Sunday, September 10, 2006
For all the now-forgotten Y2K prattle over when exactly it is that a century actually ends, there is no doubt anymore anywhere when the 21st Century began.
It began five years ago, roaring out of our nightmares and down out of the sky.
Everyone has their memories of that day. Private memories of smells and stares and sobs, and tribal, national memories that fused us all-too-briefly together in a way unlike anything I had ever experienced before.
There is no need for fancy writing to retell a story that has already become as familiar to us as the faces of our families. You saw three thousand people murdered same as me. Some of you saw it in an airport lounge. Some crowded around a television in a break room. Some at home, with three phones going.
Some of you had to sweep the ashes of the dead out of your homes, or wash it out of your hair. I can’t image what that must have been like, which is why ornate words fail.
This generation is not going off to fight a Nazi horde who have conquered Europe, or a Great Depression that has beaten us down into poverty and despair. Instead, living though these times is our destiny, and the outcome is not fixed in the stars or fated in our genes.
We can each choose to stand and fight where we can as best we can, or we can choose to lie down and let this beautiful, consensual hallucination called America die, but never doubt the choice is ours.
Five years ago the specific job of taking point on that mission -- of guiding us through our particular, bewildering tangle of culture, rage, modernity, technology, faith and globalization -- fell to George W. Bush.
And he has failed us.
He has failed this country in ways so numerous, comprehensive and catastrophic they would have been incomprehensible to us on September 10, 2001.
In a backwater era of threatened only by 11% inflation and small, faraway wars, Bush would have come and gone as another forgettable, one-term chief executive, like the whiskered what’s-their-names who pad out the 19th Century White House rolls. He would have been remembered primarily for the historical quirk of being the second man to follow his father by name and title into the White House, and he would have faded into the substrate of historical trivia, a relatively harmless nobody.
But instead he was here -- foisted on us by a minority of voters and a slim majority of judges -- in our hour of need, and for the last five years he has failed every test.
Every test of manhood and bravery.
Of competence and of compassion.
He stands tall today only among a hard core minority of hardwired acolytes and bigots and their panic-peddling media because only in the dark AntiAmerica of their imaginations does a creature like George Bush shine.
Only in their nightmare vision of a nation kept intentionally terrified and on its knees can a man like George Bush have stature.
He has -- in the space of five years -- lost American cities, treasure, credibility, armies and wars. Outside of Jefferson Davis in the last days of the Confederacy, how many American leaders can match a record of failure that spectacular?
Not since Gorbachev presided over the annihilation of Chernobyl, the bloody defeat of the Soviets in Afghanistan and the collapse of his empire, has one human being been so present at the destruction of so many of his nation’s institutions.
However the comparison with Gorbachev falls tragically short in two particulars.
First, Gorbachev inherited a decrepit system that was almost fully necroted and ready for the grave. Bush, on the other hand, inherited a nation that was prosperous, at relative peace, and which enjoyed a bottom-line of respect -- grudging or otherwise -- from most of the community of nations. Bush, on the other hand, has been instrumental in our downfall: it has been on his watch and with his wholehearted and energetic support that America was driven off the cliff and into cataclysm.
Second, I delighted in the fall of the Soviet Empire: the implosion of that stifling tyranny was all to the good. But I miss America. The America that could have been. The America whose ideals I adore. The America who, by drags and stumbles and sometimes at the point of a rifle, tried to move a little closer to a more perfect union.
George Bush is an insult to that America.
A living insult to our honored dead.
It has been an awful five years. Awful. Awful for the terrible losses of that day, and for the arrogant squandering of the rare opportunities those terrible losses bequeathed to us. And since fancy words fail, I fall back on music like I often do.
On this film of David Bowie in concert
for the words and music that most fit the way my heart feels when I see these images and think about the history of these last five years.
Pushing thru the market square,
so many mothers sighing
News had just come over,
we had five years left to cry in
News guy wept and told us,
Earth was really dying
Cried so much his face was wet,
then I knew he was not lying
I heard telephones, opera house,
I saw boys, toys
electric irons and T.V.'s
My brain hurt like a warehouse,
it had no room to spare
I had to cram so many things
to store everything in there
And all the fat-skinny people,
and all the tall-short people
And all the nobody people,
and all the somebody people
I never thought I'd need so many people
A girl my age went off her head,
hit some tiny children
If the black hadn't a-pulled her off,
I think she would have killed them
A soldier with a broken arm,
fixed his stare to the wheels of a Cadillac
A cop knelt and kissed the feet of a priest,
and a queer threw up
at the sight of that
I think I saw you in an ice-cream parlour,
drinking milk shakes cold and long
Smiling and waving and looking so fine
don't think you knew
you were in this song
And it was cold and it rained
so I felt like an actor
And I thought of Ma
and I wanted to get back there
Your face, your race,
the way that you talk
I kiss you, you're beautiful,
I want you to walk
We've got five years,
stuck on my eyes
what a surprise
We've got five years,
my brain hurts a lot
that's all we've got
We've got five years, what a surprise
Five years, stuck on my eyes
We've got five years, my brain hurts a lot
Five years, that's all we've got