Saturday, July 7, 2018

Thoughts before breakfast

I keep hearing the sentence in my head, “I never promised you a rose garden.”

Life isn't meant to be a rose garden. It's meant to be whatever we make it, and what we’ve created for the poor in America is largely a garden of misery.  Especially a poor woman who wants an abortion.

I've always seen the abortion question as more about money than religion. It’s about both, of course. Religious people of a certain stripe like to think they’re doing God’s work when they act on their belief that preventing you from deciding you’re not ready to have a baby is what God wants them to do, individual rights be damned. That’s religion. But in practice abortion is available to anyone with money. It’s only poor women, women who can’t travel because their kids won’t eat if they take time off work, women who can’t afford a hotel room and enough gas in their tank to drive to the next state, women who don’t have the family support to get through the arduous process of an abortion who will suffer. That’s one of America’s most distinguishing features: fucking the poor.

And that’s what we’re about to go back to. “Conservative” means, among other things, slowing down the progress of change, going back to the way things were. The good old days, when men decided things and their little women deferred, demurred, capitulated. Subjected themselves to their will.

The black cloud, for those concerned with individual rights in this country, is the likely overturn of Roe v. Wade. It has been a generation coming, but we’re apparently here, thanks first to McConnell, and now Trump – and, of course, the American populace that put the reins of power into the hands of these two men.

We like to talk about ourselves as a democracy, a society governed by majority rule, subject to the wise supervision of a judiciary that assures we never lose sight of basic rights for all, never allow a tyranny of the majority, but we’re not that. We have this thing called the Electoral College, which allows a minority to determine who becomes president, and we allow individuals who play the system the ultimate say in how we are to be controlled. It’s not a government of the people, by the people, for the people; it’s anything but. It has shaken down to a government of the people by the evangelicals and their ilk for the 1%.

Over the years, the original notion that the balance of power should be centered on the legislative branch of government has shifted gradually toward an ever stronger executive to the point where we now sit and watch, hands tied by laws of our own making, the daily outrage of cruelty of a self-serving narcissist. And because we allowed him to take over the controls, he’s about to tie up the judiciary for the next generation, and there is, for all the noise and banging about, not a damn thing we can do about it.

Much as I’d like to think we shouldn’t screw the poor when it comes to abortion, my chief concern is the packing of the court with men working under the assumption that wealth is its own justification, that in practical terms the curiously American notion that you can spot God’s approval when you come across a wealthy man can serve as a guiding light in forming our institutions. “Conservative” here means going back to the days when you could pretend that the justice was blind, that the law against sleeping under a bridge applied to rich and poor equally. Conservative means destroying the last of the labor unions, removing the strictures of government oversight, putting all our faith in laissez-faire capitalism, making the generation of wealth the goal at the cost of a fair distribution of wealth. That’s what’s almost certain to come down the pike with the appointment of conservative judges.

I’ll admit I’m looking at the news as an outsider here. I have no background in politics, know precious little about economics. I admit that, as much as I try to read broadly, I am as limited to the particular news sources that tell me what I want to think is true as anybody these days. But that’s how I see what appears to be happening.

“Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?” someone asked Benjamin Franklin at the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

  “A Republic, if you can keep it,” he is said to have responded.

We define republic as a representative democracy.  A form of government without a monarch, with separation of powers and regular elections, but above all a representative democracy. Democracy doesn’t describe what actually happens in government; it describes a dream, something to strive toward. We have given that up now, handed the country over to special interests, to the rich and the well-connected and those who will do their bidding. Think Citizens United was a bad decision? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

I’m nearly eighty. I have lived through some wonderful progress toward that dream in my lifetime. I saw up close the end to segregation, the Civil Rights Movement, those heady days of the march from Selma to Montgomery. I saw women gain the right to control their own bodies in Roe v. Wade. I saw the stigma removed from gay people and their right to marry guaranteed. I was born under Roosevelt and saw in the New Deal how a fair distribution of wealth lifted domestic boats. I saw in the Marshal Plan how America could combine self-interest with a helping hand to former enemies and use policy to lift boats internationally.  I saw America, born in slavery and genocide, could nonetheless set a trend toward greater individual freedom for all. For the time I have left, I expect I will have to live in an America that no longer represents that striving. I hope it’s only a misstep, that in time the next generation will take back the dream and bring it to life again. But for now - and probably for the (for me) foreseeable future, that is apparently not to be.

Getting out the vote isn’t everything. But it would have prevented this disaster. And it is the only thing I can see that might set things in the right direction again.

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