BY VERN TURNER
For the last seven years, or so, I’ve been writing a regular and irregular column for a couple of newspapers, three books [a fourth in work] and a host of e-mails to a variety of organizations, media and individuals. This “body” of work has mostly focused on the state of American politics, and how they relate to the operation of our society and its many facets. The emphasis of these articles was directed toward the well-being, or lack of it, for the middle classes. I’ve tried to educate from a historical point of view using undistorted facts to illustrate what worked and what didn’t for the majority of my fellow Americans.
As we approach our mid-term elections, we find that about half of our population doesn’t know that they are coming. In spite of lousy jobs, jobs going to foreign countries, low pay, growing inequality, a gridlocked government, racial turmoil, underfunded and crumbling infrastructure, continuing war, deteriorating schools, unsustainable student debt, racism on the rise and a nearly completely corrupt government at all levels, the people don’t see their duty.
We the people will, therefore, get what we deserve.
The Constitution is being touted as the saving document by right-wingers while the courts and Congress shred it to the whim of their benefactors and the voting public says, “What?”
Dealing with rightwing crazies bordering on fascism [if not outright fascists] is tiring, frustrating and, in the end, non-productive. True believers of every stripe tend not to listen to anything but the sounds in their own echo chambers. It is illustrative to watch and listen to comics and news people interview “the man on the street.”
When asked if they like the segments of the ACA that provides health care to them and their families, they say yes. But when asked how they like “ObamaCare,” they say that it is a disaster and doesn’t help anyone.
Even while the unbiased summaries show that the ACA is working and reducing health care costs across the board, Texas’ [and many other states’] politicians continue to claim that it is a fiscal disaster that will bankrupt the nation. If one asks the “impertinent” question about how cutting taxpayer cost causes bankruptcy, they’ll respond with some anti-Obama epithet about how he made the moon out of green cheese.
I try to read history books whenever I can. I watched the Ken Burns series on the Roosevelts with great interest. The single most over-arching theme in our political history is rancor. We elect politicians who feel obliged to disparage everyone’s character, family ancestry and reason for living without limit. The volatility, vituperation and vehemence have always been there – even Washington was hung in effigy.
These times are different. We have a slavering media competing for advertising dollars, so “if it bleeds, it leads” is no longer just a punch line.
In the 1850s, the divisiveness ended up allowing the Civil War to cast its bloody shadow across the land. Following that horror show, Reconstruction exhibited yet more vile behavior and verbiage that coursed through our government and land. The radicals on both sides hurled brickbats like they were snowballs.
One side wanted blacks to be used as vengeance weapons against Southern whites while the other wanted to delay suffrage of blacks for fear of another uprising by whites, but this time in the North. Andrew Johnson was vilified for his attempts to fulfill Lincoln’s legacy and implementation of reconstruction. It’s a wonder we survived that war, too.
President Theodore Roosevelt was a blatant progressive and imperialist. He was also a Republican. He fought like blazes for the rights of the common man and was attacked by his own party for doing so.
TR fronted the ideas in his Fair Deal that his nephew, Franklin, expanded and implemented in the New Deal. The result? Franklin Roosevelt is still vilified by Republicans for “giving away the store” and “creating a socialist society.”
The general public, however, were saved from starvation, inhuman labor practices, abject and continuing ignorance and the unbridled greed of the ruling classes. Yes, it is class warfare. It’s always been about class warfare.
FDR also introduced the antithesis to Republican-style economics by employing the obviously correct logic of Keynesian principles of getting money circulating in the system in order to get people working and spending and paying taxes. Why this concept is so abhorrent to Republicans can only be answered by who are their primary benefactors.
FDR was addressed as “that man in the White House” by Republicans because they wouldn’t mention his name. Today, President Obama is addressed in much less flattering terms by Republicans and the citizens he is constitutionally required to represent. Surf the blogosphere of “conservative” websites to fill in the blanks here.
Yes, George W. Bush was vilified by the left for his stupidity, corruption, incompetence and horrible decisions, but he was never labeled with epithets like President Obama has and is being labeled. The level of rancor, vituperation and vileness from all sorts of media is the worst I can find from history. I say it is the “worst” because it does so much to undermine the quality of our human and American character.
History also shows us that we have made progress in human rights, civil rights, feminism and racial issues. The sweeping wave of allowing gay people to marry is gaining momentum and is finally supporting that sometimes inconvenient statement carved into the stones of the Supreme Court building about everyone being protected by the law.
[Editor’s Note: The U.S. Supreme Court just today paved the way for marriage equality in Oklahoma, declining to hear the state’s appeal of a 10th U.S. Circuit Court ruling that Oklahoma’s same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional.]
It seems silly, in retrospect, for the stigma of homosexuality to still be a stigma. Science has shown that it is at least partially a genetic issue, but “conservatives” still think it’s a choice; probably because they don’t want to admit that it is the parents’ genes that cause it. The churches, of course, misinterpret the Bible to make the 12% of ours’ and the world’s population evil: yet another straw man for them to knock over.
