The Fear Years, Slowly….

The Fear Years: That miserable epoch from the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01 to Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, about September 1, 2005. In those four years a not-really-elected President started a disastrous war of choice, enacted tax cuts and economic policy that would destroy the economy, and oversaw any number of medium bore policy scandals that fester on as flesh wounds to this day. To oppose any of these ideas, to oppose the Man himself, was said to oppose the Country itself, or to be “with the terrorists” as the “President” Himself put it.

Fear was a condition, a means and an end. The condition of Fear — stoked by the immaculate timing of the the M&M-hued terror “alerts” — created a need to believe in and never critisize the Leader as he found a means to “fight” terror by invading Iraq, the result of which was a seemingly endless conflict that required countless treasure to assure success, or else the terrorists would win in the end.

While this mania waned it did not truly end until Katrina proved that the Bush Regime was too incompetent to even respond to a predicted natural disaster. An electorate that consisted of largely the same people that “elected” Bush twice installed a Democratic Congress in 2006 (over Bush’s declaration that to do so would mean that the terrorists would win) and elected Obama — who seemed, on the surface, to be the antithesis of Bush — in 2008.

It was as if the 2006 repudiation and the 2008 arrival of a “redeemer” would reverse the Fear Years. But that isn’t so. The disasters of the Fear Years still linger over the country. The recent Rachel Maddow documentary on the venal build up to the war in Iraq, and the sinister conflation of Saddam with al Qaeda, is jarring because in its simple factual way it forces the viewer to confront the the mendacity of the time.

Far more effective than the Maddow piece is the last two episodes of the Showtime series “Oliver Stone’s: Untold History of the United States.” “Untold” is the greatest voice-over history documentary ever made. That is not to say that I agree with all of its points. The hero of “Untold” is Henry Wallace, FDRs penultimate vice-president who was removed from the ticket in favor of Harry Truman by Democratic Party bosses at the 1944 Democratic Convention. Stone is convinced that Wallace’s humanism as President after FDR’s death would have crafted a different and better Post-WWII world than Truman’s militarism. Such “what if” speculation is fun, but meaningless. The same militant forces that prevailed upon Truman would have been there with Wallace too. Had he opposed them, perhaps they would have aligned themselves completely with the Republicans and we may have been treated to Reactionary Movement conservatives in power in the 50s and 60s instead of the 80s, 90s and 00s. Or maybe not, who knows and who can know? “Untold” also focuses most of its attention on Foreign Policy. It praises JFK for usurping his generals after the Cuban Missile Crisis and lambasts LBJ for escalating the Vietnam War, but doesn’t mention that it took LBJs legislative genius to pass JFKs program, and then some.

That said, what makes “Untold” so effective is Stone’s artistic genius for images. “Untold” consists of mostly 2 to 7 second visual clips, overspersed with Stone’s narration and emotive, cinematic music. Where there are not visuals, Stone isn’t afraid to offer representation in the form of movies, or even have actors mimic real figures while reading quotes that were unrecorded. The result is a psycahdelic stream-of-visual-consciousness that moves history out of the frontal cortex (where the Maddow documentary presided) into the older, visceral regions of the brain.

It is the willingness to mix emotions and argument that make “Untold” the most effective readily available analysis of Bush II and the Fear Years. In one brilliant sequence, “Untold” flashes through images of the great Coup D’etat of the 2000 election. The GOP putsch in Florida, Jeb Bush, Kathryn Harris, the Supreme Court, Bush’s rainy inaugural. The music is a stringy, blues version of the national anthem played at a pace so slow that it becomes an elegy. “It started with the 2000 election itself,” Stone intones. “The most scandalous in U.S. history. Wounding, perhaps fatally, the notion of democracy in this country…. Behooving the shenanigans of a banana republic the US Supreme Court intervened to stop a recount of the votes…”

It’s there, in all its stupidity and agony. Condoleeza Rice’s “nobody could’ve predicted…”. Bush’s “either you’re with us or you’re with the terrorists” (“Imagine any citizen in any country of the world being told by a man like this, ‘you’re either with us or against us.'”). The Patriot Act. Wire Tapping. Gitmo. Torture. “WMDs”. “The smoking gun in the form of a mushroom cloud”. Conflating Iraq with al qaeda. (“The descent into unreality was dizzying.”) The parade of ex-generals selling the war on TV while being employed by defense contractors.

“Untold” hits the mark, but it doesn’t linger quite long enough before moving on to harsh Obama for maintaining a similar military complex to Bush, even as he wound down the Bush Wars. Whether the recognition is intellectual or emotional, as an American you own the Fear Years. Even if you opposed the war. Unlike distant genocides like the settlement of the West or abstract ignoble actions abroad, Iraq War II was sanctioned by the populace. IT happened here. “Untold” and Maddow’s documentary make the case, but ten years on the ephemeral zietgiest of the polity is still largely in denial.

"There is No Decent Place to Stand in a Massacre"

The title of this post is taken from a Leonard Cohen song. Even out of context, only a poet can distill these eight diabolical and embarrassing years. A massacre. A massacre, literally, for the tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis and brave “Coalition” soldiers needless killed in Iraq. A massacre, truly, for the swollen and dead in New Orleans. A massacre, figuratively, for the millions jobless or struggling, or otherwise victims of the Great Economic Collapse. The list of agonies flows on like a forever dropping jaw.

Others have certainly cataloged the cavalcade of Conservatron chicanery of the last eight years with precision. I am more concerned with where the rest of us stood in the massacre.

Remember, remember we must remember fellow Americans the Fear Years. That awful epoch between 9/11/01 and early 2004 when Generalissimo Bush turned any sense of humanity stemming from 9/11 and twisted it into Iraq War II. Disagreement was deemed betrayal. Our real enemies were allowed to skitter away and regroup. The reign of Generalissimo Bush is now almost universally recognized as a mammoth failure. But Bush was no more and no less of a failure in the Fear Years than he is now. He was no more or less of a venal demon then as he is now. The falsity and surrealism of the Iraq venture was evident then with as much critical thinking as it takes to decipher the nutrition label on a cereal box. The only thing that has changed is us. If America had a Parliamentary system then Generalissimo Bush would have been bounced from the White House long ago. Yet, stuck with him as we are, his power has been largely drained by his unpopularity. We proved we could cauterize the wound. Yes Bush deserves the brunt of the blame for the massacre. But we all let it happen.

What more could we have done? I myself argued the evil and stupidity of the Iraq War and Generalissimo Bush in general, often to barking, furious rejoinders from my countrymen. Others marched, which I thought would be ineffectual. I voted the right way. Horror at how Generalissimo Bush was mutating America (and the ineffectual response to it from Democrats) was an impetus for this blog. These are all well and good gestures on the “I told you so” level, but the massacre still happened. Not enough of us made a large enough effort to prevent it.

We all share the culpability of our America’s comprehensive failure during the Fear Years. All we can do now is learn from our errors. Know then, America, that “it” did happen here and “it” can happen here again. The kind minds of your friends and neighbors can be forged and fluxed by anger and anxiety into cheering the violence and delusions of a man of fear and hate. The words of our Constitution and laws are only words. They are nothing if their letter is usurped and ignored. The American experiment is fragile and can be aborted into a bizarre kind of fascism if we let it.

Remember America! Remember the Fear Years! Remember America’s fascist moment! Remember the massacre!