I have been building this essay over the past couple of months, returning to it at various points in the recent political cycle. I suppose that before I lose sight of it’s central theme and my metaphors begin to morph into allegories it is time to give it a posting. I will use Eric Cantor’s primary defeat, which has been very big news this past week as a point of departure.
Cantor’s downfall (although he will likely land a well-paid job in K Street) is an illustration of where the rubber meets the road in the ideological divide within the Republican Party today. (It also means that the Republican Party has lost its annual winner of the Joseph Goebbels look-alike contest.) For thirty-four years the GOP has been playing the Reagan game of kowtowing to the Yahoo elements of the party composed of the Old South, Christian fundamentalists, anti-gay racists and such in order to get Republicans elected. But then the real agenda comes into play, which is to advance legislation and other policies that are primarily in the interests of Wall Street, and the rich Republican aristocracy. Universal gun ownership, anti-gay marriage, anti-immigration and such are simply a means to that end for the Repub establishment. But pols like Cantor get caught in the middle of it because they have to retain a reasonable crediblity to an incredibly unreasonable base. One along comes competition from within the party that runs to the right of them it is difficult for them to retain ideological purity. So now the Republicans are in a Faustian compact that is going to drag them further and further to the right farther and farther from the demographics that need to be appeased in order to win elections, and what happened to Cantor is what happens. This T-Party divisiveness will force Republicans to be more extra governmental – while pushing the argument that government is the enemy – working through so-called conservative think tanks, Christian organizations and of course FOX News. Within government their methods will essentially be denigration of liberal politicians by way of committee tactics like those of Darrell Issa on the Benghazi matter and others, filibuster, governmental shutdowns, and doing what they can to shut down on voting rights civil liberties and other matters through what controllably retain in State legislatures and in the US Supreme Court. They will, and one too, create a cultural rift that is more destructive than anything since the Civil War and may, in a sense, be rooted in the compost of that division itself.
I remember very well the morning (the real “Morning in America”) after the first Obama election, still having to shake myself a little to realize that a black man had actually become President of the United States. But elsewhere in the country with which I have an on-going love/pissed-off relationship there were guys doffing their pointy white hoods and giving one another bewildered looks; it had come to pass in their time, something incomprehensible and unbearably emasculatory, their worst nightmare. In their confined, addled neo-Confederated minds, the Harlem Globetrotters had lynched Jeff Davis, Mandingo was ravishing their alabaster Lady Liberty, and the UN’s black how it helicopters were coming to take away their guns and impose sharia law.
In my exasperating nation was another flummoxed cohort, white men much different than those with gun racks in their pickups and rebel flags on their bumpers. They were rich and powerful, and they had been allowed for some thirty years, but particularly in the most recent eight, to believe they were entitled, excepted, above and apart from the struggling proletarian mob, and surely different than their overtly racist brothers who could only find acceptable these Wall Street and K Street economic warlords via the munificence of their campaign funds for their red state representatives. The second cohort had none of the overtly racist fears from which they were comfortably insulated, but they had just recently fomented the trashing of most of the world economy, committed crimes worthy of considerable jail time, and they had to worry that this new president might have a zealous sense of justice, both economic and civil, that would haul them out of their Wall Street keeps and call them to account. But, in a perverse Christ-like way, only Bernie Madoff would be incarcerated for their sins.
There was also a third, less definable cohort spread through the small towns in red states, that anguished demographic that felt continually besieged by a catalog of the social changes of modernity that assaulted what they had come to assume as the “American way of life.” They had their champions who tried to hold back the flood, particularly their beloved Reagan whose apotheosis had rendered him into some purified patron saint of all that was conservative, “American,” and white. Now, the Internet and the iPhone, had completed the media’s insurgency into their thinly walled off worlds of fundamental Christianity and racial purity. They had fought battles against the New Deal and Social Security, against Medicare, against open housing acts and the voting rights act, against affirmative action, and against a woman’s right to choose. And they had lost or were losing. Obamacare, already here, and looming immigration reform would complete their subjugation and humiliation. America as they (thought) they knew it, and wished it to be, would be finished, no longer “Whitelandia.”
But their rearguard actions had been moderately successful. Reagan had begun the three decade process of transferring the nation’s wealth to what was now being called the “1 Percent.” The tax rates had been modified in their favor, unnecessary wars fought to help transfer the wealth to their cartels of energy and “defense” industries and keep the people preoccupied (but still shopping—if increasingly on their credit cards), bank regulations and financial institution regulations had been removed, unions marginalized, and voting rights abridged and districts gerrymandered to where it aided their cause. The Yahoos had been allowed to keep their guns and their fears of imposition of sharia law. All of this had been kept stirred like the witches brew at the beginning of MacBeth by a right-wing media that had found the magic formula of leading these fools into their bubbles and echo chambers. But it had been a net loss.
