I TRIED, really, to come up with some End of the Naughts schtick. Okay, not really, but as a thought experiment, which centered not on "come up with an idea for an End of the Naughts column", like about actual events that normal people have long forgotten and couldn't care less about, but on "under what conditions, Riley, could you imagine working in the sort of place that did such things without that knowledge ticking away in your brain for the final fortnight of some arbitrary period, ticking, ticking, knowing that whoever had been given the task considered it a fun assignment, and the ticking just kept getting louder," and I think you know the rest. The answer is "none".
Who th' fuck cares? and is it even worth asking if there's a Decade in anyone's memory they'd less care to relive (in the hyperreal sense, not the sci-fi sense; in some recent decades people who were the loudest supporters of US military action were actually invited to join in, so we know that answer)? The Nineties may not have been that great, but compared to what followed they're like the mundane stroll you took with your beloved, on some nondescript day, that neither of you paid much attention to at the time, and no one said or did anything memorable, and the next day she got run over by a bus driven by Laura Bush.
Th' fuck are we supposed to remember about a Decade that began with Gary Condit and Terrorist Attacks and ended with Tiger Woods and demands for More Terrorist Attack nostalgia? And in which The Same Goddam Thing filled the space between those bookends? How do you talk about history, even fatuously, when everything that happens is now either discounted immediately or slowly backed away from in hopes nobody will ask questions? It's the Decade in which we pretty much decided officially to quit trying to solve problems, due to Problems' pesky habit of making us look at problems, and just see if the fishin' wasn't a little better once we floated downstream a tad.
The Naughts! When the goddam country turned against a war without doing a fucking thing about it, or by electing Democrats, which amounts to the same thing. It's the Decade where cries of "Pearl Harbor II!" were immediately followed by cries of "How dare you investigate Pearl Harbor II?" When previously unrevealed asterisks were discovered in the Geneva Conventions and the U.S. Constitution, where Secondary Financial Market manipulators were Too Big To Fail, and your phone company Too Big To Bother With The Law. When "Classical Liberal" was redefined as "Ravening Right-wing war monger" and "Progressive" as "Would-be Democratic demi-functionary so intent on garnering votes for the Centrist he favors he'll accuse Hillary Clinton of Crypto-Racism By Proxy" ("Conservative", having been devalued two decades earlier, was found to be unassailable. Which is a good thing, as it's nice to know there are still absolutes, even if they're all Absolute Nadirs).
Look: there's an uncountable number of events surrounding the Bush Jr. administration which, related singly, prove without a doubt that no one should want to relive the ten years we're just now undeservedly escaping. Vandalgate. The Crawford Ranch. The Bush Twins, who couldn't keep their privileged petty criminality out of the papers for six months. Nicknames. Journalists paid to shill the Bush line. Complaints about other country's journalists, who didn't. Actors, and later male prostitutes, hired to impersonate journalists. The little matter of our large stockpiles of chemical agents we'd renounced in the 70s; the littler matter of our losing interest in a series of terror attacks involving the same once the idea that the supply came from anywhere else became untenable everywhere except in the New York Times. 9/11 casualty figures knowingly inflated. Ahmad Chalabi. Freedom fries. Mission accomplished. A Few Dead Enders. Don Rumsfeld, the Press' Favorite Straight-shooter. The Jessica Lynch Story. The Lynndie England Story. Purple Fingers. Purple Band-aids. The close-harmony duet of the President's and Vice-President's testimony before the 9/11 Commission. L. Paul Bremer. Schoolrooms painted and soccer balls inflated. John Ashcroft turning out to be the high point of the Bush Justice Department. The Fourth Branch of Government shooting a guy in the face. That guy apologizing for getting in the way. Ari Fleischer. Karen Hughes. David Frum. Scooter Libby. Karl Rove. Medals of Freedom. Fries of Freedom. Lights on in Jackson Square. Unfettered supra-capitalist rapine spoiled by a couple bad apples. I made that list up without even trying, let alone peeking at the record. The only thing I'd want to revisit would be the cold, dead, ashes if we'd'a had enough sense to burn the motherfucker down while there was still time.
And it's all still being narrated to you by the same careerist hair-product endorsers who couldn't find an Inkling, or buy a Vowel, when it all went South the first time around, or who hid under the desk lest MSNBC stamp Finito on his employee folder, and reemerged to slap George W. Bush around after the All Clear had sounded, to resounding "Progressive" applause; by some fat fucking crypto-homicidal Brit who came into my country and called me a Fifth Columnist, after which he belatedly noticed that the Nazi prison guards he was palling around with didn't care much for his kind, either, and suddenly turned into a rational non-partisan. It could be measured out in Slate-brand coffee spoons, in the annual How I Got Iraq So Wrong Despite There Being Ample Evidence the Whole Goddam Thing Was a Sham Being Run by Coked-Up Gangsters Revisited issue. Frank Rich, MoDo, Peggy Noonan, and David Brooks still have Three-Card Monte stands, but at least two of them went to see An Inconvenient Truth as a substitute for a public apology and ritual suicide.
The Naughts are nothing but a measure of our collective failure to even address, let alone work on, the transparent con-game at the center of our downward political spiral, a time when we told the professional liars and justifiers of international atrocity they could quit trying so hard, 'cos we really preferred being hoodwinked to the difficult business of thinking things out, and did they know if anyone was looking for interns? A Time of War is no time to question the President's judgment on military matters, but it's okay to try de-balling him over his birth certificate. It'd be one thing if we were really caught in a traffic jam of political discourse. But we ain't. The culprit isn't lack of clarity, it's the lack of courage to confront an entrenched ruling class that no longer cares about truth or falsehood, and won't so long as it can get away with it. The goddam run-up to our little Iraq fiasco was a friggin' caricature of a 50s Red Scare classroom film, but there was no Edward R. Murrow to (eventually) call it out. We proved, in successive disasters, any of which (maybe excepting Katrina) was not just predictable, but assured, that the Reagan House of Cards would not stand. 'Course, we could'a saved ourselves some trouble by noticing it had blown down in a minor breeze in 1987, but, you know. You don't write a bad review of the hottest new restaurant in town, else people will be convinced you don't know what you're talking about; just try to remember to act surprised when the salmonella outbreak hits the news.
Just fucking spare us all, for once, huh? I don't give a fuck that there were no iPods as of January 1, 2000. It's bad enough that that sorta thing gets reported as though no previous Decade had seen any comparable technological gee-whiz moment it lionized as proof of its own superiority by proxy; it's just that much worse when it sounds like the only thing you can find to celebrate. Last night the forced nostalgia was interrupted briefly so some hairdo could report--with suitably feigned gravitas--that Iran's police chief had promised "No mercy" for protesters, and--yeah, it's just me, but--I couldn't help remembering how the Decade halted for a month, just about in the middle, so we could celebrate the Great American Hero and Single-Handed Smiter of Godless Communism, a man who made his political bones as the No Mercy To Protesters Governor of some Western state.
Just fucking spare us all, for once, huh? Yeah, I know it's too late. And many happy returns. Try the Freedom Fries.