I, too, am glad-elated, really-that Bush’s absurd, colossally tragic reign is nearing an end. But that doesn’t change the fact that we failed. We all failed. Congress failed, the courts failed, and the American people failed. We have suffered through two terms of plainly illegitimate, nakedly contemptuous tyranny in a country that was designed to facilitate overthrowing tyrants, and we failed to do so.
I have no doubt that Obama, as disappointing as he will no doubt turn out to be, is a vast improvement over the past eight years, and may even be the best president of my lifetime-a dubious achievement at best. But it’s not enough to look forward and move on. If anything is to be learned from the Bush disaster, it’s important to look back, and to understand how terrible our failure has been.
As citizens, our expectations have fallen far and fast. When Nixon ignored a subpoena, the nation was outraged. Even Republican congressmen were vocally outraged, and Nixon was forced to resign to avoid impeachment. When Nixon tried to fire a special prosecutor, his Attorney General resigned. Then his Deputy Attorney General resigned. When Reagan lied to the people about crimes far worse than Nixon’s, it was a scandal, but our expectations had already been dramatically lowered. There were hearings, but no impeachment. A few years later, a Republican congress abused the impeachment process as an instrument of prudery, in an act of supreme political perversion…
…All of this could have and should have been avoided, if the congress or the American people had any sense of duty, or responsibility, or really any sense at all. The fact that Bush, Cheney, and the rest will walk out of the White House and back into lives of decadent opulence and ballooning bank accounts is a shame, a damn shame of historic proportions. And the shame is ours. Bush is the worst outlaw ever to occupy the White House, and it is not enough that he simply leave. The message we have sent to power-mad, totalitarian presidents of the future is clear: Do whatever you want; we will do nothing to stop you. The press will do everything in its power to gloss over your worst excesses, and marginalize your critics, and when the public finally catches on, the press will simply ignore you in favor of optimistic coverage of your possible successors. At least that’s how it works for Republicans.
Bush lied about Iraq; it’s nothing if not clear at this point. And what the hell did we do about it? Bush failed miserably in New Orleans, dashing the image of Republican competence. But what did we do about it? Even now, as Bush’s economic team fools us into pouring an insane, gargantuan amount of money into the largest banks in the world, pulling a classic scare-and-switch tactic we should all be familiar with by now, nobody even murmurs about holding him accountable. As we all hold our breath and wait for Obama to take office, we allow the most craven, criminal administration in American history to keep right on pillaging our laws, our money, and our collective sense of decency right to the end. We, as a nation, are a miserable failure.
-Allan Uthman, The Great Shame
I’ve mostly kept to myself about the special prosecutor/truth commission/whatever that many others have written about, admirably and with passion. Part of it is because I have little to add; these are serious people and they have good points, and clearly Bush and Cheney deserve it. But another part of it is because I know it is pointless, there isn’t going to be anything like a special prosecutor, and I can’t get too energized about something I know isn’t going to happen. And the biggest part is that I’m not the least bit concerned that justice will not be done. Justice has already been done.
I’m not talking about the preposterous, show trial justice of the Nuremburg trials; it was a long time ago that I saw those for what they were – an attempt by those who did little to stop horrific crimes to shield themselves for the responsibility for their inaction. And the Allies then didn’t deserve it, and neither do we now.
Despite my antipathy for the irresponsible, unaccountable, and generally useless United States government, I still know that it truly is a government of and by the people. And it is a reflection of us, of you and me and everyone we know. We are irresponsible, we are unaccountable, and we’re quite often useless. And exhibit A is the last eight years of our history.
There is a basic truth we need to face: if on January 21st, Bush and Cheney were indicted for war crimes, and after a speedy trial, both were hung on the White House lawn, not one crime will have been prevented. Every thing that they did, that legions of fellow Americans did on their orders, will be unchanged. Even the notion that such a thing would have deterrent value is to my thinking, a joke. The prospect of facing the gallows at Nuremberg has done nothing to prevent scores of like-minded people from committing genocide in the intervening period. And key to this is because of the reality of what Nuremberg was: proof that in the face of incontrovertible evidence of the greatest crimes conceivable, the powers and “leaders” of the world will do nothing. The President of the United States will ignore the plea of the passengers of the St. Louis even while they can see the lights of Miami out the portholes.
As a nation which pretended to care about the evil of a “leader who tortures his own people” and keeps rape rooms, we showed our true colors by spending years bogged down in semantic arguments and legalese as our leaders tortures other people (although our blithe lack of concern about the rampant and regular rape of the 1 in 100 of us who are in our own prisons ought to have predicted our reaction). We showed more outrage when Miley Cyrus did that curtain ad. We couldn’t even scrape up an American willing to be arrested for chucking their shoes at the President. Faced with the inescapable reality for years that our leaders were taking our money and using it to torture hundreds and kill dozens of prisoners held without charges or legal rights, we, well, we made a Reese Witherspoon movie about it.
In a week or so, President Bush will walk out of the White House with the same shit-eating grin on his face that he walked in with. And that is justice – that is what we deserve. Like all those ordinary Germans, we knew what was going on, and we didn’t stop it. Few of us lifted a finger; hardly any of us took even a slight risk to prevent those people from being tortured and murdered in our name. The notion that some sort of legal retribution against the designers of our infamy will redeem us is as absurd as the notion that our new President will sagely repair our nation as a political Bagger Vance. The tortured cannot be untortured; the murdered cannot be raised from the dead.
And no matter what we do in the future to pretend we weren’t a part of it, we’re still the nation of 300 million people too cowardly and disinterested to chuck a shoe.