While contemplating the ill-starred presidency of G.W. Bush, I looked about for some sort of divine analogy. As usual, when in need of enlightenment, I fell upon the Holy Bible, authorized King James version of 1611; turning by chance to the Book of Jonah, I read that Jonah, who, like Bush, chats with God, had suffered a falling-out with the Almighty and thus became a jinx dogged by luck so bad that a cruise liner, thanks to his presence aboard, was about to sink in a storm at sea. Once the crew had determined that Jonah, a passenger, was the jinx, they threw him overboard and–Lo!–the storm abated. The three days and nights he subsequently spent in the belly of a nauseous whale must have seemed like a serious jinx to the digestion-challenged whale, who extruded him much as the decent opinion of mankind has done to Bush.
Originally, God wanted Jonah to give hell to Nineveh, whose people, God noted disdainfully, "cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand," so like the people of Baghdad who cannot fathom what democracy has to do with their destruction by the Cheney-Bush cabal. But the analogy becomes eerily precise when it comes to the hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico at a time when a President is not only incompetent but plainly jinxed by whatever faith he cringes before. Witness the ongoing screw-up of prescription drugs. Who knows what other disasters are in store for us thanks to the curse he is under? As the sailors fed the original Jonah to a whale, thus lifting the storm that was about to drown them, perhaps we the people can persuade President Jonah to retire to his other Eden in Crawford, Texas, taking his jinx with him. We deserve a rest. Plainly, so does he. Look at Nixon's radiant features after his resignation! One can see former President Jonah in his sumptuous library happily catering to faith-based fans with animated scriptures rooted in The Simpsons.
Not since the glory days of Watergate and Nixon's Luciferian fall has there been so much written about the dogged deceits and creative criminalities of our rulers. We have also come to a point in this dark age where there is not only no hero in view but no alternative road unblocked. We are trapped terribly in a now that few foresaw and even fewer can define, despite a swarm of books and pamphlets like the vast cloud of locusts that dined on China in that 1930s movie The Good Earth.
I have read many of these descriptions of our fallen estate, looking for one that best describes in plain English how we got to this now and where we appear to be headed once our Good Earth has been consumed and only Rapture is left to whisk aloft the Faithful. Meanwhile, the rest of us can learn quite a lot from Dark Ages America: The Final Phase of Empire, by Morris Berman, a professor of sociology at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC.
I must confess that I have a proprietary interest in anyone who refers to the United States as an empire, since I am credited with first putting forward this heretical view in the early 1970s. In fact, so disgusted with me was a book reviewer at Time magazine that as proof of my madness he wrote: "He actually refers to the United States as an empire!" It should be noted that at about the same time Henry Luce, proprietor of Time, was booming on and on about "The American Century." What a difference a word makes!
Berman sets his scene briskly in recent history. "We were already in our twilight phase when Ronald Reagan, with all the insight of an ostrich, declared it to be 'morning in America'; twenty-odd years later, under the 'boy emperor' George W. Bush (as Chalmers Johnson refers to him), we have entered the Dark Ages in earnest, pursuing a short-sighted path that can only accelerate our decline. For what we are now seeing are the obvious characteristics of the West after the fall of Rome: the triumph of religion over reason; the atrophy of education and critical thinking; the integration of religion, the state, and the apparatus of torture–a troika that was for Voltaire the central horror of the pre-Enlightenment world; and the political and economic marginalization of our culture…. The British historian Charles Freeman published an extended discussion of the transition that took place during the late Roman empire, the title of which could serve as a capsule summary of our current president: The Closing of the Western Mind. Mr. Bush, God knows, is no Augustine; but Freeman points to the latter as the epitome of a more general process that was underway in the fourth century: namely, 'the gradual subjection of reason to faith and authority.' This is what we are seeing today, and it is a process that no society can undergo and still remain free. Yet it is a process of which administration officials, along with much of the American population, are aggressively proud." In fact, close observers of this odd presidency note that Bush, like his evangelical base, believes he is on a mission from God and that faith trumps empirical evidence. Berman quotes a senior White House adviser who disdains what he calls the "reality-based" community, to which Berman sensibly responds: "If a nation is unable to perceive reality correctly, and persists in operating on the basis of faith-based delusions, its ability to hold its own in the world is pretty much foreclosed."