by Charles Marowitz
(Swans - November 2, 2009) As the fortunes of Goldman Sachs, AIG, Bank of America, and other like institutions improve and the unemployment rate rises and house foreclosures continue to mount, it becomes clear that Wall Street is once again beginning to prosper while a large majority of Americans are falling even further into the sinkhole. The bailouts have bailed out only the first-class survivors of a titanic crash; the 2nd and 3rd class passengers in steerage have been left to drown in cold and treacherous waters.
The buzz suggests that Obama's love affair with bipartisanship has led him into a quicksand pit and as one journalist recently observed, "We know Obama has good values but we don't know if he has convictions." In short, there is bitter disappointment about the forsaken promises the new administration made during the election and the measly, almost non-existent changes that have followed in their wake.
This tends to prompt commentators to analyze the reasoning behind these non-events. Many give the new administration the benefit of the doubt; they point out that ten months into a new presidency is barely enough time to identify the problems let alone solve them. But many of those problems were diagnosed during the course of the Bush presidency only to be perpetuated under Obama -- viz. the removal of "rendition," which is simply a diversion of torture to slimy foreign nations more suited to the practice, the continued existence of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, the legalization of gay marriage, the closure of Guantánamo, the intrusions into personal privacy, etc.
Grievances with the Obama administration are arising in a national atmosphere that regularly draws comparisons with the Depression decade of the thirties. What people forget is that the changes ultimately made by Roosevelt were not only inspired by the poverty and financial breakdowns but by grievances that were expressed throughout the nation -- the clamor of the labor unions, the Communist agitations, and events like the Bonus Strikers march on Washington, D.C. Roosevelt, like others in his administration, was aware and concerned by the anger and social upheaval that the Depression created. There was an element of insurrection in the air and members of Congress of both parties were conscious that the nation could, at any moment, explode into the kind of revolt that, not all that long ago, had shaken Russia and roiled a defeated and divided Germany.
We tend to associate revolutions of that kind with an earlier, less politically-savvy age, although with recent events in the Balkans, Zimbabwe, Sudan, Latin America, and even Iran, we continue to see how social unrest can -- temporarily or permanently -- destabilize nations.
Although we disparage insurrections that threaten democracy, it is the pattern that poverty, militancy, and various degrees of social injustice cause rebellions. At this juncture in America, we can discern similar signs. The recession has given poverty a new face; people losing both their homes and their jobs, and watching as outrageous inequity between Wall Street and Main Street enriches some people and devastates others. The comics -- Leno, Stewart, Colbert, O'Brien -- satirize events that, outside the realm of late-night comedy, are harrowing and in many parts of the nation, deeply depressive. There is no misery that cannot be morphed into a hearty gag but when the economic consequences of social disparities hit home, the lighthearted atmosphere dries up and struggling families return to the despair that poverty breeds in those struggling to "make do" on little or nothing.
At certain times and under certain pressing circumstances, a social insurrection can produce more than wishy-washy analyses of agonizing social stringencies. In the 1960s, the nation was filled with demos and public debunking. It transformed the mood of the nation and was largely responsible for the termination of the Vietnam War. If the military build-up and accumulation of deaths and casualties continue in Afghanistan, it is conceivable that a financially-strapped, socially-impoverished populace will rise up and punish their elected leaders. The more the tenets of the Constitution are revealed to be fictional, hypocritical, or both, the more the prospect of social revolt increases. And maybe that's what a sharply divided America needs now more than ever. The unfeeling Republicans and the backtracking Democrats are in some inextricable way tied to the aggressive ignorance of commentators such as Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh and the spontaneous and orchestrated phenomena of the political tea parties. They are all in what appears to be an enemy camp and more and more Americans come to believe their divisive rhetoric demands an emboldened counterpunch. When political language has lost its credibility because it is bitterly contradicted by daily events, the soil is preparing itself to sprout opposition.
The grotesque disparity between the wages of working people (those still holding down jobs) and the bonuses being blithely passed on to financial wheeler-dealers -- flaunting unjustified wealth in the face of suffering masses -- brings to mind the political climate that existed before the outbreak of the French Revolution. Confronted by the fact that the people had no bread, Marie Antoinette quipped "Let them eat cake." Today's equivalent of that advice would probably be "Let them open their own hedge fund!"
The disclosures of graft and corruption by elected officials in the Congress -- virtually a regular feature of American politics but somehow more heinous in a period of economic meltdown, reinforces the nation's disillusionment with the criminality of elected officials. That, taken with the seemingly unending cases of Wall Street scandals among insiders such as Madoff and his cohorts and more recently, Raj Rajaratnam and his clan of devious Hedge Funders, a humiliated Chicago governor brazenly selling a vacant senate seat to the highest bidder, only reinforce the fact that behind the well-scrubbed façade of American democracy festers centuries of criminality that seem to be bred in the bone.
In such an America, frustration breeds despair, despair morphs into anger, anger into insurrection. Jefferson and his collaborators pegged it four centuries ago:
When in the Course of human Events [read repressive legislation], it becomes necessary for one People to dissolve the Political Bonds which have connected them with another, [read frustrated Democrats, embittered Republicans] and to assume among the Powers of the Earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them [i.e., shelter, sustenance, a living wage], a decent Respect to the opinions of Mankind [like those enshrined in the Constitution] requires that they should declare the causes [poverty, homelessness, financial inequality] which impel them to the Separation.
For many people in the USA, that "separation" has already begun -- not by choice but out of necessity.
Please consider making a donation.