by Andrew Bard Schmookler
On Election Night of 2004, as I lay in bed much of the night awake and miserable, I found myself teetering on the edge of deep despair. By dawn, however, I discovered that I had turned back from that abyss and committed myself instead to a new mission. Actually, it was a new phase of the anti-Bushite mission in which Iâ€™d been passionately for the two months leading up to the Election: a mission of combatting the pervasive falsehoods of this evil regime; more particularly, a mission of speaking moral truth to amoral power.
In other words, a â€œpropheticâ€ mission.
By January, I was on my local NPR station delivering a series of commentaries to convey my vision of the nature of what was happening in America, and of the nature of the path by which this country might be saved.
Key among those commentaries was one called â€œProphetic Opposition.â€ Some months later, on the very day that I launched my main vehicle for presenting my vision â€“my new website NoneSoBlind.orgâ€“ I published on Common Dreams a new version of that piece under the title, â€œWhat America Needs Nowâ€“A Prophetic Social Movement.â€
I had chosen that piece to trumpet my arrival into the â€œblogosphereâ€ because I felt that this essay, more than any other, captured simply and accessibly and dramatically what I hoped to convey to my countrymen.
Here, now, a year later, I am going to post this essay once again.
This will be followed by new thoughts regarding how developments in
America over the past year have impacted the vision I articulated
earlier. Iâ€™ll look at both what has been confirmed and, especially, in
what ways Iâ€™ve had to adjust my understanding in the light of how the
American reality has unfolded.
Here, first, is the piece as it appeared on Common Dreams in October, 2005:
What America Needs Now: A Prophetic Social Movement that Speaks Moral Truth to Amoral Power
by Andrew Bard Schmookler
Thereâ€™s good reason why, a year after our presidential elections, millions of Americans still refuse to â€œget over it. â€œ
Itâ€™s not because these ruling forces are so â€œconservativeâ€ in their values. Although these rulers persuaded half of America that they are righteous champions of such values, many of the rest of us can see through their pretense.
We can see that, beneath that sheepâ€™s clothing of false righteousness, they are satisfying the wolf of their unbridled appetite for self-aggrandizement.
We can see it in their persistent effort to undermine any rules that, in the name of a greater good, would restrain their freedom of actionâ€”whether in their tearing down the rules of international order, or in their disrespect for constitutional limits on their power, or in their dismantling of environmental restraints on their pursuit of wealth.
We see it, too, in their use of bullying tactics and character assassination in dealing with political opponents. For all their pious talk, there is no sign whatever of the Golden Rule in how they conduct their politics.
We see it in the way they sow enmityâ€”whether between Americans, whom pollsters have found more intensely polarized than ever, or between America and other nations, among whom trust in American power has reached an all-time low.
And we see it in their disdain for the truthâ€”whether in how they â€œspinâ€ virtually everything they say to us, or how they disregard or distort science, or in how they arrange to be told only what they want to hear.
America would be fine in the hands of people devoted to real conservative values. But this is something different, something dangerous. For America is now ruled by forces apparently not guided by any genuine values at all. One can look in vain for any juncture where theyâ€™ve made a decision that sacrificed any of their power or wealth in favor of some larger good.
And this is not just about this particular presidency, which should be understood as the creature of bigger forces. These forces â€“ an alliance of the greediest part of American capitalism with the most power-hungry and imperialist of American politicians and with the most divisive and hypocritical of Americaâ€™s religious leadersâ€”have been gathering power for a generation and will doubtless seek to maintain their grip when its current public faces leave office.
Never in American history has so much power been in such ruthless hands.
The very soul of America is endangered. Yet not only did the presidential campaign of 2004 fail utterly to speak about this profound moral danger, but the political opposition remains virtually mute and effectively impotent in the face of these forces. (This silence and this impotence are signs of another part of Americaâ€™s moral crisis, of that also-dangerous moral flaccidity into which too much of American liberalism has lapsed.)
