The following is an edited version of William Pfaff's article in Truthdig. Pfaff is a frequent contributor to the New Yorker Magazine.
The Bush government seemed not merely indifferent to the ancient political and moral aspirations of the American nation, but hostile to them as obstacles to the national power and aggrandizement they unscrupulously pursued, at the cost of tens of thousands of American and foreign lives, and to the greed that motivated most of those who were the public face of the government and the economy of the United States during this period.
One cannot ignore the fact that we the people were their enablers during the last eight years. George W. Bush was not an unpopular president until it became apparent how badly he had failed the American nation. Even then, aggression and torture remained instruments of national policy, and were defended by professors, judges, editors and eminent commentators, and even provided a profitable theme in American popular entertainment.
It is inconceivable that this could have taken place during the time of the first Roosevelt, or under Lincoln, to take just two of the men of whom the Republican P arty has been the most proud. Can you imagine it under the commands of George C. Marshall or Robert E. Lee?
Authority must have a moral foundation, and has to be voluntarily accepted, being different from power or violence, which compel order in society (or are meant to do so).
Bush II exercised violence—inspired by an infantile political Manichaeism concerning “Islamic terror”—and a lawless foreign policy that further divided the nation, bringing us to where we are today. The United States became an enduringly divided nation, which has lacked a legitimate, unifying and governing political and moral authority and order.
This, I would say, is what elected Barack Obama. He radiates seriousness, adulthood, confidence and mature values. He is a unifier, not a divider.
No one can say what will come of his presidency. Can he restore national union, a sense of national purpose, a public and governmental morality that the people will accept? Let us pray that the answer is yes.
What I hope we, as a nation, take away from the past eight years is that we had a moral breakdown, that it was temporary, and that we were able to learn from it.. Today Obama announced that Gitmo would be shut down and that rendition policies would be halted. I have to also believe that spying on Americans will also cease. A good first step.
I like this Obama fellow.