Standing firm in the rip tides of today’s banal new Evil

I’ll admit it, I’ve been waiting for a miracle.

An angel to swoop down from on high and save us. Or at least a collective “coming to their senses” of our Congress, making them reject the obviously warped election and order a re-do. Or even some kind of horrible disaster, making it impossible for Trump and his gang to seize power. Say, a spectacular bombing of Trump Tower while all of them were in it, on the order of 9-11.

Instead, here we sit in dreary December, one day away from the fateful Electoral College vote, and it seems that all the levers of power sweeping Drumpf into office are operating smoothly.

The Democrats, including President Obama, are being pathetically compliant and wimpy, making me wonder what kind of fire their feet are being held to by Trump & the Gang—what do they have to hide? What, at this point, do they have to lose by demanding fairness and accountability to the vast majority of American citizens who did NOT vote for Donald Trump?

We need another Watergate-type investigation, complete with a new Deep Throat, to help us understand what is really going on behind the scenes in Washington and New York, in Moscow, London, Damascus and Ankara. This is a story that puts John LeCarre and Ken Follett to shame—so big, bold, intricate and treacherous that no one could have imagined it. Fact is way stranger and scarier than fiction this time around.

Eventually the truth will out. But for now, we are stuck living through it, day by painful day. However, we are not just the character-pawns in this story, being manipulated by a clever author. Each of us has the potential to be the author of our own storylines within the vast tapestry of current events, and to change the course of history in profound ways.

In upholding standards of decency, kindness and open-heartedness; in practicing what the Buddhists call tonglen, taking in the suffering of the world, alchemizing it into loving compassion and beaming that love back out into the world; in refusing to go with the flow or get with the program when to do so would hurt others; in standing up and saying NO to hatred, bigotry and the naked abuse of power, whether on the global, national or local levels—in all these ways and many more, each of us has the ability to be a beacon of courage and honor in this darkening landscape.

We do not have to march in lockstep when it comes to how to respond to the present emergency. Some of us will be called into the streets to protest; some of us will focus on creating a loving home for our families and a haven for our friends. Some will go out in nature and commune with the timeless wisdom of the trees and boulders. Some of us will write, some will play music, some will paint or make films. No act is insignificant if it comes from a pure intention to offer deep Goodness to the superficial faux gold chrome of today’s banal Evil.

us-original-declaration-1776

Two hundred and forty years ago, the first Americans stood up against tyranny and refused to be exploited and oppressed by their rulers. We may be living through just such tumultuous times today. We must have the courage and resolution of the American founding fathers.

The far right has been sounding the same warning for years now, and going about their own plan of overthrow, on a bigoted, winner-take-all model. Can the left rise and make history on the side of justice?

That is our challenge today.

 

I close with two quotes.

First, the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence bears reading and re-reading today.

And second, a stirring Facebook post by Dan Rather, who says firmly, “I feel the rip tide of regression once again swelling under my feet. But I intend to remain standing.” And so must we all.

“When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

 

DAN RATHER: Facebook post, December 14, 2016

Now is a time when none of us can afford to remain seated or silent. We must all stand up to be counted.

History will demand to know which side were you on. This is not a question of politics or party or even policy. This is a question about the very fundamentals of our beautiful experiment in a pluralistic democracy ruled by law.

When I see neo-Nazis raise their hands in terrifying solute, in public, in our nation’s capital, I shudder in horror. When I see that action mildly rebuked by a boilerplate statement from the President-elect whom these bigots have praised, the anger in me grows. And when I see some in a pliant press turn that mild statement into what they call a denunciation I cannot hold back any longer.

Our Declaration of Independence bequeaths us our cherished foundational principle: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

These truths may be self-evident but they are not self-replicating. Each generation has to renew these vows. This nation was founded as an opposite pole to the capriciousness of an authoritarian monarch. We set up institutions like a free press and an independent court system to protect our fragile rights. We have survived through bloody spasms of a Civil War and a Civil Rights Movement to extend more of these rights to more of our citizens. But the direction of our ship of state has not always been one of progress. We interned Japanese Americans, Red Baited during the McCarthy era, and more. I feel the rip tide of regression once again swelling under my feet. But I intend to remain standing.

In normal times of a transition in our presidency between an incoming and outgoing administration of differing political parties, there is a certain amount of fretting on one side and gloating on the other. And the press usually takes a stance that the new administration at least deserves to have a chance to get started – a honeymoon period. But these are not normal times. This is not about tax policy, health care, or education – even though all those and more are so important. This is about racism, bigotry, intimidation and the specter of corruption.

But as I stand I do not despair, because I believe the vast majority of Americans stand with me. To all those in Congress of both political parties, to all those in the press, to religious and civic leaders around the country. your voices must be heard. I hope that the President-elect can learn to rise above this and see the dangers that are brewing. If he does and speaks forcibly, and with action, we should be ready to welcome his voice. But of course I am deeply worried that his selections of advisors and cabinet posts suggests otherwise.

