Thursday, July 07, 2011

What If the Pendulum Won't Swing Back?

The bastion of today's far right is unquestionably the United States.  Neo-conservatism has insinuated itself into every aspect of the American corporate state and has entrenched itself in American society.  It has become so institutionalized as to be able to prey upon the blue and white collar classes and yet retain their political support.

Those of us looking on from the outside often find ourselves confounded at the poor fiercely backing the agents of their distress like human equivalents of the vivisectionist's dog.  For three decades they have stood by passively as their jobs disappear, as their incomes stagnate or worse, as the gap between rich and poor becomes effectively bottomless transforming the blessed from merely rich into genuine aristocracy.  It all seems nightmarish, diabolical.

What kind of a mind does it take for a person to view Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachmann or Rick Santorum as fit for their nation's highest elected office?   What does it say about the state of American politics that the Republicans would even allow this sort of candidate to stand for their presidential nomination?  It actually speaks volumes about a form of politics that, going back to the Reagan years, has been very skilfully and carefully nurtured and grown.  It speaks of an entire class of voters that has been harnessed into service to the same movement that preys upon them.  It speaks of a political movement that exploits the anger and fears it creates and turns them into weapons against its opponents.  It speaks of an oligarchy that knows it has developed a political alchemy in which it cannot be bound to serve the very public that breathes life into it and instead may serve with impunity very narrow interests that lavish it with money.  It speaks of a Republic every bit as corrupt as any known in ancient Rome.

I am currently working my way through an eye-opener into how it all went so wrong in America, Deer Hunting with Jesus, by progressive writer Joe Bageant who passed away in January of cancer.  The book concerns the people of Bageant's home town of Winchester, Virginia.  It's a blue collar town made up mainly of working class and working poor citizens.  Deer Hunting with Jesus has an eerily Dickensian tone of despair, shattered promise and outright resignation.  It is to Bageant as Flint, Michigan is to Michael Moore only with a hardscrabble, Southern edge.

What Deer Hunting reveals is how the new-conservatives came to own the hearts and minds of the paycheque to paycheque, two or three jobs just to get by, working classes of Winchester.   They have been powerfully indoctrinated to believe that their woes are the legitimate result of social Darwinism, their problems solely of their own making or their neglectful or genetic failings.  They believe that people are richer because those people are better than they are.

To the extent that we can be said to hold beliefs, we hold the beliefs we think we are expected to hold.  Just as we hold little American flags and put magnetic ribbons on our cars to tell others who we believe we are:  Americans and Americans only.  Plain Americans, isolated from the rest of the world by the certainty that it's better to be American than anything else, even if we really can't prove why.  Even if we are one house payment away from homelessness, even if our kids can't read and our asses are getting so big they have their own zip codes, it's comforting to know we are at least in the best place on earth.  There is America, and there is the rest of the world - envious and plotting to bring us down and "steal our freedom."

Deer Hunting with Jesus invites rethinking of old assumptions, like the one about the political pendulum in a constantly self-correcting swing, left to right, right to left.   What if conditions have been created that ensure the pendulum will no longer swing back to the left?  What if today's neo-conservative oligarchy is America's new, steady state?   What if political choice, the very essence of democracy, has been mugged, dragged down some dark alley and savagely beaten to death?

Is this what we're seeing today in Barack Obama, the extermination of "change," the crushing underfoot of "hope?"   Is Obama the death rattle of American progressivism?  I don't know but I surely can't rule it out.  Is American society reverting back to something much more akin to the ante-bellum South than the confident, optimistic America of the 60s and 70s?

Perhaps Chris Hedges is right.  Perhaps America's only hope now lies in another revolution.


UU4077 said...

His second, and last, book, "Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir" gets more personal.

They are great books for the insulated middle class to better understand those that grew up on, and remain on, the wrong side of the tracks.

Owen Gray said...

An excellent -- and a disturbing -- post. We like to think that, in the end, those who have been had will rise up in revolt.

Perhaps they are beyond revolt.

Anonymous said...

I don't think people are richer because they are better then me. I believe much of it has to do with a lack of ethics.

Good post

thwap said...

Excellent post.

mass democracy is actually a very young thing and it took our elites a few decades to figure out how to neutralize it. Debasing the political-intellectual culture is a big part of that process.

But it's becoming pretty clear that the system is unsustainable. There are millions of people who mobilize against it as well. The trouble is that they have been neutralized too.

We need the right recipe for effective opposition from as large a proportion of the population as has ever existed in a revolutionary situation.