American history is like a book in which every generation writes a chapter. Some of the chapters have been glorious while others have been tragic; the chapter we’re in is one in which we’re teetering on an edge between the two. It is a time of precipitous decline, and it remains to be seen whether we will create an anti-gravitational forcefield powerful enough to pull us out of our decline before it’s too late. Should we not, this book of American democracy will most probably come to a close.
Our downward trajectory is obvious and at this point needs neither further description nor endless analysis. What is needed now is the urgent work of intervention. While it’s important to recognize how we drove so recklessly to the edge of a cliff, what’s even more important is that we immediately put the car in reverse. Our ability to do that – or not – will ring for ages. One way or the other, historians will be referring to this chapter of our history for many, many years. It will be remembered either as a time of the greatest threat to our nation since the Civil War but one in which a generation of Americans pulled back from the brink of national self-destruction; or it will be remembered as the tragic end to what was once a great experiment in democratic self-governance.
At a time when another generation of Americans faced an ordeal potentially deadly to our democracy, Abraham Lincoln said these words: “As our case is new, we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves and then we shall save our country.” We too must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves of the naïve belief that the system will disrupt itself, or that neoliberal economics (basically letting corporations run everything), covertly destructive of genuinely democratic aims, will ever bend to the demands of humanitarian values much less to the will of the American people.
At the battle of Gettysburg, Lincoln said the soldiers who died there had given “the last full measure of devotion” that a “government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth.” Yet truth be told – and we’re at a point now where it must be told – such a government is perishing now. Government of the people, by the people and for the people has been replaced by government of the corporations, by the corporations, and for the corporations. A supposedly free market has trampled over the needs of a free people, denying to millions of our citizens adequate health care, affordable education, criminal justice, the possibility of a middle class existence, or even the reasonable guarantee of healthy water, food, or air.
There came a point in the mid 19th century when there could be no further compromise with the institution of slavery; it simply had to end. Today there should be no further compromise with the corporate overreach which has replaced democracy as the governing principle of our country. The corporate matrix of insurance, pharmaceutical, chemical, food, agriculture, gun manufacturing, fossil fuel and defense contracting industries – through their gargantuan financial power to influence elections, and their hegemonic power to turn everything into a commodity and everyone into a consumer – must be challenged at last by the only force powerful enough to do so: the American people.
We are standing at a precipice now, with only one of two options going forward. Our present disquiet is unsustainable. We will either descend into the abyss of an authoritarian dystopia, or we will ascend into the genuine trajectory of a new birth of freedom. We cannot and will not remain where we are. If we do not wage a peaceful revolution against the forces of neoliberalism, there will be a violent revolution born of blind and unknowing rage against its consequences.
The neofascist threat in our midst did not come out of nowhere, nor did it emerge full blown from the malignant ravings of one narcissistic man. It came just as surely from the timidity and indifference of those who came before him. It was the inevitable result of a soulless economic order that has sent an unfettered American capitalism flying off its rails. The neoliberal agenda of obsessive deregulation, privatization, tax cuts for the wealthy and austerity for everyone else, was sprung upon us full bore by a Republican president, yes, but no Democratic president stopped it. For over forty years our government – which according to the Declaration of Independence was instituted to secure for every American “the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” – has in its whoredom to corporate donors withheld from the American people what FDR referred to as “the blessings of democracy.” And just as he warned, in the absence of those blessings the demon of fascism has appeared in our midst.
Absolutely no one should be surprised.
It is time now not simply to bemoan this, but to stop it.
John F. Kennedy said that those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable. The political revolution called for in the presidential campaigns of Senator Bernie Sanders should continue now, whether or not in the context of a presidential campaign but definitely in the context of a mass movement of Americans for whom enough is enough. Even now, today, Republican leaders are talking about cutting Social Security and Medicare. At a time of staggering inflation, brought about in no small part by corporate greed, they are actually talking about making things harder for people who are hardly making it at all. This is not just wrong. It is merciless.
And it is intolerable.
This country was born of the rejection of tyranny; we rejected it once and we need to reject it again. Neither the landed aristocracy of 18th century England nor the corporate aristocracy of 21st century America has the right to tyrannize the American people. American capitalism has more than swerved out of its lane; it has knocked down every appropriate guardrail, causing untold damage to the people, animals and land on the other side. A quest for righteous profit is now replaced too often by financial exploitation – of workers, communities and planet – propagated by an uncaring class of the rich and powerful. It has gone too far. The reign of parasitic greed has got to end.
Kudos to the union organizers who are pushing back. Kudos to the progressive activists and politicians who are pushing back. Kudos to millions of people throughout this country who in their own ways, large and small, are pushing back. Americans are standing up today to overreach by capital, as they have stood up and pushed back in generations past. This chapter of American history isn’t over. Its close is as yet unwritten. Will American democracy be done, or will it in our time be reborn? That is an answer we will arrive at collectively. Our destiny, and the destiny of our country, is ours to create.