I promised that, this month, I would devote my attention to the question of how to get out of the Republican quicksand our nation has fallen into, and how to set our steps on a saner path that will not lead us back into the swamp of corporate-dominated politics, Republican or Democratic. I want to start by looking at what happened in another country–Argentina.
I recently had the pleasure of a long, informative conversation with a man who grew up there, during “The Dirty War.” “The Dirty War,” in case you aren’t familiar with it, is the term that is used to describe what happened in Argentina after the military took over the government in 1976. There were guerrilla forces operating in the country, but the military didn’t just move against them. They decided to get rid of everybody who kinda sympathized with the guerrillas’ ideals of a more just and economically equitable society. That included the brother of the man I spoke with. His twenty-year old brother was in the military, but somebody thought he might be a threat, so away he went. Thrown from a helicopter into the ocean? Roasted alive? Or simply shot? His family has never learned his fate.
His disappearance was profoundly unnerving for them. Sometimes the military just “disappeared” someone, and that was it. Sometimes, after one member of a family had been abducted, they would come back for the rest of the family, one at a time, or all at once. There was no way to know. My friend was a teenager at the time, “a long-haired hippie kid,” as he described himself–though you’d never know it to look at him now. So there he was, sixteen years old, growing up in a country where the middle class he was part of was not that different from the US middle class. He was going through all the things an American boy his age would have been going through–girls, grades, and, I suspect, ganja–but he also had to think about whether he was going to be kidnapped and tortured, and how he might respond to that. Fortunately, he never had to find out.”But since then,” he told me, “the kind of things that most people feel scared or worried about just don’t bother me that much.”
That’s good relativity, but unless Steve Bannon gets really out of hand, I don’t think we’re going to be dealing with an American dirty war. What is more to the point is how this terrible phase of Argentine history came to an end. While the generals were pretty good at suppressing armed guerrillas, they were not so effective at running the country, and popular dislike for them kept on growing. As the economy spiraled out of control, the country started coming unglued socially, so the generals did what they thought would unite the people behind them: they started a war. Argentina had long claimed that British occupation of the South Atlantic islands most of us know as “The Falklands” was an unjust usurpation. And sure, the British had been there since 1833, but the generals were desperate.
So the Argentines invaded the islands, and then the British came and kicked their asses out of there. There was much loss of life, war toys, and pride. The humiliation was too much for the Argentine junta. The general in charge resigned in favor of civilian control, and a few months later the country returned to “the messy business of democratic government,” as my friend put it. Although there were sporadic military uprisings throughout the 80’s to protest being held responsible for the murder of as many as 30,000 people, overall the military was glad to shed the responsibility of running the country. Argentina has been through a lot since then, but there has never been another military coup.
And that’s one possible way out of the clutches of the Republican/Dominionist Christian junta that has seized power in our country. Their reach exceeds their grasp, and they are issuing orders that in some cases can not, and in other cases will not, be carried out, diminishing their authority. Our new leaders are so incompetent and out of step with reality that it’s only a question of time until they do something so stupid that they lose all credibility, even with their own former supporters, slink away, and leave the rest of us their mess to clean up. Since the US, unlike Argentina, has nuclear weapons to throw around, we can only hope that the mess they leave us is not a radioactive one.
It might not be a disastrous foreign adventure in which Chinese and/or Russian hacking skills overcome America’s supercomputerized military might. We could see an apparent act of terrorism on American soil used as an excuse to declare martial law–except that the story quickly unravels and it becomes obvious that it was staged. We may have seen something similar back at the beginning of the Cheney-Rove administration, which was about to get laughed out of town until 9-11 oh-so-conveniently galvanized the nation. Unlike seventeen years ago, at this point the Bannon government is in an adversarial relationship with the media, our national intelligence agencies, and the courts. It may prove more difficult to keep secrets and promote falsehoods now than it did back in those days.
Since those who have seized power are backed by no more than a fat quarter of the population, it’s theoretically possible to push their departure through mass demonstrations and civil disobedience. General strike, anyone? The recent Women’s March on Washington could have had as its objective to surround the White House and tell its occupants “we’re not leaving until you resign and call a new, honest election,” but perhaps such a radical intent would not have attracted the numbers required to enforce it. Or maybe more…. Such a movement would have to be well-organized and have a clear-cut plan beyond simply removing the President, since his replacement, our putative Vice-President, differs from the Chief Executive mostly in being more organized, more reactionary, and less charismatic, and behind them are a Republican-controlled House and Senate to fill the vacancies. There is no Constitutional way to get around this line of succession, to the best of my knowledge.
