Once again, an old song acts as muse for
Daniel Patrick Welch. Repopularized by a current Volkswagen ad, the
Donovan lyric tweaks Welch’s sense of the futility of resistance in
the quagmire that is today’s American political landscape. From a
personal perspective, the writer describes watching as all his European
friends flee one by one, a sort of metaphor for the international
rejection of the would-be Pax Americana.
To understand fully the nature of the
American dilemma, one has only to view it from slightly outside the
bubble. My wife and I have been restricted from foreign travel for
various bureaucratic and financial reasons; but our sanity depends on
hundreds of connections around the globe for perspective and comfort.
The sea change in this perspective from without reveals the utter
hopelessness of the U.S. position, and underscores a grave warning to
those still willing or able to listen at home.
An interesting phenomenon, even in our
small circle of friends, has unfolded over the past few years. At first,
our foreign friends and contacts, stunned by the election debacle of
2000 and wary of warmonger Bush, seemed quite happy to have met and
befriended members of the American "left." A sort of
camaraderie developed as we commiserated over the decline of critical
thought and the alarming state of what passes for debate on the U.S.
Horrified by the runup to war, foreigners
working far from home felt a certain comfort in knowing that not all
Americans shared the President's bloodlust; the comfort, of course, was
mutual. Then, as things didn’t get better, and in fact worsened with
the 2004 election, these friends one by one sailed for safer seas. After
all, they were on contract; they didn’t have family and cultural ties,
and so were free to flee in horror and revulsion from what they saw
And flee they did. At this writing, not a
single one of our close circle has stayed stateside. It was as if those
looking through the bubble from without let out a collective "Sucks
to be you!" at their former allies in mutual fear. Bush’s
reelection, for many of them, was the final straw: it’s one thing to
blame the government instead of the people, but I mean come on—twice
in a row?! These insights, of course, are personal and anecdotal; but
they reflect the general bewilderment of those outside America’s
borders, who shake their heads in disbelief. Finally, eventually, they
must cut the cord and get on with their lives, like friends of a drunk
who just can’t seem to hit bottom and wake up.
With contacts on many continents, I have
tried to keep a line open to this audience-—those who still might care
what is going on over here—and have had the good fortune to have my
columns translated in over 20 languages. But even this effort has
slowed, as it seems fewer translators can get over questioning what the
hell is wrong with us. Seems about right: you can only shovel shit
against the tide for so long, I guess.
It may seem odd to write this just when
liberals are expressing such glee over what they hope is the impending
implosion of the Bush agenda. And I must admit I get a kick out of the
flurry of indictments poised to rain down on this criminal cabal,
certainly far better a fate than they deserve, or than they have meted
out to their own enemies. And yes, Bush is struggling to reach even
Nixonian levels in his own approval ratings. But what is disapproval to
a man who should by all rights be in prison, or, by his own brand of
justice, laying on one of his own guerneys in Texas waiting for one of
his cronies to push the plunger. And what, pray tell, can the 37% of
those polled who approve of Bush’s performance be thinking—who won’t
see the writing on the wall, it seems, until they are trounced on the
head with a big stick? [That might the subject of my next column,
Waiting for the Locusts.]
And yes, Katrina revealed, however
briefly, the deeply entrenched infrastructure of racism and classism
that white America, has tried to dismiss for centuries. But this
opportunity to discuss poverty and race has largely disappeared, nipped
at the heels by the next fresh horror out of Pakistan and Iraq. We have
watched as they have set the agenda for the next hundred years,
endangering our future in the world even for our children’s children.
The world will not—and should not—forget the insatiable American
lust for war, the torture, the depleted uranium, the slaughter of
innocents, for as long as we are alive, at least. And as much fun as it
is to see these bastards get a taste of their own medicine, it is
sobering to remember just how much power they still wield. And they
certainly won’t give it up without a fight. It took twelve years to
bring the Nazi horror to heel, and the Bush war machine certainly isn’t
facing military annihilation; not even a toenail trimming from his timid
opponents in congress.
