Former President George W. Bush called on Americans Saturday to confront domestic violent extremists, comparing
them to violent extremists abroad and warning that they are “children of the same foul spirit.”In a speech marking the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Bush said the US has seen “growing evidence that the dangers to our country can come not only across borders, but from violence that gathers within.”“There is little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home,” Bush said. “But in their disdain for pluralism, in their disregard for human life, in their determination to defile national symbols, they are children of the same foul spirit.”“And it is our continuing duty to confront them,” he added.
Here’s a link to the transcript of the entire speech.It’s not a bad speech … until you realize that the man giving it is the one whose bad judgment about who the enemy was and what the nature of the fight was got us into one bad and wholly unnecessary war (Iraq), and one just war (Afghanistan) that turned into a twenty-year nation-building calamity. There was not one word in that speech about Iraq or Afghanistan. No regret — not even a hint of the awareness of tragedy. Just patriotic nostalgia. It wouldn’t have sounded like boilerplate had we actually achieved our goals in either Iraq or Afghanistan, and turned them both into liberal democracies.
There was not a sentence, or even a single syllable, indicating that President Bush has given any real thought to the meaning of the past twenty years, and his role in it. One doesn’t expect a man like that to stand in front of the American people and apologize for his grievous mistakes — mistakes that a lot of us (I accuse myself) supported at the time — but it is not unreasonable to expect some acknowledgement that we failed, and our failure cost a lot of people, Americans and otherwise, their lives, and made us poorer and weaker as a nation.
You may disagree, but I think George W. Bush is a fundamentally decent man who suffers gravely from a prideful lack of introspection. I saw the same thing in my own dad, a deeply good and decent man whose Achilles heel of pride — he never apologized, and never second-guessed himself — led to lasting destruction. Bush also suffers from an an unsubtle mind. I think he really did believe his administration’s own propaganda — and still does. I think he probably honestly does think, preposterously, that the January 6 clowns are the Al Qaeda of our time. I don’t say this to excuse him, but to say that I don’t question his sincerity, only his judgment.
The reader who wrote to tip me off about the Bush speech said:
No accountability, no admission of guilt, introspection or culpability. Not even a basic reflection on the human and material costs of these last 20 years. I absolutely detest Trump as the cure for what ails us, but the utter corruption and lack of basic accountability for those at the top is what discredits the establishment and legitimizes bad actors like Trump.
And a foreign policy establishment that is fine with zero accountability for two lost wars has no right to bitch about Hungarian corruption. They are fine with corruption; it’s cultural conservatism that they find unacceptable.
I have not one good word to say about the people who attacked the US Capitol on January 6. They all deserved to be punished. But people, understand what is happening now when a former President of the United States identifies “violent extremists” as the new Al Qaeda. Bush is legitimizing the US turning the vast intelligence and surveillance apparatus he built to fight Islamist terror onto American citizens who dissent. To be fair, Bush’s remarks could have covered Antifa and leftist radicals too, but CNN interpreted them as referring to the January 6 sort of people, because Bush has been so outspoken against them. And CNN was probably right, given that Bush hasn’t to my knowledge said anything against Antifa, or the Black Lives Matter mobs tearing down statues (“defile national symbols”).
Anyway, CNN reports that President Biden praised Bush’s speech afterwards.
It is the duty of we who are old enough to remember what happened in the year and a half between 9/11 and the launch of the Iraq War to remember how the US Government and a compliant media manufactured public consent for that war. We have to remember it, and talk about it, loudly and often. We have to tell our children about it — about how the people in power told lies to make us deathly afraid of the people they wanted to punish, even though those people (the Iraqis) had nothing to do with 9/11. They were just pawns in a bigger game. It’s starting to happen again — and George W. Bush yesterday laid down an important marker in that speech.
Hear me clearly: I’m not saying that violent extremists (of the right or the left) deserve kid-gloves treatment by the state. I’m saying that the ruling class — Bush, Biden, and the rest — are laying the rhetorical groundwork for launching a war on their own people, in particular those who have been shat on particularly by Bush’s wars and economic policies, and Biden’s wokeness.
It’s coming. As the author of Live Not By Lies, a book that talks about how soft totalitarianism is here and growing, I read Bush’s remarks, and Biden’s approval of them, with a chill running down my spine. We have got to understand what’s happening, and build resistance while we can. I am not talking about anything violent! What happened on January 6 was idiotic, and anybody who takes up arms or violence against Leviathan is a fool who will be crushed. I have no problem with the state prosecuting violent political actors; I only wish they would be fair and balanced in how they go about it. For example, I wish the State of Oregon or the City of Portland went after Antifa with even a tiny fraction of the vigor with which the US Government is going after the January 6 rioters. I wish national and state governments regarded the defiling of statues and monuments by leftist mobs with even a scintilla of the seriousness with which they took the defilement of the US Capitol.
