American Jitters

First, allow me to take a moment to mark the 6th anniversary of this blog, which occurred some time last month.

I started revision99 during the runup to the 2004 presidential election. I’d been fed up with George W. Bush for about four years by then, and I wanted to express my exasperation that he was ever installed in the White House in the first place and my fervent hope that he would be evicted. It gives me no solace today to know that history will not be kind to George, but of course what really hurts is that my ravings apparently had no effect on that election.

Over the years I came to realize that my ravings were having no effect on much of anything, and I had to retreat back into that blogger’s sanctuary of “I’m writing only for myself.” This was the golden age of personal blogging. I had a few readers, and in turn I read and commented on their blogs. As the impossibly stupid Bush Administration dragged on I became so surly that all my readers and commenters disappeared, and even when I promised to stop writing about politics no one returned. After that, I really was writing just for myself. Then in July of this year I stopped writing altogether.

But I can’t very well commemorate an anniversary if the blog is moribund, so what the hell — I’ll write again about politics.

It’s another day-after. The 2010 election was yesterday, and again I’m scratching my head, trying to make sense of it. Sure things are crappy, but why would voters reelect Republicans, who are primarily interested in enriching the already rich? It’s a mystery that has been getting deeper and more confusing for the past several election cycles. But in trying to explain the current political climate to myself, here’s the latest fairy tale I’ve come up with:

Starting some time in the depths of the Great Depression, Americans got focused. They tightened their belts. They worked hard. They built bridges, dams, monuments, parks. They agreed to legislation that reigned in that era’s Wall Street casino and prevented another such meltdown for 70 years. They created and supported a social safety net to protect the weakest among them, and those who fell through the economic cracks. In the 1940’s they went to war and, against all odds, saved the world. And when those soldiers came home, 12 million of them, we sent them to college and trade schools. They became scientists and engineers, teachers and statesmen. They built homes and churches and schools. They assembled the Interstate Highway system. They created the Space Program and went to the moon. America was the most admired nation on earth. And as late as the Eisenhower Administration our millionaires, mindful of the debt they owed their country, paid a marginal tax rate of 94%.

Contrast all that with the atmosphere today: Americans have become selfish, jealous and greedy. It’s every man for himself. We haven’t built or even attempted anything big in 30 years. Our roads and bridges and levees are crumbling, often with deadly results. We trail most industrialized nations in 21st century infrastructure: broadband technology, high speed rail and clean energy, and there are no plans to catch up. The cars we drive and the electronics we use are built in other countries. We have invaded and still occupy nations on the other side of the world, and the world asks why? We speak seriously about withdrawing aid from anybody “unwilling” to work, at the same time we send their jobs overseas. We pay the lowest taxes in generations, and we are enraged by how high they are. In a world in which 3,000 children a day starve to death, we have an epidemic of obesity.

Our parents and grandparents have spoiled us. They built this magnificent edifice where we live, but we don’t want to maintain it or improve it. We only want to buy big screen televisions and sit on our ever-widening butts, smugly and stupidly imagining that we are still admired by the rest of the world.

All we want are tax cuts and bigger televisions, and we won’t give any government more than one election cycle to deliver. We send the Republicans to fix the economy, because the Democrats didn’t do it. Two years from now we will probably be ready to throw out the Republicans. We’ve got the political jitters. We want quick fixes, no matter how long it took to create the mess we’re in. We’ve been watching TV instead of going to college, so we are no longer smart enough to look five or ten years down the road, form a plan and see it through. We are like fourth-graders on the playground, calling each other names, stealing each others’ lunches and dreading going back into the classroom, where we are expected to pay attention, work together, and learn something.

So in summary let me just say revision99: still harshing your mellow since 2004.

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13 Replies to “American Jitters”

  1. Explain also, “Why do the lower middle class, the poor and anyone else who’s struggling, people who will never have a stock portfolio and will never live the richness of the so-call “American Dream”… who do these people vote Republican?

    The Repubs, aka, “The Almost All White Person Party With Cash is also filled with Religious Nuts, Social Control Freaks and Blood Thirsty Warheads”… has never been about average, workaday people. The Repubs have never been pro-worker’s rights, pro-environment, pro-ecology or pro-education.
    Of course they are pro-business, pro-corporation and definitely pro-big money.

    Yet when the Repubs, aka, “Repugs” spend millions on TV attack ads, misdirections and spread their usual fears (crime, etc) … plus their muddy lies … somehow voters forget WHO MADE THE WARS AND ECONOMIC MESSES in the first place!

    Here’s my conspiracy theory: If you keep Americans ignorant and easily distracted with lies, distortions, yellow journalism and false prophets … you end up with citizens without education based logic and susceptible to liars and hucksters. Our elections are huge versions of Three Card Monty.

    Plus, the Dems seem to have gone into permanent Wimp Mode.

  2. Larry–
    Hear, hear. It seems that a near-economic meltdown wasn’t enough to bring us together to fix our crumbling country and society. Perhaps the real thing will do the trick–which is where the Republican Party seems to want to take us. While some of us have experienced real hardship because of the economic downturn, others have simply coasted on through it, grumbling but not really acutely affected. We’re spoiled and we’ve stopped thinking for ourselves.

