The Empire Without Clothes
by Gary Corseri
August 8, 2007
The Romans had a saying: Mole ruit sua.
It falls of its own bigness.
They knew a thing or two about Empire,
over-extension abroad and decay at home.
Apparently, Americans are still learning.
Hence, we're shocked by a 9/11 event, the devastation wrought
by Katrina, the collapse of a bridge over the Mississippi. We
don't understand how our health care system could have deteriorated
into the "Sicko" joke of the developed world - and to
be a lot less efficient and fair than systems in much poorer countries
(Cuba, Venezuela, Costa Rica, for example). Within a few decades,
how did we go from putting men on the moon to a nation whose cars
can't compete with Japan and Germany - nations less than half,
and a little more than a quarter our size; nations we bombed to
smithereens some 60 years ago?
Our school system can't educate the next
generation of doctors (we import them from India), nurses (we
grab them from the Philippines), computer specialists (we outsource
those jobs to India), journalists or editors. We no longer make
our own clothes (China does), build our own ships (South Korea),
or do our own thinking (thank you, Rupert Murdoch, Oprah and a
pox of pundits!). In my lifetime, I have watched the culture gyrate
from the wholesome, if naïve, 1950s' sitcom Father Knows
Best, with its strong, parental role models, to the whorish modeling
behavior of insolent "celebs" like Paris Hilton, Britney
Spears, Lindsy Lohan, etc. Our kids are sugared up with awful
food one moment, then sedated with Ritalin the next. For the past
twenty years I've been asking my wife, "How low can we go?"
And I can't help thinking of Shakespeare's answer: things are
not the worst so long as we can say, "This is the worst!"
It would be easy to blame all of this
on some clown-politician: Ronald Reagan, George Bush (pere or
file!). But we ought not elevate their like too much. They are
symptoms, not causes. It's easier to treat symptoms than eliminate
causes, and the current hubbub on the Left about impeaching Bush,
Cheney and Gonzalez - as nefarious as they are! - is just the
sort of band-aid solution to the manifest ills of a moribund empire
that is certain to perpetuate those ills and that empire.
In politics, timing is everything. Two
years ago I wrote a piece entitled, "25 Reasons to Impeach
George W. Bush." It was widely disseminated on the web, even
made it to Congressman Conyer's website. Two years is a long time
as the crow flies, and what was bold, dissident and informative
then is old-hat and shop-worn now. You've got to wonder: when
Bruce Fein of the hyper-conservative American Enterprise Institute
and John Nichols of the Nation magazine convene on Bill Moyers'
Journal, as they did in July, to present the merits of impeaching
Bush and Cheney as a great civics lesson for the American people
- a way to restore trust in our government - what is going on?
Have the Left and the Right finally found a way to move the social
agenda forward, to repair the bridges, establish durable living
standards, and secure the blessings of life, liberty and justice
for all? Can the Corporate State and Democracy really co-exist?
And the answer lies in the simple act of impeaching the degenerates?
But not so fast
H.L. Mencken, the great American essayist
and journalist (Yes, Virginia, there really were journalists in
the Good Old Days!) used to say that for every complex, intractable,
seemingly impossible problem, there was a quick, easy, convenient
solution - that was wrong!
So, let's play this out. What's wrong
with impeachment now?
Well, for one thing, it's now, not then.
If the Dems wouldn't touch the subject with a ten foot alligator
pole when they were down-and-outers two years ago, why would they
want to stretch their democratic ligaments now when they are convinced
that the Bush Administration is hoisting itself on its own petard
and victory is just 15 months within their grasp?
Those who argue that impeachment will
teach Americans a great lesson in the puissance and ultimate triumph
of Jeffersonian democracy - whatever that may be!-appear to have
forgotten the lesson of the last impeachment: mainly, NAFTA-loving,
affable, charming, roll-in-the-Oval-Office-hay Bill was followed
by snarling Cheney and his hand-puppet Bush. Just when exactly
did impeachment serve the interests of this would-be Republic?
Did Anrew Johnson's? As I recall, his impeachment made it easier
for the carpetbaggers to scour the fallen South, and put daggers
to Lincoln's program to "bind up the nation's wounds."
