A Mean-Spirited America

Friday 02 May 2003

A Mean-Spirited America
By Jill Nelson
MSNBC Contributor

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.


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 surplus..


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 century.


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.)