Ever since George W. Bush lost the popular vote by 500,000 souls and was selected President by a right-leaning Supreme Court, the United States has seemed to me devoted to a twisted fate of slow-motion Armageddon.
What seems to guarantee this is one of our most characteristic American traits: We don't learn from the past; instead, we choose to officially forget embarrassing history so we can move on from our debacles without losing an ounce of glory. We all know how it goes: Sure, mistakes were made, but we need to keep our eye on the ball and move forward. The costs are paid in slow motion and out of sight.
Our leaders are either complicit in the gig or they feel compelled to pander to this weakness for forgetting history as they pump up the boilerplate myth and symbols. We're now, of course, officially entering the silly season in America, so maybe we should not be surprised that the idea of going to war is in the air.
The fear of history became clear to me back in 1992 when President George Bush Senior was pushing something called Education 2000 and decided to make a speech at Norristown High School outside Philadelphia, where my wife taught Art. The President's advance team asked that the school's Art Department provide a painted backdrop for the President; they wanted a large book. Being artists and, thus, by nature subversive, my dear wife and her colleagues asked themselves what was the subject matter the President of the United States would be most uncomfortable with. They chose HISTORY and painted those words on the cover of the book.
Early on the day of the speech, the White House advance party arrived and right away told the Art Department to change the book's title from HISTORY to MATH. History, of course, was not even a part of the President's Education 2000 program. The America of the first George Bush was forward looking. Yes, mistakes had been made in our history, but it was mathematics and cold-blooded technological advancement that had to be emphasized. We want to hear the confident hum of a machine future, not the human shrieks of horror from the past.
Official history is limited to antiseptic and patriotic narrative and anything that supports the Myth of American Exceptionalism. All other history is certainly available for those so inclined, but it's not the stuff of American politics or our mainstream media. It's not something to be learned from. History is written by winners, and the US is always a winner -- even when it loses, as in Vietnam. Then official history focuses on scapegoats and on whom to pin the Stabbed in the Back Myth.
Only those outside the political carnival, the detached and the marginalized, are able (or interested) to see a national debacle for what it is. Consider George W. Bush's unnecessary nine-year invasion and occupation of Iraq, something that helped put the economic squeeze on the poor and middle class of America, as it sent their sons and daughters to be mangled in a confusing war zone, as it wrecked Iraq and empowered Iran, which we're told ad nauseum now is our worst enemy.
And of course the current Democratic President who opposed, and campaigned against, the Iraq War now follows the rules of power in America and talks like Richard Nixon about honor as he belatedly brings the troops home from the debacle he opposed. It's guaranteed now that his Republican opponent will use the Stabbed in the Back Myth against him like a flaming tire flung around his neck. These folks would have had him re-invade Iraq, which would have been necessary for our soldiers to continue to be immune from Iraqi law.