Wayne Brown, Jamaica
So the debates are over, and by the polls John Kerry
decisively won all three - not a startling achievement, admittedly, for
an educated man pitted against this particular incumbent. Bush himself
(in what was not a confession but a roughneck's boast) once declared that
he didn't read the papers. But the defining moment of his presidency, to
this columnist, was those seven minutes on 9-11 during which, having been
told that America was under attack, the president remained sitting there
in that Florida classroom pretending to listen to children reading.
'Pretending to listen' doesn't mean Mr Bush was
thinking. No - what Mr Bush was doing, that fateful morning, was trying
to think. (The reader wishing to verify this should get hold of Michael
Moore's Fahrenheit 911, now out on DVD.)
For, faced with the enormity of what he'd just been
told, you could see the gears in that long-disused brain grinding and
seizing, the electrical impulses balking at the synapses. In default,
they left on the president's face an expression of the saddest vacuity -
for vacuity in homo sapiens is always sad. In that mortal crisis, in Mr
Bush's head, many things were trying to happen - and couldn't. Watch the
film of those seven minutes if you don't believe me.
Likewise, the defining moment of the recent debates
was probably the president's reference to the 'Internets'.
Now, across the length and breadth of the world -
everywhere, in fact, except in the mysteriously misshapen hearts of that
one-half of America that loves him - Mr Bush's 'dunciness' has long been
the standard fare of jokes. Asked, for example, why she intended to vote
for Kerry and against Bush in the coming election, the American novelist
Amy Tan replied, 'Because I have a brain'. And Jay Leno early last week
speculated that Mr Bush was preparing for the third and last debate by
walking up and down the Oval Office saying to himself, over and over,
'It's Internet. Internet. Internet!'
And, sure, in a brutal, existential light,
'dunciness' is funny.
But such humour is also ultimately reactionary. Once
we've indulged in 'the laughter that slays', we're apt to think the butt
of our joke is somehow dead. There's a metaphysical truth in that, of
course: he or she is now dead in our hearts. But in the real world, (s)he
isn't. Millions of Germans and other Europeans - including many Jews -
who in the 1920s and early '30s laughed at Hitler's 'upstart antics',
never lived to have the last laugh.
KERRY. is the expression of the other America
As Dan Chaon, the American writer (who read from his
work in Jamaica a couple years ago), wrote recently: 'Back in 2000, Bush
seemed like a joke - a smirking, callow, old-money twit with a fake Texas
accent. Now, four years later, he seems truly, frighteningly dangerous.'
Indeed. Nor did Amy Tam stop with her quip quoted
above. She went on: 'The current president has used fear to instil
obedience, has redefined patriotism as a willingness to sacrifice
constitutional law. How can I not vote for a candidate like Kerry, who is
rational enough to defend our country without arm-pumping and high fives
when the bombs fall on another country?'
So when you've finished laughing at Mr Bush and his
'Internets', stop and take a sober look at what that gaffe means. It
means that - just as the younger G W, in his freewheeling, hard-drinking,
rich-kid days, never once bothered to leave the US to take a peek at the
wide world beyond it - President Bush, the most powerful man in the
world, has probably never been online.
And what this means in turn is that The Leader of
the Free World is radically alienated from the culture of the free world
(although, hell, even terrorists use the 'Net) - a world at whose heart
that extraordinary invention has been pouring forth an infinite fountain
of news, information, knowledge, the wisdom of the ages - as well as,
okay, sex - for more than a decade, while at the same time collapsing the
barriers of space to put people from all over the planet in the same
'room' with one another.
The American Constitution debars foreign-born
citizens from running for president, the suspicion being that such
characters might retain a covert loyalty to the land of their birth. But
what virtual country, then, retains the loyalty of G W Bush - a man who
in 2004 has contrived to remain innocent of the defining instrument of
culture in our time?
solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.'
Philip Larkin, the late British poet who penned those lines, was
talking about a different question; but his stanza applies. In Mr Bush's
'country' the doctors are always running over the fields - or at least
over the sands, and through the streets, of forever-being-bombed Iraq.
