Let me pose a few questions to everyone. Please be as honest with yourself as possible.
- Do you vote in EVERY election, for every governmental position and ballot issue? (Or do you only vote during presidential election years?)
- Do you research every candidate and issue thoroughly before you vote? (Or do you just vote based on party, or just guess?)
- Do you follow political issues on non-election years? (Or do you ignore them in lieu of something more fun?)
- Do you talk with your friends and co-workers about the political issues that matter to you? (Or do you abide by the adage “Never talk about politics or religion”?)
- Do you watch, listen to or read the news routinely? (Or do you avoid it unless some tragedy occurs?)
- Do you ever sign petitions or join protests or boycotts for political issues? (Or do you avoid becoming involved in political issues and movements?)
- Do you hold elected representatives in the United States accountable for all of their actions? (Or do you trust that they are generally trustworthy and good people with your best interests at heart?)
- Do you believe that the world can be changed for the better through political and social action? (Or do you believe that we are all powerless and the status quo is good enough that we shouldn’t complain?)
If you replied “Yes” to the parenthetical questions more often than the initial questions, we need to talk. You are betting that auto-pilot politics will give you a good life.
If you keep politics at a distance…you are giving your trust wholeheartedly to people that you barely hold accountable for their actions or decisions.
It’s not hard to put together what I mean by “auto-pilot politics.” If you keep politics at a distance, if you choose rather to focus on entertainment, work, hobbies, etc., to the exclusion of observing and forming substantive opinions of the major political issues of your local, state and national governments, then you are participating in auto-pilot politics. You are giving your trust wholeheartedly to people that you barely hold accountable for their actions or decisions.
This is the mindset of most of America, I fear. It likely has been for two or three decades.
We have allowed politicians – Republicans and Democrats – to remove compassion from our government. The visages of benign and thoughtful leaders like Lincoln and FDR have receded into the fog, only to be replaced by corporate-funded Machiavellian liars with no concern at all for anyone not making huge donations to their re-election campaigns. We have stood by silently (for the most part) as these monsters infiltrated all three branches of our federal government – likewise across every state in the union – and twisted our laws to the point that their bribes from monopolistic “transnational” businesses now have more legitimate voice in the halls of government than do the voices of actual citizens.
This is not a a partisan accusation, mind you. I reiterate: Republicans and Democrats have perpetuated this crime. Income alone amongst the members of Congress should be an indicator of this: Over 50% of the 534 members of Congress are millionaires. Some – again both Republicans and Democats – are actually worth hundreds of millions. Ask yourself why we believe populating our highest branches of government with obscenely rich people will lead to laws and policies that truly help the poor, working and middle classes. Not to be cynical, but very few people get to be millionaires by doing social work or blue collar jobs. Congress today is made up mostly of lawyers and former “campaign aides, lobbyists, members of think tanks and employees of public-interest jobs.” These aren’t people who practice empathy and compassion so much as they practice public relations “spin” and “optics.” They are quite literally political “actors.”
Rest assured this is not merely a response to the cataclysmic presidential election last week. This is a response to a year-long awakening of a former die-hard Democrat. I would have answered far too many of the parenthetical questions affirmatively two years ago. I was very successful, working a well-paying corporate job and, while always interested in politics, gave it far too little scrutiny until it was too late. Many of us are guilty of this.
This is not a a partisan accusation, mind you. I reiterate: Republicans and Democrats have perpetuated this crime… Democrats are no less capable of being compassionless than are Republicans.
This isn’t cynicism. This is clarity. Not only have we allowed our government to be purchased and herded to the far right side of the political spectrum, but we have abdicated control of our news media to the very Gilded Age patrons who herded the politicians. The Telecommunications Act of 1996, signed into law by Bill Clinton, cleared the way for the monopolization of news media into only six companies. Local newspapers died faster than flies over the last 20 years. Local newsrooms became satellites of national media organizations that spit out generic national news while understaffing and underpaying local journalists who would previously have held local and state politicians in check. News rooms have become quiet due to both fewer reporters being hired and more censorship by their corporate boardrooms and CEOs. The term “corporate media” came into our lexicon and its actors have been smothering investigative journalism ever since.
To hammer home the point about news media, consider a recent episode of the comedy news show “Last Week Tonight” on HBO. The show’s host, John Oliver, was “reporting” on the decline of newspapers and local news across the country. He spoke to a number of reporters and former reporters who were essentially being budget-starved out of doing journalism of any substance. At the end of the segment, Oliver blamed a lot of this on consumers who were unwilling to “pay for news,” particularly on the new medium of the internet. The story suggested that technical advances had contributed greatly to the death of investigative journalism.
