Although the seeds were sewn in the Reagan era, and nurtured with care during the time of Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey, I think this year -- 2009 -- will be marked by historians (assuming their writings will be found in the rubble by some future sentient beings) as the one in which it became clear that The United States of America was no longer governable. That its form of constitutional government, and, in the largest sense, its democracy, showed itself to have become irreparably dysfunctional. That the gossamer of good will which for over two centuries managed to hold together the elements of this fragile society is gone forever.
It takes more than we have. Had. Too needy, too unable to face reality, too frightened of our own shadows, and of the shadow of death, we are, it's clear, a pathetic species. Capable of so much, individuals having created transcendentally beautiful art, invented amazing things, taken flight, peeled back layer upon layer of ignorance, collectively we are inexplicably easily manipulated, distracted, lied to, compelled to act against our own interest, to fall upon one another in hatred.
These things have always been part of us. It's a given that politics are messy, dirty, and dishonest. But we've never been tested as we are now. "The Greatest Generation" (the very name being a media construct and an example of our banality [which is not to denigrate people of my parents' time, but simply to point out it was a talking head selling books that came up with it, and the other talking heads, in fealty to their exalted image of themselves, who took it up]) didn't have to think too hard: their war was conventional in thought and carry-out; their economic calamity clear and undeniable. Like a mother grabbing her child out of the path of an oncoming car, the actions were reflexive, the need absolutely clear.*
It's no longer so. Our wars are built on sand, our enemies are like vapor. (One enemy IS vapor!) It's in the future, more than the present, that the dangers lie; the answers aren't obvious, and are likely painful. Which is exactly the problem. Since Ronald Reagan and his voodoo economics, we've fed on the idea that we can have it all, now, with no sacrifice. And the cynics have figured it out. People want easy; they want certain; they need their hates to keep them warm. Politicians, and the corporations that give them succor, put it all together. They figured out how to deceive enough people into looking the other way, for short-term profit and in the name only of greed. Perhaps no one has said it more clearly and unapologetically than the recently departed so-called father of neoconservativism, Irving Kristol:
"There are different kinds of truths for different kinds of people. There are truths appropriate for children; truths that are appropriate for students; truths that are appropriate for educated adults; and truths that are appropriate for highly educated adults, and the notion that there should be one set of truths available to everyone is a modern democratic fallacy. It doesn't work."
(Not mentioned by Bill's dad, but entirely implicit, are the truths meant for the uneducated and frightened. He did say "children," though, which is the assumption behind the way the right treats the populace. The accurate assumption.)
So here we are: 2009, when it all gelled, then gummed to a halt. At the risk of sounding like a crazy liberal, it turns out the ranters against corporate America (like Ralph Nader, who should be strung up for his egotistical turns at presidential politics) have been right all along. Willingly, happily, energetically, we've become tools. How effortless it's been to get people to rage against their own interest! We've been treated as if we're too dumb to notice.
There's a good reason for that: we are. In numbers, at least, to make the difference.
In whose interest is it to convince people we need private health insurance, with their deadly rescissions, their rising fees, their enormous profits? In whose interest is it to convince people that regulating banks is fascism, as they, once again, leverage our future for quick profit? In whose pocket are our politicians: those who chip in a few bucks, or those who contribute hundreds of thousands, who spend tens of millions on lobbying? It should be so obvious that people would stop dead (literally, in a while) in their tracks before being whipped up into self-destructive frenzies. But they don't.
Why are crazy people like Glenn Beck, stupid people like Sean Hannity, damaged people like Bill O'Reilly, nasty people like Rush Limbaugh on the airwaves? Because they sell soap. Because the ideal of honest debate and thoughtful disagreement is no longer important. Soap is. Only soap.
As I said in my previous post, it was amazing to me to hear, pretty much verbatim, Beckisms parroted back to me with no understanding at all. As if the truth were self-evident. Unaccountable czars!! Completely unaware of the origin of the term with Reagan, the equal number under W, the fact that many were, in fact, confirmed by the Senate, that all of them have actual titles. To say it's dispiriting is to understate by a factor of 1.21 gigawatts.
There's much on the table about which to be concerned. Real debate, based on facts and with solutions in mind, is what's needed. Where we need giants in Congress, we have hyperpartisan midgets. Where we need an involved electorate, willing to learn and listen and think, we have sign-waving dittoheads, full of fire and bereft of fact. Where we need media to do their indispensable job, we have corporatized monoliths owned by ideologues who are entirely uninterested in real reporting.
"We want our country back," shriek the Beckians. Me, too. The difference is I want the one that had high-minded politicians and thoughtful and educated citizens, willing to give a little for the common good. They, it seems, want easy answers, leaders who didn't challenge them, and the certainty that they're right about everything. Funny thing, though: if they get theirs back -- and it looks more and more like they will -- they'll lose everything. Were I to get mine -- and it's clear it's gone forever, by design, by the very ones who think they're saving it -- there'd be a sliver of a chance.
[Perfect: as if ordained by god himself, literally as I was finishing the above, I received an email from a friend. "If you forward nothing else...." it said. Following line after line of high dudgeon and patriotic indignation, it screamed "Now President Obama has directed the United States Postal Service to REMEMBER and HONOR the EID MUSLIM holiday season with a new commemorative 42 Cent First Class Holiday Postage Stamp..
REMEMBER to adamantly & vocally BOYCOTT this stamp, when you are purchasing your stamps at the post office...."
It goes on, in the same vein, pulsing with Foxobeckian certainty. My response to my friend included this. I hope he noted the date, and who was president then. He will, I know. But the ones that sent it to him? It is to laugh. Weep. Sigh. Despond. Most literally, I see no hope for us at all. These are the people on whom the future turns and who, I'm certain, think they're absolutely in the right. They have no capacity whatsoever to see how they've been duped, over and over. Played, by the likes of Beck, Limbaugh, and the whole ugly lot, like a two-penny tin whistle. They've been taught not to think, and they never will.]
*Well, sure, there were cries against joining the war in Europe; and, of course, The New Deal had its detractors. And every era has its bogeymen. But the crazy has never been mainlined as it is now, nor has it found such grateful veins, even as the host dies.