It will be a positive sign that this country is getting itself right again with its core values if some of the senior members of the Bush regime are eventually brought up on war crimes charges for approving torture. For the sake of our country's moral integrity, we must hope that one day we as a nation will look back at what went on in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, etc. with the same sense of national shame that attends today to the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII or the McCarthy inquisition during the 1950s. Even John Ashcroft appears to have worried that "History will not judge this kindly."
However, we would be foolish to take for granted that the values of the country will naturally right themselves in this fashion. Whether such a collective national shame about the Bush era takes root will have a lot to do with the pattern of asymmetric historiographical contestation that Small Precautions referred to the other day.
Anyone who is complacently confident that the Bush era will go down as a shameful period in the nation's history should bear in mind that even today, the Japanese internment or McCarthyism are not universally regarded as shameful events. On the contrary, the right-wing counter-academic historical industry has been industriously attempting to redefine the meaning of these events over the last few years, realizing that the historical memory of those events from the past will color the political understanding of the Bush administration's actions in the near-term political future. For example, the single most popular individual political blogger in the United States, Michelle Malkin, has published a book defending the Japanese internment. Likewise, Ann Coulter--who despite her buffoonish character continues to receive rapturous applause at top-drawer right-wing functions--has written a book defending McCarthyism as a wrongly maligned instance of righteous American nationalism.
Professional historians can scoff at the historiographical credentials of Malkin and Coulter all they want, but the sad fact of the matter is that writers such as these often have a greater impact on popular understandings of key historical episodes than all but a handful of professional-academic historians. Books such as these can have far more political impact on the national memory of these events than do peer-reviewed scholarly articles or books on the same subjects. This is true because books such as these are explicitly written and marketed as political tools, with a functional goal of impacting current debates on contemporary policy choices. This contrasts sharply to most academic historiography, which aims to uncover the actual truth about the past, with the functional goal of promoting the author's career within the academy.
As long as there exists this fundamental asymmetry of historiographical methods, progressives would be wise to not assume that there is anything inevitable about this country's eventual shame about the Bush era.