Bush's smirk signals the Apocalypse

Peter McLaren mclaren at gseis.ucla.edu
Sun Jul 6 10:51:35 MDT 2003

>From a short piece I published about a year ago.
Peter McLaren

Under the sign of the Stars and Stripes, the war against terrorism unchains
the attack dogs of the New World Order in defense of civilization. In the
process, the United States has crossed the threshold of militant
authoritarianism and goose-stepped onto the global balcony of neo-fascism,
befouling the Constitution along the way.  As long as the nation keeps
cheering, and Bush¹s impish jaw juts ever forward, the stench goes
Among the Bush administration, there is a concerted effort to meld political
rhetoric and apocalyptic discourse  as part of a larger politics of fear and
paranoia.  Like a priest of the black arts, Bush has  successfully
disinterred the remnants of Ronald Reagan¹s proto-fascist rhetoric from the
graveyard of chiliastic fantasies, appropriated it for his own interests,
and played it in public like a charm. Self-fashioning  one¹s image through
the use of messianic and millenarian tropes works best on the intended
audience (in this case, the American public) when the performance is
disabused of shrillness, devoid of mincing,  and remains unrestrained,
confident, anagogic, and sometimes allegorical. Fascist plainspeak is a
discursive rendering that is straightforward and unapologetic, and, like an
iceberg, does most of the damage beneath the surface.  Bush¹s handlers are
masters of the fascist spin, and Bush is a perfect candidate since he hardly
needs any ideological persuasion to get on board the fascist bandwagon.  He
is the perfect host for collapsing the distinction between religious
authoritarianism and politics.  Bush¹s defense of the war on terrorism works
largely through archetypal association, and operates in the crucible of the
structural unconscious. Bush may believe that Providence has assigned him
the arduous yet glorious task of rescuing America from the Satanic forces of
evil, as if he, himself, were the embodiment of the generalized will and the
unalloyed spirit of the American people. Evoking the role of the divine
prophet who identifies with the sword arm of divine retribution, Bush
reveals the eschatological undertow to the war on terrorism, perhaps most
evident in his totalizing and Manichean pronouncements where he likens bin
Laden and his al Quaeda chthonic warriors to absolute evil, and the United
States to the apogee of freedom and goodness.
Placing a veil of righteousness over the exercise of mass destruction and
the quest for geopolitical dominance (the United States is only protecting
the world from those who hate freedom and who wish to destroy democracy),
Bush has been accorded nearly sacerdotal status by the vast majority of the
American people (that is, if we are to believe the opinion polls).  I do
believe that Bush is seen as offering some kind of metaphysical hope for the
rebirth of the American Spirit that has wasted away in a morally comatose
state within what is perceived by many conservatives as the debauched
interregnum of the Clinton years. Ever since the myth of America as God¹s
chosen nation ingressed into the collective unconscious of the American
people, U.S. politics has been primed for the appearance of national saviors
and sinners.  Without skipping a opportunistic beat, Bush has assumed the
mantle of jefe global warlord,  taken up the Hammer of Thor,  and is
continuing to wield  it recklessly, in blatant disregard for the court of
world opinion. Bush appears to believe that God¹s elect‹the Amercian
ubermenschen‹in their potent attempt to realize Bush padre¹s vision of
making America the iron-fisted steward of a New World Order‹must not be
compromised by the liberal ideas of militarily (and by association, morally)
weaker allied nations. It is not as though Bush hijo is trying to remake the
United States into a New Jerusalem. It is more likely that Bush believes
unabashedly that the United States is already the New Jerusalem and must be
protected by leaders ordained by the Almighty. Of course, the civilization
vs. chaos myth is a rewrite of the myth of white racial superiority over
people of color. Instead of the echoes of Wagner, we have the music of
Rocky, instead of Wotan serving as our favorite media action hero, we have
Conan the American chasing Marxists through the jungles of Colombia, instead
of Triumph of the Will, we have Fox news shots of Geraldo in Afghanistan
fudging locations where certain events were supposed to have occurred (Hess,
2002, p. 4).  
We need to ask ourselves how, exactly, the rhetoric of fascism works,
assuming that the infastructure for a transition to a fascist state is
already in place‹we have the USA Patriot Act, we have the military
tribunals, we have the Office of Homeland Security, we have the necessary
scapegoats, we have the Office of Strategic Influence working hand-in-hand
with the US Army¹s Psychological Operations Command (PSYOPS) operating
domestically (actually, its operating domestically  is against the law, but
we know that during the Reagan administration that PSYOPS staffed the Office
of Public Diplomacy and planted stories in the media supporting the Contras,
a move made possible by Otto Reich, now the assistant secretary of state for
Western Hemisphere Affairs; and we know that a few years ago PSYOPS interns
