Monday, November 5, 2007


We Americans generally don’t care much for history. We were force-fed our own, and promptly forgot it, and we know as little as possible of anybody else’s. We pride ourselves on our cultural isolation. It’s a mark of our superiority.

As a result of our delusion, we imagine that we Americans are genetically immune from the corruption of soul and mind that leads to totalitarianism. We like to imagine that when we tiptoe off the constitutional straight and narrow, it’s because we have no choice. We know so because our leaders tell us so. We like to believe that the threat of “terrorism” justifies what we imagine to be departures anticipated in our Constitution, even when there’s no evidence of any kind, documentary or oral history or cellular, to support that fantasy.

There's a movie about that. It's called "Missing." In it, Jack Lemmon represents that America, and Sissy Spacek represents a generation that, for all its faults, at least took the Constitution seriously. Seriously enough to build on it, seriously enough to protest for it.

For all that, Americans still take liberties with history. It is as if we learned nothing from the 70s. We grant ourselves immunity from the frailties that have plagued the flesh since Time began, with absolutely no reason to do so. We demean others’ heroism for no better reason than that they weren’t smoked in hickory and wrapped in buckskin. We account for our McCarthys and Cohns and Jedgar Hoovers by projecting them onto “old Europe,” because we lack the perspective bestowed by a thorough liberal arts education, one that puts more emphasis on the capacity to reason than on the capacity to memorize fact upon dissected fact.

Curious, isn’t it? If we paused long enough to look, we would notice that the historical interests, involvements, investments, and prerogatives of the Bush family are not so different from those of other plutocrats.

If we paused long enough to see, we might notice that capitulations of our Congress to a corrupt Attorney General nominee, the acquiescence of our elected leaders to torture and endless corruption at the cost of endless lives and endless billions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the effective assent of our officials to a “unitary” presidency are only history repeating itself.

That means, as I take it, that it's up to us, the living, to change the course of history.