Sunday morning on Meet the Press a statement of a panelist during the End Game segment struck me personally. Speaking about the split in our nation’s citizenry it was noted that we had become a nation “where politics is our primary focus.” That statement hit home as I realized it had become almost all I think about, write about, follow on television. Gone were the lazy days of jogging after work; parties with neighbors; weekend picnics with the kids; watching Cheers, All in the Family and Seinfeld in the evening on tv and laughing until my sides hurt. I now only watch the news and political programs, and very little of that and then go to bed angry. I only read non-fiction, primarily history and haven’t read a good spy novel in 10 years. No wonder my blood pressure is high.
I ask myself, how did this happen? How did I not see the majority of American citizenry moving from a cohesive society with a multitude of humanitarian values and bent on doing good for the world into a society where only the “bottom line” was important and then, really only for “ME.”. My neighbor recently admitted me that, “The primary thing I base my vote on is how well my 401-K is doing!” Well, that about sums it up for much of our society, doesn’t it? Our citizenry writes it off in saying:
“So what if foreign parents are divested of their children somewhere along the border because it doesn’t affect me personally and it’s likely they deserve it.”
“Too bad about the hurricane in Puerto Rico, one of our protectorates but I like Hawaii better anyway. People there speak American (English)”
“What? Our voting processes have been attacked by the Russians. Well, It doesn’t affect me because I don’t vote anyway.”
“And our President lies on a regular basis to us and cheats on his wife? So, doesn’t everyone? Well, I hear he goes to church now on occasion.”
“Another school shooting? I sure wish those teachers could pack guns so as to stop these crazies before these things happened.”
“Not to mention those damn liberal scientists making up stories so they can get more grant money. God would NEVER let that phony global warming occur and…now where did I put that damn iphone? I need to check my Facebook account.”
In the early 19th Century Alexis de Tocqueville and John Stuart Mill both wrote on the notion of the Tyranny of the Majority. It refers to a situation in which the majority enforces its will on a disadvantaged minority through the democratic process. We have witnessed this in so many ways recently: The Senate’s refusal to have hearings on Merritt Garland; the ramrodding of Justices Gorsuch and Kavanah through the system; widespread voter suppression in red states; ignoring public demands for gun legislation; etc. It appears that we have rapidly moved toward an oligarchy supported by the majority with a fascist dictatorship close behind and staring us in the face.
Another issue brought up on the Meet the Press segment by the conservative panelist was, “We had to suffer through 8 years of Obama’s trashing the Republicans!” What? Hello! During his term I never once heard him rally his party to hate Republicans, their elected officials, etc. He spoke of our differences but he never resorted to “Pocahontas” or “Dirty Hillary” comments and, remember, for the last 4 years he had a Republican House and Senate that made certain that NOTHING got done. And what’s this about giving Kavanah, Mueller and MBS the good ol’ American judicial standard of being innocent until proven guilty while he is whipping up his followers to chant “Lock Her Up!” directed at Hillary and Pelosi…they haven’t even been charged with a crime, have they?
A year ago the 20 top world political scientists met to discuss what appears to be the decline of democracies world-wide. They pointed to breakdowns in social cohesion (meaning citizens are more fragmented than ever), the rise of tribalism, the erosion of democratic norms such as a commitment to rule of law, and a loss of faith in the electoral and economic systems as clear signs of democratic erosion. Hey, look around you…isn’t this what’s happening?
So how did I let this happen to me? I’ve always voted…sometimes for a Democrat. sometimes for a Republican, sometimes for an independent. I’ve always paid my taxes on time, sent my children to swimming lessons and college, and paid the veterinarian to care for my dog. I’ve always felt I was an average Joe. For my entire life, both recreational and professional my focus was on making the world a bit better. Things that mattered were cleaning up the air with The Clean Air Act (I grew up in the Los Angeles Basin where we regularly were prevented from playing outside due to the unhealthy condition of the smog); protecting our lakes, rivers and ground waters with the Clean Water Act; protecting and preventing the degradation and/or extinction of our native species through the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and The Endangered Species Act; protecting our natural resources, parks, monuments and natural heritage sites from destruction through the National Environmental Protection Act, the Antiquities Act.
I was proud that my country was known worldwide for its compassionate focus on the down-trodden; the first to set aside national parks that so many other countries followed; generous donations of foreign aid in the face of natural and unnatural disasters; supporting human rights world over; and knowing that everyone wanted to be like us.
I’ve watched all that disappear in two short years. Environmental protections have been trashed; our world leadership is a joke in many other countries; truth and compassion; and the application of the Golden Rule have been shoved under the carpet. I’ve seen how gerrymandering and voter suppression has become the primary tool of the governing party and now witnessed two recent presidential elections where the loser of the popular vote was inaugurated. What has happened to democracy?
Maybe I should I just say “That’s Life!” or, as my father used to caution me, “Things will turn around and get better, they always do.” Or maybe I should I be pissed and take it out on everyone else. Do I just want to wait until global warming so changes our planet that life as we now know it is an irretrievable memory and then gloat as I say, “I told you so!” Do I want to accept bankruptcy and eventual starvation if I have to use all my resources to treat a grandchild who acquires a serious illness? Do I want my grandchildren to face global chaos? That looks like the path we are taking but the sad truth is I’m becoming relegated to the fact that there’s nothing much I can do about it. It’s very likely my ashes will be mixing with the soil in some Sierra forest when the last coral reef expires or the Arctic becomes ice-free.
Most people I know really never thought much about abstract principles like free speech, the freedom of the press or jurisprudence (unless, of course, it affected them personally). They more or less expected that was just part of American life. But people have lost faith in the system. The social compact has been shattered. We’re left to focus on our racial and cultural resentments, which have paved the yellow brick road for a demagogue like Trump. We have become the Jedi versus the Galactic Empire.
But, whatever…my 401-K is doing great (if, indeed I really ever had one
Please let me know that you are safe and have a place to stay. Smoke here is a constant reminder of your peril.