“The European press began to squirm uneasily at talk of evil, as if a wine and cheese party had suddenly turned into a Pentecostal revival meeting, and looked nervously round for the exit sign. Some of us, more accustomed to the religiosity of American life, had, and have, no problem whatever with using the e-word.
If the calculated mass murder of 3,000 innocent civilians, from 80 countries, many of them Muslims, just ordinary working people going about their business on a sunny September morning, was not an act of absolute evil, then I have no idea what is. The more serious problem with presidential rhetoric was that the Manichean struggle between good and evil, freedom and terror, was not just the beginning but apparently also the end of any sustained attempt to articulate just what, in this particular life-and-death struggle, was truly at stake.
Since the United States, notwithstanding the Pilgrims and the Great Awakening, was very much the child of the Enlightenment, one might have expected this case for tolerant, secular pluralism to be made in the most adamant and unapologetic fashion by the country’s leadership.
But the shroud of mass reverence which enveloped everyone and everything after 9/11, and which once again is blanketing the anniversary, has succeeded in making secular debate about liberty into an act of indecency, disrespectful of the dead and disloyal to the flag.
That the Bush administration would always prefer prayers to politics, avoiding at all costs debate, both within its own ranks and in the public arena, has long been apparent. Silence and secrecy, punctuated with disingenuousness have consistently been its preferred modus operandi. (The problem with the Clintonites was something like the opposite: incontinent gabbiness).
To this day, Dick Cheney, the most padlocked of all the senior members of the administration, refuses, even under legal pressure, to disclose to Congress the substance of what was discussed in closed meetings with energy industry executives, leading to the formulation of a policy which corresponded precisely to the needs of business, rather than environmental lobbyists.
So we should not wonder at the aversion to debate, for the United States Inc is currently being run by an oligarchy, conducting its affairs with a plutocratic effrontery which in comparison makes the age of the robber barons in the late 19th century seem a model of capitalist rectitude. The dominant managerial style of the oligarchy is golf club chumminess; its messages exchanged along with hot stock tips by the mutual scratching and slapping of backs.
The company run by the Vietnam draft-dodging (“I had other priorities”) Cheney, Halliburton, has told the employees of one of its subsidiary companies (resold by Cheney) that the pension plans it was supposed to honour, are now worth a fraction of what the workers had been counting on. On leaving the company in 2000 to run for vice-president, however, Cheney himself was deemed to have “retired” rather than resigned, thus walking away with a multimillion pension deal. So long, suckers.
Never have the ordinary people of America, the decent, working stiffs whose bodies lay in the hecatomb of Ground Zero, needed and deserved a great tribune more urgently. The greatest honour we could do them is to take back the voice of democracy from the plutocrats.”
Simon Schama, “The dead and the guilty”.