This realization offers some insight into
what I see as the gulf between our fleeting optimism and the negative
outlook of my parents’ generation. Past the tittilation of putting a
few thieves in jail, the prospect of a 20-year struggle must be
downright depressing for those nearing their eighties.
I realize that things are not quite yet
as bad as they were in the McCarthy years, no matter how the civil
libertarians might shriek. But they also have the unprecedented capacity
to get much worse in an instant. The police state stands at hair-trigger
readiness, waiting for the flick of the first domino by Bush or some
future zealous front man. We are seeing the perfect storm that
libertarians and anarchists alike have warned us about for generations:
the unholy merger of the ueberstate and corporate hegemony.
And the juggernaut rolls on. Since the
dawn of the industrial era (and maybe long before, but at least since
then) the forces of reaction have eventually mastered every challenge
thrown at them, from the idea of democracy itself to trade unionism to
the abolition of slavery and apartheid to universal suffrage. The people
have often valiantly fought back, winning concessions and bits of
progress at enormous cost. Now, through a witches' brew of manufactured
consent, unprecedented concentration of media ownership, outright
tampering and old fashioned fraud, they may finally have dispensed with
the pesky notion of election once and for all.
If this sounds dark, maybe I should
elucidate. I don't feel quite as despairing as this may sound. At most
it takes the edge of my most recent unwarranted bout of giddiness. Since
the very beginning of my own political formation, I have always thought
that we were involved in a lifelong struggle, a labor of love and
conviction whose fruits we might never see. But I have always harbored
an ideological and rhetorical, if not altogether practical, faith in the
power of people to resist. Every so often a shaft of light breaks
through, my latest epiphany being the massive popular resistance to the
Iraq war that helped box in the Bush administration and fray its
alliances. Holy shit! I thought as I gazed down Second Ave, maybe we
will see radical change in our lifetime. And poof—like a mirage, it
was gone. There are some bright spots, not least the apparent general
revulsion of even the American public. And right wing hegemony in the
media is being challenged on many fronts, on the internet, and even on
talk radio itself. My wife commented recently on the ubiquity of
satellite, allowing, among other things, workers at a local sub shop to
watch the Greek Parliament. "My God," she said, if we can't
even stand American TV news, imagine how foreigners must feel!"
So no, of course I'm not suggesting that
we give up the fight. Quite the contrary. Those fighting for a more just
social order should never flinch; we should take advantage of any
opportunities that present themselves, electoral or organizational, to
make even the smallest dent in the onslaught. When the boat is sinking,
you bail with whatever you can: if the pumps fail, use buckets; if there
are no buckets, use your hands.
"In the chilly hours and minutes of
uncertainty," the song goes, we are perhaps forbidden by our debt
to future generations from losing hope. Maybe the "opposition"
party will rise to the occasion and embrace fundamental change, though
it has done so in only two brief shining moments in its own history.
Maybe the world community, beyond minor sniping, will sanction the US as
a pariah state and force change upon us. Maybe the people themselves
will rise up and demand change. If only they would disapprove in the way
Mussolini’s people did. Maybe Karl Rove really will be frog-marched
out of the White House. There are a million ways in which this house of
greasy, blood-stained cards could come crashing down. Nothing would make
me happier. "'twould make me sing," as the song goes. There
may be more hopeful days ahead; but for now, the song seems to end as
written by Donovan, "…Ah, but I might as well try and catch the
© 2005 Daniel Patrick Welch. http://www.danielpwelch.com.
Writer, singer, linguist and activist Daniel Patrick Welch lives and
writes in Salem, Massachusetts, with his wife, Julia Nambalirwa-Lugudde.
Together they run The Greenhouse School (http://www.greenhouseschool.org).
Recent columns include Where Have All the Soldiers Gone? http://danielpwelch.com/0509whsg.html
and What our Kids Don’t Know Can Hurt Us http://danielpwelch.com/0508wkdk.html.
Translations of articles are available in up to 20 languages.