A Mean-Spirited America
By ALAN FREEMAN
Friday 02 May 2003
A Mean-Spirited America
By Jill Nelson
Friday 02 May 2003
Today, I fear my own government more than I do terrorists
These days, a sense of apprehension and foreboding lurks in the back of my
head and the pit of my stomach. It's a gut-wrenching reminder that something
very bad has happened and is about to happen anew. It is an anticipation of
the next insult and injury in an America that has been defined under the
Bush administration by a profound meanness of spirit.
THE EVIDENCE OF this overwhelming meanness of spirit is everywhere, abroad
and at home. Even the administration's efforts to justify the war in Iraq as
one of liberation and declare victory cannot mask the human costs to
American troops and their families. How many thousands of Iraqis are dead?
Where are the ridiculously named "weapons of mass destruction" that Bush
used to justify this invasion? Witness the looting of priceless antiquities,
kitsch and cash from Iraqi museums and Saddam Hussein's palaces and homes,
allowed and participated in not only by Iraqis but members of the American
armed forces and their ''embedfellows," the media.
Yet to question this war and its aftermath is characterized as at worst
treason and at best anti-American cynicism. And woe unto those who criticize
Halliburton, Kellogg Brown & Root and the rest of the corporate sponsors of
the Bush administration as they line up at the trough of government
contracts to rebuild Iraq and control its oil. Now, the armed forces in Iraq
have turned to shooting Iraqi demonstrators, the very people they supposedly
came to "liberate" with democracy.
UNDER SIEGE AT HOME
Here on the home front, our e-mail communications, bookstore purchases, and
even our public library withdrawals are open to government surveillance. The
attorney general lengthens the arm of government repression every day,
seeking the right to revoke an American's citizenship if he alone decides
their words or deeds fall within his definition of treason. Slowly chipping
away at our civil and democratic rights.
The Internal Revenue Service announces that it will scrutinize the returns
of the poorest taxpayers, those claiming the earned income tax credit. This
is a credit offered to taxpayers who earn under $35,000 for a family of
four, and it averages less than $2000. The Bush administration wants to
spend $100 million to go after these working-poor Americans in search of
fraud rather than concentrate on corporations who, according to some
estimates, defraud the government by tens of billions of dollars every year.
And what of the move in many states to curtail or severely cut back Medicaid
benefits to the 50 million people that program currently insures, a move
that will result in the loss of insurance, cuts in benefits, and an
increasingly unhealthy population? And unemployment, and the awful school
system, and systemic poverty, and gun violence? The list goes on.
This as President Bush crisscrosses the country like a snake-oil salesman in
an effort to sell his tax-cut program, one that will again reward the
wealthiest Americans and increase the tax burden on the poor and middle
class. This after already pushing through a tax cut two years ago that
failed to stimulate the economy but succeeded in resurrecting a deficit
that, at the end of the Clinton administration a year before, was a
LIVING IN FEAR
Meanwhile, here in our great democracy, Americans go along with the program
or remain silent, too afraid of the Muslim bogeymen thousands of miles away
to recognize the Christian ones in our midst. Fearful that we will be
verbally attacked, or shunned, or lose our livelihoods if we dare question
the meanness that characterizes our government and, increasingly, defines
our national character.
I do not feel safer now than I did six, or 12, or 24 months ago. In fact, I
feel far more vulnerable and frightened than I ever have in my 50 years on
the planet. It is the United States government I am afraid of. In less than
two years the Bush administration has used the attacks of 9/11 to manipulate
our fear of terrorism and desire for revenge into a blank check to blatantly
pursue imperialist objectives internationally and to begin the rollback of
the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and most of the advances of the 20th
RECIPE FOR CHANGE
It is none too early to begin organizing for the 2004 elections. Each of us
must take a hard look at the changes that have been wrought by this
administration internationally and domestically and ask ourselves: Is this
the democracy we cherish? We must hold our elected officials accountable and
make them take a stand against what increasingly looks like fascism. If they
will not, we must vote them out of office.
Three years ago, before the bloodless coup d'etat that made George W. Bush
president, America was a far-from-perfect nation. Yet there was the
possibility, almost gone now, that our country might evolve into a place
that lived up to its loftiest democratic rhetoric. Today, I live in an
America that makes my stomach hurt and fills me with terror. A nation run by
greedy, frightened, violent bullies. It is time to take our country back
before it is too late.
(Jill Nelson is a journalist, teacher and author.
She is a regular contributor to MSNBC.com.)