02/22/2006 03:23 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Trust Me

I have an acquaintance who knows she's not quite as smart, well-read, or well-educated as she would like to be. All the same, she swaggers and pontificates. She thinks she's an authority on many subjects, although her reasons for thinking so would not stand up to any sort of rigorous scrutiny. For example, she thinks she's an authority on any place she has actually visited, though she doesn't pretend to be any sort of authority on its unvisited neighbor. She's an authority on anything that has to do with her husband's profession, though she didn't earn his degrees. She's...well, you know the sort of person I'm talking about.

If you have a conversation with her, no matter how innocently it begins, it isn't long before it turns into an argument.

"Trust me."

That's what she always says, sooner or later. She has run out of indubitable facts (there weren't as many in the bank as she thought), or she has no answer to more compelling arguments. We can both see that her "authority" is too thin to skate on any further. So she gives me a very pleasant (and at the same time hostile), knowing look on her face (it would take Dickens to describe it), there's a keen but mirthless twinkle in her eyes, she manages a supercilious, mystical smile, and she says it: "Trust me." "Trust me on this." Case closed. Argument over. She wins.

I'm afraid these repeated exhortations to trust her when she has run out of ammunition and is declaring another metaphysical victory has caused me to lapse into a kind of straight talk that is, on reflection, perhaps a little rude, a little like David Gregory with Scott McClellan Right, but rude. "No," I say, "since I'm smarter than you are, and considerably better educated and better-read, I'm afraid I can't concede and allow your fundamentally ill-considered and even stupid point-of-view to prevail, as a sort of fairway-long 'gimme.' I can only agree with you, which I will do happily, when you teach me or show me, when your superior grasp of the facts and your clear, strong argument persuade me. If we really are going to decide our differences by faith, which of us should be the pope? Shouldn't you find out whatever I think about everything and let that be your daily talking points? You see? Trust me. Trust me on this. But of course I'm not asking that. Don't trust me. Listen, think, make up your own mind."

Early yesterday President Bush defended the sale of six of our major ports to a state-owned company of the United Arab Emirates with these remarks: "I can understand," he said, "why some in Congress have raised questions about whether or not our country will be less secure as a result of this transaction, But they need to know that our government has looked at this issue and looked at it carefully."

"Trust me."

The President has again confused "our government" with his person, an old-fashioned notion no less repugnant, though perhaps more understandable, when it was the fundamental governing principle of King George III. That principle was rejected in Philadelphia a couple of centuries ago, and the "government" that Bush speaks of so righteously has three equal branches. One was set up to wait: somebody serves, and the Supreme Court returns the serve, sometimes. The other branch, however supine and craven it has become, was not set up merely to wait for the President's serve. There's an old document that explains all this and I'm sure one of very bright group around the President can locate a copy and brief him on it.

I want to make clear that I'm not taking a position here about the sale of the ports. We live in a very rich and powerful capitalist democracy, and there are conflicting needs and agendas, I know that. I understand that safeguarding our ports and guarding our borders would interfere with the sacred workings of business and jeopardize the tax cuts and cost another fortune we don't have and probably plunge us into recession, and that we won't do any truly expensive safeguarding or guarding until those who survive the next attack pick up the pieces and chart the progress of the dirty bomb from a container ship in one of the ports to a big truck to the heart of an unhappy city. (After all, one attack on the World Trade Center was not enough to get our attention and cause us to dedicate ourselves to securing the homeland. Nor was catching al-Qaeda operatives at the Canadian border on the way to blow up LAX as a millennial treat. Did we go after Osama then? Premature! Who would have agreed! No war for Monica! We know that it took the 9/11 attacks for us to begin to make sacrifices, as a united and dedicated nation, to protect our homeland, our culture, our children--and we know just what sacrifices we've been asked to make. Long lines at the airports! Confiscation of fingernail clippers, mercifully rescinded!

What I want to explore is the basis for basing our democracy and our responsibility as citizens on faith in George W. Bush. What grounds do we have for bowing our heads, swallowing our misgivings, and soldiering on in silence when he smirks and says, "Trust me." What kind of citizens in a democracy surrender their responsibility like that? to such a "Trust me." Is it sometimes all right, given, say, the dangerous times, a nation at war, and taking into consideration the integrity and judgment of the elected leader? Or is it always profoundly shameful for an American of either party to accept a lofty "Trust me" from the Executive? More important, what has President George W. Bush ever done that should persuade us to offer him our unqualified acquiescence in his decision-making? (I apologize in advance for this depressing, often-repeated litany, although at the same time I also hope the American people will be shouting it from the rooftops in the run-up to the next two elections. I also apologize for anything I've left out, and I invite others to supplement my list.)