It is essential, therefore, that those of us who do see this frightening reality stand up to take the struggle for Americaâ€™s soul to a new stageâ€”a â€œpropheticâ€ stage of speaking moral truth to amoral power. Moral truth is our great weapon, for the power of these rulers rests on moral lies. Only by selling their false image of righteousness to good, conservative Americans could these forces gain power.
But that which depends on moral lies can be defeated with moral truthâ€”for, if these good people can be helped to see that these emperors have no moral clothes, they will withdraw their support.
Most of those who have supported these rulers should be regarded not as our opponents but as our potential allies. For the struggle that now must urgently be waged is not that of liberal values against conservative values, but of those who really care about goodness against those in power who only pretend to.
To accomplish these worthy goals, unmasking the false righteousness of our rulers must be framed in terms of Americansâ€™ shared valuesâ€”of justice and compassion and truth and fair playâ€”and supported by evidence drawn from our common knowledge. Framed in that way, the stories of what weâ€™ve all seen can be told in ways that strip away the political coverings and show the dark moral reality that lies beneath the mask these rulers wear.
America is in need of an â€Emperorâ€™s New Clothesâ€ moment. â€œThis emperor,â€ we must loudly declare, â€œhas no moral clothes.â€
By skillfully speaking the moral truth, we can help unite the good people of America, and end the polarization that our amoral leaders have worked to foster. With such â€œpropheticâ€ speech, we can help Americaâ€™s conservatives to remember how better to tell the difference between good and evil, and help Americaâ€™s liberals to remember how absolutely vitalâ€”and realâ€”that difference is.
Let us then speak to America, drawing strength from that ancient idea deeply embedded in the Western religious tradition: the idea that the material power of the bad ruler can be overcome by the power of moral truth boldly spoken. Let us launch, then, a â€œpropheticâ€ social movement to re-establish the power of real righteousness in America.
Updating, A Year Later: The Imperviousness of the Bushites and the Value of Preaching to the Choir
In many respects, that piece still stands up.
Regarding the analysis of this regime, and their means of gaining power, I wouldnâ€™t change a word.
And I am heartened that, over this past year, much of what I called for in that piece has come to pass. Many of us have trumpeted the prophetic message, speaking the moral truth about this amoral regime.
And that has probably helped make it possible for this other welcome development: over the past year, the truth about this regimes constant lying and its criminal conduct has been exposed more and more in increasingly prominent media. Much of the American public now knows about the illegal surveillance, about the torture, about the insistence of this Bushite regime that they are above the law, even above the Constitution.
The truth is now not only â€œout there,â€ as Fox and Mulder would say, it is right there in front of the American people in almost unmistakeable clarity.
And, to an important extent, the American people have wised up. Whereas two-thirds of the American people thought GW Bush to be a man of integrity before the 2004 election, now almost two-thirds recognize that he is a liar.
Accordingly, the poll numbers suggest that the growing realization that this Emperor has no moral clothes has had the effect that I had anticipated, and hoped for. From nearly half of the American people approving of his presidency, it has descended to just over a third. A welcome change.
In these respects, I would have gladly accepted, in early 2005, that things would be like this in late 2006.
However, there are two important caveats to this ratification of what I wrote almost two years ago, and then recast again one year ago.
For one thing it is unclear to what extent the American people have turned against this Bushite regime, not because it is evil, but because this administration has â€“out of its arrogance and stupidityâ€“ botched things so badly. How much would the American people hold the Bushite evil against them if theyâ€™d been in their crimes around the world, e.g. if the invasion and transformation of Iraq into our image had gone as the Bushites had intended?
That the American people do not like failures â€“that they turn against losersâ€“ is not news, nor is it reassuring about the moral character of the nation.
Still, I do believe that the â€œevil factorâ€ has been an important one.
