I’ve been having trouble with mirrors lately. When I look these days, I see a bastard staring back, a stranger, a guy who should be ashamed of himself.
A long, long time ago, I wrote this: “America is an idea, a dream. You can take away our cities, our roads, our crops, our armies, you can take all of that away, and the idea that is America will still be there, as pure and great as anything conceived by the human mind.”
I still believe that, and therein lies the problem. I am a sucker for that dream, that idea, and for the last few years I allowed it to seduce me.
Hunter S. Thompson had Richard Nixon as his white whale, and while I would never in Hell think to compare myself to The Doctor, we share a similar experience, insofar as George W. Bush was my white whale. Deep in the heart of those Nixon years, Thompson lamented about “what a fantastic monument to all the best instincts of the human race this country might have been, if we could have kept it out of the hands of greedy little hustlers like Richard Nixon.” So it was, for me, with Bush.
From the moment the Supreme Court decision came down in 2000 that gifted the White House to Bush, to the moment he was finally and forever out of power, I resisted him and his works, because I knew what he represented, what he was about, and what he was doing to my beloved country. My instincts were finely honed, and I gave probably a million words – in print, and spoken aloud on the road for some 800,000 miles – to the cause of thwarting him and everything he stood for.
And now? Now I’m suddenly wondering where that guy has been. He sure as hell isn’t the one I see in the mirror. He lapsed into a moral coma, lulled by his idea of America and by the election of someone who can talk the birds out of the trees even as the lumberjacks clear-cut the forest.
Make no mistake, now: that’s not an “Obama is the same as Bush” argument. Nobody is Bush, because Bush stands alone, and whoever makes that kind of equivalency either slept through the first eight years of this century, hit their head and forgot what those eight years were like, or is trying to sell you something.
The issue is not about Obama being the same as Bush. The issue is the fact that it doesn’t matter a tinker’s damn who sits in that fine round room. I believe Mr. Obama to be a better man than his predecessor, and if we had ham, we could have ham and eggs, if we had eggs.
I believe in the idea that is America, but I also believe in Tomas Young, who was re-introduced to me by way of a Chris Hedges article that should be mandatory reading for every sentient American on the continent. Young was shot through the spine and permanently paralyzed during his deployment to Iraq, and later went on to be one of the first veterans to actively and publicly denounce the war…and now? Now, after a number of physical setbacks, he actively seeks his own death, but lacks the capability to do it himself, and will not allow anyone to finish things for him. So he sits in hospice and waits to die.
I believe in the idea that is America, but Tomas Young is dying because he believed, too. He is dying, and the people who delivered him to the slow sunset of his death remain utterly unmolested by the rule of law we Americans take so much misguided pride in. I live with my idea of America in one hand, and the dying light of Tomas Young in the other, and when I look in the mirror, I cannot meet my own eyes. I spent all those years fighting against everything that is ending Tomas Young’s life, I made documenting their serial crimes my life’s work…and then I let it slide, because Bush was gone, and I couldn’t summon the necessary energy to remain outraged over the fact that they all got away with the crime of the millennium scot-free.
It is enough.
I am finished with the moral geometry that says this is better than that, which makes this good. This is not good; this is, in fact, intolerable. Allowing the perpetrators of war crimes – widely televised ones at that – to retain their good name and go on Sunday talk shows as if they had anything to offer besides their ideology of murder and carnage is intolerable. Entertaining the idea that the billions we spend preparing for war cannot be touched, and so the elderly and the infirm and the young and the weak and the voiceless must pay the freight instead, is intolerable.
The pornography of America’s global killing spree is intolerable, and, by the by, I am sick of hearing about drones. A child killed by a Hellfire missile that was fired from a drone is exactly, precisely as dead as a child killed by a Hellfire missile fired from an Apache attack helicopter, precisely as dead as a child killed by a smart bomb, precisely as dead as a child killed by a sniper, precisely as dead as a child killed by a land mine, or by a cruise missile, or by any of the myriad other ways instant death is dealt by this hyper-weaponized nation of ours.
Exactly, precisely as God damned dead, and the blood is on our hands regardless of the means used to do the killing. The issue is not the drones. The issue is our hard, black hearts, and the grim fact that the debate in this country right now is not about whether the killing is wrong, but about the most morally acceptable way of going about that killing. Drones are bad, but snipers are better, because you don’t hear the buzzing sound in the sky before your lights go out forever. Or something.
It is the killing, it is the permanent war, it is our deranged national priorities. It is the system we live under which requires the serial deaths of all those innocents to maintain our economic health that should appall us. We sup upon the blood and bonemeal that is the byproduct of the idea that is America, and we sleep. And we sleep.
I mean to face the stranger in the mirror tomorrow, and so I must acknowledge my own culpability in all this. I am to blame; I went to sleep, because I have an idea of America that I cling to desperately, and so I bought into the soothing nonsense of cosmetic change even as the sound of the same old gears ground on around me.
I am sorry.
I still believe in that idea.
And I am awake.