The Future of America is Up to the People: How Mad Will You Get?Photo courtesy of Getty Politics Features America
It was tempting, when I saw the news of the infuriating $600 “stimulus package” (which contains more than just the pay-out but which is nevertheless totally unsatisfactory), to write something nasty about Mitch McConnell. But what’s the point? We know who Mitch McConnell is, we’ve known for a very long time, and we know that if it was up to him, nobody would even be getting $600. They’d get nothing, and suffer, and he and the other Republicans in power wouldn’t bat an eye. This is who they’ve been.
We knew about the Democrats, too. We knew they’d bring a stick to a gun fight, we knew they’d be bullied by the other side using the ancient tactic of, “what, you’re going to hold out and deprive the American people of their stimulus??”, we knew they’d capitulate for fear of losing the PR war, and we knew they’d stick us with something that can’t even cover most people’s rent for one month…much less the nine months since the last stimulus, or however many months it will be until the next. Meanwhile, they barely managed to extend the eviction moratorium by a month—which the Republicans surely didn’t want—but when that expires, what’s going to happen? Families on the streets is what, and unless the Democrats pull off two victories in Georgia, you can bet it’s going to be hell trying to extend it any further.
Again, we knew this. Anyone who didn’t expect it has not been paying attention for the last 40 years or so, and that brings me to my main point. Ultimately, who’s to blame for this? The Republicans who act like they’ve been trained to act, and who seem to understand that they won’t suffer any consequences for it and who have always been empty vessels for whom morality is something to chuckle at? The Democrats, who are almost equally as beholden to corporate interests and have no interest in fighting for progressive policy when they know they can point to the Republicans and say, “don’t vote for the bad guys!”, win a few elections when things get really bad, and never alienate their big-money friends?
Or is it us?
What kind of people perpetuate a system like this?
Look at this tweet:
NEW — Biden will not immediately roll back Trump immigration and border restrictions, Susan Rice and Jake Sullivan tell Spanish news agency EFE, and Title 42, MPP etc will take time to undo, despite campaign promises for “Day One” reversals https://t.co/HcmH8cGBWx
— Nick Miroff (@NickMiroff) December 22, 2020
Here, again, is something that everyone should have known was coming. I was as happy as anyone when Trump lost, because another term would, I think, have been an unthinkable catastrophe for American democracy, but the minute the result was clear, I braced myself for absolutely nothing to change. Here again we have a campaign promise being broken, and the remarkable thing is that it’s being broken even before the man takes office.
Again, who would have expected differently? Biden is the candidate of the moderate wing of the Democratic party. For a moment during the primaries, it seemed like Bernie Sanders, an actual leftist, might win the nomination, but in the end people were too frightened or too conservative to see that campaign through. So Joe Biden, a man who could generate absolutely no support in concentrated campaigning in the early states, was anointed as the standard-bearer by a nation that lacked the courage to imagine a different world and succumbed yet again to the fear of the bogeyman Trump and the fear of taking any risk.
Then, in the presidential election, Donald Trump won far more votes than anyone expected, Republicans succeeded up and down the ballot, and Biden barely came through in the top race.
What do you do with a country like that? A country so polarized that millions upon millions of people are going to vote against their own interests for a cult of money-worshipping monsters, and millions upon millions on the other side are going to be scared of them that they can’t bring themselves to select an opposition candidate who might actually fight for them?
That’s called a perpetual motion machine, it’s called the status quo, and it’s going to keep repeating ad nauseam while everything else—notably that pesky problem of climate change, which threatens to destroy human society—gets worse. In school, you learn about Cassandra, the Trojan priestess who saw the Greek invasion coming, but to whom nobody would listen. In America today, we have the same exact situation, except that basically everybody is a Cassandra. It doesn’t take a genius to see how all of this plays out. It’s available for anyone with an awareness of current events and the ability to recognize a simple pattern.
You already know what will happen with a Biden presidency. In all likelihood, he’ll be stymied by a McConnell Senate, lose big in the 2022 midterms, and—if he’s still around to run—fight another close race in 2024 against another Trump-like terror, if not Trump himself. Even if the Democrats secure two wins in Georgia, you’re going to be underwhelmed by what the Democrats accomplish controlling all three branches for two years, just like you were underwhelmed when Obama had the same advantage. The thing is, these people don’t want change. Superficial change, sure, not the kind of change that you and I want, the kind that would raise the minimum wage and make healthcare free at the point of service and make public colleges free and take serious steps to combat the ongoing destruction of our planet. Where there’s no will, there’s no way.
And again, we the people need to shoulder the blame. Yes, the people in charge are either laughably inept or stunningly cruel. Yes, it would be great if they would unilaterally change for the better, but in the absence of that wish fulfillment, it’s up to us to hold them accountable. On both sides, we simply have not done that, and it’s hard to know whether to blame apathy, fear, or some poisonous combination of the two. It’s one of the great mysteries of American life, and probably human existence too, that given the ability to demand satisfying representation, the people fail over and over to do so. We stick to the devils we know for the most part, and can’t even bring ourselves to dream of something different.
It leads to some dark thoughts. What is the point of representative democracy, if the people can’t stop sabotaging themselves? I certainly wouldn’t want anything else, but is even this system bound to fail? Have we reached the end of our potential, and has the history of this country led only to this dispiriting end?
There are people fighting for something better, but the organizations they form routinely fail to catch on in the mainstream, even in drastic times like these, and too often on the left a damaging kind of vampire castle identity politics makes them look ridiculous to outsiders and leads to poisonous infighting that torpedoes any chance of spreading a class-based message.
So, amid all this pessimism, where is the hope? The same place you can find the blame: Us. I’ll be honest—I have no idea how any of this works, and it might be that I’ll never know. The divisions in this country are worse than ever, and the combination of an uninformed citizenry and politics based on passion and allegiance have put us in a very tough spot. As the old saying goes, it’s hard to square this circle. All I know is that overcoming this historical inertia requires one element more than any others: Rage. And rage directed at the proper entities, rather than the nebulous anger urges that motivate so many Americans today. It may be the case, in the absence of effective activism, that it requires one transformational figure who can run against the tides of history and garner more support than anyone thought possible—a Bernie Sanders who wins.
But this, too, is a fantasy, and ultimately it would be foolish to count on one person. The onus is on everyone. Are we going to get mad, and are we going to get mad for the right reasons and demand the right consequences? I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say the answer to that question could determine the fate of our country. At a time when change looks impossible, only sheer unrelenting energy can break up the iceberg that is the status quo.