13 February 2006

The Mandate Of Heaven

Warning: I'm about to get all multicultural on you myself by bringing up the ancient Chinese tradition of Tian Ming, aka thee Mandate of Heaven. "Heaven," as Sinologists among you will know, has little or nothing to do with the concept as it's understood in the Abrahamic religions of the West; a better comparison would be to The Force from Star Wars. In other words, if The Force or the Mandate is with you, you can do just about anything: found and rule great empires, wage war, sue for peace, and all will go hunky-dory. If, on the other hand, you've managed through carelessness, chicanery or just bad luck to lose the Mandate, then you might as well stay in bed or go on a long, long holiday, because nothing is going to work out.

Most likely the Mandate of Heaven was cooked up by one bunch of Chinese adventurers to justify their taking power away from another crowd, but it's tempting to see something a bit bigger at work, too: it's hard to deny that there comes a time in most political dynasties or regimes when things simply stop working, when the charisma or good vibes that seemed to be propelling the leader and his movement along shrivel up and blow away. Chinese history is replete with examples of how the people could tell the Mandate was being lost; often they took the form of dramatic events like earthquakes or unexpected defeats in war, but they could just as easily be seen in the Emperor's failing to exhibit sufficient gravitas, becoming a laughingstock or an object of pity. Those old enough to remember will have seen a similar phenomenon in the "malaise" (as he himself fatefully named it) that characterised the end of Jimmy Carter's Presidency. Economic stagflation, the Iran hostage crisis, and a general sense that the genial peanut farmer from Georgia had not a clue what he was doing in the White House all contributed to his downfall, but many media observers pointed to a couple of seemingly trivial news items as being even more crucial.

One was a picture snapped of Carter as he was jogging, and which captured him looking on the brink of exhaustion or even collapse. The message, even when it was printed without comment, was clear: the President, and his Presidency, were running out of steam, no longer had the freshness or strength necessary to tackle the nation's problems. The other was a story, with photo, headlined "President Attacked By Rabbit."

In order to avoid any more unflattering jogging photos, Carter had turned his recreational attention toward trout fishing, but even there he couldn't get a break: a crazed swamp rabbit came swimming toward his boat, and the President felt compelled to fend it off with a paddle. Now what are the chances: how many of you have ever heard of, let alone seen a crazed swamp rabbit? Yet both witnesses and photos testify that just such a creature came swimming directly at the President of the United States. Nowadays, of course, we'd assume it had been sent by Al Qaeda, but in 1979, it was taken as a sign that the President had lost it. I mean, if he couldn't even get respect from swamp rabbits, he wasn't going to have much luck with the American people, and the following year Ronald Reagan ousted him in a landslide.

You've probably guessed that what's brought this to mind is the Dick Cheney shooting incident. The fat, grumpy VP has never been an object of much love, even, I suspect, among those who voted for him, but his stern demeanour resonated sufficiently among those who felt that America needed tough leadership in the face of terrorism. Besides, I imagine, they felt he served as a necessary counterweight to Bush's fratboy buffoonery. And while I didn't vote for Bush-Cheney, I'll freely admit that the thought crossed my mind at times, too: with all their faults, I had less trouble taking them seriously as the leaders of a nation at war than I would have with Al Gore or John Kerry.

If one were to believe at all in the Mandate of Heaven as applied to Imperial America (sorry, don't mean to sound like a 16 year old anarchist and/or Noam Chomsky, but there are certain unavoidable parallels), it would be easy enough to seize on the New Orleans disaster or Bush's denuding of the national treasury or the endless reverses in what was supposed to be a simple colonial war, but my guess is that more people will be appalled and alienated by the image of Mean and Ugly Old Dick Cheney being so stupid and trigger-happy as to open up with a shotgun on someone who was supposed to be one of his good buddies (if you have a hard time imagining Dick Cheney having good buddies, let alone friends, you're not alone).

Remember, Cheney is the guy sold to us as being the brains behind Bush's war(s) on terrorism. Yet here he is out in a field attempting to get his kicks by blasting innocuous little birds out of the sky (something, I understand, he spends "a great deal" of time doing, and while I don't begrudge our leaders their recreation, wouldn't you think guiding the world's greatest superpower through a time of war and crisis would hold a bit more interest that blowing away birds?) and instead putting his mate in hospital with some good old-fashioned "friendly fire."

I'm not anti-gun or anti-hunting, but I am anti-moron, and people who blast off with a shotgun when they don't know for sure that all their companions are out of the way generally qualify as dangerously careless or morons or both. But it should no longer be surprising that despite spending half a trillion dollars (or whatever it's up to now), laying waste to a couple countries, and killing God knows how many people, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan show no sign of coming to a successful conclusion any time soon. And no, I don't think it's because the Islamofascists and sectarian nutcases on the other side are in the right, or because they have the support of the people they're killing, I think it's because military and foreign policy are in the hands of some seriously unfunny clowns.

All signs are that the Bush-Cheney era is heading toward an ignominious end, even if they still have three years remaining in office. I would be relieved about that if it weren't for the fact that I don't see any credible replacement on the horizon. What I fear is that if the current leadership continues to make a cock-up of the war, we'll end up replacing them with some dingbat left-wing Democrats whose solution will be to retreat, hand the entire region over to the suicide bombers, and hope for the best. At a time when we're desperately in need of courageous and intelligent leadership, both political parties appear largely bereft. Politics is no longer looked upon as a respectable calling, and moral certitude is sneered at by the intelligentsia and embraced by the imbecilic. Mandate of Heaven or not, you're looking at some serious signs that The Force is deserting this empire.

1 comment:

tim said...

One of the things that I'm hoping for, when we do elect Lefty in 2008, is a willingness from other nations to work with our new administration in cleaning up the messes that Bush/Cheney have made. I'm talking about all of the heavy hitters, not just "He forgot Poland!" England and Spain (who've already bailed). It's going to take some serious groveling and we're going to have to come up with some pretty sweet incentives for them, but I think it'll happen.

Of course, that dream will all go to hell if people decide to vote anti-gay marriage or pro-"family values" again. Keep your eye on the ball people.

We tend to be easily distracted, here in the States.