Sacrificing some, but not all, of its urgency to the heartening results of last month’s presidential election, The End of America gives author and public intellectual Naomi Wolf an Inconvenient Truth-style platform to remind Americans about the Bush administration’s assault on our civil liberties. Her argument originates with a friend’s reminder, post-Patriot Act, that “they did this in Germany.” Stifling dissent by arresting innocent civilians, forcing enemies to withstand enhanced interrogation techniques, and using a Blackwater-style private militia to do the government’s dirty work all share roots in the Fascist era. As Wolf stands on a Pace University stage in early 2008, she outlines 10 ways that our elected leaders have conspired to use our worst fears against us.
Painting Bush as a fascist is a provocative line of reasoning, but ultimately a more relevant comparison would be between Bush/Cheney domestic policy and the U.S. Constitution. From that document’s perspective, the corrosion of civil liberties is already a manifestation of the “end of America,” and whether or not the Bush administration would eventually resort to state-sanctioned mass murder—the logical extreme of Wolf’s argument—is beside the point. Wolf exhibits a keen understanding of patriotism, and justifiably presents her appeal as a movement to put America back in touch with its core values. American behavior during the Bush years will set an important precedent; the way we treat our enemy combatants today is the way our POWs might expect to be treated in the future.
Whatever its limitations as a filmed lecture (itself based on Wolf’s bestselling book), End of America serves as a crucial distillation of the ways that post-9/11 America has lapsed into what Wolf calls a “closing society.” Valerie Plame, John Yoo, Blackwater, Guantanamo, COINTELPRO—plus the lesser known but equally horrifying stories of citizen journalist Josh Wolf and imprisoned Muslim army chaplain James Yee—all make appearances. Most importantly, as we head toward the new dawn with a constitutional scholar President-elect who promises to close Guantanamo but who still voted for the FISA bill, the film raises the question: How much further do we have to go to find ways to eradicate terror without abdicating our shared values?