Tuesday, January 07, 2003

Joan Didion went on a book tour to promote her book ">Political Fictions (a book I highly recommend) just seven days after the 9/11 attacks. She relates some of what she experienced in her latest article for The New York Review of Books. In particular, she noted how quickly people saw the through the bullshit that was leaking out of Washington.
All I can say about the rest of that evening, and about the two weeks that followed, is that they turned out to be nothing I had expected, nothing I had ever before experienced, an extraordinarily open kind of traveling dialogue, an encounter with an America apparently immune to conventional wisdom. The book I was making the trip to talk about was Political Fictions, a series of pieces I had written for The New York Review about the American political process from the 1988 through the 2000 presidential elections. These people to whom I was listening—in San Francisco and Los Angeles and Portland and Seattle—were making connections I had not yet in my numbed condition thought to make: connections between that political process and what had happened on September 11, connections between our political life and the shape our reaction would take and was in fact already taking.
These people recognized that even then, within days after the planes hit, there was a good deal of opportunistic ground being seized under cover of the clearly urgent need for increased security. These people recognized even then, with flames still visible in lower Manhattan, that the words "bipartisanship" and "national unity" had come to mean acquiescence to the administration's preexisting agenda— for example the imperative for further tax cuts, the necessity for Arctic drilling, the systematic elimination of regulatory and union protections, even the funding for the missile shield —as if we had somehow missed noticing the recent demonstration of how limited, given a few box cutters and the willingness to die, superior technology can be.
These people understood that when Judy Woodruff, on the evening the President first addressed the nation, started talking on CNN about what "a couple of Democratic consultants" had told her about how the President would be needing to position himself, Washington was still doing business as usual. They understood that when the political analyst William Schneider spoke the same night about how the President had "found his vision thing," about how "this won't be the Bush economy any more, it'll be the Osama bin Laden economy," Washington was still talking about the protection and perpetuation of its own interests.
These people got it.
They didn't like it.
She also talks about what she experienced when she returned to New York City.
There was much about this return to New York that I had not expected. I had expected to find the annihilating economy of the event—the way in which it had concentrated the complicated arrangements and misarrangements of the last century into a single irreducible image—being explored, made legible. On the contrary, I found that what had happened was being processed, obscured, systematically leached of history and so of meaning, finally rendered less readable than it had seemed on the morning it happened. As if overnight, the irreconcilable event had been made manageable, reduced to the sentimental, to protective talismans, totems, garlands of garlic, repeated pieties that would come to seem in some ways as destructive as the event itself. We now had "the loved ones," we had "the families," we had "the heroes."
And much much more...
There was the open season on Susan Sontag—on a single page of a single issue of The Weekly Standard that October she was accused of "unusual stupidity," of "moral vacuity," and of "sheer tastelessness"—all for three paragraphs in which she said, in closing, that "a few shreds of historical awareness might help us understand what has just happened, and what may continue to happen"; in other words that events have histories, political life has consequences, and the people who led this country and the people who wrote and spoke about the way this country was led were guilty of trying to infantilize its citizens if they continued to pretend otherwise.
I think Didion puts her finger on it here. What I experienced after 9/11 was a demand that I arrest my normal questioning reflexes and just accept, as a given, that our leaders knew what was best and that we should just trust them to do what was right. I was patted on the held and told, like a child, that there is right and there is wrong and that is all that there is. I wish I lived in a country that treats its citizens like adults. I wish I lived in a country that expects its citizens to be adults. Instead we are given a boy king who will leads us with the raylling cry of "moral clarity" down into the valley of destruction. I reject that option with all of my being. God gave me a brain so I could think. I'll be damned if I'll let some frat-boy coward and his minions take it away from me.


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