To all of you I say, stay vigilant. The great Martin Luther King, Jr. knew that even as a minority, there was strength in numbers in fighting tyranny. Holding hands and marching forward, raising your voice above the din of complacency, can move mountains. And in this case, I believe there is a vast majority who wants to see this nation continue in tolerance and freedom. But it will require speaking. Engage in your civic government. Flood newsrooms or TV networks with your calls if you feel they are slipping into the normalization of extremism. Donate your time and money to causes that will fight to protect our liberties.

We are a great nation. We have survived deep challenges in our past. We can and will do so again. But we cannot be afraid to speak and act to ensure the future we want for our children and grandchildren.

 

And a final bonus: check out this work-in-progress on organizing. The comparison of left activism with Tea Party activism is especially interesting. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1DzOz3Y6D8g_MNXHNMJYAz1b41_cn535aU5UsN7Lj8X8/mobilebasic#heading=h.1t4uu5uonb6f

Watch out for the flying dark money

I never heard of “dark money” until this election. Maybe the term existed before, but suddenly it’s become commonplace, like “fracking” and “carbon footprint”—just ordinary 21st century parlance.

Dark money must be something like dark energy and dark matter, which together account for 95% of the universe, but about which we know nothing.

Physicists theorize that dark energy and dark matter affect the known universe—that is, us—profoundly, but we don’t know exactly how.

With dark money, even though we don’t know where it comes from, the effect of this huge force on our political universe is easier to gauge. Just look at the U.S. Congress, now dominated by Republicans who have gleefully accepted vast sums of dark money.

How vast? We’re talking big money. Here is what the New York Times had to say in a somber editorial on the topic:

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky

“The $11.4 million spent anonymously for Mr. McConnell…didn’t even make him the biggest beneficiary of secret donations, a phenomenon that grew substantially in this election cycle. In the 2010 midterms, when this practice was just getting started, $161 million was spent by groups that did not disclose donations. In this cycle it was up to at least $216 million, and 69 percent of it was spent on behalf of Republicans, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

“In Colorado, at least $18 million in dark money was spent on behalf of Cory Gardner, the Republican newly elected to the Senate; $4 million was spent on behalf of Senator Mark Udall, the Democratic incumbent. In North Carolina, $13.7 million in secret donations was spent for Thom Tillis, the new Republican senator; $2.6 million went to Senator Kay Hagan, who was ousted.”

What a mockery this makes of our so-called democracy! Our electoral politics is all about manipulation and spin, attack ads and redistricting, fueling armies of canvassers on the ground. It really is war, and wars have always been won by those with the best weapons, the smartest strategy and the most boots on the ground. That’s what money can buy. The worthiness of the candidate herself is really quite beside the point. She just needs to follow the playbook, stay on message and get out of the way of her handlers.

What kind of despicable political system do we live in? No wonder President Obama is looking so terribly grim lately. He came to office vowing to remain uncontaminated by Beltway corruption, to represent the interests of ordinary people and to repair the terrible damage the Republicans wrought the last time they held power. He knows, as we do, that though he still has his finger in the Republican dyke, the pressure will be tremendous and he may not be able to hold them back for long.

U.S. President Barack Obama hosts a luncheon for bi-partisan Congressional leaders in the Old Family Dining Room at the White House in Washington, November 7, 2014.  REUTERS/Larry Downing

U.S. President Barack Obama hosts a luncheon for bi-partisan Congressional leaders in the Old Family Dining Room at the White House in Washington, November 7, 2014. REUTERS/Larry Downing

What’s on their agenda? Undoing the health care law that has done so much to protect and subsidize health care for low and middle-income Americans. Approving the Keystone XL pipeline and opening up more public lands, including oceans, to fracking, drilling and mining. Keeping the minimum wage as low as they possibly can, closing family planning clinics and continuing a hardline, harsh approach to immigration.

I am not spinning or exaggerating here. This is what we’re going to get in the next two years, and it’s going to take every ounce of strength and determination Barack Obama has to stand firm and pursue the mandate for which he was elected.

I don’t recognize this America. Just as Bill McKibben says we’re now living on Eaarth, the extra “a” signifying the brave new world of climate change that is radically changing our environment, we are also now living in Aamerica—the extra A standing perhaps for addled, alarming, asinine.

There’s not a damned thing ordinary small fry like me can do about it as the political Titans throw their dark money at each other over our heads, except maybe to duck and hope we can avoid being spattered by their sh*t.

Shades of an American Kristallnacht?

Tonight at dinner the conversation turned to politics, although it seemed that everyone at the table was reluctant to mention the name “Obama”—a sign of the deep disappointment in our erst-while hero.

There was some enthusiasm for the political satire of Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart, who are probably doing more to educate young people in politics than most high schools in America today.

There was derision for the spectacle of the Republican primaries, which I, for one, have been unable to stomach watching—not even for a moment.