If the main focus of such a strike or protest movement was merely to recognize that the GOP stole the election by disqualifying or not counting Clinton votes in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, and thus a demand that Ms. Clinton be declared the rightful winner of the election and installed as President, there would be little point to it. First of all, with a GOP majority in both houses of Congress, Ms. Clinton would be unlikely to get any of her nominees or timid, corporate-friendly legislative agenda approved, and would almost certainly be facing immediate impeachment proceedings, as well has having to deal with the likelihood that those who gathered to protest her inauguration would not be sporting pink hats, but camo and semiautomatic weapons , necessitating some level of martial law and suppression of civil liberties. That’s probably that’s what she would have been facing had she succeeded in becoming President in the first place. Is that why she declined to contest being robbed of her victory? If so, I think the technical phrase to describe what happened is, “She blinked.”
Besides, Ms. Clinton and the Democrats have done nothing since the election to deserve that kind of support. The same corporate stalwarts who steered the party to its calamitous loss are still in charge. After Ms. Clinton and Obama issued dire warnings that the Republican nominee was “unfit to govern,” she has basically fallen silent. It took The Green Party to discover that the election had been stolen from her, and, even then, the still-Democratically controlled Justice Department did nothing when the evidence was revealed. Congressional Democrats could have protested the results when Congress voted on whether to accept the Electoral College’s decision, as the Black Caucus attempted to do in 2000 when Dick Cheney and Karl Rove cheated their way into the Executive Office, but nobody lifted a finger. The Democrats’ silence in the face of this injustice was deafening.
That’s why I don’t have much faith in “voting them out in 2018.” GOP partisans have gerrymandered House districts to the point where there are too many “safe” Republican seats for the Democrats to overcome. The Democrats do not appear to have registered the lesson that part of why they failed to inspire the country was the degree to which they are in thrall to corporate interests. As long as they are blaming the Russians instead of taking responsibility for themselves and kicking their corporate cash habit, I don’t think they will be able to take the country back, and, even if they did, it would only be another disappointment.
Who ya gonna call? Green Party?! Hey, the good news/bad news is, we’re “green” in more ways than one. While we have strong small-d democratic ideals, are free from corporate influence, and are deeply dedicated to fostering a human culture that treads lightly enough on the Earth so that we don’t grind it into dust, we are also “green” in the sense of being unexperienced and untested, since the US political system is designed to exclude points of view that are not corporate-friendly. I think that the US political system is likely to keep blundering along from bad to worse, no matter whether Republicans or Democrats are in charge, unless there is somehow a major overhaul of that system. But hey, government-sanctioned discrimination against African-Americans seemed pretty well entrenched sixty years ago. On the other hand, we probably don’t have another sixty years to get our act together.
Is a military counter-coup a possibility here in America? Many of our country’s top military commanders are basically decent people who, personally, abhor the kind of craziness that has taken over our government. They are concerned about climate change, and no doubt concerned that our new government seems determined to ignore it. They are well aware of the hell that would be turned loose should the commander-in-chief decide to start throwing nuclear weapons around. They have now been largely excluded from the National Security Council. The CIA and NSA are also unhappy with their new boss. These are not good enemies to have.
A military government could, since it would have already overstepped the limits of the Constitution, go right ahead and establish a national redistricting commission to redraw US House seat boundary lines in a way that does not gerrymander a Republican minority of voters into a guaranteed Republican majority of seats, and, once this has been done, schedule a new election. That’s the best-case scenario. The worst-case is that all those militant, frequently ex-military right-wingers with weapons would go ballistic, and plunge the country into civil war. Even the “best-case” would leave our country’s democracy seriously compromised. And, as the Democrats proved in the first two years of Obama’s Presidency, having a solid Democratic Party majority in the legislative branch of our government does not guarantee that good things will happen.
