The Emperor Has No Clothes
By Robert Bly
In reality, the horrible event called the Bush presidency is over now. It remains only to start the sort of planning that enabled MacArthur to retrieve what he could from the fall of Manila. Elaborate failures in high places have happened before. It’s a repeating event in American history, and in the history of every nation.
President Bush has not really registered the failures in his life. When his early oil venture failed, he was bailed out by the Saudi oil family or by his father. But when he bets all his money on a lunatic invasion of Iraq, no one can bail him out. During his debates with Kerry, no one could bail him out. When Kerry told him, in front of millions of people, that the war was wrongly begun, wrongly planned, wrongly carried out, he had to resort to making faces. There is only so much the Saudi oil family can do.
It has become clear that the Emperor has no clothes. The Grimm Brothers fairy story tells us that if the Emperor’s people report that the Emperor is well-dressed, all the people standing around will swear they see the same thing. But his nakedness became visible during those amazingly vivid Bush-Kerry debates. The Emperor’s lack of clothes is part of a larger failure.
We all know the invasion of Iraq was a hare-brained act, a colossal mistake. The dissolving of the Iraq army was another mistake, which Bremer himself admitted last week. But President Bush will not admit his mistakes.
It’s hard to believe that the President and the voters cannot see Disaster when it’s brought up close to their faces. Our nation with its collapsing schools, its failing factories, its huge increase of poverty, is a sight just as vivid. If voters can close their eyes to this daily disaster, why not to the huge disaster happening to the United States Army?
Hoping for the best is an adolescent characteristic. Closing your eyes to your own addiction is a childish response. Choosing a self-deceptive hero in a crisis and thanking him for lying to you about the world belongs to that Disneyland immaturity for which the theme parks are famous.
Leaders need an instinct for truth. Not to be able to take in truth leads to artificial universes, to hundreds of soldiers in the coffin and millions of demoralized citizens.
During a few months in 2000 and 2001, the New York Times Magazine was full of essays arguing that the United States was the natural inheritor of the Roman and British empires. Our production capacity, the military bases we have all over the world, our elaborate economy, make us a natural to take over the reins of empire, and drive the teams of empire horses. The argument seemed so logical at the time. But it turns out we can’t control the horses. Given our ruined schools, our devastated Flint, Michigans, our millions of working people worried over the next paycheck, how could we possibly create the ingenious, studious, many-sided intelligences needed to guide an empire?
After a few months of grandiosity and falling statues, the test results come in. After rumsfelding our way down the river, the waterfall suddenly appears. George W. Bush is not exactly a fool; he is a representative of our enlarged ability to lie to ourselves. SUVs represent our ability to lie to ourselves about the abundance of oil. Many Democrats drive SUVs.
We have all participated in the national illusion and self-pleasing prevarication that a C-student can guide the country in a time of complicated issues, that a mule can win the Kentucky Derby, that a man who doesn’t read books can guide the fate of nations. Mark Twain in Huckleberry Finn gives a metaphor for all that in his pair the Duke and the King. They pretend to be secret royalty, but Mark Twain knows they would eventually be hurried out of town in tar and feathers. In Iraq, we are the King and the Duke; let’s stop lying about it. We’ll be lucky to get out of town alive.
Originally appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2004