Posts Tagged 'Mitch McConnell'

What’s Next?

What was once American democracy is disappearing. It is being replaced by Authoritarian-Capitalism, a cross between an economic belief system and a trope version of Christianity which is hatching like those creatures emerging out of an astronaut’s body in the film Alien. Recently, in a secret meeting with his billionaire sponsors, a Congressman, Mitch McConnell, promised he will work to undo every Federal social program possible. In Mississippi the Chief Justice of that state’s Supreme Court told an audience the First Amendment of our Constitution applies only to Christians. Malthusian zero-sum Christian-Capitalism is reaching for a transformative end game. What kind of country are these people imagining?

The United States has always been about business and money even before it was a country, well before a “Revolution” that did more for business interests than for the general population, women, and people of color. Every 4th of July we celebrate the efforts of a group of wealthy lawyers and businessmen who created a country where their interests and investments would be protected and their prejudices regarding blacks and natives preserved. People who were not property owners, women, people of color, and aboriginals were explicitly excluded from the contract. This is not the version of US history taught in schools of course but it is the truth and it bears directly on what we are witnessing today, a realization of that foundational vision fueled by loathsome myopic greed enabled by increasingly more severe social control. Strike a fast food franchise for a living wage and you will probably be arrested. Today workers’ wages are at their lowest share of GDP since 1947 while corporate profits are the highest in 40 years.

Today’s  circumstances are the result of an illusory social contract wherein people believe they have some things they don’t – opportunity, freedom, and equality – they have been kept in line with a materialistic false hope of “making it big”. In fact they aren’t going to make it big. They probably aren’t going to make it small either. The game is rigged and in no small measure because people refuse to accept the truth having bought the propaganda that today’s conditions are democracy at work, to complain is un-American, and there is no such thing, says John Boehner, as inequality. When 1% of the population controls nearly 40% of wealth and the remaining population is systematical deprived of any possibility of advancement that is inequality. We are living in a “civilized” country where 13 children have been shot dead for every US casualty in Afghanistan between 2002 and 2012. In 2013, 6.8 million homes in the US lacked sufficient food to feed their families. Well we do have the fastest and most expensive fighter jets like the F-35 that cost $89 million each and, because of flaws, are not yet fully operational. Is this what is meant by American “exceptionalism”?

The ideological skids were greased for todays’ assault on the social contract by Lewis F. Powell, Jr. the Supreme Court Justice nominated by Richard Nixon in 1971. Powell authored the majority opinion in 1st National Bank of Boston vs Belloti which laid the foundation for today’s Citizens United decision establishing corporations as life forms equal to humans. Powell also wrote the infamous “Powell Manifesto” in 1971 for the US Chamber of Commerce which became the Right’s sacred text in which he described how the “system” must overtake Liberalism and ultimately control society. In the manifesto Powell uses the term “system” to depict those whose political beliefs and financial interests must be protected and promoted, the “Free Enterprise System”. In a 6,084 word document Powell used the word “system” 54 times. There was once another Lewis Powell in US history, during the civil war, he was an assassin.

What a dream – the American Dream, American “exceptionalism”. It’s a narrative that keeps things going. It’s the ultimate fantasy aside from sex and wealth beyond the dreams of avarice. You’ll be living in a penthouse with a poor door to insulate you from the slackers who haven’t worked hard enough to “make it”. The US has more than 1.6 million children homeless and the highest rate of child poverty of any major country in the world, we also have more people in jail than nearly any country in the world – that’s certainly “exceptional”, isn’t it? But, really, “folks” the bottom line question is – what’s next?

Larger Questions

Americans would do well to recall a caution from the great philosopher of democracy, Aristotle, that it is much easier to establish a Democracy than it is to preserve it. We are presently at a crossroads in our life as a democratic society, as a civilization, as a future. Our social contract, in place essentially since the Great Depression, is under attack by an over-reaching security apparatus, the very wealthy, politicians, and right-wing television networks. The plutocrats, as plutocrats are wont to do, act in service to their own wealth. Plutocrats serve themselves, politicians serve the plutocrats, and we, the American public, serve them all. The public in all of its disarray and confusion is managed and manipulated into smaller and smaller competing factions.

Separating people from a sense of community and identity with each other breaks the bonds of a civil society. It is clearly a barbaric and classic “divide and conquer” strategy for taking down a polity. This was a vision promoted by Lewis Powell in his infamous 1971, Powell Memo, a game plan commissioned by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Democratic social ideals are clearly under attack.

Do complex societies collapse? Of course they do. They have done so since the dawn of civilization and for much the same reasons. Recall, for instance, the Romans, Mayans, and Chacoans — large, complex societies, in business for hundreds of years. Gone! Disappeared. Judging from the torrents of political writing these days it is reasonable  to ask why so many writers and thinkers sense an impending collapse. To more than a few thoughtful observers the collapse of American society is an open question. As the collapse phenomenon has been historically frequent and persistent, calling out the concern contemporaneously isn’t exactly “Henny-Penny” panic. Is the sky falling now? Maybe – maybe not, but then, “See it – Say it” seems an appropriate and thoughtful response.

When 97% of a country’s wealth is in the hands of 1% of the population it is not a “rich” society as we are often told the US is. That is propaganda. And when the 1% isn’t satisfied with 97% of the wealth but actively engage in acquiring more the problem is even worse, it is no longer merely a matter of perception. It isn’t just that the 1% has so much of the wealth — it’s what they are doing with their wealth that is dangerous. Greed has never been recognized as conducive to a healthy social contract. It doesn’t matter if greed is for material wealth, public attention, notoriety, or power, it hoards the goods of a society away from the commons to a few.

