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The Dark Ages, or America 2004


The new Dark Ages are upon us. I cannot drink the Kool-aid that is allowing some to look for the silver lining and talk about how we are in this for the long haul. I see little cause for belief that things are going to get better in four or eight years.


The disaster of 1972 was reversed by the Watergate hearings, but they were spearheaded by a Democratic House; we will not see a similar unraveling any time soon. The right-wing grip on the entire government has tightened; there will be no real investigations into any of the criminality of the Bush cabal, and the skeletons bulging the closet door will not be let out. The right’s control of the media will only tighten. We will be left to fume and fumble in our virtual electronic world, while they take everything they want in the real one.

Nov. 2, 2004 will reverberate the way Sept. 11 has. But as the rest of the world stood with us then, they will write us off now, jettisoning the benefit of the doubt they gave us, erasing the charitable distinction they made between Americans as people and the U.S.A. as global thug.

I am nauseous at the thought of what this election says about what America has become. It says that naïve belief has triumphed over reason. It says that the community of nations is as irrelevant to the average American as it was in 1918, despite the fact that this time, apathy is paired with imperialism. It says that intolerance is as strong as it was 40 years ago. It says the party of Barry Goldwater and Strom Thurmond has triumphed by adopting the mantle of religion in opposition to a new stigmatized minority.

It almost doesn’t matter whether we are here because a majority of Americans voted for Bush or if the Bush team merely demonstrated its effective control by rigging Florida and Ohio. Both are expressions of power; either way, they have lots of it, and our efforts to curb them have failed.

We can beat ourselves up for flaws real and imagined in John Kerry, his campaign or whatever else, but that is all a sideshow. John Kerry may not have been a perfect candidate, but a perfect Democrat would probably still have lost. Nearly 60 million Americans appear to have decided that prolixity and nuance were worse crimes than lying, false religiosity, larcenous fiscal management and of course a disasterously mismanaged illegal war. Millions of voters agreed with George Bush that his clothes were magnificent, and that the boy calling him naked needs a stretch at Gitmo. America the free decided that loyalty oaths and presidential appearances closed to non-believers are perfectly fine. None of that is John Kerry’s fault or Terry McAullife’s fault. It is evidence of a failure so systemic that I cannot even begin to imagine a solution.

This election must mean that the American dream has become the blissfully ignorant fantasy that a majority of Americans passionately and deliberately choose over reality. Their mandate will accelerate the ouster of reason from American discourse. Bush will accelerate his Leni Riefenstahl packaging of his failures as triumphs. Inconvenient and unpleasant facts will cease to exist. In short, there will be no accountability, because there will not be any mistakes. Let me say it again: Reason is dead. Logic is dead. Facts are irrelevant. There are only squinty, righteous determination and myriad enemies. Guess which we are.

Democrats were more united in 2004 than at any time in memory. But the Republicans were able to control the agenda yet again, and capitalize on yet another wedge issue: gay marriage. reported that “More exit poll respondents— about 22 percent—called "moral values" the election's most important issue than cited the economy, terrorism or Iraq.” As one wag pointed out, when those voters say “moral values,” they mean “we hate faggots.” And so millions of Americans voted against every rational form of self-interest to strike a blow for personal intolerance. I find a great deal to agree with in what both say, but the sad fact is that gay marriage advocates were the Ralph Nader of 2004.

Kudos again to Karl Rove—as usual, he was looking five moves ahead on a chessboard most of us didn’t even see. Eleven states voted on initiatives banning gay marriage; Bush won nine of them. Without Ohio’s homophobe vote, Bush would be back on his Crawford ranch about now. I liked Kerry’s line about the politics hope vs. the politics of fear, but it encapsulates the problem—fear wins every time.

That is why I despair of the Democrats ever coming back, at least in any recognizable form. Tolerance and inclusiveness have not been winning ideas in most of the red states for more than 100 years. The old South was Democratic only because Lincoln was Republican. Once the more socially liberal Rockefeller branch of the Republican party lost control, and the Republicans welcomed segregationists into the fold, the die was cast.

Now a significant percentage of America is vehemently homophobic, and the sad fact is that the ignorant are reproducing faster than the tolerant. The red states had more electoral votes this year than in 2000; that trend will soon make tolerance as quaint as the hoop skirt. To beat the Republicans, the Democrats will have to become them. Howard Dean may proudly represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party, but that will never get him elected. Bill Clinton’s legerdemain looks even more impressive today: he was a far better Janus than Bush will ever be, appearing as a dumb Bubba to the dumb Bubbas without losing the core intelligence that brought the rest of us along. I don’t see how anyone else in politics today will walk that tightrope again.

Once plunged into madness, extremist states tend to recover only when utterly defeated by a militarily and morally superior foe. As frightening as it is to contemplate, I fear we are on a course we have little power to alter. The entropy of ignorance seems an irresistible force, and there may not be an immoveable object within our system big enough to stop it. Bush’s fundamentalism and Osama’s are symbiotic in ways that will only become clearer as the devastation multiplies. I fear the bodies will be stacked halfway to the moon before we wake.

I would like to believe we will somehow avoid the plunge into darkness, but this close to our lost opportunity, that kind of optimism looks like something from their playbook: belief in the objectively improbable just because it makes me feel better. If I could do that, I’d just drink the Kool-aid.


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