And there was deep sadness over the unavoidable truth that now, in the wake of Citizens United, it has become totally legal for rich people to run politicians the same way they might run horses or greyhounds.  Just like that.

Maybe that’s what provides the eerie, zombie-like atmosphere in politics these days. You really have the sense that most politicians, especially the ones at the top echelons of power, are like old-fashioned Kabbalistic golems, animated out of clay by skilled magicians who can control them from afar.

Of course, that’s been going on for a long time.  Remember George Bush, a wind-up man getting remote control instructions through his earphone in the 2004 Presidential debates?

But it’s getting worse and worse.  That’s why I can’t stand to watch Gingrich and Santorum and all the other Republican wax model men mouth their lines on the stage these days.  You know they’ll say whatever they’re told…whatever they think it will take to win.

There is certainly a good chance that one of the Republicans will win.  The Democrats are dispirited and grumpy, not much in the mood to get all fired up about yet another election.

The Republicans, on the other hand, are rabid to take back the White House.  They’ve been busy as hell redistricting to try to gain every electoral advantage, and I have absolutely no faith in the electronic voting machines that they’ve been installing in every town and city in the land.

It’s very possible that Mr. XY Zombie Republican could seize power in November, with the backing of endlessly deep pockets like the Koch brothers, Big Energy, and Big Finance, and the blessing of the Supreme Court.

What then?

If the Republicans controlled all three houses of government, they could ram through the legislation they’ve been concocting during the past decade or so: legislation powering up the assault on the environment, on health, on social services, destroying any kind of safety net for people, animals or the environment.

They could escalate the war on dissidents (like me), who dare to oppose their plans.  In short order, the United States could turn into just another big banana republic, with a military-backed regime of elites governing through the indiscriminate use of fear tactics, with violence applied as necessary to keep the people in line.

Lately I have been re-reading Margaret Atwood’s marvelous sci-fi novel The Handmaid’s Tale, and finding it chillingly prophetic.  In Atwood’s dystopia, environmental catastrophe has rendered the elites infertile, and pushed them to withdraw into gated communities where food shortages are common, and people are regularly hung in the public square to keep everyone fearful and docile.

The narrator remembers how just before her world fell apart, there were signs of repression: books being banned and burned, identity cards being issued and required, mobility restricted, media censored.  All of a sudden, one fine morning, it was no longer possible for her and her family to get in their car and drive away to seek safety in Canada.  All of a sudden, they were trapped in a nightmare that went quickly from bad to worse.

Augusto Pinochet of Chile

This reminds me also of the many testimonials I have read from Latin America—true stories, not fiction—from the 1970s, when wealthy politicians wielding military power and complete control over the ballot boxes ruled their countries with iron fists, “disappearing” anyone who might remotely be a threat, including thousands of innocent students.  This happened in Chile and Argentina, in Guatemala and El Salvador and many other countries.  Often the shift from democracy to fascist dictatorship happened literally overnight.

As in Germany before the Kristallnacht, none of us here in the U.S. wants to believe that anything could happen to destroy our cherished freedoms, our vaunted  “American way of life.”  We don’t want to admit, even to ourselves, the extent to which our freedoms are already being encroached upon, day by day.

Just last week, for example, there was an outrageous episode in Arizona, where the government declared a whole long list of books by Mexican Americans to be unsuitable for school use, and went so far as to direct the school librarians and teachers to pull them from the shelves, box them up and put them into deep storage.

Among the authors banned are some of my favorite writers—Gloria Anzaldua, Elizabeth Martinez, Paulo Freire.

Paulo Freire

Yes, that Paulo Freire, the famous Brazilian educator and free thinker who wrote Pedagogy of the Oppressed, a brilliant analysis of the way that traditional education indoctrinates students into conformity and submission to authority.

Freire proposed that instead of a banking style of education, where knowledge is deposited into students, who are then required to spit it back upon demand, education worth its salt should empower students to think for themselves.

Such a simple idea, but so powerful, too.  Education should teach people to think for themselves, and to work with each other to come to consensus on issues of importance to the larger society.

Isn’t that just what the Occupy movements have been trying to do?  If Freire were alive, he would be out there in the thick of the Occupy action, inspiring the young to shake off the false animation of Zombiland, and insist on dancing to their own authentic beat.

This reminds me of another beloved science fiction book, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, where the sinister IT controls all the inhabitants of a city by forcing them to conform to ITS rhythm.  Their hearts pulse to ITS rhythm, their eyes twirl to ITS rhythm, their thoughts are entirely subsumed by IT.  The only way to break ITS control is to think for oneself, to be creative, resilient and determined.

The children Meg and Charles Wallace succeed in rescuing their father from the clutches of IT by dint of their own powers of creativity and love, with a little help from some eccentric and freethinking guides.

Will the science fiction tale we’re living through now have that kind of happy ending?

Oh yeah, it’s not fiction, is it.

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