Okay, let’s all play “name the decade.” Trivial or profound, labels matter, even if absurdly minimizing infinitely convoluted webs. When discombobulated, we reach for handles to unpack jaw-dropping, mind-boggling real-life. Sweeping generalizations have their place, and one idiot savant among us will capture the significance of the incomparable Bush-Cheney Error, may it never rest in peace.
From the Internet comes the “Decade from Hell,” which could have legs but only if we eventually ascend from current “darkness visible,“ in John Milton’s mots justes. Getting out of hell is proving harder than getting in. There’s the Decade of Treachery, or Tyranny of the Minority, or Doofuses on Parade. Let’s see: The Decade That Went From Bad to Really Bad? The Decade When the Right Stomped on Everyone Else? So many choices, so little time.
What Bush-Cheney proved, is no matter how scary our most dire doomsayers, every one underestimated the resulting magnitude of mayhem. Worst still was having to watch powerlessly, like 9/11 horror replays, while our own leaders decimated the American dream for a generation. Thus, my longish runner-up pick – the Decade of the Reverse White House Learning Curve, The First President Who Left Knowing Less Than When He Began, If Possible. Right, painfully cute.
Label of the Decade
In fact, I nominate the Decade of Distrust, because we not only now suffer abysmal confidence in a myriad of critical institutions, but worse still we’ve lost ground in conceiving and trusting solutions. As the irascible David Michael Green puts it,
we have gone a long ways toward no longer even possessing the capability of imagining better alternatives. Good Americans . . . are losing the capacity to imagine genuine alternatives to an American politics which offers the choice between right, far right and hysterical right, all of them differing only in the shading of the patina they spray over their common oligarchical core . . . This failure of the imagination demonstrates better than anything else the full measure of our political impoverishment. What can you say to a country so far gone that it not only cannot swerve the car – even as head-on collision with a speeding freight train is only seconds away – but cannot even imagine swerving it?
Who of us has greater confidence since 2000 that our system, voters, or leaders are willing to address serious, courageous solutions that embrace the profoundness of the tasks at hand? Who has less, not more trust in elections, campaigns, or political parties; in government, whether Homeland Security, the Federal Reserve or Senate, the Presidency, Pentagon, or CIA; or mass media, Wall Street, or big business? We can’t even now force obvious sex addicts to resign, despite glaring “family value” hypocrites admitting juicy affairs – let alone cover-ups, misused funds, and bribery. Once upon a time blatant frauds were run out of town on a rail. Not investigating the Bush White House is bad enough, but leaving power-hungry, moral midgets in power marks a new age.
Trust as Rare as WMDs
Whatever your politics, no one believes anyone else. Rightwingers estranged from establishment Republicanism morph into Tea Partiers, assaulting government for imaginary sins, past and future – like the mockery of rationality served up with “death panels.” The left, repulsed by the distressingly successful, extremist Cheney coup, is doubly depressed when this mania overwhelms Democrats, now bragging about toothless legislation that would have infuriated moderates a generation ago.
Considering how essential for democracy and capitalism to work, trust is our most valuable community asset, yet we’re not even halting its plunge. After all, it’s trust, not love, that makes the modern world go round, getting you that raise, sustaining your marriage, even a new mortgage. It’s trust, not love, that keeps us in cars, confident those other murderous, metal machines stay on their side. If we didn’t trust we’d have tomorrow, today would look very different.
As H.L. Mencken observed, “It is mutual trust, even more than mutual interest that holds human associations together.” Nearly every decision we make, from marriage to fast food, from aspirin to our final remains, even movies and TV shows, depend on trusting something or someone beyond ourselves. Truly, “To be trusted is a greater compliment than to be loved.”
A Deluge of Distrust
In fact, what kicked off this No Confidence parade preceded the total Bush flimflam about WMDs or Saddam’s collusion with 9/11 fanatics. It was, alas, our highest court, overstepping bounds and anointing this minority loser, per Justice Stevens’ dissent in Gore v. Bush: “Although we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year’s presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the nation’s confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law.”
Because character is destiny, no wonder a tsunami came, capped by scheming, failed vengeance towards “evil-doers,” McCarthy-like fear-mongering, now shockingly from inside the White House, and unconscionable lies spanning wars, CIA agents, federal prosecutors, secret prisons, torture and on and on. Duplicity and corruption poured forth, from the Pentagon, Justice Dept. and federal reports warped by Bush ideologues – plus corporate mendacity, pedophile-shielding Catholic Church, perhaps crowned by an infamous GOP V.P. choice, who still unloads trust-killing shams like Tundra ice storms.
The range of betrayal thus clouds one epiphany, one moment, epic or trivial, or one miserable, unpunished crime as the confidence culprit. The horror wasn’t only that bad people did unbelievably bad things, but how few evil-doers were apprehended, then or now, given comeuppance. Ditto top brass who authorized Abu Ghraib and so many pointless, prestige-damaging cruelties. Irresponsible bankers who decimated national property values not only weren’t reprimanded, but got a two trillion dollar bailout. Loss of trust is the high price a nation pays when lawlessness and mayhem rule without correction.
No Accountability, No Trust
Since Bill Clinton was politically impeached, not one really big shot, excepting two governors, has suffered the indignity that fits his or her suspected crimes. Thus the current, widespread distress with Obama, not simply for betraying his campaign but failure to do Job No. 1: restore confidence in the rule of law, our justice system, even the Constitution itself. Not even to investigate the Bush-Cheney administrations leaves us open to the Curse of Nixon, his most scurrilous legacy, “if a president does it, it’s not illegal.” Nothing else turns more Founders over in their graves.
Vengeance may be the Lord’s but not disclosure, accountability and justice: how about simply establishing what happened, by whom, and why? How do we redeem crippled trust without heeding President John Adams, “There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty”?
For many, Bush and Cheney reigned as tyrants above the law, knowingly shredding rules, regulations, and laws of governance. But no inquiry means history will never have confirmed testimony, in effect, handing out a verdict of not guilty. I suspect our literate president, trained as a Constitutional lawyer, knows the word “trust” comes from the word “truth,” and that civic trust depends on some common truth accepted by all. We will spend more time and money unraveling the failed Christmas bombing than establishing what happened to our country for eight, long years, perhaps longer.