promise of wealth: that free speech=money, that liberty meant the freedom to make money, and that justice was a game played by and for the people who could afford to buy it. They promised that if we bought their bottles of poison we, too, could be rich and beautiful, and like the gullible hicks we are, we bought the bottles and took them home and didn’t even complain when spreading the contents around didn’t make a beanstalk grow outside the door or the goose start laying golden eggs like they said it would.
So of course when the monarchists saw how easy we were to control, how cheerfully we would make suckers of ourselves, how quickly we would repeat meaningless slogans if they fed our prejudices, how detached we were from and how ignorant we were of our past, and how anemic our beliefs were, they moved in with power signs in their eyes and dollar signs where their hearts used to be. And we turned the whole shebang over to them without a whimper. Oh, there was some background noise from a few malcontents whining about the Constitution, that quaint, irrelevant old piece of parchment, but the snake-oilers’ house organs told us to ignore them and we did.
Now we have a king. He clings sentimentally to the old title of “president” but he acts like a king, he talks like a king, and he ignores laws like a king, so the office title is just a sad holdover from better days. He’s a king in all but that title. He’s everything the Founders hoped to prevent – an authoritarian despot with contempt for democracy, a “decider” who can make his decisions and ignore our wishes with impunity.
Jefferson would be appalled. The other George, Washington that is, would barf. Adams would be plotting sedition in a Boston cellar. Franklin would be…unsurprised, old skeptic that he was. He would shake his head, sigh, and remark sadly that he had been afraid it would come to this in the end.
America broke the fascists of the 40’s but who now is strong enough to break the imperial fascists in modern America? Only us.
As an old Empire on our uppers, we can only ever hope to play Greece to your Rome, with our leaders clinging lamely to your coattails. But this is not about empire anymore. It’s about the future of our children, the future of the human project, the future of our planet. Because unlike the days of the Founding Fathers, there’s nowhere else for us to go–the ground has run out under our feet. Whether we like it or not, we’re all in this together now. The only place left to make a fresh start is where we already are.
And the only people who can make it is us. The Founders gave the world the first representative govt responsible to the people, not just to landowners or rich merchants or aristocrats with titles. People. We still run this goddamn show, don’t we? Not a king, not an emperor, not a dictator. Us. The US is us. The whole world is watching and wondering what we’re going to do – and why we haven’t done it yet.
So as we watch your President elevate an excuse for evasion into a point of principle, we can’t help wondering whether history has come full circle. Does this mean the world’s most successful political experiment is destined to fail after all? Will the land of life, liberty and happiness succumb to presidential prerogative? For the sake of the rest of us, for the sake of the world, we can only hope you care enough to call your neo-King George to account, and say it ain’t so.
The time has come. The time is Now. Shit or get off the pot. Do the deed or crawl off to a hole and hide for the rest of our lives. From here on out, every day is Take A Stand Day.
Impeach this king, this would-be emperor, this elite despot who has reversed our Revolution and saddled us with a home-grown monarch. Impeach him before it’s too late or watch our democracy melt into a puddle of piss before our very eyes.
Which will it be?