by Roberto Rodriguez
It has been said that the march of history, particularly in the realm of human rights, is always forward. Embedded within this concept is the idea that despite tragedies and war, the human condition always progresses. Unquestionably, whoever created the expression did so long before our just completed decade.
The decade began with arguably the first fraudulent presidential election in the history of the United States. Rather than a clear and decisive victory for Bush-Cheney, it was a Reagan-Bush hand-picked Supreme Court that intervened to give us two candidates who had received less votes than their opponents in a hotly disputed election. Upon being sworn into office, these two grabbed the reigns of power and began to govern as though the U.S. electorate had granted them a unanimous mandate. From there it went straight downhill.
Bush-Cheney pompously began to govern where Reagan-Bush had left off; all power to the corporate sector and all power to the military-industrial complex. Not that Clinton had been a moral beacon or a champion of the poor, but Bush-Cheney ensured that every aspect of government came to be placed at the service of the corporate sector.
Then came 9-11. And what could have been a moment that could have united all of humanity, the Bush-Cheney administration turned it into an opportunity to divide the world up into good vs. evil and to consolidate the power of the United States on a global scale. 9-11 virtually became a war marketing opportunity. It also ushered in the birth of “The Homeland.”
9-11 became a clarion call for a fanatical crusade against Arabs/Muslims and a call for a permanent worldwide war: God Bless America. With it also came a moral demand for the speeding up of Big Brother Society with nonsensical mantras such as: “The U.S. Constitution is not a suicide pact” and “the Geneva Conventions are now ‘quaint’ and obsolete.” God had bequeathed to the United States its own special set of laws that Americans could obey or disobey at the discretion of their God-inspired leader. That’s why the Bush-Cheney administration worked feverishly to ensure that Americans [soldiers and/or mercenaries] were not subject to the International Criminal Court of Justice.
It became a license to kill without accountability and a rationale for dehumanization: Where had we heard that before? New arguments were contrived that not all human beings were entitled to life or to the full protection of the law, especially if we were at war. Thus, the notion of permanent worldwide war was conceived. And thus, the Bush-Cheney administration abrogated unto themselves the rogue notion that in carrying out this war, the U.S. now had permission to ignore, interpret as it saw fit, or create new laws, permanently.
In war, no trials are necessary. The only rationale necessary is that a legitimate target has been targeted. Whether it is actually hit is irrelevant and dead civilians are but collateral damage. In this scenario, drone technology became the weapon of choice with no fingerprints and no accountability.
Enter hate. The climate was created that those that were to be receiving our bombs were different than us. Brown people became the enemy… with turbans. Brown people became the enemy in Afghanistan and then at home. And it didn’t matter what kind of brown people. They became both the enemy and the convenient scapegoat. Enter the era of Lou Dobbs and Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Enter the era of closed borders and closed minds. As long as the enemy is “not us” – the loss of rights became acceptable. And to facilitate this era, it became necessary to stoke fear, periodically. Enter color codes. Or was it simply a return to America’s old-fashioned color codes? Enter a cheerleading media and the end of its governmental watchdog function. All Americans were subjected to loss of privacy and freedoms, but by then, it was already too late.
Then came the Iraq War.
No weapons of mass destruction were ever found, but the [true] reasons for war – and the laws governing war – became irrelevant. The stage had already been set; Iraq was simply the latest enemy and their leader the embodiment of evil. And the mainstream media again stepped forward or jumped: “How can we help?”
Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have lost their lives; many more hundreds of thousands have been maimed while millions have been displaced and through all this, Americans yawn. Less than 5,000 Americans dead and only 30,000 Americans wounded has not been quite enough to bother the American conscience.
Even when the Democrats took back control of Congress in 2006, impeachment for prosecuting a clearly illegal war became “off the table” and ending the war was also declared out of the question.
When Barack Obama became President Barack Obama, everything was to change. But “Supporting the troops” became the circular and continuing argument for continuing the Iraq war. And the change we could believe in and Yes We Can began to rhyme with Afghani-stan… the sequel. And Paki-stan.
That was the lost decade. That is how America lost its mythical conscience. And the decade ended with explosives in the underwear of a Nigerian man; a jarring reminder that our permanent war is here to stay. And now, Yemen also rhymes with Yes We Can? Now too, we also know that Big Brother is also never going to go away. It really wasn’t government; it was the people who gave this decade away.
© 2010 Column of the Americas
Roberto Rodriguez, formerly of Madison and now a research associate at the University of Arizona in Tucson, offers a Latino/indigenous perspective on the Americas. He can be reached at: XColumn@gmail.com