So this is where we stand: The financial doomsday machine, equal parts the creation of feral greed and deregulation, has been saved by taxpayers and IOUs on our future living standards. With its billions to lobby, it has avoided the prosecutions and re-regulation that followed the laissez-faire-caused crash of 1929. So it continues to gamble with dangerous play money called derivatives and other financial "innovations." Billions more from big business ensure corporate control of a broken government. All of these entities live to send jobs offshore or engage in job-killing mergers, as industries become more consolidated than at any time since the Robber Baron Age. Income inequality has returned to that era, too. And for the first time in history, most of the next generation will see worse prospects than those of their parents.
Twenty-six million workers are unemployed or forced into part-time jobs when they want full-time positions. Five unemployed workers are chasing every available job, and yet the Republican minority, aided by Sen. Ben Nelson of the populous state of Nebraska, continue to deny an extension of jobless aid. Schools, transit, parks, libraries and assistance to the most vulnerable are crumbling. For the first time in a century, the world does not look to the United States to lead the world to recovery. Instead, Asia powers ahead while this shadowy thing called "the markets" holds guns to the heads of Western governments, with elite commentators saying all the public foundations that make an advanced civilization must be ruthlessly slashed. Who are these "markets"? And how do we explain that the zenith of American might was built on much higher taxes for the wealthy and corporations, as well as capital markets that raised money for productive, job-creating businesses? Meanwhile, America is bogged down in endless wars, making more enemies through our military adventures and appetite for oil. Oh, oil. The Gulf of Mexico is perhaps irretrievably damaged by a BP spill that has fallen off the front page. Expect more such events.
After all this, voters seem poised to return control of the House of Representatives, and perhaps the Senate, to the Republicans, the party that wrecked America. Speaker Boehner. It will mean the end of President Obama, a man who somehow has managed to squander America's best and perhaps last chance to right itself. The genuine hope and relief of January 2009 is long gone. In its place is a sentiment I heard from many as the Bush years dragged on — including, in private conversations, from people of national prominence. Their words were always the same: "For the first time in my life, I am afraid for my country."
What is to be done? When Lenin asked those words, he was crafting a revolutionary manifesto for the Bolshevik vanguard that would topple the rotted, weak czarist regime. But, contrary to what you might think, revolutions usually explode during periods of rising popular expectations, not when living standards are crumbling and misery rising. France, Russia and Iran come to mind. In any event, what remains of the left in America can't even get its message past the wall of corporate media control and the easy answers of the right, much less lead an uprising. From the 1870s through the 1930s, union members and other activists bled and died to slowly help establish a real middle class and wrest power from the rich. We had a real progressive movement in both parties, as well as decades of liberal consensus. Most lefties now will show up at a BP protest, then drive home to the suburbs in their SUVs. Do we even believe Democrats in the minority will be a "party of no" as the GOP has been, shutting down all meaningful action by the majority?
This is not to say that America's widespread unsustainability, combined with Republican nihilism and hate-speech, doesn't hold the potential for civil unrest and perhaps worse. The consequences of climate change and peak oil will be dire. Could the country come apart, a la 1861? It's not out of the question. Insurrection is never to be considered lightly; it can bring much worse that it replaces — 1776 was an exception.
In any event, the elites that hold control of America, backed by millions of working people who consistently vote against their interests, are strong. There is much of the nation yet to loot. Many white-right wedge issues yet to exploit to keep Joe and Jill Sixpack blaming the wrong people and forces for their plight. It's the blacks, the Mexicans, the gays, the liberals! Many fetching young blondes yet to disappear and other media distractions in our great national freak show. Behind this is the most powerful central government, military and militarized police the world has ever seen. Empires can last a thousand years, or not. For all this, most of our liberties remain intact. And while economic mobility has slowed and meritocracy for average people has perhaps been snuffed out, a majority of Americans have a comfortable life.
"What do those of us who still can think need to do?" a friend asked me after reading my recent post on discontinuity.
I just don't know.
All the common wisdom holds some truth: Get politically involved and organized; replicate the "conservative" political and agitprop infrastructure; call and email your members of Congress and the White House; spread the truth every way you can; vote. And yet, faced with such power on the other side, combined with widespread lack of education in history, blind fanaticism on the part of some and complacency on the part of most — facing all this, can progressives really succeed? We thought something had changed in the last election. We were chumps. No real health care. No addressing climate change. No New Deal for 21st century infrastructure. In many ways, it's a third George W. Bush term. Things may have to get much, much worse before liberalism can find a new foothold — but such times also fuel the appeal of the fascist right. Maybe readers have some ideas.
A few years ago, Karl Eller, the legendary Phoenix entrepreneur, told me if were 30 years old, he'd go to China. Such is the mindset of the businessman. Me? If I were 30, I'd emigrate to northern Europe. The bond-market racketeers won't destroy the best of the commons there (or their high-speed trains). I'm just not comfortable living in an empire, especially one that has lost any sense of common purpose or the common good, one increasingly driven by arrogant ignorance, avarice and cruelty. I want to live in a civilization, not "a market." But not being 30, I came to what, for me, is one of the last, best places left in America.
Living in Seattle, it's easy to buy local, patronize local merchants (I haven't been in a Wal-Mart in years), support a place that still values itself and humanity. We have only one car, eight years old, and barely drive it; Seattle has an abundance of passenger trains and transit. Being a journalist (rightly) precludes me from supporting political causes or candidates, but Seattle is an engaged, literate, educated place. Large protests are frequent, including one against Arizona's Jim Crow anti-immigrant law that recently that tied up downtown. I do what I can as a writer to tell the truth, discuss the harsh realities we face, debunk the lies of the nihilists and economic royalists. Every day is a gift and I try to live it so, knowing that, the "conservatives," given the chance, would wreck even this place. And I pray, for the poor, the suffering and the lost, for the mercenary toffs and for our enemies, for our country. I use every weapon in my arsenal.
You have to decide where to make your stand. And never stop fighting.