My friends and I have had several spirited discussions about Obama’s presidency and how the society has received it. As much as I laud the “progress” of our society in racial terms, I am also made quite aware, daily, at how fragile that progress is.
The coded racial lexicon of the right – or “conservatives” – says how painful it is for these folks to have their racial scabs ripped off by obvious progress. This also speaks to the remarkable irony of the definition of the word conservative and how it is practiced in the real world.
Clearly, a significant population wants nothing to do with racial equality or any other fair practice for those not just like them. That 35% is the Republican base and they are not interested in changing for the better. Maybe they want to preserve the worst of the past rather than the best of it.
The uniqueness of these current times is centered on how our Congress has behaved since this president took office. No sooner had Barack Obama’s hand lifted off the Bible in 2009 than Republicans started telling us how they were going to thwart this president.
Other than the obvious, the skin color, why would they do this? Didn’t they have enough knowledge of the Constitution to know that it asked for a partnership between the branches of government, not some little child’s response to not getting its way by one political party or the other?
I guess not, because the Republicans in both houses of Congress and those on the Supreme Court have done everything in their power to make this administration look weak, ineffective, incompetent and failing. Well, the 8% approval rating of Congress vs. the 45% approval for the president shows who failed the people the most.
Yes, this president has made his mistakes – as all do. Chief among them was assuming that the Republicans in Congress actually intended to govern. He kept trying and making concessions that upset Democrats and independents alike. Nothing.
This obstructionism, laid completely at the feet of the Republican Party, has cost our country vast amounts of money [$25 billion just for the shutdown], world-wide standing and a dangerous ignoring of our crumbling infrastructure. Why would they do that?
There are more than two reasons, but the primary reason, in my view, is who pays the Republicans to run for office and who lobbies them constantly to fulfill the backward-thinking ideals of no social services, no public education, no taxes on the rich and the foolish expectancies of trickle-down [Milton Friedman’s abortive Supply Side] economics.
When Republicans say they want less government then promptly expand government to unprecedented levels, one knows what their real motives are and they are not wholesome, all-American ones. The crown of thorns to this practice is an absence of the chief success of our form of government: compromise.
The second reason that drives Republican obstructionism is the myth of all white, Christian nationhood. They are still fighting the Civil War in the red, Southern states [25% think secession is a good thing] and float all sorts of lies and fears about Muslims, the new enemy now that the Soviet Union’s communism is essentially dead.
It’s one bogeyman after another with these guys, because they have no agenda that serves the population in general.
The founding fathers did not commit this nation to Christiandom, no matter how many times Michelle Bachmann tries to tell us that. The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled in favor of separation of church and state. Though, with a couple more backward-thinking justices like Scalia, Alito and Thomas, that might change.
This essay will be my last for the foreseeable future as I step back, take a deep breath and attend to the other, more important aspects of my life. I will finish my fourth book then, perhaps, delve into fiction writing. That fiction might include what an ideal, constitutional republic might look like if it was run honestly and where ALL the people actually voted instead of only half of them.
I have books to read, golf to play, hobbies to perform and gardening to do. I will teach science to those trying to get their GED and actually become productive citizens. I will travel when I can and chronicle the places I visit. It’s been very hard on my psyche – such as it is – to chronicle this time since 2007 where my country has writhed in government incompetence, wildly backward thinking, ad-hoc rightwing extremism, illegal wars for the sake of foreign oil security, mindlessly backward and naïve politics from all sides, and a rapidly increasing rate of public school and education decline.
I never imagined that just in my adult lifetime we could go from crowning achievements like landing on the moon and intra-stellar exploration to a vicious, stupid, dishonest, vituperation-as-normal political environment even after seeing the lessons from history at how worthless it is if there is no compromise and the heartbreak of seeing middle class citizens working more for less as they are pushed into poverty.
I don’t think we’ve bottomed out yet in this cycle of our existence, but if we haven’t, the worst is yet to come and I wonder how much worse can it get.
Will there really be another revolution? Will we have labor riots like we did since the Civil War ended? Will we keep fighting wars with our own mercenary armies? Will we finally destroy our economic system with a 1984 style oligarchy in control? Or will we finally wake up as a people and start becoming active in our politics such that the big money people are excluded from buying the law, the lawmakers and the citizens?
If the latter doesn’t occur then we will either have another revolution fulfilling Karl Marx’s predictions for capitalism, or we will meekly devolve into a medieval style of existence like the ones that failed in Europe several hundred years ago.
The choice belongs to those reading this essay and to whom they send it. The choice belongs to the people you readers can influence with the truth. Step up. Your country depends on it.
– Vern Turner is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer. He lives in Marble Falls, TX, where he writes a regular column for the River Cities Daily Tribune. He is the author of three books – A Worm in the Apple: The Inside Story of Public Schools, The Voters Guide to National Salvation and Killing the Dream: America’s Flirtation With Third World Status – all available through Amazon.com.