Saturday, July 22, 2017

Fixed Ideas: America Since 9.11, by Joan Didion

Joan Didion's Fixed Ideas: America Since 9.11 was published as a booklet in 2003, on the eve of the American invasion of Iraq. The essay it contains was initially published in the New York Review of Books. Didion contends that President George W. Bush and many American politicians used the events of September 11, 2001, to buttress their own political agendas and to transform the identity of the United States and its role in the international world. She sees this as an abdication of reason in the most basic sense, an abandonment of ideals and principles set forth the Constitution and Bill of Rights. She notes attacks on the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech: in the weeks following 9-11 the Secretary of State encouraged Americans not to speak carelessly because their words might serve the interests of the enemy and weaken the United States position. Plays dealing with controversial subjects were cancelled.  People advocating points of view critical of the Bush administration were branded as unpatriotic.  Americans were encouraged to think of the Bush agenda as the anti-terrorism, the anti-bin Laden agenda.  In other words, to be for America, one had to support the goals of the Bush administration.  Dissent was, in effect, forbidden.

In 2001, and in the years immediately following, the national and international situation was more complicated than it is today. We've been dealing for only half a year with Donald J. Trump and his new way of conducting American affairs.  Yet the national environment seems far more poisoned and divided and in danger of collapse that it ever was during the Bush years. Many of the same developments that Didion complained about in 2003 are again evident today. People who speak out against the new president are lambasted as disloyal, as unintelligent, as unpatriotic. (Of course, Trump opponents use similar words to insult Trump supporters). Reince Priebus (before his departure as chief of staff) revealed that Trumps advisers have investigated ways to modify the first amendment and revise libel laws so that Trump can sue newspapers whose stories he doesnt like. The level of discoursein the press, on the Internet, Twitter, Facebook--has sunken to a low far below that of the years of the Bush administration. Facts are disputedalternative facts are presented as equally valid.  We have abdicated reason. We have abandoned basic American ideals – or at least the leaders that we elected have abandoned them (of course, Trump was not elected with a popular vote majorityhe was anointed through the archaic and anachronistic process of the Electoral College).

Didion's concern with America's abandonment of reason, with the hypocrisy, and the blind sightedness of our leaders, and with the basic decline in the levels of ethics, intelligence, and civility that we normally expect our leaders to exhibit, seems in no way dated.  Its directly relevant to our present situation.

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