The other major caveat is that I under-estimated the imperviousness of the Bushite base to any new information that would contradict their image of Bush and his God-annointed leadership. The 30-32 percent of the American people that has stuck by Bush â€“seemingly regardless of the mounting evidence of the dishonest and downright unAmerican nature of this regimeâ€“ has surprised me.
I thought that all this clear evidence of the Bushite evil would have been plenty enough to make more serious inroads into the support Bush enjoys among traditionalist, right-wing Christians of the sort Iâ€™ve known in Virginia. But the crumbling of that conservative Christian support has been only marginal so far.
And if that support now starts crumbling faster because the word starts getting out â€“from Kuoâ€™s TEMPTING FAITHâ€“ that these Bushites have been speaking contemptuously of the evangelicals, rather than really being one with them in spirit, I will celebrate that crumbling of support for this evil regime. Iâ€™ll take it however I can get it. But I will still be troubled that those other disclosures of this past year were not enough to drive them away.
Some will say that this is because these people are really not the â€œmoralâ€ people I have previously described them to be. And there is an element of truth here : I have written earlier of ways in which there is, indeed, an unintegrated part of them that is amoral and that has been exploited by the Rovian strategy. But I still maintain that a great many of them are indeed â€“in some meaningful and important waysâ€“ very moral people.
I believe my surprise at their staying loyal to Bush is not due to my being wrong about their moral character but rather my being wrong about how reachable they would be to the truth when it was put right before their eyes. I called my website NoneSoBlind after the saying of the old English Protestant churchmen, â€œThere are none so blind as those who will not see.â€ But boy! I didnâ€™t really grok fully just how emphatic that â€œwill not seeâ€ might be.
In any event, if I were writing the piece today, I would find it more difficult to write the line: â€
Most of those who have supported these rulers should be regarded not as our opponents but as our potential allies.â€œMostâ€ has proved to be overly optimistic. â€œSomeâ€ would be more accurate. Indeed, perhaps one ought not go further than â€œa few.â€
Consider the conservative jurist Bruce Fein. But I interviewed him precisely because he was so unusual among conservatives in that he has stood up for his own truth values. Some here may recall that Mr. Fein had a difficult time making his conservative friends seem like anything but unprincipled opportunists. And I expect that some of my good Christian neighbors from where I used to live â€“and still do radioâ€“ in Virginiaâ€™s Shenandoah Valley. A few such people have stepped forward, either via email or right there in front of everyone on the radio, saying that they are conservatives, but they are appalled by the misdeeds and dishonest of this Bushite regime. But very few.
So the prophetic mission has changed over this past year, as I have seen it. Less and less about trying to awaken those in the Bushite trance. The trance is much deeper than I had supposed. And I in any event have no magic way of awakening them, like Sleeping Beauty at her sewing wheel. Besides which, it has been sometimes terribly bruising to try to do so.
If the people on the right who believe themselves to be operating in the godly world of the prophets and the saints are not adequately responsive to the prophetic message I thought America needed, has the trumpeting of the prophetic message therefore been a waste of time?
Not at all.
I have decided that there is really something important to be achieved by that much-maligned practice of â€œpreaching to the choir.â€ Keeping this movement alive and full of energy to fight this evil outfit, it turns out, is one of the most important jobs that has needed doing in America lately.
Thatâ€™s because it turns out, unhappily, that it has depended on us to save this country.
The media certainly didnâ€™t help us muchâ€“ at least until recently. And if weâ€™d not done the groundwork about exposing this regime, I doubt the media would now be starting to jump on Bush, now that heâ€™s sliding downward. There are various reasons for the media being willing to give Bush a harder time, but one of them is that there have been people like us telling things precisely as they are in terms of good and evil.
And now thereâ€™s someone like Keith Olbermann, right there on the television set, also calling the evil of the Bushite regime by its rightful names. And I would say that this recent stepping by Olbermann into the prophetic shoes â€“after a couple of years of more cautious but still truth-revealing speechâ€“ is partly happening because people like us were telling things like they are, and were creating a movement that would support an Olbermann should he appear on the mainstream stage.
