Thursday, November 04, 2004


The "We Are Good and They Are Bad presidency" arrives

Good stuff from Bob Harris:
We are where we are

The people who voted for Bush are woefully misinformed, and some of them are genuinely fanatic, in the purest religious sense. But most of them are pretty regular folks, not crazy, thinking with human emotions we all share with the best intentions in the world. The nutjobs will never be in the majority. If we start treating them all as a nutjob bloc (something I've done myself, sorry to say), we lose the discussion. Some of the commenters are right: we have to find ways to talk to the rest of America, and not just each other.

The election of Bush is a very, very bad choice. It is a major setback for humanity, for a long list of reasons each of us either fully understand already or will very soon. (More on this in the next few days. But for starters, America just announced to the entire planet that we're OK with Abu Ghraib, we're OK with Guantanamo, and we're OK with illegal wars. This was an important announcement.)

But electing Kerry would have been only the first step in a very long journey, one which still stands before us, either way. It's a little longer now. That's bad. But that's all. Even if Kerry had won, America's body politic would still be gravely ill with its all-for-sale, winner-take-all culture, which dispatches the good of the people -- the very purpose of democracy -- as irrelevant.

And this illness is merely a symptom of a broader American cancer, the broader cultural narrative in which We Are Good and They Are Bad, one which shears away the very ability even to conceive of grey areas, comprehension of which are essential to resolving even the mildest cultural or societal questions in a democratic way. We Are Good and They Are Bad shows up in our sports (staged victory-conflicts, where we revile the opposing team), in our films (which almost always resolve in single-conflict, hero-crushes-evildoer sequences), in our religions (um... Satan?), and damn near any other thing we do. It rationalizes the most horrific behavior. It is the killer of thought and growth. And it is hard-wired into our culture in more ways than I can list.

Arriving finally at the We Are Good and They Are Bad presidency can hardly be a surprise. Even if Kerry had been elected, we'd still have much bigger problems to address.
Not sure I'd call it a cancer, myself. More of a malign mythos, a tangle of fear, puffed-up pride, insularity, ignorance, and anxiety. George Bush plays to that tangle brilliantly, because it's what he's made up of. Cutting through it will be a task for at least the next generation of progressives, if not longer. Red and Blue no longer talk the same language, and unfortunately they don't care that they can't speak to us anymore.

If talking to them, however, means acquiescing in gay-bashing, in breaching the wall between church and state, in further hacking off chunks of science from school curricula, in reducing civil liberties, in the complete destruction of our reputation in the rest of the world - then what's the point? You don't cure cancer by giving in to it. You may have to learn to live with it, but if you can, you cut it out or kill it. That's one reason why the cancer metaphor is faulty. We have to live with these people - secession really is not an option - and we certainly can't kill them.

We may have to accept a sharply divided country for the foreseeable future. I'm not sure there's any good way to reunite us.

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