|This article, one of the best short analyses of the Bush
administration's policies, was first published by "Vorwarts," Germany
on June 8, 2003
What Is Happening In America?
By Eliot Weinberger
In the Western democracies in the last fifty years, we have grown
accustomed to governments whose policies on specific issues may be
good or bad, but which essentially institute incremental changes to
the status quo. The major exceptions have been Thatcher and Reagan,
but even their programs of dismantling systems of social welfare
seem, in retrospect, mild compared to what is happening in the United
States under George Bush-- or more exactly, the ruling junta that
tells Bush what to do and say.
It is unquestionably the most radical government in modern American
history, one whose ideology and actions have become so pervasive, and
are so unquestionably mirrored by the mass media here, that the
population seems to have forgotten what "normal" is.
Church and State
Bush is the first unelected President of the United States,
installed by a right-wing Supreme Court in a kind of judicial coup
d'etat. He is the first to actively subvert one of the pillars of
American democracy: the separation of church and state. There are now
daily prayer meetings and Bible study groups in every branch of the
government, and religious organizations are being given funds to take
over educational and welfare programs that have always been the
domain of the state.
Bush is the first president to invoke the specific "Jesus Christ"
rather than an ecumenical "God," and he has surrounded himself with
evangelical Christians, including his Attorney General, who attends a
church where he talks in tongues.
It is the first administration to openly declare a policy of
unilateral aggression, a "Pax Americana" where the presence of allies
(whether England or Bulgaria) is agreeable but unimportant; where
international treaties no longer apply to the U
nited States; and
where-- for the first time in history-- this country reserves the
right to non-defensive, "pre-emptive" strikes against any nation on
earth, for whatever reason it declares.
It is the first-- since the internment of Japanese-Americans in World
War II-- to enact special laws for a specific ethnic group.
Non-citizen young Muslim men are now required to register and subject
themselves to interrogation. Many hundreds have been arrested and
held without trial or access to legal assistance-- a violation of
another pillar of American democracy: habeas corpus. Many have been
taken from their families and deported on minor technical immigration
violations; the whereabouts of many others are still unknown. And, in
Guantanamo Bay, where it is said that they are now preparing
execution chambers, hundreds of foreign nationals -- including a
13-year-old and a man who claims to be 100-- have been kept for
almost two years in a limbo that clearly contravenes the
Similar to the Reagan era, it is an administration openly devoted to
helping the rich and ignoring the poor, one that has turned the
surplus of the Clinton years into a massive deficit through its
combination of enormous tax cuts for the wealthy (particularly those
who earn more than a million dollars a year) and increases in defense
spending. (And, although Republicans always campaign on "less
government," it has created the largest new government bureaucracy in
history: the Department of Homeland Security.) The Financial Times of
England, hardly a hotbed of leftists, has categorized this economic
policy as "the lunatics taking over the asylum."
But more than Reagan-- whose policies tended to benefit the rich in
general-- most of Bush's legislation specifically enriches those in
his lifelong inner circle from the oil, mining, logging,
construction, and pharmaceutical industries. At the middle level of
the bureaucracy, wher
e laws may be issued without Congressional
approval, hundreds of regulations have been changed to lower
standards of pollution or safety in the workplace, to open up
wilderness areas for exploitation, or to eliminate the testing of
Billions in government contracts have been awarded, without
competition, to corporations formerly run by administration officials.
Undermining Law - II
In a country where the most significant social changes are enacted by
court rulings, rather than by legislation, the Bush administration
has been filling every level of the complex judicial system with
ultra-right ideologues, especially those who have protected
corporations from lawsuits by individuals or environmental groups,
and those who are opposed to women's reproductive rights. It remains
to be seen how far they can push their antipathy to contraception and
abortion. They have already banned a rare form of late-term abortion
that is only given when the health of t
he mother is endangered or the
fetus is terribly deformed, and a large portion of Bush's heralded
billions to Africa to fight AIDS will be devoted to so-called
Most of all, America doesn't feel like America any more. The climate
of militarism and fear, similar to any totalitarian state, permeates
everything. Bush is the first American president in memory to swagger
around in a military uniform, though he himself-- like all of his
most militant advisers-- evaded the Vietnam War. (Even Eisenhower, a
general and a war hero, never wore his uniform while he was
In the airports of provincial cities, there are frequent
announcements in that assuring, disembodied voice of science-fiction
films: "The Department of Homeland Security advises that the Terror
Alert is now . . . Code Orange." Every few weeks there is an
announcement that another terrorist attack is imminent, and citizens
are urged to take ludicrous measures, like s
ealing their windows,
against biological and chemical attacks, and to report the suspicious
activities of their neighbors.
The Pentagon institutes the "Total Information Awareness" program to
collect data on the ordinary activities of ordinary citizens (credit
card charges, library book withdrawals, university course
enrollments) and when this is perceived as going too far, they change
the name to "Terrorist Information Awareness" and continue to do the
same things. Millions are listed in airport security computers as
potential terrorists, including antiwar demonstrators and pacifists.
Critics are warned to "watch what they say" and lists of "traitors"
are posted on the internet.
The war in Iraq has been the most extreme manifestation of this new
America, and almost a casebook study in totalitarian techniques.
First, an Enemy is created by blatant lies that are endlessly
repeated until the population believes it: in this case, that Iraq
was linked to the attack on the Worl
d Trade Center, and that it
possesses vast "weapons of mass destruction" that threaten the world.
Then, a War of Liberation, entirely portrayed by the mass media in
terms of our Heroic Troops, with little or no imagery of casualties
and devastation, and with morale-inspiring, scripted "news" scenes--
such as the toppling of the Saddam statue and the heroic "rescue" of
Private Lynch-- worthy of Soviet cinema.
Finally, as has happened with Afghanistan, very little news of the
chaos that has followed the Great Victory. Instead, the propaganda
machine moves on to a new Enemy-- this time, Iran.
It is very difficult to speak of what is happening in America without
resorting to the hyperbolic cliches of anti-Americanism that have
lost their meaning after so many decades, but that have now finally
Perhaps one can only recite the facts, and I have mentioned only some
of them here. This is, quite simply, the most frightening American
administration in modern times, one
that is appalling both to the
left and to traditional conservatives. This junta is unabashed in its
imperialist ambitions; it is enacting an Orwellian state of Perpetual
War; it is dismantling, or attempting to dismantle, some of the most
fundamental tenets of American democracy; it is acting without
opposition within the government, and is operating so quickly on so
many fronts that it has overwhelmed and exhausted any popular
Perhaps it cannot be stopped, but the first step toward slowing it
down is the recognition that this is an American government unlike
any other in this country's history, and one for whom democracy is an