No, I am talking about building a non-violent movement of resistance.
For one thing: speak out against the demonization of dissent, and speak out against the state and the institutional powers in our society, especially the media, manufacturing consent to suppress dissenters. It has been happening within institutions (e.g., universities, corporations), but now it will expand at a national level. Whether he understood what he was doing or not, Bush gave this campaign his imprimatur, likening it to a new war on terror. Ask yourself: how well did Bush’s last war or terror go for us? Do you trust this man — and the elites who run the US Government — to identify the real enemy of our nation? Or are they more likely to attack the wrong people because they are blind, and/or because they have a different agenda?
For another thing, I am talking about building the habits of resistance into our lives, like the anti-communist dissidents I interviewed in the book advised. And I am talking about building cells (small groups) of resistance, and networks of these cells, like Father Tomislav Kolakovic did in pre-communist Slovakia, so we can help each other keep each other, and especially the life of the church, thriving under persecution.
To that end, on this Sunday morning, let me quote several lines from Live Not By Lies:
We cannot hope to resist the coming soft totalitarianism if we do not have our spiritual lives in order. This is the message of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the great anti-communist dissident, Nobel laureate, and Orthodox Christian. He believed the core of the crisis that created and sustained communism was not political but spiritual.
Go to church. Get your spiritual life in order. Purge yourself of weak-sauce therapeutic Christianity, of the kind that just wants to make you feel good. It will be of no use to you in the days to come. Cast out of your soul vulgar politicized Christianity, the sort that de facto deifies political leaders and that construes the fight between good and evil as one between conservatives and liberals, or black and white, or city and country, and so forth. Always remember Solzhenitsyn’s saying: the line between good and evil runs down the middle of every human heart.
This is a serious moment that requires spiritually serious men and women, not those crippled by their affection for the world’s trivialities. Father Tomislav Kolakovic lived through a similar moment in Slovakia. He taught a method of contemplation, deliberation, and action to the disciples he was preparing to lead the underground church in the coming persecution: Think, Judge, Act. For us, it would go something like this:
- Open your eyes and bend your knees in prayer, then think hard about what you’re seeing happen in our country.
- Talk about it among your friends, and judge what you are called to do in this moment, with an eye to the future.
- Then act, while we still have the liberty to do so.
UPDATE: It’s not just me who thinks so:
Liberals swooned emotionally all day yesterday for George W. Bush because they crave his War on Terror, but just want it unleashed domestically at their political opponents.
Hearing Bush link 9/11 with 1/6, and compare his War on Terror with their new one, was ecstasy for them. pic.twitter.com/mvxSORVIjS
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) September 12, 2021
Having the US Government treat the American Right the same way as it spent the last 20 years treating alleged “Muslim extremists” is — along with more censorship of the internet — one of the top political priorities of US liberalism, whose authoritarianism cannot be overstated. pic.twitter.com/363T0m934z
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) September 12, 2021
UPDATE.2: My friend Ryan Booth comments:
Rod, the fundamental message of The Benedict Option was that The Culture War was lost, that Christians would never again control the broader culture without first deepening its own internal culture. The Benedict Option preached the essential message that we can’t share what we don’t have, that the witness of the Church was disappearing. Our focus, you said, needed to be on anti-political politics, you said, discussing Havel: “a way of achieving meaningful lives together, politics as ‘practical morality, as service to the truth, as essentially human and humanly measured care for our fellow humans.’”
The Benedict Option was, and remains, a brilliant and prophetic book.
Now, I sometimes wonder if you still believe most of it. Because almost everything that you have written since has said that we need to fight the Left. You couldn’t rule out voting for Trump, because defeating the Left was too important. Live Not By Lies tried to balance those things, but the primary impact of the book has not been, as you know, about deepening religious and cultural practices. Tucker didn’t have you on his show to talk about deepening cultural and spiritual practices and institutions, but rather because of a Cassandra-like call that the Left was on the verge of a totalitarian takeover of the US, with the message that we need to fight to prevent that from happening. He had you on so that the Fox Geezers would get even more angry and hate the Left even more.
Hungary, as you have admitted, is not a Christian nation in actuality. It is a nation where cultural Christianity has endured, and the message of your time there has been that fighting the Left to win politically and culturally is worthwhile.
And, Rod, you have been out of the country so much that maybe you haven’t seen the destruction that’s been happening in the American Church. Let me tell you about it from within my own family:
In my immediate family out to the level of first cousins, I only have one relative who has ever shown evidence of a heart changed by Jesus Christ. But since he became radicalized by Qanon, I no longer see much of the love of Christ in him, but rather menacing hatred for the Left. He believed, and likely still believes, in the eschatological hope that “the storm is coming,” and all those liberals are going to get what they deserve. His opposition to vaccines, like that of so many on the Right, is similarly a rejection of modern medicine, and a return to a primitive religion where shamans such as the ones that Tucker puts on his show tell viewers that the vaccines contain evil spirits.