While greed was’t invented last week it certainly seems to exist on an outlandish scale these days in a dangerous game of extractive overreach. Unless greed is a virtue, and it certainly is not, Capitalism has no recognizable moral order and I challenge any Nobel laureate economist to refute that. Capitalism and Democracy are not interchangeable terms. Something else is needed – populism perhaps?

Social corrosion is more than joblessness although that is significant enough. The taxonomy of greed extends to voting rights, health care, unemployment benefits, and public education to mention a few. An even more egregious example was the bailout in billions of dollars of the bankers who caused the financial collapse of 2008 and who, after causing financial ruin for millions, walked away richer than they were previously. Not one of the villains has been charged with a crime. If anything the miscreants have been lionized.

Meanwhile, on Main Street millions of Americans cannot find jobs to support themselves much less families. Many have dropped out of the workforce and out of the statistical reckoning of employment thus distorting unemployment statistics. Congressmen have added further injury by terminating extended unemployment benefits.

A larger question, I propose, is what became of the millions of jobs that have disappeared? The good paying jobs are not coming back because they have gone overseas. Unless Americans are willing to work for poverty wages such as those paid by McDonalds and WalMart or for what people in the Bangladesh sweat shops are paid there is no work. In another bit of irony, the government subsidizes McDonalds and WalMart providing corporate welfare in the form of food stamps and so forth for their underpaid employees.

So  here is a bottom line question: What kind of country do people like the Kochs, Steve Forbes, the Walton family, and others like them and their mouthpieces, Fox television commentators, and politicians like Ryan, Cantor, Boehner, and McConnell want to see? Is their fantasy something out of the 1930s with soup kitchens and families lined up for a hot meal?  Would they be amused perhaps to watch people of the lower classes fighting amongst themselves in some version of Hunger Games? There is little doubt we are at a defining moment in the history of this country, this society, and the egalitarian political philosophy it was founded on. Can it be preserved? I quote Alasdair MacIntyre: “ … the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time.” We have a lot of hard work ahead of us.

 

 

 

 

 

Crossroads Series / There Be Demons Out There

It is well understood, I hope, that no social problem is just one problem all by its lonesome. If you focus on only one aspect of a problem you will not understand it much less “solve” it. All social problems are complex, made up of many issues, attitudes, interests, hidden agendas, and more influential than any thing else – the demons of belief.  In order to at least try to understand these dynamics it is necessary to separate beliefs from knowledge and experience.  Beliefs are often difficult to identify because they are, but not always, buried and ineffable .  Fear, by itself, is one of the most powerful demons of belief.

Beliefs are the true “ghost in the machine” and are manifest in everyday life. Building on the work of Gilbert Ryle, Arthur Koestler explains in, “The Ghost in the Machine” (1967), that humanity has, throughout history, as much tended towards self-destruction as elevation at one level or another. The “ghost” has been with us a long long time, it has inhabited the human mind from the beginning, layer upon successive layer, exerting its powerful influence – beliefs ranging from the arrangement of the heavens, the supernatural and philosophy to rocket science and racial and ethnic prejudice. The “ghost” can be said to be the author of the human narrative in all of its humanistic grandeur as well as its appalling destructiveness. From art, and medical science to nuclear weapons and suicide bombings these are all the product of interior dialog made manifest. Beliefs are consequential; just think how long it took the Catholic Church to acknowledge Galileo’s truth and even today there remain people who question it.

Beliefs serve to maintain what we agree, in general, to call our consensual reality – the shared and necessary tacit agreement we call our social contract. While not everyone does agree, of course, in general most settle on something we can all work with, something we can all share in a contractual sense as to define a consensual reality, a social contract, a society, a civilization. That, of course, is normal sane behavior but the snakes of doubt, the demons, especially of Fear, have often been set loose in service to destructive agendas, racial and ethnic prejudice, economic control, and territorial conquest. Of the demons and ghosts, Fear directed against minorities, either religious or ethnic, has been one of the most powerful making it the weapon of choice for demagogues throughout history.

Today, in the United States, the consensual reality is under assault, and bit by bit, being destroyed in the name of social conservatism by Tea Party activists and oligarch sponsored politicians who are pandering to the most rabid anti-social elements in the country, the social jihadis who want to tear down the entire edifice of the social contract. Programs like Social Security, public education, and medical care for military veterans are being challenged and threatened. Like 10th C Norse “berserkers” who would use their own severed limbs as weapons, the Tea Party jihadis are on a rampage to savage the foundations of American civilization at any cost including to themselves. What do they believe? Do they see demons in social security, food stamps, health care, in the aged, or in the hungry and homeless? If they prevail will a social nuclear winter visit itself on the country? Will it be everyone for themselves with guns everywhere? Is it going to be back to the trees and caves? What a vision! Sociopathic instincts and self-promotion at the national level by Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan, John Boehner, Eric Cantor, Mitch McConnell, Louie Gohmert, and others are driving the legislative agenda away from governance to chaos. Is that their dream, their fantasy world? What do they believe?

A polarized world has been created in the US mostly by pandering politicians supported by sociopathic billionaires funding an antithesis of community using phony “news” outlets and political commentators as propaganda machines addressing the willing gullible. Even the US Supreme Court has contributed to the destruction of the social contract through its Citizens United decision and the coronation of George W. Bush. Thanks to the Supreme Court political power can be bought with PAC funded political campaigns; corporations are now become people walking upon the earth – just like you and me except they have more money and no faces. Offices from governors and mayors on down to aldermen are ripe for the dystopian influence of plutocrats. We are in the midst of the most well financed, well organized attack on American democracy in history.

Throughout world history when belief in a social system was betrayed social collapse followed. It seems now belief in American democracy is being deliberately undermined. Beware, ladies and gentlemen of the Tea Party zealots, you are playing with fire. There be demons out there!

 


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