America has become a cruel country. There are clear examples of this, which Jonathan Schell points to in an article for The Nation. Cheering for execution numbers, as happened in a recent Republican presidential campaign debate; celebrations in the streets following the killing of Osama bin Laden; the Bush administration’s torture, followed by the “brazenness” of both Bush and Cheney, who “publicly embraced their wrongdoing” on recent tours for their memoirs; Obama’s unwillingness to impose legal accountability on any in the Bush administration; and our country’s criminal justice system, including its use of the death penalty and solitary confinement. And though cruelty cannot be legislated, it “can be manifested in legislation,” Schell argues, pointing to a number of cuts “on the right-wing agenda.” Of that long list he writes, “It appears that no one is so unfortunate that he or she is exempt from spending cuts, while at the same time no one is so fortunate as to be ineligible for a tax cut.”
“Cruelty is a close cousin to injustice, yet it is different,” Schell writes:
Injustice and its opposite, justice—perhaps the most commonly used standards for judging the health of the body politic—are political criteria par excellence, and apply above all to systems and their institutions. Cruelty and its opposites, kindness, compassion and decency, are more personal. They are apolitical qualities that nevertheless have political consequences. A country’s sense of decency stands outside and above its politics, checking and setting limits on abuses. An unjust society must reform its laws and institutions. A cruel society must reform itself.
Schell’s piece taken along side a post at utne.com today from Tom Engelhardt on the sad reality of what’s become of George W. Bush’s American Dream, paint a picture of a country that has lost its way. And while both pieces find cause for hope—the protesting of Troy Davis’ killing in the former and the Occupy Wall Street movement in the latter—it’s hard to see past the similar descriptions in both of a country so enamored with its own brute strength that it’s created a monster out of it. “Bush’s American Dream,” Engelhardt writes, “was a kind of apotheosis of this country’s global power as well as its crowning catastrophe, thanks to a crew of mad visionaries who mistook military might for global strength and acted accordingly.” While Shell describes the U.S. as “a country that seems to know of no remedy for social ills but punishment.”