What a week! Emotions running the gamut, flying high only to plummet in a tailspin. Hints of transcendent energy peeking out from behind darkening clouds, teasing us with possibility and then fleeing the scene. Hopes of awakening from a long political nightmare dashed by the votes of those who should know better. My dear friend — and retired union rep — Fishin’ Jim likes to say that our freedom can’t be taken from us, but we can sure as hell give it away. Wisconsin proved him right.
If you’re wondering what those folks were thinking — how thirty-something percent of union families could vote for a man dedicated to the demise of their lifestyle and future security — then perhaps you’ve noticed that here, in post-rational America, we’re obsessed with things that aren’t real.
We create enemies we can go after and are subconsciously afraid of those who actually threaten us, so intimidated that we never glance their way. For instance, unable (and largely unwilling) to hold Wall Street accountable for criminal misdeeds, we are holding Main Street responsible for asking too big a share of what’s left.
In addition, we’ve bought this austerity business hook, line and sinker while handily ignoring how similar policy has created emergency in Europe.
This is as painful to contemplate as ‘moderate’ ex-Senator, Alan Simpson — charged by the president as co-chair of a commission that gave us the budgetary recommendations known as Simpson-Bowles — accusing the California Alliance for Retired Americans of being “a wretched group of seniors” and “greedy geezers” for depending on Social Security insurance. Oh yes, Mr. Simpson is a clod, but he and his friends, preoccupied with austerity measures, have discovered how to strike a dangerous and small-minded note in the nation’s psyche, causing the self-interested and fearful to decide that public workers must be punished for thinking their unions will protect them from having to work well into old age, and suggesting that seniors everywhere must come to terms with cat-food recipes.
To the naive, Simpson — along with pundits like Tom Friedman and David Brooks, who seem always anxious to embrace a new center-right — is a crusader for moderate ideas and practical solutions that sustain establishment politics. It always boils down to whom we listen to, and listening to any of these guys will rot our brains, but what to do? We’ve been pushed so far right at this point that the dramatic and inspiring history of the union movement, written in the life’s blood of the working class, has been forgotten by a population no longer taught the responsibilities of citizenship. Big money and corporate power are currently celebrating their flagging influence, happy that insulting blowhards like Alan Simpson have the ear of the nation and America is the loser. But you and I love this country, and we’ve come so far, we can’t give up now.
I think the public might not have been so easily turned if the nation didn’t have a decades-old, on-going accountability problem. Like everyone else, I wish Obama had gone after the banksters earlier, but I see that the task force he created to investigate the financial crisis is projecting some aggressive activity in the fall. Maybe that’s perfect timing, what with Romney suddenly leading some polls and employment numbers falling off the cliff. If I had the bully pulpit for just a moment, I’d remind the American people that eight years of Bush gave us this emergency, and then two years into recovery the pea-brains freaked out and gave us two more years of Republican nonsense. Now, in Wisconsin, we’re asking for another helping, while wondering why things aren’t looking up. I’d like the world to take a really close look at itself, instead of pointing fingers and laying blame.
In Wisconsin, the Republicans spent $34.5 million — $30 million more than the Dem contender — which did NOT include issue ads contributed by groups funded by the NRA, Koch brothers and Chamber of Commerce. It’s painfully obvious that corporate America is trying to punch a stake through the heart of the union movement to provide itself cheap labor, yet the public can’t seem to see the obvious. Me, I can’t imagine thinking that teachers, firefighters and cops are too uppity to deserve their paycheck, but that’s where we are today. In this latest dumbed-down version of America, unions are the enemy of capitalism and public servants are their minions. In the mind of the uninformed, somebody has to pay for these hard times and Gawd forbid it be the banksters, the rogue capitalists, the politicos and their moneyed cronies or the 1% who pay a pittance to divide us into an infighting mob, unable to discern our own best interests. Better to attack the poor, the disenfranchised, and even those who serve the good of the public rather than piss off the corporate powers that control us.
Will the sleepers awaken in time? Even as I tell you we still have a long night ahead of us, I’m going to reassure you that dawn will break and Light will stream through the windows to illuminate all the dark corners, so take heart. We’re weary and we’re discouraged, but it will accomplish nothing to allow fear’s whisper that we cannot break through this density, that ignorance will prevail and humankind implode long before we can stop this assault on democracy. We must keep a picture of clarity, discovery and rationality in our mind’s-eye, an affirmation for the whole of humanity.
I’ve been using a quote by Sri Nisargadatta as my e-mail signature for some time now: “The mind creates the abyss, the heart crosses it.” The collective mind has created our current mess, hearts shut against compassion and civility, unable to cross the divide that separates us. We know this is driven by fears, and some of them loom large, especially among those who know they brought much of our current circumstance upon themselves. But we’ve lived through some hard times now, learned that what does not kill us makes us stronger, and if we’ve discovered that we still have a working brain on the other side of twelve-plus years of mayhem, then we’re among the blessed. It’s up to us to bring blessing, then, by continuing to point out the real threat to society and civility: the unchecked and unregulated money that the Koch brothers insist is “within the law,” the growing influence of commerce and corporation to sway the legal and political systems — the self-serving signature energy of the unopened heart.
We lost the skirmish in Wisconsin but we must refuse to allow someone else’s fears to shape the reality of the other 49 states. We must celebrate when adults rise above the stilted conversation to speak truth to power, as does Jon Stewart in this recent conversation with a Wall Street supporter. We need every open heart to speak its truth, every willing citizen to perform acts of courage and activism and provide encouragement to a world standing at a crossroads in history. We must remind everyone we know — including ourselves — that there is enough of everything we need, plenty to share, including a higher level of self-awareness and accountability. We’re better than our circumstances, finer than our aspirations. We are shifting the world’s understanding of itself from the bottom up, and we dare not close our hearts against the journey, whatever it brings.
Let’s trust where we find ourselves, then, mourn our latest disappointment and move along. Let’s remember who we are and where we’ve been. In the middle of the last century, with a tax rate on the rich close to 90%, commerce was making money, the middle-class was expanding nicely, and the culture was poised upon an awakening. In this new century, in the 11 years since Bush turned back taxes that might “interfere” with job creation at the top levels of income while doing nothing to prevent an off-shore manufacturing exodus, WHAT exactly has trickled down besides despair and growing inequality? If you can answer that question rationally, you’re part of the solution to our nations problem’s, and if you can answer it with a calm heart and a smile, you’re the answer to your own. Remember, it all works to good when we choose love.