(Swans - February 8, 2010) America was born in dissension. For as many colonists who subscribed to the Revolution, there were hordes who thought it foolhardy to take on the British. To acquire fertile land in the new continent, homesteaders waged war against the Native Americans, ultimately annihilating their warriors and destroying their culture -- the first national genocide. In the l9th century, the Civil War continued the ravages between one sect and another. Even after the war had been won by the North, it withheld citizenship rights to the blacks and, for another hundred years, treated them as second-class citizens. The Civil Rights Movement of the l960s, despite legislation proclaiming freedom for those who had been downtrodden, didn't entirely rectify the situation. Racism is still with us -- although now it is spread more broadly, stigmatizing Hispanics as it does blacks.
America in the 2lst century consists of irreconcilable differences between the two major political parties -- with regular skirmishes that now include Tea Partiers and frustrated Independents. Bipartisanship is a battlefield between conniving Republicans and belligerent Democrats and all of these hostilities are swept into a public domain where partisan bitterness has reached new heights of spite and acidity.
The atmosphere in America has become rife with strife and dotted with mounting anger against the inequalities that reward Wall Street criminals whose greed actually brought about the dichotomy with golden handshakes and millions in bonus payments. The sense of a nation besieged -- not only by foreign enemies but by social dissensions -- permeates every part of political discourse. The United States have never looked more disunited.
Through it all, politicians like Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele and Sarah Palin scavenge for lecture opportunities to enrich themselves by manipulating the strife to their own benefit; vital measures such as the Health Care Reform Bill are watered down to accommodate the insurance cartels, and the architects of the new laws are the very people (Larry Summers, Tim Geithner) whose practices were responsible for creating the fiasco in the first place.
The bitterness that pervades the nation is endemic. It is nourished by the fact that the real division in the country is essentially between Haves and Have-Nots -- and the Haves have never looked more affluent or the Have-Nots so bereft of income, property, opportunity, or dignity. In the midst of such turmoil, how can traditional American equality possibly survive? Those caught in these economic snares have truly become "a displaced generation" and we are told they will remain "displaced" well into 2011.
According to the myth, capitalism, by its very nature, must experience periods of boom and bust; it is an accepted symptom of the capitalist philosophy. But try telling that to those hundreds of thousands who have lost their homes and jobs. They are the ones most fobbed off by the myth of American equality and if an Iranian-styled revolt ever occurs here, it will be these millions of Have-Nots who will be shattering store windows, throwing stones, and setting the flag on fire.
With such glaring examples of inequality, it is preposterous to take refuge in old shibboleths. Poverty, and its inescapable aftermath, depression, rule the roost. Sub-standard living conditions and the personal tragedies that come in their wake cruelly mock the rhetoric about patriotism. A displaced farmer or auto worker denied sustenance and health care for himself and his family is deaf to the sound of political rhetoric and now throughout the nation there are millions who are turning despair into defeat. The interim stage between those two extremes is what often ignites revolt.
We have a recent lesson in national frustration by what is now brewing in Iran -- and although we instinctively draw a strong distinction between our democracy and their theocracy, we should take note of what happens when government avoids the cumulative complaints of the citizenry. Ignore or suppress a budding and widespread injustice and discontent fuels protest. Our democracy was forged in uprising and bloodshed and, over the decades, has frequently expressed its frustrations in similar ways. When a large majority of the population rises up in protest it is often due to social inequality, a sense that legitimate grievances are being trampled or ignored. With rising unemployment and a sense that national legislative maneuvers are victimizing the very people they are supposed to be helping, we run the risk of something very un-American taking place -- except that as we have seen during the struggle for civil rights, very American as well.
Of all the beliefs of Americans, one of the most cherished is equality. When jobs are lost, income reduced, and work opportunities dry up, it hits people where they live -- in the established routines of their daily lives. The "personal" rapidly becomes the "public" and people turn to their political leaders for guidance and assistance. But anyone turning to Washington today is confronted by favoritism, dissidence, graft, larceny, thievery, and criminality -- viz. senatorial seats sold to the highest bidder, widespread financial chicanery, and gross inequality between Wall Street and Main Street. It isn't exactly a return to the days of Al Capone -- gunfire and gang warfare -- more like Madoffism: subtle larceny and the studied fleecing of the innocent.
While we bothered our heads about whether Conan O'Brien or Jay Leno would survive, and ponder whether Sarah Palin will be our next president, the groundswell of hungry, angry, jobless, and insolvent Americans drowns out the din.
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