were discovered working as interns in the news division of CNN¹s Atlanta
headquarters), we have the strongest military in the world, we have the
military hawks in control of the Pentagon, we have pummeled an evil nation
into pre-history, turned Central Asia into a zone of containment,  and shown
that we can kill mercilessly and control  the media reporting in the theater
of operations, as major newspapers regularly buried stories of U.S.
airstrikes on civilians, such as in the case of Niazi Kala (sometimes called
Qalaye Niaze), where the United Nations reported that 52 civilians were
killed by the US attack, including 25 children.  According to the UN report,
unarmed women and children were pursued and killed by American helicopters,
even as they fled to shelter or tried to rescue survivors (Coen, 2002, p.
3). And we have a leader who is little more than a glorified servant of the
military industrial complex.  And one who is able to admit this publicly and
arouse little opposition. In fact, such an admission wins him the glowing
admiration of the American people.  The Bush administration¹s scheduled
release of documents under the Presidential Records Act of 1978, which
includes Ronald Reagan¹s papers, have successfully been placed on lockdown.
So far Cheney¹s much publicized legal stonewalling has prevented full
disclosure of the extent of Enron-National Energy Policy Development Group
contacts. Government secrecy and the withholding of information available to
the public by law has beome a guiding axiom of government practice.
While Bush rhapsodizes about our Œfreedom and democracy¹ at home, the truth
is that freedom and democracy have effectively been put on hold.  The Office
of Homeland Security is dedicated to ensuring domestic safety; yet at the
same time it is designed to promote what conservative scholar, James M.
Rhodes, has called (in the context of his discussion of the Hitler
movement)"ontological hysteria", summarized by Michael Grosso (1995, p. 197)
as follows: "Ontological hysteria consists of a prolonged fear of imminent
annihilation, panic over the insecurity of existence. People experience it
in disastrous, disorienting times."  A key tactic of the Bush administration
is to take advantage of this ontological terrorism, to keep the public
disoriented, and in a  sustained feeling of dependence on Bush the Crusader
to protect them. Whenever the public seems ready to let down its guard, we
receive an announcement from the CIA that a terrorist attack is expected
soon, perhaps in a matter of days.
The terrorist attacks‹real and anticipated‹have given Bush a cloak of
teflon; criticism cannot stick. All Bush has to do is make bold
proclamations, bereft of complexity. The shallower the proclamations, the
more profound they appear as long as they are seeped in hagiography and
Biblical prophecy.  Well, maybe not direct Biblical prophecy, but the
illusion of Biblical prophecy.  Apocalyptic overkill  is the prophylactic
gel that kills criticism on contact. The point is that it is profoundly more
effective to hide complex geopolitics in the simplistic, infantilizing
language of religious apocalypse and millennialist  logic.  Here, Manichean
dualisms abound uncontested: good vs. evil, civilized values vs. tribal
barbarism,  warlords vs elected officials, etc. Within such a scenario, the
act of critique itself is seen as intemperate.  Critique is tolerated in the
opinion pages of newspapers, but not as editorial commentary. It can appear
in local television venues with relatively small viewing audiences, but it
cannot be tolerated on major televised news shows. Those who would critique
a President in the midst of directing  a global war against terrorism could
only be seen by the public-at-large as self-interested, as a Œspoiler¹ at
best and a traitor at worst. We saw what happened to Bill Maher and Susan
Seemingly, all that Bush has to do is to remain militantly forthright: the
United States has now geographically ordained a new global partnership bent
on mass destruction (and therefor in need of destruction),  a new axis of
evil‹North Korea, Iran, and Iraq‹that must be terminated. You cannot name
something as Œevil¹ and then work out a compromise without you, yourself,
being implicated in the very evil you ostensibly oppose. You cannot say:
"America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us
with the world's most destructive weapons" (cited in Umansky, 2002) without
backing up the threat.  Which is why the special operations AC-130 Spectre
gunship, whose conventional weaponry since the time of the Vietnam War has
been used to pulverize any and every opponent of civilization that has dared
stand in its path, is now to be fitted with a laser that can bring down
missiles, melt holes in aircraft, and eliminate ground radar stations. A key
factor here is that it might take years to defeat an evil regime but decades
to defeat an axis of evil‹even with laser-equipped gunships.
In effect, what Bush was able to do in his State of the Union Address was
formalize in both temporal and spacial terms the new Cold War.  Of course,
when you talk about an axis, there is always room for more players.  For
this reason, we shouldn¹t count China or Russia out.  For the moment they
are not part of the axis, but in the arena of geopolitics scenarios change
rapidly.  While Bush was touring South Korea, a U.S. soldier pointed out
