Sunday, February 8, 2009

A Brief History of the Bush Era

2000 elections. It was only later, after he’d already lost, that we learned more about who he was, and saw footage of him bodysurfing, and we all liked him better. He went to Europe and came back with a beard, like a collegian. Some thought he might return, like Lazarus, to lead the party again; for some he became, more than before, the embodiment of their aspirations. Eventually he would appear on a late-night sketch comedy show, indirectly confirming that he would not seek public office again.

The internet did not follow through on its promises and no one made enough money. The internet would be called the internet, not the World Wide Web or the Information Superhighway.

Saudi Arabians attacked, and I had to change flights. I left three days later than I had planned.

The government could find out what books I checked out of the library, which included studies of the CIA’s subversion of democracy, histories of political violence, and novels about overeducated white guys in their twenties who didn’t know what to do with themselves. Yet this new governmental power was immediately anachronistic because the printed word was like the loser in an Old West gunfight, gut-shot and dying slowly, using its last breaths on bitter recriminations, and I spent less time in libraries and more time in front of screens.

In the evening I watched the war. It was being broadcast on TV. Correspondents were fuzzy, almost pixelated images. There were occasional bursts of sound and flashes of brightness, but it was hard to tell what was happening on the ground; you knew there were boots there, somewhere, but you had to listen to the correspondents. You could trust them, they were there, they were embedded, analogically somewhere between a pacemaker and a rhinestone. Perhaps closer to a rhinestone.

Bill O’Reilly yelled, sometimes less, sometimes more. Keith Olbermann’s talking voice moved asymptotically towards a yell, and his sarcasm became meaner and less funny.

Happy birthday, Iraq War! We were shocked. We were in awe.

It seemed as if all existence was inflationary. One thousand deaths in Iraq, gas above $2.00 a gallon. What are you doing to cut back? What is to be done? The questions applied to both scenarios. Other plateaux of thousands would be reached, and other dollar integers passed, but no one would raise the same fuss about it. Iraqis were, presumably, also dying.

The war on terror, the war in Afghanistan, the Iraq War, the war on high prices (that one was an advertisement).

The wars continued but television programming moved on. Cable news channels were continually breaking ever-newer news, treating it carelessly by hammering it into graphics, both statistical and three-dimensional, bounded on multiple sides by moving and static text. Like mobiles for infants, the clatter of flashes and colors attracted viewers, who went to the network that best helped them to discover what they already knew. They watched as large-scale natural disasters killed people, mostly brown, in both the global South and the US South, and cable news and charities summoned hummingbird levels of energy. They must have solved the problems because one doesn’t hear about them anymore.

For a while I was able to find Afghanistan on a map quite easily, but now it’s difficult again.

2006 elections. Some people, apparently, were still independent, having no distinct preference for either party. We were supposed to admire their dispassionate objectivity. These independent thinkers had their icon this year, the former Vice Presidential candidate and incumbent Senator who lost in the primaries only to establish his own party for the general election, all the while claiming to represent his former party. He won, thanks to how often he voted with the opposing party.

People do, in fact, vote in large numbers, just as long as the fate of pop singers are at stake and they can do so by text message.

Gas cost more, and my dollar was worth less; therefore, empty beer cans piled up on coffee tables, desks, edges of bookcases, and eventually the recycling bin. If I lived in Europe, I would have better health care, a limited set of career options determined by the sort of secondary school I enrolled in, and abundant proof that Europeans were just as racist as Americans, once you gave them a chance to show it.

2008 elections. Some people, even in the fall, were still supposedly undecided, not having heard enough to make an informed choice between (a) the elderly, hawkish, free-marketeer and veteran, and (b) the young, welfare-statist, diplomatic black guy and ex-law professor. Clearly never having consulted either one’s website, each of which contained pointlessly detailed policies on every major issue and quite a few minor ones. And this all before the pretty woman strode onto the national stage, putting us all into an open-mouthed, drooling trance. She seemed as scared as we were, and as eager to hide it. She smiled and looked pretty but when the other smiling woman asked questions her responses sputtered, and her words, which taken singly were blameless, spiraled out of one another’s orbit and landed wide of their mark, gruesomely, calamitously.

2008 elections. Americans weren’t racist anymore.

Numbers whose referent was wholly unclear dashed our spirits. We didn’t know what they were, but we wanted them high. How high? Higher than yesterday. Higher than ever before. But they went down, and money we hadn’t seen and hadn’t planned on spending anytime soon was gone, and we were sad. I invested in shoe boxes, and took my money out of the bank.

Riding off into the sunset, back to his ranch, he proved he was a cowboy.

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