A New Age of Unreason

Election '04

Appalled and frightened. That's how Mark Crispin Miller believes Founding Fathers would describe their emotions if they were around to witness the actions of the current occupants of the White House and the disintegration of our republic.

A professor of media studies at New York University, Mark Crispin Miller is the author of the wildly humourous and best-selling "Bush Dyslexicon." Miller's new book, "Cruel and Unusual: Bush and Cheney's New World Order" (Norton, 2004), is of a more serious nature. In it, Miller argues that the ascendant Bush Republicans are in the midst of subverting the United States' republic with a theocracy, and that Bush & Co. have embarked us in a new age of unreason that rejects many of the Enlightenment concepts upon which this country was founded.

Miller sat down with AlterNet for an interview during a recent visit to San Francisco to talk about the state of conservatism in this country and how the folks in the White House believe their "higher father" wants them to govern the United States.

Your book title is "Cruel and Unusual: Bush and Cheney's New World Order." So it's about Bush and Cheney, two self-described conservatives. Yet the word "conservative" doesn't appear when you write about them. Why is that?

I don't use the word conservative in my book once to describe Bush & Company. That's a misnomer. Conservatism. Let's talk about it for a minute. What is it? Is it just being a nasty prick? That's what you'd think looking at the "conservative" landscape. What does Ann Coulter stand for, what are her principles? She just says the vilest possible things she can say.

Conservatism as far as I know means strict limits on federal power, a refusal to meddle in the affairs of other nations, an ornery distrust of ideologies and theories – instead a favoritism of the lessons of experience. Real conservatives also believe in economic self-sufficiency – you don't get a handout, and you thrive by dint of your hard work and playing by the rules. Not one of these qualities has been honored by this administration.

On the contrary, this is a radical administration. They have a radical view on the expansion of police powers. They believe in unilateral preemptive war – which is about as radical and unconservative as you can get. Regarding the typical conservative distrust of ideologies, this is a totally ideologized presidency. John Ashcroft prosecutes those things that offend his religious scruples – like Oregon's suicide law. In a time of terrorism that's what they prosecute.

See, they don't live in the real world – they can't learn from experience. Finally, there's nothing conservative about crony capitalism. They are completely fucking the average person, making it harder to declare bankruptcy and so on. People are getting absolutely screwed, and the administration so far has functioned in an economic sense to take every penny of public wealth and put it in private coffers. So, I don't see any conservativism there.

Meanwhile, radicals on the left are sticking with the notion that there's no difference between the two parties.

Some of the radical lefty journalists write that there's not a dime's worth of difference between the two parties. That's just crap. That's the kind of armchair marxism that allows one to be more radical than thou. Those guys think in economistic terms – "it's all a matter of capital." That's not the case here. There's something else going on. Most of the business community is rational. There's a tremendous corporate effort to deal with global warming, because it's going to destroy a lot of them – the insurance industry for example.

The Bush people are against recognizing global warming, not just because they are in bed with the oil and mining and lumber interests, but also because their theology is intensely hostile to environmentalism. They believe that our relations to the natural world should be based only on Genesis 1:28: "God blessed them and said to them, 'Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.'" That's Dominion theology. Or as Ann Coulter said on Hannity and Colmes, "God gave us the earth. We have dominion over the plants, the animals, the trees. God said, 'Earth is yours. Take it. Rape it! It's yours.'"

In your book, you argue that the statements by Bush and his base reveal an "autocratic view" in their exercise of power which should not only be publicized, but amplified to highlight their "ferocious ideology." Why do you think this hasn't been done successfully in the past three and a half years?

For the same reason that the press doesn't function like the press, and that is basically because of the enormous success of the propaganda drive against the "liberal" media. In this climate, there would seem to be something hysterical, paranoid, about this. It would be considered "conspiracy theorizing" to call a spade a spade in this case.

The press has always had a blind spot toward fascism, and that's a historical fact. All the fascist, or quasi-fascist episodes in our history, the connections with the Nazis for example, are the kinds of things people didn't and haven't heard about – they just don't know it.

