I have spent hours in the past two days reading about the Tea Party victory and commiserating with friends about what has happened to the optimism we had when Obama came into office. Hours trying to make sense of how and why the democrats couldn’t do anything but give in to the muggers or help toss the entire global economy into a tailspin. I tried to write about it but I just couldn’t come up with anything to say. When I started in, I realized I was simply spouting the leftist line, that the right is crazy and Obama has no balls, and I immediately trashed what I had written and went back to reading other people’s commentary, hoping for some new insight and perhaps some suggestions for lighting a candle in the darkness.
There are reasonable people who are not totally pessimistic. Unfortunately, they seem to come across the way Robert Rubin did last night on Charlie Rose. Rubin was Clinton’s Secretary of the Treasury, you may recall, and somebody you can assume would be way more knowledgeable than the average pundit. He was, actually, but if I had to sum up what he said, it would be that things will be all right “if both sides can learn to work together.” Sure. And the war will end if both sides will simply lay down their arms. And the crime rate will go down if people stop stealing and mugging.
This only added to the feeling of helplessness that came when I realized we had in power people willing to sink the economy in order to prove their power and to assure the rich continue to get richer as the poor get poorer in this country. Their argument is that you should take from the poor and give to the rich, because to do anything else is to steal from the entrepreneurial class, and thus cripple the job creators. The economists I look to for advice, Robert Reich and Paul Krugman in particular, argue the opposite and most informed commentary zeroes in on evidence to the contrary. Rubin, for example, points out that the right went ballistic when Clinton wanted to raise revenues, but Clinton, unlike Obama, got his way, and that led to the greatest period of prosperity in modern American history.
Today, people in thrall to the free market fundamentalists, folks like Grover Norquist (and their dumbhead hangers-on like Sarah Palin, Allen West, and Michele Bachmann), still insist “trickle down” will work – despite thirty years of evidence to the contrary – because that serves the interest of the superwealthy who have given up any pretense of willingness to share a national society, a community of folk from the land of the free and the home of the brave, a commonwealth.
That’s the norm in this country now, evidence on one side, ideology on the other. And, to twist the knife, we are told by the ideologues that fact-finding is just another ideology, so we’re even.
The stock response to the taboo of pointing out the greed that runs America these day is the charge that one is “fostering class warfare.” But that’s sloganeering and name-calling. There is that pesky evidence that we have become a nation of rich getting richer as the poor get poorer, so here we are again with evidence on one side, manufactured truth on the other.
No one ever has all the evidence, obviously. Most of us are limited when it comes to economic theory and we are all capable of falling for the temptation to believe what we want to believe. But some of us at least know there’s no shortcut, and we have to continue to struggle for more evidence, less ideology. We just need to find the willpower to dig for more and better information.
The media are now largely useless, in that they are far more about generating controversy and setting up two sides without regard for imbalances in factual information. But there are fortunately other sources, and one can seek them out over time. And one can always hope that with things this bad, people will develop better bullshit detectors. And who knows, there is a possibility we will not fall prey to more Tea Party candidates in 2012, and might get a congress that can right this wrong.
Then again, of course, it might be just as hard to right this wrong as it now seems impossible to right the wrong the Supreme Court did in granting corporations the power they need to maintain the wealth of the land in their hands. After all, when you approach a person with a gun and suggest we all sit down and talk reason, the person with the gun – particularly if he has been known to use it – has the upper hand.
Frankly, I don’t see how we get out of this mess, short of some kind of rioting in the streets that wakes Americans up and gets them to the polls to vote the right-wingers out. No all that likely, given that rioting in the street generally leads to more votes for right-wingers. Democracy is painfully slow. It takes an eternity to get informed, then vote, learn you’re being misled and vote again. Meanwhile we sit helpless at the evidence that our government and our economy are broken, and we are next to powerless to do anything about it, given the inherent flaws in democracy – people get lazy when they have enough to eat, people are easily duped, they prefer bread and circuses over justice and equality, and altruism is rare in a politician.
Still looking for the bright side. How about this idea?
If the right is right, and eliminating all taxes on the rich will force government to get leaner and meaner and cut entitlements at long last that are unfair, and if giving money to the rich will indeed generate more jobs, then we will all have to write notes of apology to the likes of the Koch Brothers, and sit in the sunshine that has come over the land. And if the right is wrong, and eliminating taxes means that future generations of Americans get a lousy third-rate education (and the very poor get none at all), and if research and development in America crashes and alternative energies and economies based on environmental protection are developed exclusively by competitor nations like China, and if the corporations beggar the middle classes so that they can’t afford their products anymore, and if the poor get desperate and we have to spend even more money on guards for our gated communities, and if Obama’s health care plan gets dismantled and even more Americans go bankrupt when they get sick, and if the wealth gap increases, so that the top 1% go from owning merely 50% of the wealth of the nation to 75% of the wealth, maybe then things will change.
That’s the worst case scenario. We’re moving in that direction, but we’re not there yet.
But we will get there if we don’t turn things around, and how are we to turn things around if people don’t wake up to what’s happening? Does anybody see any evidence that people in the future will be different from people today? We call ourselves a democracy, and that means each citizen has the right to vote, regardless of how uninformed he or she is. We can never get better than the average Joe, and the average American believes in a God who looks, thinks and acts like a white male Republican, and an even greater number of Americans believe in extra-terrestrials than in God.
Maybe that’s where we should start. We should remind ourselves we are not a democracy. Take the rose-colored glasses off. We are a plutocracy. We are governed and our minds are largely controlled by the super-wealthy for the benefit of the super-wealthy. Some of us aspire to democracy, but I don’t see us getting there anytime soon. We’re like the Soviet Union in that way. We are like spiders caught in a web of significance we ourselves have made. We’re not living in a democracy any more than they were communists. They simply aspired to communism, just as we aspire to democracy sometimes. We had no trouble spotting the gap between their aspirations (which looked to me a whole lot like Christianity – “from each according to his abilities to each according to his needs”) and the corruption of those ideals. Why can’t we spot the gap in our own neck of the woods? The fact, for example that our Christians, instead of turning the other cheek and sharing their cloaks, are actually enabling the plutocrats to rob them (and the rest of us) blind. They are more concerned with telling the world that sex is dirty than they are in making room at the table at lunchtime. Talk about corruption of an ideal.
Time to call a spade a spade. Democracy? In your dreams. Trickle down? Read your history. Christian nation? Pure bullshit.
I want to think positive. I just don’t know how. I want to say things like, “Well, when you’ve fallen down, you can always get back up,” or “Nice thing about being down, the only place to go is up.”
But at the moment, I can’t stop thinking we may be only half way down the slide.
The space metaphors aren’t working.
Let’s try time.
Like “Tomorrow’s another day.”
See? I can be as positive as the next guy.