    It frightens me to think about it, but I believe America is headed for truly serious trouble in the near future. It will be very, very bad. And it’s anyone’s guess as to whether we’ll have the kind of leadership our grandparents had, or the moral fiber to pull ourselves back together and rebuild. I hope we do, for the sake of our children, and theirs.

    Glad to see you back and writing again. I’ve missed your unique “voice” and your grouchy, but spot on opinions about politics and life in general. I’m one of your friends who never left–I’ve checked back here now and then to see if you’d written, but you hadn’t. I checked, in fact, yesterday… and here you are today. Yay!

    Be well, my friend. I’m looking forward to your next post, whatever its subject.

  3. Larry:
    I’m reading a good novel for and about these strange times we live in: “The Financial Lives of the Poets.” by Jess Walter. Sharp, funny. Think you’d like it.
    Cheers.

  4. Bill – I really can’t explain anything. I just tell myself stories, trying out scenarios. There are so many variations that fit “the facts on the ground,” so to speak. It’s like a puzzle with no correct solutions, and no wrong ones. Unsatisfying.

    Wren – Some would say this is the real thing. But if something worse happens, what would we do? Would we just change the party in office again? In a two-party country, how many times would we be able to fool ourselves that that tactic is viable? And once we can’t maintain our delusion, what would we do then?
    Thanks for saying those nice things. I seem to be blocked at songwriting these days, so I fully intend to get back to blogging. Intentions, though…

    John – I saw the NYTimes review of that book. It looks good, and Jess Walter looks exactly like the young, hip novelist. I wish I were him.

  5. Two things: (1) Roosevelt–who did much to get our parents out of the Depression–was regarded as a class traitor by many, because much of what he did was ease some of the everyday suffering that was the warp and woof of the Depression, and (2) his successor took one of the major first steps in racially integrating this country, by integrating the military.

    That is, this country fomented and nearly succeeded in completing class warfare against the actual workers, in a way that never occurred in Europe, and this country had and has a history of enslavement that doesn’t look the same elsewhere (even if it existed/s in other forms). And the divisions provided by that history are precisely what the republicans have been exploiting, for nearly two generations. I don’t think they’re particularly conscious about what they’re doing, but I do think that’s exactly what they’re doing. And, by continuing to exploit those histories, they’re giving life to those divisions, so they continue unto the current generations.

  6. Narya – I agree that there is a class war in progress, and I think it is currently being won by transnational corporations and the billionaires who own them. And you’re probably correct in saying that they are using our ancient fears and hatreds to get us to do their bidding. It’s an effective strategy. How do we counteract it?

  7. You’re going to think I’m hopelessly naive, but I try as best I can to follow the Dalai Lama on this. I try to speak truth as much as possible, and show kindness and compassion–and urge that actions be based on kindness and compassion, rather than fear and hatred and greed. If I ever have a larger platform, I’d try to keep doing exactly those things. Yes, I know it probably won’t dismantle large transnational corporations. But love and kindness and compassion are the only counters I know. And truth, as best I can see it, doesn’t hurt, either, even though my platform for speaking it is pretty damned small. I’d like to think that providing just a little bit of truth, countering just a little bit of fear, helps on that day-to-day level where we all spend most of our time. But I’m probably fooling myself. There are worse ways to do that, though.

  8. Narya – I guess if you were really naive you wouldn’t know it.

    But of course the smallness of your platform is not an accident: The interests of Capital have consciously done all they can to reduce your voice, and they’ve been at it relentlessly for decades — busting unions, demonizing socialist ideas, buying and consolidating news media, and now they are targeting Social Security, Medicare and unemployment benefits. Many of us already consider ourselves fortunate to have jobs we hate and substandard paychecks.
    The Dalai Lama surely is a beautiful dude who is on the right spiritual path, but you can’t make life better for the great majority of people as an individual, or even a huge crowd of disconnected individuals. Can you?

  9. Well, maybe. (You’re absolutely right about the reasons for the smallness of my platform, too.)

    But in my particular job, I facilitate people who are homeless getting health care. yeah, it actually does make their lives better. It surely doesn’t fix all that much, but, as I say to people, it’s on the side of good rather than evil. But I’m fortunate to have a job doing that–hell, I’m fortunate in so very many ways that it’s hard to count them all.

    The other thing I believe–again, probably foolishly–is that part of what people can use is an example of how to do things differently. At work, for example, I often find that people come to me for words–how to say something–and I try to find ways to say what needs to be said. That helps someone else go forth a little better, maybe a little more compassionately, even when what needs saying is on the order of “you’re fucking up.”

    No, I absolutely cannot make life better for a majority of people, or a crowd of disconnected individuals, but I can do my small part for the people around me, and maybe, just maybe, some of them will do the same thing. And then we die.

    I’ve been reading Eliot Paterson’s Inspector Shan novels, and I highly recommend them; start w/ the first one.

  10. Narya – For some reason I was unable to follow your link until yesterday. Now that I have and read the article, I can see that the “baby program” makes perfect sense intuitively, and it seems like a program that should be continued, maybe expanded. But I guess it’s a sign of the nasty times that my next thought was along the lines of “I wonder how Bill O’Reilly or Glenn Beck would treat this on Fox.” Probably the same way they ridiculed Dennis Kucinich’s proposal in 2000 for a Department of Peace. Lots of good public policy ideas have been demonized over the past fifty years as our vocabulary is turned upside down. “Liberal” now appears right next to “Satan” in the Joe Sixpack Dictionary…

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