God Willing? Political Fundamentalism in the White House, the ‘War on Terror’, and the Echoing Press
David Domke, God Willing? Political Fundamentalism in the White House, the ‘War on Terror’, and the Echoing Press. London and Ann Arbor, Ml: Pluto Press, 2004. 240 pp.
The relationship between politics and media has always been a topic for vast researches. On the other hand the use of religious discourse in addresses and speeches of politicians to back their policies is not a new issue. But what is done in this book that makes is outstanding and different is an analysis of the interconnections among all these three together. Thus David Domke’s book is ideally positioned to cut right into the heart of debates about the modern developments at the intersection of religion, politics and media within the US. According to him, the foreign and domestic foreign developments in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 were not only (neo) conservative, but also firmly grounded in a (Christian) religious fundamentalism. Domke argues that the Bush administration has turned a religious worldview into political policy and has created what Domke calls a ‘political fundamentalism’, defined as ‘an intertwining of conservative religious faith, politics, and strategic communication’ (p. 6). The book is also a critique of the Bush administration’s disregard for democracy in the months following the attack.
The introductory chapter of God Willing? identifies four main characteristics of the Bush administration’s communication that were grounded in a conservative religious worldview: (1) a binary concept of reality (apparent in the consistent use of two constructions: good vs. evil and security vs. peril); (2) an obsession with time and demands for immediate action against terrorism(manifest in two beliefs: that action in the here and now is imperative, and that one’s commitment to a certain course of action, if perceived to be God inspired, should be of an enduring nature); (3) declarations about the will of god for the united states and the values of freedom and liberty; and finally (4) an intolerance for dissent(apparent in the administration’s unified voice in public communication, its appeals for other political actors to act with political unity and its harsh criticisms of dissenters). In each of the chapters that follow, one of these characteristics is defined and discussed in detail, with evidence offering its consistent presence in the public communications of the president between 11 September 2001 and 1 may 2003.
In chapter 2 he examines the presence of two binaries in the president’s discourse and news coverage after September 11- good versus evil and security versus peril- and argues that these conceptions of reality reflected and contributed to a sense of moral certitude among the bush administration that was used to justify limits on civil liberties and major preemptive military action while also helping to engender public support for the president and administration’s “war on terror”.
Chapter 3 offers evidence of time fixations throughout the administration’s discourse and news coverage, and argues that they allowed the administration simultaneously to push for immediate action on specific “war on terrorism” policies and to justify this desire as a requisite step in a long-term, God- ordained process. The implication was clear: to not act quickly or to not endure in the campaign against terrorism was to risk another September 11.
In chapter 4 evidence is offered of how the universal gospel of freedom and liberty, offered by the president and echoed by the press, functioned as a central rationale for the administration’s foreign policies, particularly in justifying the new preemptive doctrine and the Iraq war.
Chapter 5 focuses on how the administration’s emphasis upon political unity and harsh rebukes of those dissented worked together to encourage support for the administration, and to suggest that anyone who held opposing views was unpatriotic and potentially placing people in the United States at risk.
Chapter 6 reflects upon the collection of evidence, in three central sections. First, it argues that the Bush administration offers an instructive case study of how political fundamentalism can gain wide support in the United States. The chapter’s second section scrutinizes the role of news media in these processes, with the argument that in a nation-challenging context, commercial mass media are drawn to the discourses of political conservatives, particularly those that are religiously grounded. The final section of the chapter explores how cultural leaders might craft a moral discourse that counters the predominance of political fundamentalism, and why it is crucial for U.S. citizens and others that they do so.
Chapter 7 offers conclusions, focusing on implications of the administration’s political fundamentalism for democracy, both in the United States and globally.
In the way the writer brings a rigorous analysis of a wide range of empirical material, David Domke’s work is of great value to study. However, to what extent his work can contribute to a better understanding of the relationship between religion, politics, and the media is a matter of question. Some scholars may find it the role of religion has been exaggerated. Some scholars may question the way he has analyzed meaning formation and reception in media as it is a subjective matter. Nevertheless, the book very well clarifies how the actions of the Bush administration and the news media are directly counter to fundamental American democratic ideals and principles. It shows how civil religion is used to promote its political goals and to justify self-interest. So “God Willing” is a must-read for anyone who cherishes American democracy, anyone who feels uneasy about the Bush Administration’s use of religious images, as well as those who have concerns about the way the press helps Bush advance his agenda. However, the potential and necessity for further discussion on the subject exists that can encourage other scholars.