US Election – Blinkered Morality

Reprinted from The Common Good, No 31, Advent 2004

Emperor Bush, Four More Years

By Letitia James

Robert Morrow just managed to hear who had won the U.S. presidential election before he was strapped to the gurney in a Texas prison and murdered by the state. He died within minutes of George W. Bush, a former Governor of Texas, being confirmed as the winner. Four more years. Hearing the result, he may have even welcomed death!

Trying to make sense of the U.S. election result has not been easy. But a piece of history may help. I have often dwelt with sadness on the photographs of soldiers massing on New Zealand wharves in 1914 getting ready to sail for war and embark on ‘the great adventure’. Strapping fit, young, brimming with confidence that ‘they would be home by Christmas’, so many had died within months, often disillusioned with the whole war effort and especially with the wealthy, ruling elitist grouping who sent them off to be cannon fodder for rich despotic ruling families, scrapping over power and land. How a whole nation could be enveloped so dramatically in a war fought 10 000 miles away on the other side of the world seems incredible in today’s climate. A huge part of an answer to the question as to why so many young men just out of high school would sign up voluntarily (subscription came later) is to be found in two words – ignorance and propaganda. New Zealand was isolated from the rest of the world by geography. And few knew the real reasons for the war. The propaganda was persuasive – General Kitchener wants YOU!

Ignorance and propaganda. Strangely, the same two words come to mind when I reflect on the result of the 2004 election in the United States. How could a nation, the best schooled in modern history, re-elect George W. Bush and his team to another term of four years given the failure of his first term in office? Ignorance and propaganda. One has only to travel for a few weeks in the U.S. these days to realise how isolated the people are from world opinion and world concerns. Good people that they are, so many are simply ignorant of world realities. And a huge part of the reason seems to lie with the corporate media, which feeds the American psyche and soul with illusion and self-serving mythology in the name of news.

On the day that Robert Morrow was executed in Texas, one of ten executed in the month of November (six being in the president’s home state), the American people elected a president proclaiming as they did so that morality was the primary reason they voted for him. Whose morality, one wonders? Whose God do they worship? The U.S. is a war economy, dominated by military spending and the need for wars. Does their god say it is moral to bomb and incinerate whole cities and towns in Iraq in the name of peace? What sort of morality allows this empire to make war based on a tissue of lies? What of the morality of U.S tax laws which reward the rich at the expense of the poor? What moral law allows 40 percent of U.S children to live in poverty? Does their god sanction placing 3600 mainly black Americans on death rows across the country and allowing them to be murdered legally at a current rate of 10 per month? Does their god think it moral to have 2.2 million of their economically poor citizens (up to 8 times the rate of any other western country) in prison at any one time? Whose morality? What god?

As I listened to the president make a victory speech calling for bi-partisan support and the healing of division, I wondered just how many of his divisive policies on the environment, economics, taxation, the war and the ‘undeserving’ poor he plans to shelve to make this happen. My guess is none. And as Dick Cheney strode to the platform to the acclamation of cheering crowds of the well-to-do, I thought of the crowds who cheered when Barabbas was released and Jesus condemned.

Make no mistake, these re-elected people, by any reasonable standards of justice, stand for most things the gospel stands against.

How do we discern these things? The reasons are simple. Jesus gave us a litmus test to be applied as to whether something was of God and the Kingdom or not. The test was to check out the fruits of the action. If justice, mercy, compassion, inclusiveness, sensitivity and love were the fruit, then it was of God. If the blind could see again, the deaf hear, the dumb speak and the lame walk, then we could join John the Baptist and be pretty sure that this was of Christ. Conversely, if the fruits were division, violence, lies, deceit, overburdening the poor, cheating, violence and war, we could rest assured it was not of God – but of Satan.

