"Why are there people like Frank? Why is there so much trouble in this world?"
-- Blue Velvet
It has been a strange time to come back to America for peace and quiet. It used to be that if you'd flip on the television, you knew what kind of mad lies you were in for.
But ever since those four Blackwater mercenaries took a wrong turn at Albuquerque and wound up on a spit in some Fallujah shawrma stand, America's compound psychological fractures and bizarre fantasies have exploded.
There are so many layers of lies and self-delusions going on here right now that it's difficult to keep track of it all. The most sickening of these is the collective flagellation and finger-pointing going on over the torture in the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. President Bush and his circle have decided to try to diffuse this crisis by the Bernie Birnbaum method: "Let's just squirt a few, and they'll let us go."
Middle Americans, especially the more church-inclined, cream over a good blubbering. Just remember Jimmy Swaggert's confessions, or the Jim Bakker bawl-fests. I think, in some sick Texas-Christian way, Bush actually enjoys this. I think he enjoys sinnin' 'n squirtin' every once in a while -- and so does his constituency.
But the Rumsfeld testimony was the most multi-layered event of collective madness I saw. Watching Rumsfeld force himself to not just say but even show, with a pained expression, how profoundly shocked and upset he was, actually made me laugh out loud and applaud his feeble attempt at acting. I assume he had a big laugh afterwards as well, and it must have been incredibly painful for him to hold that laughter in, like sucking in a three-day-burrito-binge shit.
What's frustrating is that Rumsfeld, as vile as he is, was merely carrying out the wishes of the American people. Are there really Americans out there who are surprised and horrified to learn that we torture Iraqi prisoners? Well, duh!
In the first place, torture is standard practice in American prisons.
But more importantly, Americans actually WANTED torture. They DEMANDED it!
In a poll taken by the Christian Science Monitor in mid-November, 2001, one-third of Americans admitted that they were in favor of torturing suspects. In a Fox News poll on the eve of the invasion of Iraq last year, 42 percent supported torture! And you have to remember, these poll numbers grossly understated the actual support, given an American's squeamishness to admit his or her torture fantasies over the phone to a stranger. It's like how far-right candidates always poll far lower than the votes they actually take in European elections.
And then there are the two-faced torture pundits who now are just as "shocked" and "horrified" as Bush and Rumsfeld. In the November 5, 2001 issue of Newsweek, allegedly "liberal" columnist Jonathan Alter wrote a column called "Time To Think About Torture." Yep, you read that headline right. The lead started insanely enough:
"In this autumn of anger, even a liberal can find his thoughts turning to ... torture. OK, not cattle prods or rubber hoses, at least not here in the United States, but something to jump-start the stalled investigation of the greatest crime in American history. Right now, four key hijacking suspects aren't talking at all."
The four suspects that Alter wanted to have tortured -- Zacarias Moussaoui, Mohammed Jaweed Azmath, Ayub Ali Khan and Nabil Almarabh -- were all later found to have nothing to do with the 9-11 terrorist attacks (well, they still haven't given up on Moussaoui, but the government has changed its tune so many times on his alleged role that whatever they eventually juice him for is irrelevant at this point). But that didn't stop Alter and a mob of other American commentators from calling for torture. I want to repeat that: Jonathan Alter and others, backed by at least a third, but I would bet two-thirds of the country, actually demanded that the FBI torture four innocent suspects. What would Alter think if they'd been tortured to death...and later found out to be innocent? He wouldn't have given a flying fuck. At least not until America lost the Battle of Fallujah -- ever since then Americans have become grotesquely compassionate and squeamish about everything. It's pathetic and embarrassing, to say the least. One unsettling photograph and there's a rush on the entire American stock of Kleenex.