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The perils of denying the elephant is in the room

By Kevin Quirk
Online Journal Contributing Editor

 

September 19, 2002—Denial. Most people at least recognize the term and its many uses to describe how we sometimes try to shield ourselves from the truth, or pretend something big in front of us is really not there (the elephant in the room), or deceive ourselves into believing that it hardly matters. As a society, we have made healthy, substantial progress in recognizing the need to break free from denial as it relates to such harmful forces as alcohol or drug addiction, sexual abuse, or domestic violence. But when it comes to the Bushites' blatant abuses of power and their obvious intentions, our cultural denial remains as thick as a good Texas steak.

We who wish that were not true should never underestimate the power of this cultural denial. When we come out from under the safety blanket of our favorite alternative websites, we are jolted by the reality that most other Americans still do not see what has really been happening and continues to be done in our names. Or, if they do see, they pretend that they're not seeing it, or that they're actually seeing something else. Or they insist that it's really not important, nothing they should care about. And, like the family of the alcoholic, we are all suffering.

Our neighbors remain in denial about the Bushites in large part because they are in denial about the corporate media. As a former reporter who attended journalism school during the days of media toughness toward Watergate, I cringe every day when I even glance at a corporate news headline or soundbite. I know, but still struggle to understand, how most people really don't understand that our corporate media has become the Pravda of the 21st century. Remember when everyone used to laugh at those Pravda newscasters in Russia, with those deadly serious faces and those dreary voices spitting out the latest Soviet spin? A bunch of dark, goofy-looking robots weaving flagrant lies, fabrications, and distortions to wickedly portray Americans and The West as evildoers while casting their leaders and military as heroic protectors of the Communist clan.

When we thought of the Soviet citizenry, it was with sympathy or pity. How sad that they could be so naive, so intimidated, or so misinformed that they either believed all that nonsense or else felt too disempowered to even dream of challenging it. Thank God, or Uncle Walter, that we had a free press to keep things straight, to show us the true picture of what was really happening in the world and criticize or even investigate our own government when necessary.

Well, Paula Zahn may not look the Pravda part, but she and all the Brokaws, Rathers, and Russerts out there now are regularly fulfilling the same function when it comes to the "news" of the Bushites, the CIA, and all those other stars of Big Brother's continuous "War on Terrorism." From these seemingly trustworthy, typically American faces and voices, we get the whole Bush spin and nothing but the Bush spin. All the lies, fabrications, and distortions our fearless leaders want and need to be believed go out over the airwaves as the truth, and yet few seem to blink an eye.

When it is even suggested that there just may be a little more to the takeover of Afghanistan, or to the get-Saddam obsession, or to the massive defense budget, most people just shrug and say, "Well, Bush may not be a saint but the government has to keep a few secrets if it's going to get those terrorists and protect us." Or they insist, "Listen, it's got to be basically true or Tom Brokaw (or NPR) wouldn't report it." Right, and Daddy really couldn't be abusing his little girl because he loves her. And when we begin to make the case that the Bushites most likely knew about 911, even the more sincere denial-dwellers give you a glazed look and say, "Oh come on, no one in charge of our country (family) could be that bad."

They might think or feel differently if we had anything remotely resembling a free press, one in which those Right/Left programs provided us an actual debate based on the real fleshed-out issues. One side would make this case: We need a down-and-dirty military and CIA to snuff out these horrible evildoers before they get us. We need to remove Saddam to secure greater leverage over Iraq's oil and scare the piss out of other Arab nations while positioning ourselves for the bigger oil takeover of Saudi Arabia. We need to overturn the Bill of Rights because dissent could threaten our massive arms buildup and military aggression, which, after all, is what makes America strong.

Then, the other side would make this case: It was our dirty CIA and military that created and fostered the bin Ladens and Husseins of the world and, anyway, we ought to be openly investigating what the heck really happened on 911 and who was pulling the strings before throwing our weight around in the world. Saddam poses no real threat and we have no right to murder thousands more Iraqi citizens and stuff some leader hand-picked by Chevron down the throats of those who survive. And basic human rights and dissent are what have always made America strong.

Such a debate would demonstrate that we really do have a democracy. Our culture remains in deep denial to the truth that our lack of a free press, one that would be bolstered by journalists who cut through the spin, deprives us of that desperately needed debate. The elephant comes right into the living room every evening, but most people go on fiddling with their dwindling retirement accounts and, when the news is over, watching The Weakest Link.

The denial runs so deep that most Americans don't even know that Papa Bush grew up as a CIA agent and became director in the 1970s, at a time when election fraud, coups, secret arms deals, torture, media intimidation, manipulation of events, regime changes for U.S. economic interests, and assorted other nasty and dirty deeds in the name of "protecting freedom" was CIA 101 stuff. Bush took that mindset and many of his cohorts with him into our government hallways during the Reagan-Bush and Bush I regimes, yielding the likes of Iran/Contra and stockpiling Iraq with weaponry, only to then justify our war to take out most of those same weapons.

Today's rampant denial even misses the basic reality that if you support these Bushites you support people who honestly believe that oil rules, that their pals who run global corporations know what's best for the rest of us, and that war is the only reliable catalyst of our economy. Oh yeah, and that anything they do is justified in the name of seizing and holding power because they know the right way. This denial was made possible because in that initial Bush era, most people never fully saw or understood who these "folks" were, what they did, and what they believed. Or they just chose to look away. "Mom" (Poppy) really wasn't "drinking." She's basically a good person, just not real good at keeping the checkbook straight. So, like typical ACOAs, Americans let it all go in '92 because Mom was out of our lives anyway.

Without any compassionate intervention when the problem first arose, the alcoholism took further hold and got much worse. The actions, the belief systems, the basic identity of today's Bushites are simply further manifestations of what we witnessed years earlier. Only now, they have upped the ante. They are, as Bob Dylan said, playing with our world like it's their little toy. The alcoholic in the house is getting drunk every night, not just on weekends and paydays. The family cars are getting wrecked regularly, and the other drivers and passengers on the road are in constant peril. The family finances have been driven to total near-total ruins. And Mom (Junior) just goes around with that little smirk because she knows that no one is going to say squat about her behavior.

So what will lift our society out of denial? Well, the veils of denial tend to come down when the pain from the abusive force becomes greater than the fear of opening up to the truth. That day, for millions of people, may not be so far off. For now, those of us who are choosing to live without denial have an important role to play. We need to wake up every morning and remind ourselves first, then anyone else who might be listening, that the heads of this American family have one serious addiction to war and manipulation and because of it, we are all suffering.


Kevin Quirk is a writer and a veteran journalist, having spent 12 years in newspaper, including seven years with the Charlotte Observer. His current book is "Not Now Honey, I'm Watching the Game: What to Do When Sports Come Between You and Your Mate."


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