The recent electoral process in the United States and the past four years of the George W. Bush administration have provided an opportunity to reflect on many American paradoxes and problems. The most powerful economic and military nation in the world with unquestioned global influence has shown, in one half of its population, a strong fundamentalist spirit that is profoundly separated from modern reason. This half of its population is seemingly unaware of the secular revolutions of the past two centuries. This same half of its population has proven capable of defeating, via the ballot box, the principles of reason and morals as defined by the modern era.
We are told that Bush cannot be adequately understood without taking into account his religious and evangelical convictions. These beliefs lead him to affirm that liberty is “God’s plan for humanity” while at the same time asking God’s blessing for General Franks and his troops when ordering an attack on Iraq. And, as another example from his long list of inconceivable phrases, his declaration that, “We must welcome faith in our welfare programs, since it’s necessary to recognize the healing power of faith in our society.”
In a recent roundtable discussion on the elections, one of the U.S. participants admitted that he “had forgotten the profound religious spirit of an enormous proportion of the population of the United States,” and that all the rational criticisms of Bush’s decisions over the past four years had very little effect on the deeply felt beliefs of this large proportion of the population.
It seemed to be a matter of two disconnected planes of discussion. One utilizing arguments based on reason; and the other clinging to an article of faith, a divine spirit that manifests itself infallibly through its privileged speaker, the President of the United States. This multitude, enthralled in a tribal religious spirit, represented the most powerful “electoral shock force” of the Bush campaign and was able to impose itself on the other half of the U.S. population whose arguments relied on critical reasoning.
Naturally, large economic interest groups favored by Bush (the petroleum industry and the Pentagon suppliers that have reaped huge profits over the past few years) have been decisive factors in his militarist policies and economic policies–elimination of taxes for the rich, reduction of investment in education and health services, destruction of social services, and even greater polarization between rich and poor. But, the electoral force that brought him a victory that is almost inconceivable in rational terms was based more than anything else on this “religious spirituality” and “mysticism” that abounds in the great central plains and other extensions of the continental U.S. It is enough to examine the map of the United States : the east and west coasts, regions “open” to the outside world, inclined decisively to the Kerry camp; and the more isolated central zones were the strongest Bush contingents.
Of course, this religious spirit was fanned to incandescence by the media. Even though major newspapers, including The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and magazines such as The Nation and The Economist, which is to say the cream of the crop of the world press in English, took the uncommon step of openly supporting the candidacy of John Kerry, this only confirms that in the United States modern reason is in the minority in comparison with “religious spirituality.”
The United States has a peculiar “religious spirit” that presents Americans to themselves as the “chosen people,” wrapped in a Manifest Destiny that they see as an expression of divine will for guiding the world in the conquest of “good and truth.” It is an extraordinary situation that within this population an open religious fundamentalism coexists with the reason that has guided the modern world in the development of science and technology, of industrial production and commerce, and in the exploration of new fields in microphysics and space. “Reason” was defeated by the smallest of margins, but in the end still defeated, in the ballot boxes last November 2nd and that sad and clouded victory carries the name of George W. Bush.
There is a connection between the “religious spirit” that dominates many aspects of life in the most powerful country in history, and Max Weber’s thesis that states that the “protestant ethic” is the foundation of the “spirit of capitalism” (of its culture, its tendencies, and even its obsessions). Surely this “ethic” of frugality is necessary for the initial accumulation of capital. But the United States has long since left behind the stage of primary accumulation of capital and this “ethic” has been converted into an ethic of pure ambition for dominion and power. And that ambition operates in the name of a “chosen people” and of a destiny that would direct it to be leader of the world. A fundamentalist ethic that speaks with the voice of the most conservative people in this country who have placed themselves above any human or divine law.
Extraordinary, the country divided in the Bush-Kerry election demonstrates that there are two Americas. One precedes any laic evolution and has not yet recognized a secular revolution; and the other assumes modernity in all its aspects. In a very close race, the fundamentalist majority won and has now set itself up as the adversary of all the other fundamentalisms that exist on this earth for a second four years in the White House. This should make the other nations of the world, who were not so chosen, tremble.
What will be the limits, if there are any, of this great power granted by this election to a group of archconservatives–a group that has already demonstrated signs of fascism over several past decades? In many ways, they have been revived by the results of November 2nd.
Global and U.S. intelligence services have ceaselessly pointed to the list of errors, lies, tragedies, and crimes that marked the first four years of Bush in the White House. It would be interminable to list them but here are a few examples: In the name of the “war against terrorism,” he began the unjustified war against Iraq, consolidating yet again a state of terrorism that has already cost more than 100,000 Iraqi deaths and more than 1,100 American lives. This war, apart from being impossible to win, has further expanded an imperial policy of military and colonial power that has raised world opinion against him as well as, to a large degree, dramatically isolated the United States. The Bush declaration that the United Nations is irrelevant and the Bush violation of the norms of international law and the Security Council remain, among others, his most shameful achievements.
Additionally, there was the Bush initiative to develop usable nuclear arms against new targets, particularly in the Third World. The Nation reminds us that the Bush administration has systematically rejected or weakened initiatives to improve or protect the environment. Among other things, there was the rejection of the Kyoto Protocol. The Bush government has caused the U.S. to withdraw from negotiations over global warming, and has attempted to suppress or weaken scientific investigations of the state of the global environment. When deemed necessary, Bush has resorted to his base of religious fanatics to discredit certain fields of scientific research deemed “liberal” in the areas of education and social security. What a great record for an anti-modern fundamentalist!
Under Bush, the economy, as viewed by the poorest Americans, has deteriorated even more and unemployment has increased, extracting from the poor billions of dollars and transferring them to the rich through a reduction in taxes for the wealthy. Opponents of this effort have been accused of initiating a “class struggle.” The measures have led to a huge deficit and generated losses in foreign trade.
Also, the Bush decision to imprison U.S. citizens and citizens of other nations, without trial or legal defense, including detention without national or international regulation (Guantánamo), as well as his permitting and encouraging the torture of prisoners, have been widely denounced.
This then is the individual who has, by national election, doubled his time in the White House. Is there any possibility that there will be a significant change in his new government? Analysts agree that, on the contrary, now that George W. Bush has legitimized himself through the ballot boxes, we have only to wait for an even more threatening tenor to his plans, in order to comply with the goals imposed by “Divine Will.” Among these plans, should we expect new restrictions and attacks on Cuba, including military action? Latin and global forces will have to be vigilant against the designs of this group of fundamentalists who will inhabit the White House for four more years.
Strangely, one of the most advanced countries on Earth, both in science and technology, is being run by a group of fundamentalists who are radically distanced from the principles of modern reason. This is a country that is profoundly divided. It has undeniable internal polarizations, in many respects irreconcilable. This was demonstrated in the rancor of the last electoral battle. Though it seems a paradox, the most “advanced” country on the planet has been parted by at least one half of its population from the laic and secular revolutions that have defined modernity for at least two centuries.