My cousin convinced his father, my uncle, not to get vaccinated. We buried him last month, after his death from COVID. He’s now one of tens of thousands who is dead because of the lies of the corruption of the Right.
You are not an evangelical, so I wonder if you realize how connected the lies of the political and cultural Right are to the American Church. The Church lives by the lie that the election was stolen. Instead of loving our neighbors and protecting them from COVID, the Church lives by the lie that the vaccine is an attempt by the Left to control and oppress them. Instead of being pro-life, the Right is the cause of the deaths of tens of thousands of needless deaths. Instead of welcoming and loving the stranger, American Christians embrace NIMBYism.
And the result of all this is that baptism rates are falling off a cliff. People no longer want to identify with the word “evangelical,” because evangelicals are now known more for pushing lies and hating the Left than they are for anything having to do with Jesus. The consequence is that “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles.” And, now, I see some Christians reacting against that and embracing leftist Christianity, with its own anti-human lies — simply because they know that the other side is wrong.
You’ve said recently that you don’t want the Church to live by the lies of the Right, but you can’t just simply say that, Rod, and then do events with Tucker and promote him and those very lies.
At a more basic level, for 99% of us, it is impossible to love our neighbors to the political and cultural Left, while we also fight them. To “fight lovingly” may not be an oxymoron in theory, but it is in practice. You can even see it in the New Testament Church, as Paul tells Timothy to fight the false teachers in Ephesus, and then when the Apocalypse is written less than three decades later, that church has defeated the false teachers but lost its love.
Rod, I fear that you have lost your love. It hurts me to read you these days. You’ve gone from writing one of the most important books in my lifetime for the Church, to allying yourself with a movement that’s destroying it, a movement you decried in that very book.
I appreciate this comment. You readers should know that this is the kind of comment that a good friend can make to me, and I will receive it with the love with which it was delivered.
Ryan, who is a Southern Baptist, is right that I don’t know what’s going on in the Evangelical world. What he reports in this post is a horror to me. I’m so sorry to hear it. And Ryan, I am sorry about the death of your uncle.
With respect, Ryan, I don’t understand your point criticizing me about Hungary and Tucker. I don’t agree with all of what Tucker Carlson appears to believe (I don’t have cable, so I don’t watch his show, but I read from time to time when he says something controversial). But you know what? Tucker is the only TV host to give any attention to my book. The print media have ignored it too. Only radio and the Internet have paid attention. Sales are great — I’m not complaining about that. It’s that I think the message is vitally important. One of the most important things I learned from talking to the dissidents is that you can’t be squeamish about the allies you make. If you find someone willing to stand against totalitarianism, you have to find some way to make that person your ally. I asked Kamila Bendova how she and her late husband, as strict Catholics, worked with the hippies who led the dissident movement in Communist Czechoslovakia. She told me that most Christians conformed and did what the Communists wanted them to do. It was more important to them to stand with the courageous, whatever their faults.
I imagine lots of liberal gay folks are criticizing Bari Weiss for standing with the hoary old hater Rod Dreher against soft totalitarianism. Bari gets it. She and I disagree on some important things, but the greatest battle facing all of us now is the one against wokeism.
I genuinely don’t understand why you’re offended by my appreciation for Hungary. Cultural Christianity is not going to save us, either spiritually or temporally. But I prefer the flawed approach that Orban and his people are taking to the approach that all the Western countries are taking. Orban has said that he knows politics can’t save us; the best politics can do is create a space within which the church and other institutions of civil society can work. Why is he wrong? Are the Christians of the Islamic states in the Middle East wrong to support, passively, the secular dictatorships? Those dictatorships are the only things standing between them and slaughter at the hands of Muslim extremists.
Do you really believe that we Christians can’t resist the evil coming upon us, or we lose our love? I think that Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights leadership modeled the best way to do that. I wish we would see such leaders arising out of the church today.
To reiterate: the picture you have of the American Church is grievous to me, but it is not the Church I see. I think we both realize that we have our eyes on different segments of the American Church. I know two Southern Baptist pastors, both conservatives, who abandoned the ministry because of the garbage you talk about here. I sympathize with them. But the fact that there are a lot of hothead extremists within the Evangelical world does not mean that any and all resistance to wokeness and soft totalitarianism is wrong.
I believe — and I’ll say this again — that the idea that we can solve this through politics is foolish and counterproductive. Without repentance, all our efforts are in vain. And, as you say, Ryan, the way we resist has a lot to do with whether or not our resistance will be successful (and gaining the world, so to speak, but losing the future generations to the faith is not success!).
Can you, Ryan, give me an example of resistance that works? The kind of resistance that you could in good conscience support?