Perhaps Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., was right—that history swings back and forth like a pendulum between the left and right. At the moment, the night belongs to the right, though I bang my head repeatedly trying to make sense of why so many of us prefer the inane to the urbane.
We may suppose, and wish for, zealous overreach among the Republicans, culminating in, well, crap. The big question: Will anyone notice or care? Enough, say, to toss the miscreants to the curb and replace them with those who would represent the interests of the Rest of Us?
Polls show that Congress has as much stature as a few wooden blocks stacked by a toddler. We’ve reached the point of very low expectations from our elected officials. Do they still matter?
Well, unfortunately, they do, mostly for ill. The conservatives have always wanted to bury the New Deal. They are succeeding, not with a blunt ax but with wielded scalpels exacting a thousand cuts. Their present goal is to rescind the Affordable Care Act, eliminate public schools (they prefer private charters), abolish Social Security (too social, you know), boost the Pentagon, and, above all else, cut taxes even more for their wealthy patrons.
The blunt ax against favored targets could awaken us and force our attention. But a steady, gradual dismantling of hard-fought benefits and institutions may barely ruffle.
A few years hence, we’ll remark on the proliferation of: homeless encampments; back-alley abortions; freeway goo; endless wars in distant lands; food banks; and automatonic children toiling in the fields and sweatshops. Lest too many of us become restless, tanks and mortar shells await.
Of course, it will be much too late to arrest the dismantling juggernaut. Worse, few of us will recall the better times, the history books having been expurgated, revealing only the glories of bloated plutocrats.
Or… we do pay attention today, recognize the reactionary project of the right, and resist each attempted cut as part of a never-ending struggle against the forces of darkness. As important, understand that the struggle requires collective action; going alone would be so much spit confronting a fiery hell. Better to have a tsunami of solidarity.
I leave with Bill Moyers’s parting words:
…democracy, too is a public trust – a reciprocal agreement between generations to keep it in good repair and pass it along. Our country’s DNA carries an inherent promise for every citizen of an equal opportunity at life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Our history resonates with the hallowed idea – hallowed by blood – of government of, by, and for the people. Our great progressive struggles have been waged to make sure ordinary citizens, and not just the rich and privileged, share in the benefits of a free society. In the words of Louis Brandeis, one of the greatest of our Supreme Court justices, “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”
Yet look at just a few recent headlines: this one from “The New York Times”: “U.S. Wealth Gap Is Widest in Decades”. From the website Alternet: “Just 40 Americans Own As Much Wealth As Half the United States.” From Slate.com: “The Great Wealth Meltdown: Middle-Class Families Are Worth Less Today Than in 1969.” And from “The Economist”: “Wealth without workers, workers without wealth,” pointing to the reality that “for all but an elite few, work no longer guarantees a rising income.”
So as the next generation steps forward, I am tempted to think that the only thing my generation can say to them is: we’re sorry. Sorry for the mess you’re inheriting. Sorry we broke the trust. But I know in my heart that’s not what they ask or expect. So instead I recommend to them the example of Senator Robert La Follette of Wisconsin, another of my heroes from the past. He battled the excesses of the first Gilded Age a century ago so boldly and proudly that he went down in history as “Fighting Bob.” He told us, “…democracy is a life; and involves continual struggle.” I keep asking myself, what if that struggle is the palpable reality without which this world would be truly barren?
So to this new generation I say: over to you, welcome to the fight.
Are you ready?