In recent weeks, as the transfer of power to a new administration has approach, there’s been a crescendo of calls that the deep stain of these crimes now be addressed. It would be very dangerous for America's future, many say, if the clear crimes of the Bushite regime are not prosecuted. To ignore the systematic violations of law and usurpations of power of the presidency just ended, they argue, would just increase the danger that other thugs and would-be tyrants coming to power in this country, having drawn the inference that an unscrupulous president can get away with doing whatever he wants, will repeat or even extend the frightening practices of Bush's lawless administration.
I agree. All that is true, and of vital importance.
Yet, there is a genuine dilemma here. And only if we understand that dilemma are we likely to be able to help devise and execute the strategy that will best serve the future health of America’s body politic.
THE LARGER PICTURE
Dealing effectively with the terrible precedent of these crimes and usurpations is important, but this vital issue has to be seen in the larger context of the totality of the damage that the evil Bushite forces have inflicted on the nation.
These Bushites have damaged America in almost every way conceivable, but perhaps none of these ways has been more central to their overall destructive project than the fomenting of division and conflict among Americans. As I wrote, in early 2005, in a piece entitled “By Their Fruits” (at http://www.nonesoblind.org/blog/?p=81 ):
This pattern of creating division and strife is no small clue to the moral nature of this leadership. Turning people against each other –rendering the human drama into an Us against a Them—has been the practice of bad rulers throughout history.
When people are focused on their conflicts, they’re unable to build a more whole world based on their common humanity.
Bringing Americans together, then, and reducing our polarization into warring factions is a core part of healing America and protecting our common future. Just as fomenting strife is the evil leader’s way of opening the way for the destructive to prevail over the constructive, so is bringing people together an essential part of the strategy for harnessing the nation’s capacity to create good structures. When people can act on the basis of their shared values to achieve their common purposes, then the best potentialities of the nation can be realized.
Clearly, Barack Obama understands this full well. He spoke to this essential need in his campaign rhetoric. Since winning the presidential election he’s followed a path that is quite manifestly designed to reach out across the very divisions the Bushites sought to widen; he’s worked to bring as many different kinds of Americans as possible behind him to strengthen his efforts to repair and heal our damaged nation. And these efforts are making important progress.
It is this essential need to heal our divisions and to bring Americans together that combines with the need to address the Bushite crimes to create a genuine dilemma.
In an ideal America, there would be no tension between these two vital aspects of healing and repairing America.
In this ideal America, ALL Americans would recognize that the usurpations of power and the violations of law and Constitution are the most fundamental and unacceptable attack on the soul and essence of America. Everyone would recognize that the defense of the Constitution is not a liberal vs. conservative issue, not a Democrat vs. Republican issue, but an American vs. unAmerican issue. We’d all be clamoring that those who’d betrayed the public trust so profoundly be held accountable. Indeed, we’d all recognize that not only are our current public officials entitled to prosecute such crimes, they are OBLIGATED by their oath of office to do so.
But we know that we do not live in this ideal America.
We know that the forces behind the Bushites would make every effort to sell the idea that any prosecution represents some sort of “partisan” warfare, and we know that many millions of Americans are ready to buy that interpretation. We know, in other words, that as things now stand the prosecution of the Bushite crimes --whatever else it would achieve-- would strengthen in America that dark spirit of strife and division that it is so important for this nation to overcome.
What an irony, what a paradox: the very means by which, on the legal plane, we hope to strike a blow against those criminal forces of darkness would also threaten, on the plane of political dynamics, to strengthen those same dark forces.
That is the heart of the dilemma.