that an axe used to kill two American soldiers in the 1970s was now
ensconced in a North Korean museum just across the border in the North. Bush
responded, "No wonder I think they're evil" (Ulmansky, 2002).   This remark
was quite telling. 
The fascism that is slowly settling into place is generously assisted by
Attorney General John Ashcroft.  Consider his recent remarks on the struggle
against terrorism: "Civilized people--Muslims, Christians and Jews--all
understand that the source of freedom and human dignity is the Creator "
(Ulmansky, 2000).  Ashcroft made these remarks in front of a group of
Christian broadcasters.  At the same event he proclaimed: "Civilized people
of all religious faiths are called to the defense of His creation. We are a
nation called to defend freedom--a freedom that is not the grant of any
government or document, but is our endowment from God" (Ulmansky, 2000). And
while our Attorney General exiles Orpheus into the political hinterland by
covering up the breasts of the statues located in the lobby of his
workplace, he offers the wrath of Jehovah as a libidinal replacement to
Christian fundamentalists embarking on  their torchlit rallies and declaring
that "united we stand." Recently Vice President Dick Cheney told Orange
County Republicans  gathered at the Richard Nixon Library & Birthplace in
Yorba Linda, California, that "the United States must accept the place of
leadership given to us by history" (Pasco, 2000, B6).  Clearly, his  peace
through strength message was a secular rewrite of a divine mandate to
destroy the infidel.  Reverend Jerry Falwell, who, in the 1980s, was told by
President Ronald Reagan that Armageddon was fast approaching, invoked a God
of vengeance and destruction when he blamed feminists, civil libertarians,
abortion rights advocates and gays and lesbians for the terrorist attacks of
September 11. He echoed a belief shared by other evangelicals that divine
protection is summarily withdrawn from nations who have followed in the
footsteps of the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah and have irredeemably
become steeped in sin.
Essentially George Bush, Cheney, Ashcroft,  and Falwell express similar
sentiments, but Falwell has failed where the others have succeeded because
their attack demonizes "them" rather than  splitting "us"  into an "us and
them" (good Americans vs bad Americans).  Lynne Cheney can spearhead a
report designed to demonize professors who speak out against civilization
(read as speak out against Bush¹s war on terrorism) but it is unlikely that
there will be serious repercussions for professors unless further terrorist
attacks within the US  provoke the general population to feel more
comfortable with the idea of  eating  their own children.  If attacks recur,
then clearly the stage is set to go after with more vigilance dissenters in
the universities.  At the present moment, because there is no mass
opposition to Bush and his warlords as there was, say, to Nixon during the
Vietnam War, most people are not interested in rooting out internal enemies
(unless, of course, they fit the right ethnic profile).  At the present
time, the American public is not seeking internal scapegoats, even if some
of the candidates are what the Œmoral majority¹ would regard as Œperverts¹.
For the time being, the public  wants an enemy that remains Œout there¹, one
that is easily outsourced, like sweatshop labor by transnational
corporations, conveniently externalized and seen as wholly Other to the
values of mainstream U.S. society.  We want to fight the detritus of global
humanity.  And anyone not willing to submit to the law of the marketplace,
and the desires of its global curate in the White House, are automatic
contenders for the label of dregs of the New World Order.  At the helm of
just states must be leaders who exemplify  a religiously motivated
patriotism that positions income redistribution, multilateralism and any
restraint on individual liberty as mortal enemies of the development of
democracy. They must defend global capitalism as the source of freedom, even
to the extent of justifying bankruptcies of corporations such as Enron as
part of the survival of the fittest (even religious pundits will draw upon
Darwin-inspired theories if it suits their purposes).  The terrorist attacks
of September 11‹that infamous saber slash across the cheekbones of world
history‹were truly acts against humanity.  But Bush and his administration
are defeating democracy in their vainglorious attempt to defend it.


Coen, Rachel. (2002). New York Times Buries Stories of Airstrikes on
Civilians. Extra! Update. February, p. 3.

Grosso, Michael. (1995). The Millennium Myth: Love and Death at the End of
Time. Wheaton, Illinois: Quest Books.

Hess, John L. (2002). Indirect from the Battlefield. Extra! Update.
February, p. 4.

Media Advisory: Pentagon Plan Is Undemocratic, Possibly Illegal. FAIR-L
(Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, Media Analysis, Critiques, and
Activism). fair at fair.org Tuesday, Februrary 19, 2002.

Pasco, Jean O. (2002).Cheney Hits Right Notes for Nixon Library Audience.
Los Angeles Times, Wednesday, February 20, B6.

Umansky, Eric. Eyeing the Axis. Slate Magazine. Wednesday, February 20,
2002. slate at slate.com

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