Did the threatened impeachment of Nixon end the Vietnam War one
day sooner? Wasn't it rather a means to find a presidential scape-goat
for the excesses of Empire; to bring a divided nation together
so that it could elect Ronald Reagan six years later, promote
the Contras in Nicaragua, death squads in El Salvador, and entrench
deregulation and all its sins?
Here's another problem: The Bush-Cheney-Gonzalez
cabal, with the approval of our supine Congress and paleolithic
Supreme Court, have fine-tuned and oiled all the machinery for
a Police State and Martial Law. Let's play out this horror: Another
911 event in the midst of impeachment proceedings. Hannity and
O'Reilley stridently proclaim that "so-called" Progressives
have diverted the attention of the Executive branch from fighting
the all-important War on Terror. Martial Law is declared, the
2008 elections cancelled. Many of us are doubtful about the role
of this Administration in the cloudy events of 911. Can we be
sanguine about its role and response to another such event - or
a worse one?
Governments under siege are no better
defenders of the commonweal than a misinformed public. And our
public has been grossly misinformed for a long time about the
very nature of the Empire in which they live and work, pray, play
and die. While our corporate roosters outsource jobs; while they
plunder the treasury to fight wars abroad; while they line the
pockets of lobbyists and politicians, they foster sentimental
nationalism among the mainstream-media-addicted masses. Laughing
all the way to their banks and their hedge funds, they jet-set
about our shrinking globe, frolicking among their class on the
best beaches in the world, eating the best food in the world,
and shitting their gold-colored shit for the rest of us to eat.
To propose impeachment now, and to proceed
with it, is not to educate the public about their democratic powers,
but to egregiously mislead it into thinking the ballyhooed Republic
actually works - and is on their side! Such a proposal and undertaking
now is a siren song to the naïve; a refusal to do the hard,
solid thinking Martin Luther King espoused.
It presupposes that there is a Republic
which is responsive to the needs and demands of the people; that
that Republic may be salvaged; that it is merely overladen with
the filth of neglect. We have simply to get back to the sterling,
perdurable tablets upon which the Republic has been founded -
the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence - and all will
And while we are engaged in this futile
exercise, shall we re-deploy the troops from Iraq to Kuwait; shall
we streamline our forces so they are better able to pounce next
time? Will we send $30 billion to Israel over the next ten years,
or spend $ 65 billion to re-build our nation's bridges? In order
to fund universal health care, shall we cut our Defense budget
or cut Social Security? Will we ask the big questions? Do we even
know what to ask?
We are less and less likely to know what
to ask, thanks to the consolidation of media empires that took
place in the 90s, and continues apace with Aussie billionaire
Rupert Murdoch's recent purchase of Dow Jones and the Wall Street
Journal. Can we really expect a corporate-government alliance
that sanctions the concentration of so much wealth, power and
influence into the hands of one or a few individuals to be acting
in our interests? So Milton cried for "the liberty to know,
to utter, and to argue freely" according to his conscience
"above all other liberties."
We are trained not to call things what
they are. If we have a psychopathic president and vice-president,
the petit bourgeoisie think it boorish to disrespect their offices
by saying so. If our economic system has created a new aristocracy,
increasingly served by a new peasantry, let's call it Globalization
and The New World Order. The aggregation of corporate, government
and media power, which Mussolini himself called Corporatism and
Fascism - let's just shake our heads sadly and call it "inevitable,"
or the way things are or always have been. Let us go to pedophiliac
priests to confess our sins and listen to their pronouncements
of salvation in heaven. Let us abide by the words of Protestant
preachers who tell us we, too, can become filthy rich if we obey
the word of God (and our keepers!) and do not rock the Ship of
State. Let us make obeisance to Israel - not because of the wisdom
of Solomon, but because the land-grabbing nation-state keeps the
Muslim world divided, and buys our arms.
I am old enough to remember "the
Vietnam Syndrome": the idea that our "defeat" in
Vietnam weakened the country's morale - and our moral fiber. But
that was just Bernays-type P.R. nonsense. We weren't "defeated"
in Vietnam. We wound up killing about 3 million Vietnamese and
our bombing of Cambodia helped to unleash Pol Pot and the "killing
fields" that buried four million. In the third of a century
since our withdrawal from Vietnam we have learned disgustingly
little about the machinations of the Empire. Dutifully we vote
every 2-4 years supposing that this time, doing the same thing,
will bring a different result.
