In the Politics Aristotle says, “ The mere establishment of a democracy is not the only or principle business of the legislator, or of those who wish to create such a state, for any state, however badly constituted, may last one, two, or three days; a far greater difficulty is the preservation of it.” Today we are confronted with the preservation of American democracy in the face of an ongoing political assault on behalf of oligarchs and assorted religious zealots. Something has gone terribly wrong in a society when elected representatives of the polity are hell-bent on destroying that polity’s social contract on behalf of sociopathic billionaires.
At the end of the film King of Hearts, Alan Bates’ character enrolls himself in an insane asylum to escape the madness of war. Where do we go to escape the madness this country is becoming? Whether it’s a U.S. Representative speaking about an imminent attack on US soil by the ISIS group, “Boca Raton”, or a cop in Jackson, Mississippi feeling sufficiently threatened by a 6 year old child to draw his revolver, or the Georgia legislator who introduced legislation to prohibit the mixing of human embryos with jelly fish cells to prevent creating “glow in the dark” children. We are sailing along the shores of insanity. It’s a refrain from a Pink Floyd tune, “… and everyday the paperboy brings more” that comes to mind.
There are large segments of the American population easily manipulated by shameless politicians and propaganda media outlets like Fox to enflame their emotions and anger. Roger Ailes, the Fox News President, goes so far as to say, “The truth is whatever people will believe.” According to a study done last year, 60% of the information Fox viewers receive ranges from mostly false to “pants on fire” lies which rise to the level of propaganda. Insecurity, ignorance, fear, anger, and resentment are thus driven by outright misrepresentation and lies. And this leads to, as one writer put it, a “… mis-recognition of social orders as natural ways of life, rather than political products.” How can a society function in the wake of such an onslaught? Actually, it cannot as people become angrier and ever more resentful.
Resentment is epidemic as politicians play as many segments of society off against one another as they can devise. It is important to understand that people probably wouldn’t agree to being characterized as resentful but this circumstance has historical precedence. Tocqueville, described the build-up to the French revolution as having been a period of relative affluence and “gratified expectations” followed by “a period of set-back when expectations continued to rise and were sharply disappointed.” We are seeing the same dynamics now as more and more good paying jobs are shipped overseas resulting in diminished wages even as prices for necessities inexorably rise. A trip to the grocer is a lesson in point. Young people and old are looking for work and middle class families with jobs are living on credit with foreclosure breathing down their necks. The result is fear, uncertainty, acted out as anger ready to be manipulated and focused.
To make matters worse, legislatures, at the instigation of their wealthy sponsors, are moving to freeze or lower minimum wage levels as they advance so-called right-to-work (RTW) laws. In New Mexico where right to work is being considered there is even mockery as a legislator had the unmitigated gall to attach an amendment to the RTW bill raising the state’s minimum wage by 50 cents per hour which, over an eight hour day, amounts to less than the cost of a gallon of milk. Such is the disregard and disdain for working class people and why they are being driven to resentment. Resentment against what or whom they aren’t always sure but, more often than not, against the wrong people. People who post nasty on Facebook against any statement in support of the poor or against the looting of the American social contract are desperately afraid that they are next, and in fact, they probably are next.
Oligarchs behind social destruction are using their money to manufacture popular anger and direct attention away from themselves as they manipulate the legislative process at all levels. Resentment of minorities, the under-class, and intellectuals is frothed into anger the energy of which is directed as we see, in the rise of demonstrations of open bigotry and misogyny across the country. Today people feel free to publicly utter vile comments as, for example, the South Carolina legislator who publicly declared women to be a “lesser cut of meat.” In Alaska, a Republican Legislator, Don Young, told his colleagues who were debating controlling predator wolves, “I’d like to introduce them in your district. If I introduced them in your district you wouldn’t have a homeless problem anymore.”
Public education and educators are also under attack. Along with other Republican Governors around the country, Wisconsin’s Walker is cutting budgets for state schools, Oklahoma is eliminating advanced placement classes to replace them with bible studies, and in New Mexico and other states a meaningless and counter-productive third grade retention crusade is underway. A Virginia Congressman believes the country doesn’t need to spend money on education because Socrates “trained Plato on a rock.” It brings to mind the film, Slumdog Millionaire, and the crippling of children to make them better beggars. Pity the children.
Pity the country also when people on an anti-social rampage work to abolish the most civilized aspects of society - public education, public welfare, health care, safety standards, any and all things public. A jihad against all things civil. If they are successful, there will no longer be a society nor a viable democratic polity. As one author succinctly put it, “In the Soviet Union, capitalism triumphed over communism. In this country, capitalism triumphed over democracy.”