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Why Bush won?
Fear-ology and the lack of


PressInfo # 200

 November 4, 2004

By Jan Oberg, TFF director


There are good reasons why George W. Bush won. About two-thirds of America - about 60 % of the eligible electorate voted, roughly a half of them for Bush - and the rest of us must now live with both the accumulated global effects of the first four years and with more of the same, and probably worse, for four more long years. For, in the world of George Bush, God's mandate from above has now been confirmed by the American people's mandate from below. So there is a kind of trinity of God, Bush and the American believers. Unfortunately none of his policies, except that for re-election, work - but that seems to bother neither Bush nor his followers. Let's at least hope that God feels a kind of guilt by (alleged) association?


1. Fear-ology

The major reason Bush won is fearology, the building of politics on manipulation of fear and the need for protection to one's own advantage. From the perspective of mass psychology, George W. Bush had the most appealing program: "I am the Only One who can promise you protection against the evils of the world out there." Since in response to 9/11 the President initiated the misguided and already failed "war on terror", the deep reservoir of his performance is the syndrome of "fearology" spiced with eschatological myths and chosenness: Bush as God's own President, American as God's own country and the Republicans, GOP, as God's Own Party - another trinity.

Anyone attempting to explain the Bush administration by normal political science textbook theories will miss most of what this fearology is about and what, consequently, we may be heading for.

Fearology worked; first there was a manifest attack on the US and it provided Mr. Bush with a (presumably much needed) manifest personal destiny: to fight the "Axis of Evil", to eradicate Evil everywhere, create Paradise on earth and thus become the Protector. In spite of all the evident failures, - see TFF Feature by Craig Aaron - the majority (albeit a small one) of the American citizens have now shown that they believe (in) him and expect to be protected by him; there is a contract now that did not exist in 2000. No new disaster such as 9/11 has happened in the US, so the protector has a point, whether or not it is the merit of his administration and policies.

The rest is very simple, but requires bold vision and intelligent strategies and tactics to carry out: you tell people that they are in mortal danger and if they are actually not, you create that danger or an image of it. The smoke (screen) would not work without the fire, the fire that was 9/11. Next, you choose to deal with that attack so that it produces scepticism among most friends, hatred among enemies, mass production of terrorists, and ever decreasing legitimacy in the eyes of others. This is a very effective "fearological " policy, because it increases both the voters' feeling of fear and of being alone and misunderstood. Osama Bin Laden's conspicuously well-timed video in support of President Bush was the brain product of the most gifted manipulator, whoever it was. If it was bin Laden himself, he can expect to be alive in the future too after this. ("If you let me survive, I'll help you survive…")

The protection is not of the defensive, healing or preventive kind. It is outward and aggressive. There is no square meter anywhere on earth where we can relax or feel safe. The world is dangerous, terrorists lurk around every corner. And if that is not enough, we go ahead with a Ballistic Missile Defence to protect America should someone anyhow penetrate to our mainland. BMD aims to increase the capability to fight a nuclear war and boosts the - mad - perception that you can survive and gain from a nuclear war; but that has not dawned upon the Americans - and, incidentally, also not upon many Europeans. Illiteracy about complex and sometimes philosophical security matters is widespread.

Fearology has its own logic: you have to provoke people all the time and everywhere to increase the self-constructed threat. Your power would disappear if no one was fearful and thought they needed your protection. If fundamentally you changed US foreign policy and got people all over to love and admire you, you would be out of the office! Why? Because you have nothing originally constructive to offer - only protection from the evil guys.



2. TANA - There Are No Alternatives

Here it the second reason; the utter lack of coherent and constructive alternative programs to George W. Bush's foreign policy. It should not be that difficult to see that the United States is now close to a one-party system with two fractions and that John Kerry's policies concerning terrorism and the Iraq quagmire - and all the rest - was difficult to distinguish in substance from Bush's.