When the Democrats had that majority, the most outstanding thing they did with it was pass the Affordable Care Act, which was a Republican health care plan. Enough voters were disappointed enough so that, in the 2010 election, about 42 million of those who had voted in 2008 stayed home,allowing the Republicans to take control of the US House on the basis of an election in which only 42% of voters participated. All that largely content-free, “hopey, changey stuff” had evaporated, leaving nothing but a bad taste in many citizens’ mouths. The thrill of a Presidential election was enough to pull the total back up to 130M in 2012, but the thrill was gone in 2014 when participation dropped to a shocking 36%–the turnout was 83 million. That means that the “majority” the Republicans held in the US House was, in reality, about 20% of all potential voters. And, while turnout was up again last year, to 60%, or 139 million people, we are still looking at an election in which nearly half again more people abstained than voted for either the actual or the declared winner.
As with many facets of US politics, the conventional wisdom–voter apathy–is a copout. Why are voters apathetic? Because they recognize that neither the Democrats or the Republicans really represent their interests, and other possibilities are excluded by our corporate news media and monopolized electoral system. The Green Party could fill that void, but we remain in the wilderness, excluded by a system that does not work for the benefit of those it governs and will not make room for anybody who might.
Something we can do without running for, let alone winning, political office, is organize. We can start building the society we want down here under the radar of the corporatocracy. We can reach out to our friends and neighbors to co-operate on gardens, child care, and meal preparation. We can take that a step further and create buying/shopping co-operatives, and grow them into bricks-and-mortar stores. We can move beyond customer/employee owned and run retail establishments to worker-run manufacturing operations.We can move our money from privately owned, for-profit banks into customer-owned credit unions. Those are all steps the people of Argentina took, creating one of the most widespread co-operative economies in the world right under the noses of a military dictatorship. In the dark years of Franco’s reactionary dictatorship in Spain, the Mondragon co-operative resurrected the spirit of the Spanish anarchist movement that had been crushed with the fall of Barcelona in 1939. Mondragon’s philosophy of economic democracy enabled its participants to flourish in what had been one of the poorest parts of Spain. Mondragon is ready, willing, and able to help Americans apply its lessons to this country, and has even begun doing so, co-operating with American unions to re-invigorate rust belt cities like Cleveland and Cincinnati.
We can also do what we can to put a dent in the corporate economy by finding ways to spend less money, and spending it as locally as possible. Garden. Play music with your friends. Cook from scratch–make a big pot of something, and eat leftovers for a week. It won’t kill ya! Shop at farmers’ markets, yard sales, and thrift stores. Reduce, reuse, recycle. Make your car last a few years longer, or use public transportation if it’s an option, but don’t use airplanes. Scale back or eliminate your relationship with hand-held electronic devices. All that “personal virtue” stuff makes a difference in the economy if enough people do it, and makes a difference in our consciousness in any case. If you’re already living a somewhat post-collapse lifestyle, collapse, when it does come–and it will–won’t be such a big deal.
But wait, there’s one more thing. It won’t necessarily do anything about the way the Bannon administration (Yes, the Bannon administration–let’s name the guy who’s really in charge!) is attempting to trash civil liberties and allowing big business to pillage the country, but it might help save the world. Lots of countries mistreat their citizens and their environment, but, unless they’re sitting on a whole lot of oil and aren’t well armed, other governments mostly don’t give a hoot. But climate change is an issue that doesn’t recognize national borders.
The Paris Climate Accord is not all that effective, but it just might be the fulcrum that enables us to move, if not remove, the junta that has taken over. Our new government’s climate denialism puts the whole planet in danger. The United States is now clearly a rogue nation–well, we have been for quite some time, but global warming denialism as official policy crosses a certain boundary. As American citizens, we can call on the rest of the world, who are mostly signatories of the Paris agreement, to institute sanctions, boycotts, divestment, limit travel for diplomatic and government personnel, withdraw permission for military bases…the possibilities are huuuuge. And gee, there might be unintended, positive domestic consequences. Think about it, contact your favorite environmental advocacy organizations, and let’s see who’s got the nerve.
So, I promised an examination of “Can we/How do we change this “here” into a different, happier ‘here’?”If you were hoping I would show you how to return to the status quo ante, I’m sorry. There isn’t a way, but then, there never is, and every path into the future promises its share of difficulties, as they always do. We are standing at a transition point. Some paths, the ones that seem easiest at first, lead to short term extinction of our own and many other species, while others, the ones with more initial difficulty, lead to our long-term survival and a saner society. The choice is still in our hands.
music: Jimi Hendrix, “All Along the Watchtower”
Tina Malia, “Heal This Land“