So, what to do?
While international capital leaps borders,
Daimler Benz buys Chrysler, dumps Chrysler, and piece-workers
in China send shiploads to Wal-mart, the international peace movement
is stymied and fragmented, and wage slaves around the world feel
the walls of their prison cells closing in.
It is almost 200 years since the London
Peace Society was organized to convince people that "war
is inconsistent with the principles of Chistianity, and the true
interests of mankind; and to point out the means best calculated
to maintain permanent and univedrsal peace." On July 4th,
1845, Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts, in his speech entitled
"The True Grandeur of Nations" declared war contrary
to religion and humanity, and, under the conditions of modern
civilization, likely to disappear. The first positive reaction
to the depredations of the Industrial Revolution was Luddite-like
resistance - smash the machines; the second, culminating in the
Revolutions of 1848, was to utilize the new power of machines
to move towards the ancient vision of universal peace. The third
reaction, beginning in the twentieth century, has been a great
dulling and numbing of our psychic connections; a retreat from
the rich complexity of transnationalism to the safe simplicities
of statism. Here, the work of Freud and Jung, and particularly
Freud's nephew, Bernays, established the psychic limits of our
species, moulded working and middle classes into enclosed, patriotic,
monitored and stimulated heartbeats, massaged by sentimentalism,
willing to kill and die for the State and the God of the State.
Will Globalization and the IT Revolution
bring a fourth reaction?
After 5,000 years of living in communities,
will Homo sapiens manage to integrate local communities into a
worldwide community in which the principle of fairness is inextricable
from the principle of freedom? We have the technical means, but
do we have the will and vision?
Can the anti-war movement in America join
forces with anti-war movements in Europe, Asia and around the
world? Can we organize planetary boycotts of industries that pollute
our children's air and water, and of corporations that poison
our bodies and minds? Are Americans big enough, wise enough, to
internationalize their problems or must we turn everything over
to our overseers - our politicians and the lobbyists and media
barons they serve and service? Can we remand war criminals like
Bush and Cheney, Kissinger and the like to the International Court
in the Hague and other international judiciary bodies, or must
we resort once again to the tired formulations of impeachments,
pardons and the same ugly crimes reappearing, somewhat reconstituted,
somewhere down the road?
There are crises in the heart and infrastructure
of this nation that go far beyond the soft and hard power of our
body politic. After a quarter of a millennium, our sacrosanct
Constitution is frayed badly at the edges: its electoral college
that awarded Bush the presidency; its life-time appointment of
Supreme Court justices that rigor-mortises Justice itself; the
absurdity of a representational system that provides a senator
from Wyoming some 70 times the proportionate power of a senator
from California; the equal absurdity of a lame-duck presidential
system that almost assures that a successful first term will be
followed by a bad second; the lack of people's referenda to easily
remove indictable offenders like Bush, Cheney, et. al. Not to
mention, the lack of anything like an Economic Bill of Rights!
"Ecraser l'infame!" Voltaire
cried in his mid-60s. Crush the infamous thing! But first, like
Voltaire, understand it, explain it. See the great currents of
human history, controlled and out of control, buffeting our simian
and god-reaching species. Expose the scoundrels and turn them
out, and praise the honest man and woman and uphold their decency.
Those we have trusted to lead us have deceived us long enough,
let us wander too long in a wilderness of tears, thorns and betrayals.
The task is formidable, gargantuan: to educate, to explicate,
to elucidate. To keep mining history until we reach the golden
veins of truth; to flush the murky waters till the clear wellsprings
shine in the radiant sun. To re-connect ourselves to the great
movements of world history: the peace and social reform movements
in Europe and America in the 19th century; the anti-colonial revolutions
of the 19th and 20th centuries against European and American Empire.
We must rise up now with knowledge and compassion and take the
reins to ride the maelstrom; to save ourselves and our home planet,
our tomorrows, and what and whom we love.
Gary Corseri's work has appeared at CounterPunch,
DissidentVoice, The New York Times, Village Voice, PBS-Atlanta,
and elsewhere. His books include Manifestations and Holy Grail,
Holy Grail. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Read
other articles by Gary.