One morning, as Gregor Samsa awoke from anxious dreams, he discovered that in bed he had been transformed into a giant insect.
— Franz Kafka
A strong case can be made– perhaps more real than rhetorical– that America has become like Gregor Samsa, the pathetically absurd character in Franz Kafka’s short story, “The Metamorphosis.” But unlike the Kafka character who recognizes immediately upon waking that he has become transformed, most Americans can’t tell the difference because their own metamorphosis didn’t happen overnight.
But make no mistake, it happened. One night America went to sleep as a free and democratic society, and then one morning it woke up transformed into something else, something foreign and macabre, something as repugnant as a giant insect.
When did the nightmare first begin? Michael Moore suggested it was when George W. Bush stole the 2000 presidential election. That was the beginning of our current nightmare, all right; a stunning turning point in American history that legitimized corruption; normalized absurdity; and celebrated fantasy over reality. But it wasn’t the beginning of the nightmare itself; that happened decades before, when Ronald Reagan became president.
The Reagan presidency was the brainchild of a radical group of rich, right-wing businessmen, conservative academics (the forerunners of the neocons), and fundamentalist Christians who hated FDR and JFK, were solidly against the civil rights movement, and were ardent supporters of Barry Goldwater. At the time, this group was considered a bit loony and their extreme views were not shared by a majority of Americans. Their economic gods were Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman. Their intellectual champion was William F. Buckley Jr. And their quintessential salesman was Ronald Reagan.
And when Lyndon Johnson trounced Goldwater in the presidential election of 1964, this group made a pact to unite and take back America from the liberals, their sworn enemies. But it was no conspiracy. It was quite out in the open, in fact. Richard Viguerie, the pioneer of right-wing ideology packaged as direct mail, was one of its architects, and as he told Bill Moyers in an interview, it took their movement over 15 years to succeed, but their hard work and propaganda finally paid off. By 1980, they succeeded in making “liberal” a dirty word, and they got their boy Reagan into office.
In subsequent years, they used wedge issues like abortion, gun control, and affirmative action to convince blue-collar workers and religious fundamentalists that the Republican Party was their friend and that liberals and progressives were their enemy. As a result, millions of average Americans who traditionally voted for Democrats converted to the Republican Party– and have voted against their own economic interests ever since, even though they are currently losing their jobs, their health care, their standard of living, and their sons and daughters to an unnecessary war in Iraq.
Shall we call these individuals uninformed, brainwashed, or just too stupid for words? Whatever the case, because of them, our country has crossed the line and gone from a democracy– albeit a corrupt democracy heavily influenced by special interest groups and the military-industrial complex– to a corporate fascist state run by ruthless white-collar criminals and ultra-conservative religious fanatics. Am I being too hyperbolic? Judge for yourself. Take a look at how America has changed since George W. Bush slithered into office.
(Before Bush- BB; after Bush- AB)
- BB: Presidential elections were considered imperfect but generally fair and honest.
- AB: Despite the mainstream news media’s lack of interest in the story, there are reams of evidence to show that the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections were rigged.
- BB: The threat of a terrorist attack was a high priority for the Clinton administration, but not a major issue for most Americans.
- AB: 9/11. If you are generous, you believe Bush and company were merely negligent about the impending attacks; if not, you believe they either allowed 9/11 to happen or had a hand in planning it.
- BB: Americans laughed at Janet Reno.
- AB: Americans hid from John Ashcroft.
- BB: Right-wingers snooped into Bill Clinton’s personal life.
- AB: Right-wingers used the Patriot Act to snoop into your personal life.
- BB: America solidly backed the Geneva Convention.
- AB: Decisions by Donald Rumsfeld and Alberto Gonzalez encouraged torture and murder at Abu Graibe and Guantanamo.
- BB: Iraq was contained and no threat to any Western nation.
- AB: An unnecessary war in Iraq has killed and wounded tens of thousands of Americans and Iraqis and cost U.S. taxpayers over $200 billion (and counting).
- BB: Huge government surplus.
- AB: Largest deficit in history.
- BB: Clinton administration created millions of new jobs.
- AB: The most meager creation of jobs since Herbert Hoover.
- BB: Most Americans could still afford medical coverage and the cost of prescription drugs.
- AB: Fifty percent of all bankruptcies are related to exorbitant medical bills, and Americans are buying prescription drugs from Canada and Mexico.
- BB: The mainstream news media still had some credibility.
- AB: The end of the mainstream news media as a legitimate news source.
- BB: Fox television meant “The Simpsons” and “Married with Children.”
- AB: Fox News became the propaganda arm of the Bush administration featuring neo-fascists like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity.
- BB: Americans could count on social security for their old age.
- AB: The social security system is at risk of being dismantled and privatized.
- BB: Americans knew if they ever got in really bad financial trouble they could always file Chapter 7 Bankruptcy
- AB: Lots of luck, suckers!
The list goes on, but I think anyone who uses a little critical thinking can see that our free and democratic society, as we once knew it, is fading fast, and Americans are hopelessly trapped in a Kafkaesque nightmare written, directed, and produced by George W. Bush and his radical right-wing gang of white-collar crooks, nutty neocons, and Christian fanatics.
But how long will the nightmare last? How long will Americans crawl on their bellies like giant insects content to gobble up the lies and propaganda of an idiot-prince who bases his economic policies on pre-New Deal capitalism and his religious beliefs on a literal translation of the Bible? How long will it take before everyone awakens from the nightmare and screams bloody murder?
No one knows for sure. Perhaps it will take an economic tsunami or some other cataclysmic event. But it is a sure bet that one day it will happen, and when it does, all the giant insects will come crawling out of the woodwork with their beady bug eyes filled with hatred and revenge. And on that day they will seek out the individuals responsible for their Kafka nightmare, and they will become human again, all too human.