And as for the priests, consider this:
Kerry has said that he personally opposes abortion
but believes the decision should be the woman's. (He is therefore
'pro-choice', not 'pro-abortion' - though that defining nuance would
probably be beyond the grasp of barbarian minds.) And last week, the New
York Times reported that a group of American Roman Catholic bishops were
'blanketing' their flock with the news that if they voted for Kerry they
would be committing a sin; and that they would have to confess and repent
their vote before they would be permitted to receive holy communion
Again - let the reader pause and take that in.
The likeliest response, I imagine, will be
incredulity. But incredulity can be as reactionary as comedy. So pause
for a moment and really take that in.
And understand the danger in which the Republic - a
nation founded on the seminal principle of the separation of Church and
State - stands today.
These bishops, let it be remembered, had nothing to
say a year ago when it was revealed that, for many years, large numbers
of American Roman Catholic bishops and priests had been exuberantly
buggering little boys. (To the contrary, their response had been to cover
up those crimes - not just 'sins', but crimes - quickly and quietly
transferring the criminals to other dioceses, where they were free to
start again from scratch, preying on the children of a new flock.)
Nor has it occurred to these bishops that it might
be a sin to vote for the man who unleashed unwarranted death and
destruction upon Iraq: an overwhelming military attack, with a bogus
rationale, resulting in the killing and maiming of tens of thousands of
innocent men, women and children. To the contrary: these Men of the Cloth
are avidly engaged in organisational work intended to deliver the
Catholic vote to the man who launched that gratuitous, and ongoing, death
and destruction. (Meanwhile, Catholics who vote for Mr Kerry can go
straight from the polling booth to the confessional booth and repent
It's hard to imagine the shame and suffering of real
Catholics faced with such a debasement of their titular spiritual guides.
Dan Chaon again: 'I find myself particularly
repelled by Bush's professed 'Christianity', even as his Administration
repudiates every value that Christ represents.'
But that is G W Bush's real country, a country of
churches and guns: a place awash with Larkin's doctors and priests, and
quite devoid of newspapers, the 'Net - or, presumably, any scientist not
actively engaged in designing either bigger and better oil-drilling
platforms or the next generation of nuclear bombs.
For there are, in fact, today two Americas; and for
more than a year now - because that is how long this dangerously
exacerbating presidential campaign has been going on - one of them has,
like a black hole, been feeding itself by drawing all the forces of
darkness unto itself: the unreconstructed, and no longer so covert,
'southern' racism; the mindless American bellicosity (surf the US TV
channels some idle evening and count: you'll find that at least half of
them are airing programmes or films featuring guns); the isolationism,
hubris and ignorance of the world; the lobotomised and intolerant
religiosity; and the age-old American paranoia - the ineluctable product
of metaphysical guilt - that produced 'Salem' and, in our time,
These are the Bush legions in the coming election:
the National Rifle Association; the evangelical and fundamental Christian
Churches (among which must be numbered, these days, American Roman
Catholicism); the impoverished and semi-literate descendants of the
Daughters of the American Revolution, from whose consciousness - as they
drive around swigging beer with shotguns clipped to the rear windshields
of their pick-ups, in a thousand two-mule southern towns - the hope of
spotting some innocent deer or beautiful buck to kill is never very far;
and, of course, big business - very big business - those 'leaders of
American industry and commerce' who know that the current president's
first order of business is to license their looting of the US
environment, Treasury and citizenry, and who have no other interests.
These are Bush's People, and they are in fact the
mirror image of militant Islam: a fervid competing presence in the same
And so Samuel Huntington was wrong: the real 'clash
of civilisations' in our time is not between cultures in discrete parts
of the world but, first and foremost, between civilisations within the
United States itself.
Because, after four years of Bush, it's necessary to
keep reminding ourselves that there's another America - one that is
cosmopolitan, informed, sceptical and secular, and prepared to put its
faith in curiosity (science, the 'Internets'), freedom of association and
expression, tolerance of the Other, civic responsibility, and the rule of
That America exists still, and is the hope of the
world. In this election, its expression is Kerry. And if today, according
to the polls, with a mere 16 days to go, the outcome of this very real
'clash of civilisations' is still too close to call, it behoves us all to
pay the closest attention.
For the last elections of comparable significance
for the world took place on November 6, 1932, in Germany.
Copyrightę 2004 Jamaica Observer.