These losers coalesced into what we now refer to as the Tea Party, that melange of Randians, outright racists (read “birthers”), gun nuts, tax haters and avoiders, dimwits who could shout “keep government out of my Medicare,” anti-abortion zealots, simpleminded libertarians, religious fundamentalists and, behind them some very rich right-wingers and Wall Streeters and politician Koch-suckers. Both component groups benefited greatly from the actions and programs of government while hating and opposing it, and supporting equally hypocritical politicians who ran on it. They had their last chance with Romney, who articulated the hypocrisy so well with his “47% takers” and his mythical notion that his self-anointed class of money-manipulators are the “entrepreneurial” lifeblood of our economic system.
If you require a metaphor for this coalition imagine the basic arrangement of your contemporary NFL stadium: expensive, climate controlled “skyboxes” of owners and corporate types sipping mimosas; the stands full of rabid fans outfitted in overpriced players jerseys or dressed like Halloween fools, drinking eight dollar watered-down Budweiser; and playing fields occupied predominantly by the descendents of slaves. It is the basic American “panem et circenses” for the Yahoo’s who on Monday morning will be looking for ways to hold what remains of their so-called middle-class way of life together.
There is not much that the aggrieved white conservative coalition can do about it. Demographically, America will continue toward miscegenation, immigrants will continue to arrive, women and minorities will continue to ascend economically, pot will continue to be legalized or decriminalized, it will become more difficult and more expensive to store black and Hispanic males in prisons, gays and lesbians will continue to marry. Basically, America will continue—because it must—its uneven, unequal, herky-jerky trajectory toward the promises of its Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights, or it will become one more failed empire on the dust heap of history.
UNLESS. Unless there is some way this course can be redirected to the white Christian conservative “American way of life.” BUT. But that way now is only achievable by way of destruction, of bringing it all down, of some Armageddon, some final battle between the forces of conservatism and evil liberalism, some great, cleansing. Looking through their biblical lenses this is the way, it seems, their only effective weapon is shutdown or to destroy that evil that lies at the core of it—the government—even bringing about financial default might be “just what America needs.” After all, for them, it is all “written,” foretold, it is all about salvation and the afterlife and the rapture that will get them there, and all this liberal/socialist Kenyan-Keynesian, non–American race/gender mishmash stands in the way of it.
Social systems do not remain static, they “oxidize,” they become corrupted. I wonder sometimes when I fulminate against the nostalgia emails I get from people my age sending me stuff from the good old days when Coke came in bottles, gas was $.33 a gallon and stay-at-home moms baked cookies while wearing high-heels and pearls. Those were also days when there was a lot more discrimination against minorities and women were like chattel, but there were also less guns, there was probably more socially equality, students weren’t saddled huge loans for the rest of their lives, amd CEO’s only made fifty times (not 350) as much as their employees, so I wonder whether there has been very much progress (some in some areas, and regression others), but it seems to me that the youth of today are far more pessimistic about the future and their individual future prospects than students were in my day. Look how the right wing is trying to undo the social progress of Roosevelt, the way the Supreme Court is undoing the progress of the civil rights and voting rights acts; these should be warnings that no social system remains entirely the same; it is always under the assault of countervailing interests and values. Maybe this is what Mao thought when he inaugurated the Cultural Revolution as the necessity for continual revolution in society, maybe he saw already the corruption and privilege that had crept into the upper echelons of the Communist movement (of course he was much a part of that), but maybe the awkward lesson is that social systems have to contain mechanisms of self renewal and regulation if they are to remain on course toward their ideals; they need to be introspective and self-critical, but not in a destructive way that allows countervailing and oppositional interests to undo them. It is a difficult balance, maybe impossible, maybe all systems undergo this entropy and are superseded by something else eventually. Maybe there are systems of greater cycle and amplitude that remain beyond our ken but yet influence us.
And so, for the present, we have to deal with our own homegrown “Red Guard,” our cohort of political low-life that knows only how to obstruct, to stifle, to deceive, and, especially, to destroy, to achieve ends that fully justify to them any means necessary and fulfill what they perceive as prophesized. They have managed thus far to extort compromises from the black president who represents, perhaps more in person them in policy, what they abhor, the “other.” He has been soft, compliant, in giving them of their extended tax cuts and extended wars and bailouts and sequesters. But (hopefully) their string of extortions has run out and the President has (finally) summoned the fortitude and self-respect to halt these barbarians at the gates of democracy.
Sic transit gloria Americana.
© 2014, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 6.28.2014)