The Bush Years
8 fucking years.
I feel a profound relief. There's been this cloud of political enfeeblement that has been hanging over my twenties. I've gone through the better part of this decade thinking that we could never get things to move in the right direction. The best we could hope for was to stem the tide of ignorance and civilisational decline that the White House has been in charge of. The complete depression of political hope that resulted from his reelection was unbelievable. I completely lost faith in democracy. If the people were that stupid, how could things ever get better?
Maybe I'm exaggerating. I didn't suffer many of the effects of the Bush presidency. I live in one of the most pleasant little democracies in the world. Others weren't so lucky. Dumb bombs dropped on their cities. Their jobs were lost, their states collapsed, cities flooded because of the ecological damage. The rule of law was weakened. The respect for democracy weakened. Cultural bonds frayed and broke. The West's relationship to the Islamic world burned down. Two weeks ago, I saw kids throwing rocks and fireworks in my city in part because of the Bush administration. There was tear gas in my streets, and the Supreme Court of Florida was at the very least partially responsible.
What I'm struck the most by now is the sense of great opportunities lost. We've moved through one of the most dynamic periods in history with one of the most inept American administrations in history. The Bush administration was the wrong kind of radicals. They were radically deconstructive. There was nothing "conservative" about their destructive actions. They picked apart the very institutions that could have driven this period through profound social and political changes. The internet has exploded, the developing countries have been finding a voice, millions of people have been lifted out of poverty. China! India! Imagine how a progressive, forward-thinking man like the notorious technophile Al Gore (caveat: despite his many many faults, obviously) could have helped with this decade. Maybe we wouldn't have had profound reforms, but maybe we would have been closer to the moment those reforms are politically feasible.
The 2000s have instead been pervaded by the sense that everything that could possibly go wrong, did. I haven't for a second lost the feeling I had, back in 2002, that within the realm of the politically possible, this president could not possibly do anything worse than he did. Sure, his second term lacked the sheer kamikaze flavour of his first, not least after he lost the midterms, but even these four years have been hard to bear.
And now? We'll, I like to think that I'm realistic about the limits on what Obama can do - for instance, I'm sure it'll take him at least three or four hours to personally make peace in the Middle-East - but I do think that we've turned some sort of corner. If nothing else, then in the sense that things in general may be getting better.
But while the US is puttering away trying to rebuild its broken home, its democracy in ruins, its complete and total breakdown of political discourse, the rest of us need to figure out a way to not depend on the US, or on any single nation, both to get by and to create social change.
The most pressing thing is the need to reform the Security Council so that the veto, which the US is using over ten times more than any other country, can be voted down effectively. We need to remove status from the permanent members, and introduce some sort of absolute requirement for permanent membership. A certain number of citizens, a certain test of democratic ability. Whatever. The US, or any other country, should not be allowed to dictate the security policy of the world based on its own national interests. Fix this and we really could have peace in the Middle East by lunchtime.
This is just one suggestion. There are heaps of others: economic structural reform, establishing a system of international law, a functioning supranational political body. We need to bring ourselves into a world where we can operate independently of the fluctuations of the US. If the Bush years have taught us anything (and honestly, the first four years would have been enough) it is that we can't tie ourselves down to the political whims of one country or one region. Especially a democracy so labile, so incomplete, so destructive and unpredictable as the United States of America.