music: Leonard Cohen, “Everybody Knows”
I confess, I didn’t really expect it to happen. I’m kind of in shock that it did, and I still wonder if some strong wind will suddenly rise up and blow this strange, new, apparent reality away, but for now, the fact remains: On November 8, a strategically located minority of America’s voters–barely a quarter of those eligible–rose up against being slowly roasted in the frying pan of the Democratic Party’s kinder, gentler neoliberalism and…jumped directly into the fire of an undisguised corporate/reactionary/climate denialist takeover of the United States Government. That strategic minority of voters didn’t jump alone, however. They took the rest of the country, and the rest of the world, with them. That’s the bad news. The good news is, millions of people who might have thought everything was OK because Hillary Clinton was in charge now feel extremely insecure, and with good reason. That may not sound like good news, but it’s actually an improvement on what their state of mind with Clinton as President would have been, namely, “feeling secure, but without good reason.” More on that later. It’s one of the several facets of this complex question that we are going to be examining. We’ll call that “Bad news/Good news.” The others are “how did we get here,” “What is the nature of this “here?” we now find ourselves in?” and “Can we/How do we change this “here” into a different, happier ‘here’?”
So…how did we get here? Let’s start by looking at a couple of intertwined longer-term phenomena: our overall national sense of well-being, which, I think, is the force that’s been driving the second phenomenon, the waxing and waning of political party ascendancies since the late sixties and early seventies. The Kennedy-Johnson years and early Nixon years were the point in our country’s history when American workers were at the peak of their earnings. A guy with a blue-collar job could buy a house, support his stay-at-home wife, have a family, and send his kids to college if they wanted to go, or into a high-wage blue-collar job of their own. Note use of pronoun “his.”
Psychological sophistication was, not, and still is not, a hallmark of this culture, however, and white, working-class America’s response to change has been to perceive it as stress, and to respond to change/stress by rejecting the change/source of stress. Thus, some people perceived the Civil Rights movement and the Democratic Party’s efforts on its behalf, the hippies, and the anti-war movement as emotional threats, and reacted viscerally to them, rejecting Johnson’s heir apparent, Hubert Humphrey, and voting instead for Richard Nixon, who promised “law and order,” but proved to be pretty disorderly and unlawful himself. Too much stress. Jimmy Carter is a very unstressful Democrat, a Southerner that Northerners feel comfortable with. He’s the Pres.
But another, far more visceral, source of stress had started to kick in in the late 70’s. Workers’s wages quit rising, but the rest of the economy didn’t. In other words, everything cost more, but workers didn’t have more money at their disposal. Source of stress. Throw in a small Middle-Eastern country grabbing America by the crotch, aka the Iranian Hostage Crisis, and a botched rescue attempt, too much stress–Jimmy Carter is outta there after just one term, replaced by an entertainer, who had received hundreds of hours of television exposure as an easy-going, but principled, actor and show host. Much less stress! “It’s morning in America!” Ronald Reagan actually managed to hand the show off to George Bush, Sr., for one term, but the economic stress was continuing, even intensifying, and here’s two nice young Baby Boomers with a fresh approach. Hey, we all know he really did inhale, and so did his VP…they’ll chill us out way better than that crusty ol’ WWII vet. Read the rest of this entry »