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  The Last Refuge: Patriotism, Politics, and the Environment in an Age of Terror
    by David W. Orr
David Orr From The Last Refuge by David W. Orr. Copyright © 2004 David W. Orr. Posted to this web site by permission of Island Press, Washington, D.C.

Although the Central Intelligence Agency could find no evidence for it, nearly two years after the event 70 percent of Americans reportedly believed Saddam Hussein was involved in the destruction of the World Trade Towers. Nearly the same percentage believed weapons of mass destruction were used against American troops in Iraq. Large numbers of Americans, otherwise well-versed in the details of their professions, their options as consumers, and the intimate lives of celebrities, seem befuddled when it comes to politics. We are the most media-saturated but among the least informed people on Earth.

This is no accident. Increasingly, we are ruled by a plutocracy, distracted by the entertainment industry, and frequently misinformed by an increasingly concentrated news media that puts the pursuit of market share above telling the whole truth. And, part symptom, part cause, we have state legislatures and a Congress with many members who haven't read widely, thought deeply, or imagined much beyond their own pecuniary gain. The result is a leadership vacuum on the big issues of our time that is now filled with lobbyists for the rich and powerful who talk the language of populism while doing all in their power to undermine real democracy. And not least, we have an unelected president who asserts his right to subvert the Bill of Rights at home and wage preemptive war abroad as he sees fit.

The present administration asserts American-style democracy as the answer to problems in Iraq, but democracy at home is in tatters. The surest sign is the growing gap between what the public wants and what it gets. In the election of 2000 the combined vote for Al Gore and Ralph Nader was "the greatest popular-vote majority for the center-left since 1964." (1) But what we got instead was the most reactionary and closed administration in memory.

But the effect extends far beyond the results of national elections. Polls consistently show that most Americans do not want dirty air or water, but some well-connected industries do. Most Americans do not want poisons in their food, but agribusiness and chemical companies do. Most Americans would prefer not to run the considerable risks of climate change, but a few extremists do. Most Americans want health care coverage for everyone, but the health care industry does not. Most Americans do not want assault rifles on their streets, but the leadership of the National Rifle Association does. Most Americans do not want our nation to ignore old friends and allies and act as a global bully, but a few fantasize about empire in the "new American century." A sizeable majority of Americans would like us to get to the heart of what ails us and remove money, once and for all, from the political process, but a few do not. None of us specifically voted for any of these things and few would support them given the truth and better alternatives, of which there are many. But for the time being, the few are in control, and the consequence has been steady rollbacks of the protections of our rights and our environment.

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1. Michael Lind, Made in Texas, New York: Basic Books, 2003, p. 76.
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