The decision to go to war in Iraq based on Saddam Hussein having weapons of mass destruction.

The decision to go to war in Iraq based on Saddam's connection with Osama bin Laden and on his shared responsibility for the 9/11 attacks.

The decision to go to war based on the idea that we would be liberating the Iraqi people, and that the complicated and hard-won miracle of democracy could be established by force of arms in a country with profound and violent ethnic and religious divisions, including the most oppressive sort of autocratic fundamentalism, and no history or experience of any sort of participatory democracy.

The decision of the civilian military men to send too few forces to establish order, guard the borders, guard the ammunition dumps, guard the museum, protect the oil pipelines, etc. The failure of those chicken-hawks even to understand the nature of these military requirements.

The decision to maintain a very generous tax cut for the wealthy while the parents of our soldiers looked for used body armor on eBay. ("Greeks, you have done things today that are not Greek.")

The decision to go with the Army we had, not the one we might want to have--an explanation of why so many soldiers in ill-equipped vehicles have died unnecessarily, or had their arms and legs blown off.

His nauseatingly shameful political campaigns against John McCain and John Kerry, and his failure to disavow the similarly vicious Republican campaign against Max Cleland.

The "political capital" (such as it was) that he cheerfully spent on privatizing social security. ("Trust me on this.")

The circumstances of his acceptance into the Texas National Guard, his whereabouts during that service, and his candor about his military record. (Oh, patriots of Nascar, this is the boy you'd rather have a beer with? And you ignored--even perhaps joined in--the swiftboat smearing of John Kerry, who risked his life in the service and was a hero and then was a hero again when he came back and opposed the last ignorant, hateful war? And the rest of you? How can you meet your own eyes in the mirror? I'm not talking about the damned, the mean and rich and greedy. I understand that they are quite happy with themselves and the stock market and the out-sourcing and the trade deficit and the climate change and the poverty line and the uninsured and the vanishing pensions; they're hard-wired on different moral principles and exemplify the rarest kind of family values, don't they?)

His $8,251,958,888,041.83 deficit (Republican? Conservative? Your share as I write this is $27,636,44. It will be more tomorrow) At the same time, he has never flinched from his tax cuts and never vetoed a spending bill.

His Medicare Prescription Drug Benefits.

His helpful and unifying bully pulpit opinion (for what it's worth: nothing) that "intelligent design" should be taught to schoolchildren "alongside" evolution. (That's what stupid people mean by "fair and balanced." Let's start insisting instead on "true or false," or "generous or mean," or "good or evil.")

His smug, ignorant God-talks-to-me certainty about the evil of stem-cell research.

His flacks and cronies, party hacks with no scientific background, instructing government scientists not to talk about global warming or the "big bang," which is "only a theory" and shouldn't be asserted by the government when so many good people (the base!) believe in the true account of Creation as found in the Book of Genesis. ("Oh, trust us on this!")

His nomination and defense of Harriet Myers as the best-qualified candidate for the Supreme Court. ("Trust me." Who didn't? Conservatives.)

His leadership, and the "heck of a job" leadership he got from his unqualified cronies, in the Katrina crisis.

His unprecedented refusal to share with Congress the records of his administration's high-level policy discussions during the Katrina disaster.

His stone-walling about the need for a 9/11 Commission until he saw that the parade he was trying to block was about to move forward, at which point (I see the fine Rovian hand!) he twisted around and pretended to be leading it.

His assurances that he didn't really know Ken Lay or Jack Abramoff very well. ("Trust me!")

His failure to keep his promise to fire anyone in his administration involved in the politically-motivated and perhaps even treasonous outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame. (Promising is enough. Who will remember whether I do it or not? So many Orwellian big lies. So much double-speak.) He doesn't even seem to have asked Karl Rove or Dick Cheney if they bear any responsibility for this spiteful, shameful, dishonest act. (He doesn't have to ask, does he?)

His "cherry-picking" or ignoring any intelligence he didn't want to hear, in order to rally support for the war. His deceitful, fear-mongering warning about "yellow cake." His allowing Colin Powell to permanently disgrace himself at the UN with that false claim.

His absolute refusal to admit a mistake or apologize for anything, to be accountable or hold anyone accountable.

His refusal to reprimand Vice-President Cheney or disavow Cheney's repeated assertions, in breathtaking Orwellian disregard of the truth, that there was evidence of a clear connection between Saddam and Osama.

