The Undoing of America

Gore Vidal on war for oil, politics-free elections, and the late, great U.S. Constitution.

In other words, I put the case that Bush was never elected--not in 2000, and not in 2004. This is a new game in the world. Through the magic of electronic voting, particularly through Mr. Diebold and friends, you can take a non-president and make him president. But how to keep the people, including the opposition who should know better, so silent, this introduces us to a vast landscape of corruption which I dare not enter.


CP: I saw a recent CIA report that referred to the United States as a "declining superpower." To your knowledge, has the government ever said so before?

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Vidal: Well, their style is hortatory and alarmist. And I think they say we're declining every day and every minute. We must do this, we must overthrow this government, we must do that, stop China. Why not nuke China? [The American right] was all set to do that at one point, I remember. William F. Buckley Jr. was in favor of a unilateral strike at their nuclear capacity. A whole bunch of people, moderately respectable, were in favor of that. It all comes from propaganda. It all comes from knowing how to use the media to your own ends, and keep the people frightened.

It was very striking--before the inauguration, CNN showed a bunch of inaugural addresses starting with Roosevelt. Roosevelt was a master politician. What theme does he hit first? "We have nothing to fear but fear itself." Well, that's it. He intuited it, having followed the Nazis and knowing how Hitler was putting together his act, which was creating fear in the Germans of everybody else so he could mobilize them and make the SS. Roosevelt was saying that it was this unnameable fear that we had to watch out for. Then we skip over to Harry Truman, a real dunce, but there was a genius behind him in Dean Acheson. We jump over to him, and he is declaring war on communism, all over the world. They're on the march! Wherever you look, there they are, and we must be on our guard!

He instituted loyalty oaths for everybody--for janitors in high schools as well as members of the cabinet. Unthinkable, the distance from Roosevelt to his admittedly despised successor. We've gone from, we must not succumb to fear itself, to the next one saying, oh, there's so much to be afraid of! We must arm! We must militarize America and its economy, which he did.


CP: One theory about the reason the US invaded Iraq concerns currency--the fear that European deals for Iraqi oil might lead to oil's being denominated in euros rather than dollars. Do you think that notion holds any water?

Vidal: I do. Perhaps more oil than water, but yes, that's what it's about--the terror that Europe...Europe, after all, is more populous than the United States, better educated, better quality of life for most of its citizens. And it has actually achieved, here and there, a civilization, which we haven't. There's a lot of nasty response on the part of those Americans who are eager for more oil, more money, more this, more that, to put Europe down, to regard Europe as a rival and perhaps as an enemy. It was America that saw to it that we got a weak dollar, though. The Europeans had nothing to do with it. In fact they were rather appalled, because they own an awful lot of treasury bonds that will be worthless one day.

So yes, it was a power struggle. Ultimately the whole thing is about oil. We should be looking to hydrogen, or whatever is the latest replacement for fossil fuels. All the money we put into these wars in the Middle East, we should have put into that. Then we wouldn't be so desperate at the thought that in 2020, or in 2201 or whenever, there will be no more oil.


CP: Talk a little more about public education's decay in the current scene. Much of the Bush administration's spending on No Child Left Behind is earmarked for private corporate tutors.

Vidal: I don't think Bush himself is particularly relevant to any of this, since he avoided education entirely throughout his life. Which gives him a sort of purity. He was a cheerleader at Andover, where he learned many skills that have been very useful to him since.

The educational system was pretty good once. I never went to a public school, and the private schools here are generally good, though we are also better indoctrinated than the public schools. It certainly got bad around the '50s. Just as we became a global empire, the first thing I was struck by was that they stopped teaching geography in public schools. Now here we are a global power, and nobody knows where anything is. I loved geography when I was a kid. It's really the way to get to know the world. The success of Franklin Roosevelt was that he was a great philatelist. He collected stamps, and he knew where all the countries were and who lived in them. Now we have people who don't know where anything is. I remember a speech Bush gave in which he was reaching out not only to the "Torks" but the "Grecians" at some point. We live in total confusion time.

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