People with connections to Rightist dictatorships in this country often succeed spectacularly in their endeavors, celebrities and so on, nobody calls them on that. If you have a "Red" past, it's something else entirely. When it comes to thinking about the Right as a danger, the collective mind of the system stops at the schnooks like Timothy McVeigh, or extremist groups living in depressed and isolated parts of the country. But it's completely not allowed to talk about extremists at the right end of the spectrum who are on the establishment level.

You contrast the Founding Father's Enlightenment-era ideas of the Republic with the approach the Bush administration has taken. The founders, relying on the ideas of the time, believed that just putting the truth out there in the media would be enough to resolve the problems of our Republic, yet that doesn't seem to be happening.

The truth isn't getting out. What has happened in the past five months is that some stories that the White House would just as soon see suppressed have come up on the news. But that's not adequate coverage. Adequate coverage is a matter of sustained attention. What got adequate coverage in the past? Well, Watergate got adequate coverage, the Iranian hostage crisis got it, the Monica Lewinsky affair got the coverage, White Water – which was about nothing – got more than adequate coverage.

All kinds of things do come up on page A18 of the New York Times, or maybe even page one, but then they drop it. If they were to treat the Busheviks the way they treated Clinton, there'd be massive coverage. For example, Plamegate. That is a huge story, huge. This is a felony committed by the White House disabling a woman who was tracking weapons of mass destruction aimed at this country. That's appalling. It beats any sexual behavior as all hollow as far as I'm concerned, but the press has allowed it all to dribble away. They have basically done what Karl Rove would have them do. Halliburton is a gigantic scandal, but what the press says is that it doesn't stick, it has no traction. That's just a way of talking about what they are doing as though they have no part in it.

I have to believe that if stories do have adequate coverage, and if they affect people's own self-interest, then there will be a response.

You write that it will take far more than one national election to reclaim our republic – what do you mean by that?

What I mean by that is to say that the infiltration of the government by the far Right extends well beyond the White House. The White House is the most spectacular and notable problem. They've been using it as a forum for astonishingly destructive behavior. But they are in Congress and the federal bench. The Federalist Society has become like the Communist Party. These people, who back in the day spent their time as rabid anti-communist, have now become the caricature of communists that they were always whining about. It's very hard to speak about this without sounding like a conspiracy theorist, to explain how these people have systematically subverted our government.

Do you think we've witnessed something rather distinct from presidencies we've seen in the past?

Yes. This White House is extraordinary in several ways. Its sense of prerogatives is vastly more inflated than we saw with Richard Nixon or FDR. They have manifest contempt for the legislature, to the extent that their allies in Congress are angry about it, and they are impatient with any court decision that doesn't go their way. They unsigned the treaty for the International Court of Justice. That's never happened before – it's unprecedented. They unsigned it! The sheer scale of the White House's grandiosity and depth of their powerlust are something new.

There's also something new in the peculiar like-mindedness in this administration. Of course, there have been presidents who only wanted "yes men" around them. Lyndon B. Johnson was like that. He didn't want to argue – he was a bully. The people in the Bush White House would say that they "share the same values." I would say that that they are united in their fanatical vision of what this country should be, they are united in their tendency to regard disagreement as attack. if you are not with them 100%, you are enemy. There is no debate in this White House. And this is not remotely comparable to Kennedy's presidency, or Clinton's, where they actively solicited people's opinions, asking people what they think. They don't bother with that. They know what they want to do – they knew what they wanted to do when they came in the White House, and they've been doing it.

Bush and Cheney don't care about consensus. They have contempt for consensus – they couldn't give a shit about making friends. They didn't win the popular vote, and yet they immediately start pulling this very radical stuff – so radical, and so much of it, that people like me are staggered, paralyzed. I can't keep up with what they are doing.

So you see a dramatic transformation of the presidency under Bush. A new kind of presidency – and thereby a new kind of republic.

This administration has succeeded in mainstreaming a pre- and anti-Enlightenment attitude. That's an amazing achievement. They have made unreason tolerable. We have creationist books being sold in the bookstores of our national parks. We have scientific information scrubbed from government websites because it offends their religious scruples. They don't believe in reason, and they seem incapable of reason. No one calls them on it.

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