The intent of this series of essays is to demonstrate the American social contract is under attack, who is behind it and what their motives are. There are many actors in the drama and very many schemes, all of which are directed at undermining what has been the American social contract and the beliefs which underlie that contract. The first essay of the series was a general overview of the many ways and the many influences, from politicians to religious leaders to billionaires, all with an agenda undermining the social arrangements and expectations that have been quintessentially American since the Declaration of Independence and have reflected the hopes and aspirations of civilized people throughout history.
We are, in the United States, at a turning point in the history of our politics and social organization. Wealth and the power it buys are in the hands of a few who use their wealth to control media and the propaganda money buys. Among the general public a culture of “me-first,” “whatever-it-takes,” celebrity worship, mindless and often violent entertainment are all standard fare and easily play into the hands of the media manipulators. Observed from a dispassionate distance, we appear a civilization rapidly becoming decadent and clearly in decline. Truth has become a fungible commodity and is generally absent from public debate, absent even in courtrooms controlled by insurance conglomerates and their lawyer lackeys.
In politics one has to ask what kind of moral leadership could possibly be expected from an individual who made his fortune putting people out of work. Or another who has never done real work. Voting has devolved into an exercise in which voters must decide who among the candidates is the lesser evil. It has become, it would seem, more materially and politically rewarding to be pragmatic than honorable, to take or not take a position calculated on the basis of whether or not it offends the fewest potential voters; in other words, not principled but expedient. Whatever it takes becomes the order of the day, the moral and ethical standard. What sort of social leadership can be expected from a candidate whose wife refers to the American public as ”you people”? Could we expect empathy, feeling with you, mutual respect, shared sacrifice? We the people have become an inconvenient but necessary rabble.
We must ask ourselves how this country can sustain itself politically when wallowing in blatant corruption at levels that would embarrass even a banana republic. Even political movements have become a parody as, for example, Tea Party activists in Founding Father costumes act out their frustrations by attacking immigrants in a country founded by immigrants or cheering when assured an impoverished uninsured person could die from illness without public health care. It is important to note here that the role of immigrants isn’t the same as that of the Wall Street Banksters who caused the economic collapse that resulted in foreclosures and loss of middle-class savings. Then we have labor leaders turning against their rank-and-file, thwarting elections when the results don’t meet their expectations, and union members voting for an anti-labor candidate.
The list of embraced contradictions and self-defeating behavior ascends the scale of incredulity as people vote and agitate against their own best interests, against members of their own social class. This last brings to mind the current speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, John Boehner, declaring there are no social classes in the U.S. Oh, really? Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning Columbia University economist puts it this way, saying, in fact we do have a tiered society where, “While there may be underlying economic forces at play, politics have shaped the market, and shaped it in ways that advantage the top at the expense of the rest.” Why isn’t the Tea Party beating its drums on Wall Street?
The political landscape across the country is infested with phony “Foundations” and “Institutes,” bought and paid for by millionaires and billionaires using these tax-exempt front organizations to propagandize local and national issues. The American Legislative Exchange Council is the corporate sponsored mother-ship for many of these organizations. ALEC sponsors week-end “seminars” for legislators and their guests at fancy seaside resorts where they get to play golf and meet and mingle with corporate money-bags and lobbyists. Enabled by the U.S. Supreme Court and its Citizens United decision, front organizations give large sums of money to influence elections, governors and legislators. In New Mexico we have one of these entities that has over the past year opposed, among other things, mass transit, art in public places and public education. In each instance the alternative proposed was privatization.
We are descending a slippery slope with a rent-seeking “whatever-works-for-you” fantasy mentality. Politicians, playing fast and loose with the truth, make a big thing of “sharing your values” as they woo voters but say nothing about personal character, the sense of right and wrong, and the truth-telling which constitute an individual’s character and which cannot be substituted for with wholesale community values. Values have nothing to do with personal character because truth and integrity, the foundation stones of character, issue first and foremost from individuals and thus require personal conviction and commitment. It is not an overstatement to say that when truth, integrity and personal character are undermined, so too is the civilized society. James Davison Hunter in “The Death of Character” states it bluntly: “ Character matters, we believe, because without it, trust, justice, freedom, community, and stability are probably impossible.” There can be no such thing as community in a “me-first” world populated and obsessed with morally empty “personalities.”