Tuesday, January 20, 2009

America the Corrigible

[Cross-posting at Filipino Voices...]
If I were asked to name the strength or virtue of American civilization that I admire the most, I would immediately say it is corrigibility, the ability to recognize, rectify and learn from one's mistakes. Speaking of which, George W. Bush has reached his last day in office--which began on Saturday, 20 January 2001. By coincidence that was exactly the same day that Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was illegitimately sworn in as President in the middle of a Senate Impeachment Trial by someone wearing the costume of the Chief Justice of SCoRP in front of a graven idol of Mama Mary and the hooting throng of Edsa Dos. Some would say GWB was also shoe-horned into office by SCotUS, but at least that happened in a proper judicial case brought before the honorable court. Also Bush is now gone, while she is still in power until at least 2010 and would like to stay even longer, by all accounts. There was never any doubt of course that when his second term ended Bush would step down. That has never been true for Gloria because to this day we do not know the president's true intentions.

The strange coincidence forces us to wonder, uselessly but wistfully, what the world might've been like if Al Gore had been President instead of Bush, as well as what the Philippines could've been if SCoRP had not usurped the power of the Congress to deal with Erap through the impeachment process. Indeed, by forcing Erap out, instead of accepting the likely verdict of acquittal from the Senate of that time, SCoRP had poisoned the well of public accountability under the Constitution for a long time to come. And it turned GMA into an insecure President. Seeing people power conspiracies everywhere, she did not hesitate to do all things necessary to keep the Opposition at bay; coverup a whole series of malfeasances and scandalous deals (a litany I haven't the strength to even list anymore), and executed what MLQ3 memorably called a "scorched earth" policy of destruction against our institutions and Constitutional principles through the most arrogant use of Presidential powers since the fascist dictator, Ferdinand Marcos. Similar things are being said about Bush, but at least he was gracious in the end and left peaceably, unlike Gloria, who seems to be spoiling for a fight. The lady whom Bush gave the right to change her mind, certainly has many times, and it has left the Philippines divided, demoralized and the Filipinos departed to other lands. They turn for hope to America...

"Change has come to America!" Barack Obama declared in Chicago last November as he claimed victory in an historic election. But America is a Very Big Ship. She cannot turn on a dime, or even a single election. American interests and American values have not changed with the arrival of Barack Obama upon the stage of history for his hour upon it. As Captain of the Ship of State starting 20 January 2008, he can only expect him to make course corrections, and not actually deliver us unto that far shore glimpsed by millions on the horizon of hope. For one thing, and despite all appearances, it cannot be denied that Barack Obama must also become a successful war-time President, in the sense that national security issues that Bush and Cheney failed to resolve, must still be addressed because they have not gone away. If anything the problem has gotten worse. Even though the term "war on terror" should now become passe, there is a seemingly implacable force in the world that must be stopped by a combination of strategy, tactics and policy far more potent or wise than that employed by the Bush administration. Calling it something else will not change the quintessential nature of this force, only our appreciation and understanding of it. Hopefully that will lead to much more effective measures than have been tried thus far.

Corrigibility is a Darwinian virtue, if I might call it that, because I think corrigibility is necessary (if not quite sufficient) for any human society, or person, to be fit enough to survive as well as to thrive. There is in fact a permanent record of American evolution in the 27 amendments to the US Constitution, each of which represents a giant legal and therefore social step forward in the rights and freedoms of citizens, and in the optimal regulation of their relationships to promote the greatest possible good and happiness for all. For example, the first ten Amendments compose the present Bill of Rights, which was missing in the original charter, a thing that other democracies have taken for granted as essential to a democratic Constitution. Slavery was abolished by the 13th Amendment, thus reversing nearly a century of Supreme Court pro-slavery decision making. There is even an Amendment to an Amendment, since alcoholic prohibition (18th) was repealed by the 21st Amendment. The arc of the American ascent has not been smooth. From a society based upon human slavery and inequality, she has changed and evolved into to the world's freest, most open society in which human freedom has been the leaven for the ever-rising, ever-expanding bread of progress. Freedom and Science form the the very sterling alloy which composes American progress. Historical setbacks such as the Great Depression have only been the prelude to a revitalized and continuously reborn America, with fresh energy and new ideas.

Of course, at the helm and the cutting edge of rectification is President Barack Obama. There is much to be done, and none more conscious of it than he must be at this very moment. We wish him well!

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