God and the terrorists
Carlton M. Caves
2004 November 3

I am writing this article on the morning of November 3, before Senator Kerry concedes, but that concession will come, because the handwriting is on the wall for anyone who cares to look.

God and the terrorists got together in yesterday's election. Two factors determined the results: moral values---translate that as religious and social conservatism---and fear of terrorism. This is a stark and simple picture. Other factors did play a role, but a much smaller one. As we physicists say, religious conservatism and fear of terrorism were the first-order effects, which cannot be ignored and which must be understood before proceeding to incorporate other, less important effects.

The GOP coalition is an alliance of big-money corporate interests, which supply most of the cash, and social and religious conservatives, who supply the votes. Moral values and fear of terrorism now define the vote-getting side of this coalition. The Republicans won a solid victory based on these two elements. President Bush was returned to the White House, not by a wide margin in the popular vote, but by an inarguable majority. A more important gauge of national sentiment is provided by the strengthened Republican majorities in both houses of Congress. The country is now in the hands of the fundamentalist religious right. Those who couldn't or didn't appreciate the size and power of this constituency must revise their thinking.

The election shows that it will be a very difficult to dislodge the Republican coalition, because its foundations in social and religious conservatism are peculiarly divorced from reality. Here we had an election after four years of a weak economy, after four years of unrivaled fiscal mismanagement, and after a foreign adventure that has been characterized by incompetence and failure and that seems headed for disaster. Indeed, when voters were asked about the facts of Bush's performance on these and other issues, their reactions were considerably more negative than the election's outcome, yet enough voters were swayed by fear of moral decay and terrorism to give the President a clear majority and to tighten the Republican hold on Congress.

The clearest lesson to be drawn from this election is that the Republicans will continue governing hard right. Put aside any illusions that they will pause now to consider how hard to push their agenda. Without any mandate at all from the 2000 election, they turned the country hard right, and they were rewarded with a victory in 2004. They confirmed their own cynical calculus that their record doesn't matter much as long as they can keep their base sufficiently frightened of the alternative. Now with a majority of the popular vote, they will march double time to the right, brushing off objections from the other side of the political spectrum like so many gnats. They will continue to fight the "war on terror" with predominantly military means, and they will continue to focus a spotlight on what they regard as threats to fundamentalist religious values.

The march to the right will have many other consequences, entirely unrelated to the social and religious conservatism and fear of terrorism that drove the results of the election, and these consequences will change America radically over the next four years. The environment will be desecrated, especially in the West---come see it while you can. The federal government will be systematically downsized, except where it serves as a cash cow for funneling money to the GOP's corporate allies. The federal courts will be populated with extreme conservatives, whose malignant influence will last for decades. Global warming, perhaps the most important challenge facing the world, will be ignored or given lip service. Energy conservation will be put on the back burner in favor of short-term efforts to increase production of fossil fuels. Little effort will be made to deal with the evident inadequacies in the nation's health-care system. All this will occur against a backdrop of secrecy, lying, and distortion, aimed at diverting attention from how radically the Bush gang is transforming the country.

In world affairs America will increasingly go it alone, pursuing its own purely military agenda for fighting whatever we define as terrorism. As a result, the rest of world will become increasingly unhappy with America. The United States will become more and more isolated, especially from the liberal democracies that were our strong allies in the latter half of the 20th Century. We might even try the patience of our British and Australian allies. Our estrangement from the other liberal democracies will reflect both profound cultural differences and profoundly different views of how to deal with terrorism. The result for this country will be a strange union of two great Republican foreign-policy strains, neoconservative adventurism and isolationism.

I'm inclined to think the Bush gang will lead us into a train wreck sometime during the next four years, either in our economy or in some foreign adventure. What will happen when the wreck occurs? The easy answer is that enough of the present GOP coalition can then be peeled off to send the Republicans packing, but I'm not sure of this easy answer, because the Bush coalition, as this election showed, is built on appeal to emotions unrelated to actual performance. A crisis, either in the economy or in foreign policy, might only provide an opportunity to pump up the fear on which the Bush coalition thrives. One thing you can be sure of: the big-money interests backing the Republican party will be utterly craven, sacrificing whatever principles they have in order to maintain their power and influence.

September 11 changed America profoundly, but November 2 was the day we made our choice. The wrong choice, I think, not just wrong in the tactical sense of ordinary politics, but disastrously wrong in the strategic sense of setting off full speed ahead in a very dangerous direction. How strange and disquieting that in a century that will be defined by the struggle between fundamentalist religion and liberal democracy, the United States has chosen to be guided by the sentiments of fundamentalist Christians.

We now enter a dark tunnel for at least four years. We don't know where or how we'll come out, but it seems inevitable that our country will emerge as a very different place. Every progressive in America should be thinking about what we do next. In my view we're going to have to give on some of the moral questions, all of which ultimately have to do with sex, in order to save our country and the world from disaster on many other fronts. More on that in my next commentary.

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