But overall, it has not been the media that has kept the fire of outrage alive. It has depended on us.
The Democrats failed us too. And the Democrats, too, are starting to step further into the prophetic role we have been begging them to play. The Democrats â€“even the bolder among themâ€“ remain far more cautious than Olbermann in their speech â€“as befits a Party that needs to appeal to more than Olbermannâ€™s niche audience. But they still are stronger than they have beenâ€“ from Feingoldâ€™s motion of censure last spring(which, unfortunately, also exposed just how craven most of the Democrats then were) to the very recent and effective efforts of that master politician, Bill Clinton. (Olbermann himself has been making a big theme of how Clinton seems to have put some spine into the other Democrats.)
And one wishes that Al Goreâ€™s voiceâ€“recently so surprisingly strongâ€“ were being raised again; that Gore were doing the same job on an ongoing basis that Olbermann is â€“telling the truth about whatâ€™s going on in Bushite Americaâ€“ but doing it differently, in a manner befitting Al Goreâ€™s very special standing in America to speak truth about this Bushite regme.
So it has been our efforts, in large measure â€“I do believeâ€“ that have made it possible for things to be moving in the right direction along some important fronts, such as those just described, and also apparently in the upcoming elections which appear likely to put into the hands of those who oppose this regime some real power of a legal kind (to subpoena, for example, and compell testimony about the criminal regime in power).
True, the mess in Iraq helps. And the failures with Iran and North Korea. And the ways in which middle class people are not feeling well taken care of by their government. And so on.
But our words help also. We have helped open the path for books like TEMPTING FAITH, and Bob Woodwardâ€™s new book, STATE OF DENIAL, and all those other revelations of the defects of this regime that the Bushites have been absorbing like body blows.
Isnâ€™t it wonderful to see their smug lying get exposed for what it is,? Isnâ€™t it gratifying to see the smirk taken off their faces, and for them to just get vicious again in their insistence on having everything there way. But they have been exposed, and the smirk will not work any more. We have helped to plow the ground for this realization to grow in the American consciousness.
Ideas spread. And ideas eat away at other ideas, such as the false idea on which the Bushitesâ€™ fear-based leadership style is basedâ€“ the idea that â€œwe are wonderful heroes and we will protect you.â€ We in the prophetic movement have been showing that these guys are anything but heroes, and that they are not intending to protect us, and are not even competent to so even if they wanted to.
We have been doing the work of fashioning and substantiating those ideas. We have tracked the lies and the crimes. We have talked about what these Bushites are doing to what has always been best about America. We have been willing to say: these guys are evil.
In some struggles, it is the cohesion and the motivation of the already-committed (the choir) on which success depends. In the America of the past two years, blowing on these embers has been at least as important as trying to spark the awakening of those who do not yet see.
BOTH are important: to reach out to that middle that spells the difference between Bush having 33 percent support and 48 percent support, and to work to fortify the movement itself.
Preaching to the choir is part of what has maintained the movementâ€™s intensity and clarity and purpose and passion.
That is what the blogosphere has been accomplishing. Together â€“writers and readersâ€“we have kept the fire burning. We have helped support and encourage each other to keep the energy flowing into the outrage and determination, and not to let that energy dissipate into despair, as would have happened if we did not have this self-organizing blogospheric society â€” the Society of THose Who Grok How Evil These Bushites Areâ€“ in which we could assemble together.
It is a fire. Weâ€™ve kept it burning. Now it is spreading.
The forces of Goodness are rising up against the forces of Evil â€“in this election, and on countless other battlefieldsâ€“ and for a change the battle is turning in favor of goodness. The outcome remains in doubt, but we are no longer simply in retreat. Goodness has at last begun to put up something of a fight.
Preaching to the choir has been Godâ€™s work.