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January 20, 2009

August 2007


Upon taking the oath of office after the resignation of the disgraced Richard Nixon, President Ford assured a Watergate-weary nation, “our long national nightmare is over.” Unfortunately, our next president, saddled with Bush’s on-going calamities abroad and at home, will not be able to offer such easy reassurances. Nixon’s subversion of the Constitution seems petty compared to Bush’s thuggish despotism. Indeed, it seems inevitable that many aspects of the Bush nightmare will long remain American realities.


We can hope, though, that the next administration will shed the mendacious fear-mongering that has so poisoned the recent political climate.


Gore Vidal frequently refers to our nation as “the United States of Amnesia,” an appellation meant to underscore how our ignorance of– and disregard for– history breeds political malfeasance.


Consider how Bush’s deceitful drumbeats for war counted on such collective forgetfulness. To whip up public support for military adventurism and suspension of civil liberties, we were told– again and again and again– that we face today the gravest dangers the world has ever known. But most of Bush’s audience is old enough to remember the depths of the Cold War, with its missile crises, doctrine of “mutually assured destruction,” proxy conflicts, and doomsday clock ticking towards midnight. In the United States of Amnesia, though, lessons from the past serve as little constraint on the fear-mongers of today, and Bush’s hyperbole goes unchallenged.


Wholesale domestic spying, e-mail and telephone dragnets, secret prisons, concentration camps, disappeared persons, torture, kidnapping, executions, and “perpetual war” are most easily imposed on a fearful population ignorant of its past. If the next president wants to appeal to American’s better angels, we need an antidote to this fear abetted by forgetfulness.


As gay people, we have a special interest in ratcheting down the fear and encouraging a more rational political discourse. Civil liberties– among fear’s first casualties– are vital to sexual minorities. Remember that Senator McCarthy, exploiting paranoia about communism, came up empty in his campaign against Reds, but managed to wreck the lives of hundreds of decent gay folk in his Constitution-shredding crusade. It is not difficult to imagine a bloated Department of Homeland Security, seeking to justify its enormous budget and powers, turning its attention to all those e-mails and chatroom dialogs captured and stored on government-controlled computers: Did anyone offer money for sex? Did every photo exchanged have all the necessary proofs of age on file? Did any HIV-positive person plan to have sex? Did teen boys conspire to “rape” one another? Did guys “confess” to sexual escapades in “public” places? To the Theocratic Right, all such activity should be verboten and any transgressors imprisoned (or worse).


And as gay people, we have particular strengths to bring to the struggle for a less fearful culture. Growing up, few of us were ever encouraged to explore and enjoy homosexual expression. Indeed, almost all of us grew up surrounded by messages implicit and explicit that there was something wicked, sick, or wrong about gay sex. And yet we found the courage to embrace that which we were taught to despise.


Such personal triumphs against indoctrinated fear don’t, of course, translate inevitably into a broader political understanding, but they’re a good head start! Gay people can use their own experience to recognize how lies can feed fear, fear which in turn inhibits exposure of the lies. Like the boy who proclaimed the emperor’s nakedness, we have called society’s bluff about the splendor of exclusive heterosexuality– and thereby won richer and more fulfilling lives.


Let us hope the next president has the courage to repudiate the fear which has blinded us these past years. It’s a gay lesson that could benefit the whole country.


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