So Now What?

No one said freedom was easy

In his speech last week acknowledging that he has finally been elected President of the United States, George W. Bush was gracious, conciliatory and, one can only assume, lying through his smirking teeth. Addressing John Kerry's supporters, he said, "I will need your support, and I will work to earn it. I will do all I can to deserve your trust."

Those of you who don't live in red states might have enough memory to recall that Bush said essentially the same thing four years ago, when he assumed office with something less than a mandate from the people and promised to work to represent all of us. Then he took a deep breath and launched into the job of frontman for the most divisive, single-minded, vindictive, secretive, unaccountable and just-plain-lying administration in American history.

So now that he has his mandate, or at least a sufficiency of votes from people who are scared of wolves, how hard do you expect he's going to work to heal the wounds his administration is still widening? Will he restore the environmental laws he's gutted? Will he apologize to the families of the soldiers killed in the war he lied us into? Will he finally meet with members of the Congressional Black Caucus? Will he return Democratic senators' phone calls when their states are in crisis? Will Dick Cheney tell Senator Patrick Leahy to go un-fuck himself? If you're waiting for these things to happen, you'd best have a comfy chair and a vat of mint juleps.

* * *

Typically, I would have been infuriated at CBS for being so gun-shy after Rathergate that it waited until the night afterthe election for 60 Minutes to run its piece on Sean Baker, who'd been a military policeman at Guantanamo. In a 2003 training exercise there, Baker had been ordered to dress in a prison jump suit and was put in the custody of trainees who had been made to believe he was a prisoner. When he didn't cooperate with them, he was beaten, his head slammed so hard and repeatedly into the steel floor he suffered significant brain damage, giving him uncontrollable seizures. That's his life now. The Army disappeared a surveillance tape of the incident and failed to launch an investigation for the better part of a year. Baker told 60 Minutes he'd seen Middle Eastern prisoners being bloodied as well at the base.

Why not air this story weeks ago, when Americans might have added it to the hamper of sordid, unjust events that bear out our founding fathers' fears of concentrated power unchecked by transparency or accountability? The BBC reported on the incident in June.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had assured us we shouldn't concern ourselves with the rights of prisoners at Guantanamo because they were "the worst of the worst." Some doubtless were; eight of those released have since joined or rejoined terrorist outfits. But hundreds more of those now released were by all accounts guilty of nothing more than being handy when some Afghan mercenary felt like collecting a bounty.

* * *

The fledgling America was special in the world because it established that justice was an essential right deserved by all. As imperfect as our nation may be, we have grand impulses, and our grandest has been seeking greater justice in our world. When you're proud to be an American, that's supposed to be one of the reasons why. So you'd think 60 Minutes would know a story like this goes to the core of our character and needed to be fully explored and debated before we hit our "cast ballot" buttons.

That's what I used to think, but you know what? It really doesn't matter. By now, anyone who's interested knows what's going on in this country, and those who don't never will. Bush could pee in their mouths, and they'd think God gave them lemonade.

I mean, half these people are so Christian they don't even care what Christ said. You know, those confusing admonitions against wealth, against casting the first stone, his teachings of forgiveness and love. Theirs is the NRA Jesus, who's traded his cross for crosshairs. Somehow, they think the most Christian candidates are the ones who start wars, comfort the comfortable, and use the words "fuck" and "asshole" in public.

* * *

The Republicans won on fear issues. If they could only make sure it's a group of gay jihadists who attack us next time, it'd ensure GOP victories for years to come. In the meantime, the red states gave a second term to the guy whose actions have swelled the terrorists' ranks, whose unwillingness to discomfit his corporate supporters leaves us open to chemical-plant attacks, nukes in shipping containers and even the flu.

Thanks a lot, red states. Where do you think the terrorists will attack, Billings? As Timothy McVeigh demonstrated, the only people angry enough to attack your states are the people who live in them.

So what do we do now? Maybe we on the coasts should take a tip from the Old South and secede from the union. Welcome to Washiforgon. You other states—the ones where you hate gays with the same fervor you used to put into burning black churches—you can just go your own righteous way. We'll trade you video games for corn. When your daughter has a life-threatening pregnancy, just drive her 1,300 miles here. You can visit your draft-dodging son at the same time. While you're home reenacting Inherit the Wind for the 40th time, we'll be discovering stem-cell therapy is so effective that we're still able to make Christopher Reeve walk. We'll see you at the Olympics every four years, until you quit it because there are too many foreigners.

* * *

I know several people who are looking into abandoning the U.S. for Canada, Spain or other nations that look more like America to them than America does now. But this isn't just a moral dudgeon issue. They don't want to be near the Port of Long Beach when Iraq's missing weapons and looted atomic materials suddenly turn up. They don't want their children inundated by the lead, mercury, toxins and uninspected foodstuffs that abound under Bush. And they don't want to trust half of their fellow Americans again with anything as important as an election.

As for my household, we don't know. Canada sure is a sensible country, and with global warming it should have a nice Mediterranean climate in 15 or 20 years. There's an argument to be made for not ceding our tax dollars to an administration that thinks it's a "tremendous success story" when you kill between 10,000 and 100,000 (who's counting?) civilians in a war over fictitious weapons. But there's also an argument for staying and trying to heal this festering cheese log of a nation. America has done so many great things it would be a shame to let it sink into the tar pit of empire now.

Even if the rich and incorporated control all three branches of government, the media and everything else, they don't have truth and the human spirit on their side. Those qualities have proved effective in the past and may yet work in convincing our fear-besotted brethren that greatness doesn't flow from the barrel of a gun. It's slow soul-by-soul work, but it's possible.

And as George W. Bush likes to remind terrorists and Democrats, you can run, but you can't hide. Whatever America does to its democratic institutions or its environment will have a global effect, so we can't just sit it out in some Amsterdam hash bar. The noble thing, the right thing to do is to stay here, fight the good fight, and remember that things could always be worse. Under Bush, you can be pretty sure that they will be, but that's our lot. No one said freedom was easy.

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