His appalling silence when Cheney reversed himself and lied again (Orwellian big lie; who will remember?) during his debate with John Edwards when he blithely asserted that he had never made any such claims. (That lie should have ended Cheney's political life. Anyone who said the Vice-President won that debate either didn't know he was lying, or knew and didn't care--and so is either a fool or a scoundrel. How can you live with yourselves?)

His selection of Alberto Gonzales, the man who cheerfully gave him a legal cover for torture, to be his Attorney General.

His administration's policies of detention without charges or trials, "rendering" of prisoners to governments who can more conveniently and secretly torture them, network of secret prisons, and wink-nod permission for the abuse and torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere.

The nearly-universal international contempt, hatred for, and fear of the United States. Nothing matches that tectonic shift from the nearly-universal solidarity, fellowship, and sympathy we had after the 9/11 attacks, except perhaps the similarly-stupefying shift from the budget surplus of the Clinton years to the current deficit.

His refusal to inconvenience his corporate friends by signing the Kyoto Accords or doing anything to halt or reverse the soon-to-be-irreversible planetary catastrophe of global warming, or do anything at all about weaning us from our dependence on oil, except to say he is very concerned (big lie) and is doing something about it (big lie).

His policies, as "the Education President," on education (Orwellian double-speak; who will remember? who will hold him accountable?).

His failure to fire (or ask for the resignation) of anyone for anything, except for the unforgivable les majeste of disagreeing with him or telling him something he doesn't want to hear. Mere incompetence (Chertoff), moral turpitude (Cheney, Gonzales), or dazzling and repeated failure (Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz) are not sufficient reasons to him to part with a loyalist, except to send him off to a better job.

His recess appointment of John Bolton to the United Nations.

His awarding of Presidential Medals of Freedom to former CIA Director George Tenet, who told him that the case for Saddam's weapons of mass destruction was a "slam dunk"; to former US Administrator of Iraq L. Paul Bremer, whose decision to disband the Iraqi army and send those disaffected soldiers home with their guns may have been the single most important contribution to the ensuing insurgency; and to General Tommy Franks, who led the invasion of Iraq and served as commander-in-chief of the occupation forces; who cheerfully attempted to carry out the disastrous plans of his inexperienced, deluded civilian masters, with way too few troops even to keep order or do much of anything but become targets, who was a good soldier when what his country desperately needed was a brave leader. (History will be shifting that Medal of Freedom along to General Shinseki.)

His current budget, a profoundly shameful document described even by many in his increasingly disloyal (insufficiently suicidal?) party as "dead on arrival." (Attention, swift boat heroes: take a look at what your preferred beer-drinking companion is proposing in regard to military benefits. Oh, I know, silly me--we have to have the tax cuts.)

His decision that his responsibility to protect us allows him to ignore any law, secretly, with no participation in that decision by the Legislative Branch and no oversight by the Judicial Branch. General Oliver Cromwell came to a similar decision, once upon a time, and had himself named Lord Protector of the English Commonwealth, another faith-based government of intolerant, self-righteous fundamentalists. How does acquiring a Lord Protector change the nature of a Republic? Three and a half centuries later, you still usually have to be a general (or a junta of generals), to get away with suspending the laws of a country in order to save the country. In the unhappy and backward places where such things happen (so often with American support and involvement), the resulting government isn't called "democracy" any more--not that the generals care. Not at first, anyway. Down the road a ways, with their liberal opposition substantially "disappeared," they realize the country needs to trade with other more civilized nations, so they get themselves pardons and magnanimously restore the government to the people they've been protecting. What those "banana republic" governments are called, of course, is a word that makes all the right wing apologists for the executive power grab so crazy that they froth and rage and spew (especially the vitriolic, skinny attack-blondes), but still, the truth is the truth. Trust me. It's called fascism. Generalissimo Bush? No, not with that military record. Lord Protector Bush? Better. And "banana republic" isn't accurate. "Corn and wheat republic," I guess. Sad days. Am I exaggerating a little? Sure. I'll tell you what will help me get a grip. Can I have a list of the laws that the new Lord Protector considers sacred, laws that no matter what his personal feelings about his need to save us he will definitely under no circumstances suspend or ignore?

Please, whatever party you belong to, however you voted in the past, however irritated you are with this intemperate indictment (I so wanted it to be fair and balanced)--please: don't trust anybody who says trust me. Examine the evidence, listen to both sides, make up your own minds. That's your job. Those are your ports. This is your homeland. Those are your laws. We're very lucky to have this democracy. Let's try to deserve it. Let's pass it along, with the deficit and the climate change, to our children.