Never Smile at a Crocodile

"Doc, we had a huge blowout at Thanksgiving and now the family is split between pro-war, pro-Bush and antiwar, anti-Bush factions. Some people are no longer on speaking terms. Everybody’s acting like this is some kind of civil war. Write about that – how can we get through to our pro-war relatives this Christmas?"

Many have echoed this man’s request, which is why my inbox is full. Contrary to Mr. Bush’s promises back in 2000, he’s not only been a divider of our country, he’s managed to split families apart – with the help of the Bush media, that is. Had it not been for the faithful services of "news" directors Fox TV, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Clear Channel, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and other major newspapers, his words, actions, and posturing would have been rejected by Americans long ago.

We who are opposed to the downward direction that our country’s been taking already know this; we’ve seen it for ourselves. We’ve seen the sentimental photos of Bush standing beside Christian crosses, American flags, church pews, even halo-shaped seals. We’ve seen him wearing various outfits that trigger nostalgic memories of past wars and military honors. We’ve heard the stirring patriotic music on every newscast and seen the adoring faces of anchors, journalists, and embedded reporters who were, in bygone days, duty-bound to critique the president, but are now obliged to keep him looking good.

It can drive you crazy if you let it. You see these opinion-shaping manipulations for the advertising-derived propaganda they are, yet some of your nearest and dearest have swallowed it hook, line, and sinker. How can these people, related to you, be so gullible? When you see their W, Bush/Cheney 2004, Power of Pride, Let’s Roll, and obligatory flag bumper stickers, it can be disconcerting and more than a little depressing.

Manufactured Identity

These are signals not merely of opinions, but of identity. And that’s where the problem lies – you can’t argue a person out of his or her identity. As most of us have learned the hard way, you should never try to convince a Republican that he’s a Democrat, a pacifist that she’s pro-war, or a hard worker that he’s a lazy bum.

Because they run deep, identities are defended tooth and nail. With the aid of sophisticated marketing techniques, the Bush campaign has made sure from the very start that support for this president wouldn’t be rational – that is, based on bald facts that can easily be supported or rejected. No longer would the Republicans leave their dominance of this country to chance. To maintain support for their policies even when the terrible consequences became apparent, they’d need something a lot more reliable – they’d need us to feel as if our very identities hinge on Mr. Bush being infallible: if he’s wrong, we’re wrong. If he’s shamed, we’re shamed. If we stand by him, we’re standing by us.

The "conservative" GOP that took over the U.S. in 2000 and again this year has never strayed from its original strategy: creating a new, godlike role for the presidency and a new Christian/moral/patriotic identity for the American people.

Everyone in the Bush administration and its media understands the overarching goal: to craft and continually reinforce an identity based on known demographics, religious beliefs, prejudices, and fears, an identity that would be "sticky" and contagious. This identity would prevent mistakes from mattering to Americans because they’d no longer be thinking in terms of facts, but in terms of their self-image and the way their neighbors see them.

Few antiwar Americans, Christians especially, seem to understand this dynamic. They assume that pro-war Bush supporters either have no human feelings or have simply lost their marbles. How else, they ask, could anyone keep supporting all the bombs and bullets that create more and more human suffering and terrorism? The sentiment I’ve heard most often is "I just can’t believe they don’t see what’s happening! It’s like we’ve entered the Twilight Zone!"

You’ve Just Entered The American Twilight Zone

There is a sense of unreality in America today, thanks to the success of the Bush strategists’ ongoing identity campaign. I’ve worked with many abused children, some of them horribly traumatized, who cling to the abusive parent with great zeal because "he’s my father" or "I’m her daughter." For abusive families, this may be adaptive in the long run because this "irrational" bonding and refusal to criticize buys time, time in which both parties can heal and mature.

But sometimes the fear of losing one’s identity as "loyal child," or of losing one’s parent’s identity as "loving Dad" or "gentle Mother," keeps the whole family stuck in destructive patterns and year-in, year-out misery. The inability to jeopardize those identities by saying "I’m his son and I love him, but he’s violent and I won’t allow him to abuse me anymore" prohibits clear thinking and ruins lives.

The Bush folks understand this dynamic, which is why they’ve played on it from the beginning. Some insightful writers have begun explaining how Bush’s identity as the strict-but-benevolent father, the representative of Christianity, and the ultimate patriot was designed to marginalize dissent and elicit obedience, submissiveness, and unquestioning support.

The rugged American has been transformed in just three years to a fearful child who’s willing to apply "peer pressure" to silence critics (even those in his or her own family) in order to avoid personal and collective punishment.

While those who support these preemptive wars may feel uneasy about them, whether because of the endless human suffering or the astronomical economic costs, they dare not speak out because this president is like no other – divinely ordained or actually Divine, in many minds, which renders any disagreement with him heresy or blasphemy. Some writers have made Freudian slips of the keyboard, unconsciously (or so one would hope) capitalizing He and Him when referring to George W. Bush.

"So how can I get through to my pro-war relatives?" To be continued….

Check in tomorrow for part two of "How to avoid holiday arguments with pro-war relatives."