It is not for any of us to say how God judges politicians. But we all have the duty to assess events in life around us. And this is where propaganda comes in. If a country is saturated through its media day and night with a certain materialist world view, a certain set of values, a certain picture of life that rarely reflects accurately the real situation, then it is constantly being fed the BIG LIE. And who is the parent of lies?

The worldwide corporate media, especially television, and its handful of look-alike owners stand condemned by their own agenda – a general acceptance of the existing levels of world poverty and promotion of the economic system which creates this destruction; racism, especially against minorities in any given culture; promotion of violence, especially the welcome given to war; sycophantic indulgence of powerful politicians in tune with the media magnates; the promotion of the celebrity cult based on sex and image rather than deeds and virtue; and for too often passing sentimentalism off as hard news. By so doing, the corporate media becomes part of the principalities and powers of this world. We are warned in the New Testament of such powers being subversive of the message of Christ.

Herein lies a large part of the reality of the U.S today. To legitimise this cultural development, the U.S. has spawned and promoted Christian religious fundamentalism in a variety of forms. Personal salvation as befits the ‘me’ generation seems to be what it is all about. Evolving over the past one hundred years from more truthful forms of the Christian evangelical tradition, fundamentalism follows a literal interpretation of scripture and is often based around a few single issues like abortion or anti-gay teachings. Hence the focus on stem cell research and same sex marriages during this recent election. Given global warming, the continued environmental destruction of our planet, the epidemic HIV/Aids and the new poverty spawned by economic globalisation, no one could say these rated comparative importance. But along with the war on Iraq (presented in a simplistic and patriotic way) and the economy, same sex relationships and stem cell research received huge prominence.

So many fundamentalist churches promote a vengeful warrior god who is at his best in cutting down sinners who stray into bed with the wrong person. This appeals to the dark puritanical side of human nature. It has huge appeal. Millions respond. But any comparison to the best understanding mainstream Churches share about God as a loving parent, merciful, compassionate, forgiving and actively loving us at all times is purely accidental. Any social analysis beyond issues relating to sex or reproduction seems to be beyond their ken. Strongly individualistic and fiercely judgmental, these churches provide a religious base for global capitalism and the individual’s right to wealth regardless of the poor neighbour. Lazarus is dealt with by way of charity. There is little if any talk of social justice. And the poor have only themselves to blame! But are these fundamentalists Christians? Religious – yes. But Christian? I wonder.

Ignorance and propaganda. It is probable that Rupert Murdoch and a few likeminded media moguls, all peas from the same pod, had more influence on the presidential election than any other grouping. Propaganda is their forte. Yet they weren’t even candidates. They didn’t need to be. Their values, their worldview, their beliefs are now synonymous with what has become the corporate global dream. The tragedy of that dream, which is also the dream of George W. Bush, is that it marginalizes millions from the mainstream and is built on the sweat and labour of hundreds of millions of poor workers, exploited in every country, but driven to work in the face of poverty and a desire to feed their families. The oil war in Afghanistan and Iraq is part of maintaining this dream, whereby the US consumes nearly 40% of the world’s resources while constituting only 6% of its population. At the end of the day, what is important is power. And with the best propaganda infantry in history, limitless bags of money to spend and a populace largely wedded to the impossible dream, the result of the election was almost inevitable. While John Kerry offered superficial rather than substantive change, one way or another it seemed George W. Bush would always win. The principalities and powers are that strong.

Yet One has come who can change all that. Originally born in a stable, he is given birth each day in our world in the lives of millions who believe that life can be better when the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of Sarah and Rachel and Ruth, and the God of Dorothy Day, Peter Maurin and Martin Luther King is honoured. The birth of Jesus at Christmas should have meant full time for the principalities and powers of this world. But it seems not yet. Not until the teachings left to us by Jesus, the divine child, are practised – fully, and God’s Kingdom is fully planted. Advent heralds the birth of this reality. We are invited to share the journey through life with this divine One, living the teachings in our daily lives. Then the powers will be overcome and God will reign.

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