Unless the earth reverses its rotation or gravity fails, future historians will look back and see in the Bush II presidency the start of a new America. Or, from the historian Arnold Toynbee’s point of view, America today is in its senescent stage. A simpler view is that the government presided over by the 43rd president has almost nothing in common with the original government. To be sure, the country has never fully realized those ideals on which its government was founded even though from time to time there have been sincere attempts to do so. The experiment launched in 1789 has produced interesting, exciting, unintended and sometimes admirable results as well as tragedies. Congressional representatives, for example, are not representative; “close to half” are millionaires (Associated Press, December 2002). The ship of state, once sturdy, is lost at sea like the “Flying Dutchman.” The American dream, for at least 99 out of 100, has morphed from an aspiration to an inspiration into a hallucination. The links “of,” “by” and “for” between government and people have been permanently severed.
Dubya himself had little to do with this turn of events but he presided over the legitimizing of what I will call the New United States of America (NUSA).
Specifically, whereas the USA was once governed by three independent branches with de jure checks and balances, the NUSA has a fourth branch, de facto unchecked and unbalanced, a cartel of corporate entities that has attained sui generis powers broad and strong enough to have its way with the other three.
On the 215th anniversary of the signing the Constitution of the USA the Bush administration implicitly but officially abandoned it. The NUSA was born on Sept. 17, 2002 when President Bush signed a 31-page document titled “The National Security Strategy” that served notice to the world that this nation would “identify and destroy” perceived threats preemptively and by any means necessary, including nuclear.
But the seed for replacing the old government with a new one was planted more than a hundred years earlier.
In 1898 the USA provoked a war with Spain that lasted less than five months. (Hostilities in the Philippines continued for over a decade costing up to 200,000 lives.) It was then that the USA rejected the policy of “no foreign entanglements” urged by Washington in his Second Farwell Address and stepped boldly onto the world stage. In doing so it set in motion a process that led eventually to the abrogation of many hallowed constitutional provisions.
Ambassador John Hay in reporting to President Roosevelt from Paris wrote that the Spanish American War from start to finish had been “…a splendid little war.” From the sidelines, Rudyard Kipling, the most admired poet of his time, encouraged imperialism “…send forth the best ye breed […] to serve your captives’ need […] sullen people, Half devil and half child” (“Take Up the White Man’s Burden”). Mark Twain vehemently opposed the war in a scathing satirical allegory titled “The War Prayer” and urged immediate military post treaty withdrawal from the Philippines declaring “An inglorious peace is better than a dishonorable war.” As the 20th century dawned the USA found itself in possession of many of Spain’s new world holdings, including a permanent naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, ironically connecting then (USA) with now (NUSA).
Collectively, the ideals abandoned and constitutional provisions abrogated changed this nation; it is not what it once aspired to be. It is not a democracy; it is not a republic; it is something of an oligarchy. Consider a randomly selected unordered litany:
Congress, out of temerity, no longer exercises its congressional power to declare war (Article 1, Section 8). The Commander in Chief can order a military “rescue mission” (Panama, Grenada) and declare war based on Congressional resolutions he, as president, proposed and justified sometimes by lies (the Tonkin Gulf resolution, the Iraq War Resolution).
Incarcerating “enemy combatants” at Guantanamo Bay tells the world that the president can, without Congress, reject due process, habeas corpus and humane protocols (Geneva Conventions).
The executive branch usurped judicial authority and persuaded a sloven self-regarding Congress to legalize the illegal (Patriot Act of 2001, reaffirmed in 2006) and to renew the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) adding an executive requested, judicial-like provision whereby communication companies, AT&T, Verizon and the like, may not be prosecuted for violating the old FISA—warrantless eaves dropping.
Bush’s ubiquitous use of signing statements tells the nation that he will execute laws passed by Congress as required (Article 2, Section 1), unless he decides not to.
Similarly, “executive privilege,” another extra constitutional notion, allows the president to neutralize Congressional authority. Thus, executive power goes unchecked and its fabrications unchallenged.
The Supreme Court assumed a legislative role at the end of 2000 in voting for the 43rd president and again in reducing the amount of fine imposed for the Exxon Valdez oil spill (1989) to 10 cents on the dollar.
The national energy policy supervised by Vice President Cheney in the first months of his tenure remains secret despite repeated requests from both houses of Congress to be informed of its provisions and the persons who helped develop it.
Congress gives tax breaks to the rich, fails to control corporate excesses (Savings and Loan crisis of 1980s and 1990s, Enron et al. collapse of 2001 and current home foreclosures), and generally privatizes matters of public interest.
The Statue of Liberty welcomed immigrants from the east but in the NUSA a border wall keeps our immigrants from the south.
Finally, I believe the governing system of the NUSA offer my children and theirs as much hospitality (and hostility) as the USA offered me. The NUSA is, nevertheless, infected with a stultifying two-party system that Washington dimly foresaw, also in his Second Farewell Address.
Glibly expressed: A government caught between two parties is like a fish between two cats. (Thank you, Ben Franklin.)
Marvin Chachere is a San Pablo resident.