It’s worse than we think

Do not give up. Progress is not linear. It doesn’t come in a day, or a month, or a year, or in a single campaign. But it comes.

— Matt Rothschild, editor of The Progressive magazine, writing about the Wisconsin recalls 

We’re glad that so many progressives are unbowed by the painful drubbing in the Wisconsin recall elections. We hope Rothschild and others, whom we admire and respect, are ultimately proven right. But, actually, we don’t see it — the evidence, that is. We don’t see it.

It seems quite possible that the period of 30 or so years after World War II was an aberration. It was a time when Americans prospered rather generally, when the middle class exploded, when access to good education and higher education broadened significantly, when civil rights actually grew, and the promise of democracy and a sense of common purpose lifted hopes and aspirations for the future. It was quite possibly an aberration, a blip in history.

Not just a blip in American history, or recent history, but in human history.

We humans have definitely shown some good ability at cooperating to defend ourselves or take resources from the less adept, but through it all, we evolved, like our primate ancestors, living in dominance hierarchies. Isn’t it at least possible that in America, sometime around 30 years ago, the dominant members of our society came to notice that wealth, education, leisure, and even political influence were becoming too widely shared? Maybe it made them uncomfortable? Blacks were gaining, women were gaining, hippies were just acting crazy. Whatever the causes, a great rebalancing started around 1980 when Ronald Reagan ascended to the Presidency.

And, as we can see, it has not stopped. It’s accelerated. It’s fair to say that representative democracy has been dead at the federal level for over a decade. Corporations and wealthy contributors simply own it. Only “the 1%” fund campaigns. Large banks are above the law, bank executives likewise. In Citizens United, the U.S. Supreme Court ensured that high level governance would be overwhelmingly funded by (and then serve) the very, very wealthy. The 1% are courted (are needed) by both political parties — the Republicans are happily in thrall to this corruption, and the Democrats are sufficiently corrupted that they pose very few problems. The national media is owned by the same 1%, and even many of the well-known journalists and pundits (dare we call them “workers”?) are members of the 1%. The wealthy have now gone on to invest in governors, state legislatures, and state supreme courts.  It’s not necessary to buy them all; it’s just nice to buy enough.

And then, of course, they buy us. Again, not all of us, but enough. There’s a constant campaign for mindshare. A very significant cohort of us live in a Fox News alternative universe of information and beliefs and “knowledge”. If it’s not on Fox, we don’t believe it. The 1% own Fox. Of course, they own Lee Enterprises, too. They own Clear Channel Broadcasting. They own 95% of the news and entertainment media we know and love (or… hate, it’s doesn’t really matter). We are almost completely enveloped in a commercial web owned and operated by the very wealthy. We cannot escape, anymore than a person living in an Arab country can escape from its all-pervasive religious atmosphere.

There’s a global warming catastrophe on the way. It is not strictly a future problem; it’s happening now and will continue to accelerate. Lots of people know this, but not enough. Obviously the 1% has decided, through some strange pathology of mind or character, not to act, even on behalf of their own children. And so it will happen. Maybe they think they will ride it out comfortably in well-guarded mountaintop castles. Maybe they’re just not thinking about it. The 1% may be conditioned to think that, except for growing old, nothing bad can ever happen to them. That’s not true, of course. But great wealth doesn’t mean great intelligence, and certainly not great compassion. Often great wealth was never “earned” in any sense but simply inherited. Consider Louis XVI, the absolute monarch of France, and his lovely wife.

So we are busily engaged in debates about how to deprive workers of their benefits while incentivizing business owners to create some jobs, or at least not leave the city/state or country.

We are constantly at war.

We have the highest rate of child poverty in the developed world, while ranking ninth worst in social spending according to the OECD. Half of poor children end up in the penal system.

We can’t repair bridges because that might produce jobs, and then that could benefit the other political party.

We have simply lost control of the democracy — the Congress, the executive, the courts, and the press — everything that would allow us to discuss, and reverse, our downward spiral. Will something change? Doubtless. Will a new leader appear? Will an infectious pandemic appear? Probably both and a lot more. If the 1% remain in charge, there’s no reason to feel all too hopeful.