What Oliver failed to mention – ever – was the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and the extreme monopolization of news media over the last two decades. What bears mentioning – what demands to be shouted directly at Oliver and his staff – is that HBO is a subsidiary of Time Warner, one of the six corporations that own almost all news media in the United States. Jovial, intelligent and quick-witted John Oliver is literally an actor, of course; but in this case he is a political actor as well. And his actions are deceitful and compassionless.
(After the 2008 financial crash,) what did Obama do? He saved the banks. Gave them (and continues to give them) trillions of dollars of taxpayer money. Sent one Credit Suisse banker to prison. One. Filled his cabinet with former hedge fund managers and Wall Street millionaires.
Between our corporate-owned “news” and our corporate-owned “politicians” our government has been staging a kabuki theater of culture wars to distract us from the gutting of our social safety net. Welfare reform, also signed into law by Bill Clinton, virtually eliminated financial assistance for families struggling to make a living, giving states control over the administration of federal funds, and leading to wild mismanagement and cruel restrictions of time and amount of assistance on eligible recipients. As a result, eight years after the Great Recession, millions of Americans are in dire poverty, income inequality is spiraling out of control, and children in the United States are starving.
Of course, millions more Americans are in prison, too. Again, thanks to Bill Clinton and the Congress of 1994, a mentality of “three strikes and your out” and harsh mandatory sentences for non-violent drug crimes has engendered the largest increase of imprisonment of a population in global history. Today, there are over 2.3 million people in prison in the United States. In 1980, that number was 329,821. In 1994, when the bipartisan “tough on crime” bill was passed, that number was just over 1 million. That’s a one-hundred percent increase since 1994 in the incarceration of Americans, and many of these inmates are serving much longer sentences than in decades past, usually for non-violent drug offenses.
I reiterate yet again: This was a bipartisan action by our government.
Did you even know this?
Democrats are no less capable of being compassionless than are Republicans.
Consider that in 2009, immediately after his election, President Obama had swept into office with a mandate – I don’t use this word lightly, for the real estate crash literally gave him one – to clean up the banking industry that had so recklessly and irresponsibly destroyed the economy. Over 5 trillion dollars in pension money, real estate value, 401k, savings and bonds had disappeared. Eight million people lost their jobs. Six million people lost their homes. What did Obama do?
He saved the banks. Gave them (and continues to give them) trillions of dollars of taxpayer money. Sent one Credit Suisse banker to prison. One. Filled his cabinet with former hedge fund managers and Wall Street millionaires. In the meantime, virtually no relief was provided to millions of Americans underwater on the mortgages because of the outrageously irresponsible behavior of the big banks. Despite the populist wind at his back, Obama presided over the most anemic reaction to a financial disaster that you could imagine. The banks recovered. The economy for the very rich recovered. The economy of working Americans hasn’t. Income inequality is skyrocketing, rivaling that of the Gilded Age of the 1920s.
We trusted party “brands,” not people, and it has done far more than bite us on the ass now and for decades. It may very well undo the country entirely.
Objections to the bank bailout were ignored by the press and the public for the most part. A partisan spin was put on it eventually, thus misdirecting legitimate anger about the inequities of the recovery into a culture war issue, not the class war issue that it actually was. Occupy Wall Street came and went, largely ridiculed by the media, Republicans and Democrats. Meanwhile, the Tea Party movement erupted and grew into a major political force. Democrats ridiculed them, too, but Republicans have mostly used them to reclaim the mantle of “the party of the people.” Not that they’ve done anything to help working people; they’ve merely put on the disguise of populists and said populist things to get elected. They then promptly resume their efforts to destroyed and diminish the government so that they can, per Grover Norquist, “drown it in a bathtub.”
Obama furthermore did more to help corporations than to help actual people when his administration quickly discarded the “public option” during the healthcare reform debates. Despite the majority of the public favoring the idea, Obama’s administration pushed a Republican idea that would greatly benefit insurance companies. See how this keeps happening? Democratic presidents passing laws that put corporate profits over the public welfare. You have to give credit to the Republicans for bitching so incessantly and vehemently against the Affordable Care Act, when it really is the very answer they would have proposed themselves if pushed.
It’s all an illusion, folks. All made possible by those of us who took our quality of life and the integrity of government officials for granted. We trusted party “brands,” not people, and it has done far more than bite us on the ass now and for decades. It may very well undo the country entirely.
So, turn off the auto-pilot. Pay close attention. Don’t surrender. Don’t ignore the events of the day because they make you sad or tired or whatever. The country is in a steep descent, and we’ve got to find a way to stop it. In the meantime, the patience of Job will be required. Find your inner Martin Luther King, your Gandhi, your Lincoln, your Frederick Douglas, your Susan B. Anthony, your Mother Theresa. Whoever and whatever gives you hope and the will to fight, you need to grab hold of it and never let go.