Glenn Greenwald is by training a constitutional law attorney. He has been writing his blog, Unclaimed Territory, for a couple of years, documenting the excesses of the Bush administration, particularly in the area of our Constitution. He recently completed a book which he called A Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency.
I read this book while I was on vacation the week of the 4th of July, a good time to read a book about our nation’s recent and less recent history. I learned about Manicheanism, a religion founded in the 3rd century by a Persian prophet. The basic tenet of this belief system is that the world is divided into two opposing spheres: “God and Satan in the world of the eternal, and a corresponding dualistic battle of Good and Evil playing out on Earth.”
Glenn’s exhaustive review of the actions and statements of the Bush administration in this book leave little doubt that this dualism underlies many of the decisions of this administration, decisions which at the time they were made I found completely inexplicable. Why they decided that torture was fine, that habeas corpus was unnecessary, that spying on American citizens was an inherent right of the president now make some sort of dreadful sense. Bush’s apparent lack of any need to be accountable to the American people is now understandable.
Apply the Manichean rules to Bush and you come up with this; what he does is “good,” by definition, because he is fighting “evil,” and that is all it takes to make anything he does "good." Doesn't matter what any of us think, he can do anything he pleases, because he does "good" by definition. He can do anything. If that doesn't terrify you, you have become entirely numb, which I guess I could understand, too. It’s been a rough 5 or 6 years.
Are there people who do evil deeds in our world? Most certainly. Should they be found out and punished? Yes, indeed. Should our president decide who is good and who is evil and make policy about our foreign relations and the operations of our justice system based on his decisions alone? I very strongly believe that that would be very dangerous and would lead to all sorts of consequences such as increasing the number of people around the world who don’t trust us, like us, or want to partner with us. Given that climate change will be the major challenge of the rest of my life, and of my children and grandchildren’s lifetimes, I would much prefer to have lots of friends to help solve this enormous challenge.
I also really don’t want to have to fear that, if Bush decides I am an evildoer because I don’t agree with his policies and speak out about them, I might be put in solitary confinement here, or worse, in some other country, with no lawyer and no one knowing what had become of me. That has happened to people in the old Soviet Union, in Chile, in Argentina, and in many other countries under dictatorships. And it has happened to people here during the period after 9/11.
So, much as I wish I didn’t have to tell you so, my understanding that applying Manichean beliefs to government policy making would not be a positive development has been validated. Bush appears to have made decisions based on his personal religious or philosophical beliefs about good and evil, and as a result, our Constitution has been assaulted, our reputation around the world has been shattered, and we are bogged down in a horribly destructive war we cannot win. We have lost most of our friends, those who stood behind us after the attacks in 2001. We are bankrupting our nation and leaving the debt to future generations to pay off, if they can. We have no political, moral or economic capital left.
And I also believe, as does Glenn Greenwald, that others have used Bush’s beliefs about good and evil for their own purposes, proposing policies that a person who sees the world in a more nuanced way would dismiss out of hand. Using the arguments of the Manicheans, they have persuaded Bush that the business community’s needs, and wants, must always come before the needs of the rest of Americans, because markets are the ultimate “good” in economics, and “socialism” is a looming “evil” whenever government intervenes.
I highly recommend this book if you have been wondering how we got into this mess. It just might not be idiocy, or incompetence, or some Freudian need. It might be a belief in a black and white world of “good vs evil” and a little help from his friends.