The main difference might be in the personality; Kerry has experienced the meaninglessness, cruelty and absurdity of war (however, repressed for the sake of the career, one must presume) and he seems to have less problematic relationships with his past, with God and with various fundamentalisms. He is probably also less politically autistic than Mr. Bush. Be this as it may, he comes across merely as a more "intellectual" imperialist and militarist with a slightly less unilateral, (self) isolationist view of his country's role in the world. However, as President Mr. Kerry might have appointed Richard Holbrooke his Secretary of State and Wesley Clarke his Secretary of Defence; with their disastrous handling of Yugoslavia and Kosovo five years ago under Clinton, it would be naïve to believe that imperialism and militarism is a Republican (GOP) disease only. Both parties choose the antagonistic Empire option rather than the Democracy-Cooperation option. In the little longer run, it could spell the end of the US empire - but who cares about the longer run, say 15-20 years in today's politics?

To put it crudely, the Americans could vote, but they didn't have real choice. This distinction is vital in the age of increasing authoritarianism. Democracy is about choice and not only about voting. Furthermore, one must challenge every concept of democracy used about a system that precludes anyone who does not possess hundreds of millions of dollars from becoming the country's leader.

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Civil society - lovers of peace, justice, ecological balance, freedom - can now decide to continue to only talk negatively about George W. Bush and promote the - traditional on the verge of boredom - slogans of anti-war and anti-imperialism and being critical of and against every next piece of Bush policy and interventionism. We must, of course, but it won't be enough. If anything, this election shows that the "criticism only" strategy is too easy and represent no real challenge to the system.

The failure to stop a President whose policies have created such utter, predictable chaos as in Afghanistan and Iraq indeed raises the question: what did we do wrong? George W. Bush has now been re-elected after having plunged not only America but the world into the wrong wars and having achieved absolutely nothing except physical and cultural destruction and the death of 100,000 Iraqis - on top of the sanctions-caused genocide endorsed by the Clinton administration also after Iraq had been disarmed and which killed between 500,000 and 1,000.000 innocent Iraqis and the country's middle class.

But "we" got rid of Saddam? Well good, but it's the wrong argument. Since other means were never tried but war, how can anyone say that war was the only way to topple him? And how high a price can we morally demand others to pay for our democratisation, freedom - and oil supplies and profits?



3. Being against is not enough. The need for constructive programmes

And that's where the problem lies with a large part of the global resistance: it is "against" and "anti-" but it has little of what Gandhi always insisted on, constructive programs. The millions of marchers - like the governments of Germany and France - last year had very little by way of answer to the perfectly legitimate question: if not war on Iraq, then what? If not grapping the oil from someone else, then what? If not massive world violence against terror - then how to combat terror? If Saddam is the product of the world's arm trade, then how do we stop it? What kind of education and media do we need to make people as interested in peace as they are in computers, entertainment, Coca-Cola - and violence? If "war is the only plan in town" there will be war; in most difficult situations doing nothing is no alternative.

Admittedly, it is easier to fight a common enemy together - and George W. Bush, US foreign policy and all it stands for is an enemy in the eyes of millions. But these millions have not been able, however legitimate the struggle, to develop anything close to an alternative vision of how things could be done differently. Could? Yes, by non-violence - by Gandhian "ahimsa" and "Satyagraha" through the whole arsenal of peace by peaceful means as stated in the UN Charter. The energy went to "fight Bush" rather than to develop a new paradigm and new strategies. Thus, Bush set the agenda to which most re-acted. But democracy is about citizens pro-actively setting the agenda - to which their elected representatives re-act. It's about visions of the good society, not fearology practised the other way: dystopian images of the war, nuclear annihilations, dislike and contempt for leaders. Peace is so much more than the working against war and other types of violence.

Peace is about alternative programs built on the values of love and cooperation with the rest of the world. We need to take inspiration from the history of non-violence and from, say, Jonathan Schell's The Unconquerable World. We must consistently say yes to non-violence and not keep silent about, for instance, the totally unacceptable violence practised by that part of the Iraqi resistance that kidnap peace and humanitarian workers.

Bush's re-election tells us that we must try to use the next four years more constructively. There will be fears, anger and huge disappointments. We must somehow overcome them. Fearology and its develish partner, hopelessness, are tools in the hands of authoritarian leaders. Defiance and resistance, civil courgae and resilience can help constructive programs to emerge - and positive visions can kill both fears and hopelessness.

Indeed, perhaps, President Bush' re-election represents an important opportunity for us all?

More about that in another TFF PressInfo.


© TFF and the author 2004

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