THE NEW AUTHORITARIANS
They have a way of seeming kind of nice, don't they?
Right now the American experiment is teetering on the edge.
And what exactly is that experiment? What makes it special, what makes it important, and why is it worth the gargantuan effort it will take at this point to save it?
"Fourscore and seven years ago,” wrote Abraham Lincoln, “our fathers brought forth, on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” Obviously there was a huge flaw in that proposition, given that the entire economy of the American South would be built on African slaves. The ideal of a government truly dedicated to the idea that all men are created equal has never been fully realized in this country - no thinking person would say that it has - yet, at our best, Americans have tried and succeeded at expanding the democratic franchise.
Standing on the battlefield at Gettysburg, Lincoln continued. “Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.” The tide of the Civil War beginning at last to turn in favor of the Union, Lincoln said that “this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth.”
That nation “so conceived” has endured for 158 years since the Civil War. Yet now, in our time, it is seriously threatened once more.
Today’s threat to our democracy isn’t concentrated in the evil of a specific institution such as slavery. It’s a more disbursed oppression-lite, like an atomizer of injustice. The forces of white supremacy that were defeated in the Civil War are back again with stupefying force, expressed in patterns of violent racism throughout our criminal justice system and beyond. A stultifying stench of authoritarianism is creeping into the air of American society, moving not just in the direction of some of us but all of us.
From voter suppression to election denialism; to banning books from library shelves; to Florida’s governor declaring that colleges in his state can’t teach classes that he doesn’t like; to reporters such as one in Ohio arrested for simply doing their job; to the Supreme Court telling a woman she can’t do with her body what she chooses to do - an authoritarian streak is ripping its way through America just as it is ripping through other parts of the world. It threatens our most precious freedom: to be and do whatever we wish to be and do. From Blacks brutally attacked and even killed by police, to drag queens demonized as child molesters, to violent anti-semitic incidents reaching a record high; for anyone who doesn’t fit the white supremacist mold there is low grade, justifiable fear in the air that Americans aren’t used to. There are days when it feels like freedom is simply losing ground.
And it’s not just assaults from the outside that have delivered body blows to our democratic freedoms; there is something equally pernicious that has been eroding our democracy from within. For more than forty years, through a decrease in public spending, greater privatization, increased deregulation of banking and financial markets, slashed taxes for the rich and systematic attacks on organized labor, America’s financial resources have flowed in a massive theft from our middle class and poor to those who are the richest among us. According to the Rand Corporation, over $50 trillion has been redistributed from the bottom 90 per cent of Americans to the top one per cent over the last 48 years.
This economic trend - which by now is a defining characteristic of our modern history - is not just financially unjust. It is deadly to our democracy. As we were warned by the late Justice Louis Brandeis, “We can have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of the few, but we can't have both.” We cannot be both an oligarchy (ruled by the rich) and a democracy (ruled by the people); one replaces, and in time will bury the other.
While a political authoritarianism is attacking us from without, an economic authoritarianism has been attacking us from within; a government “of the people, by the people, for the people” has been replaced by government “of the corporations, by the corporations, for the corporations.” Huge corporations today exert dictatorial control over the very functioning of our government, so outsized is their lobbying power and undue financial influence on our elections.
Economic justice is as important as every other kind; freedom from want and fear is as important as freedom of speech and religion. In the words of President Franklin Roosevelt “a necessitous man is not a free man.” What was still a thriving middle class in the 1970’s has been shrunk to a shell of its former self, as 64 per cent of Americans now live paycheck to paycheck, 60 per cent of Americans cannot afford a 400 dollar unexpected expenditure, 68,000 people die each year from lack of health care, 500,000 a year go into medical debt, 85 million are uninsured or underinsured, and 600,000 people are homeless on the streets of America. In the richest country in the world, over half of our citizens find it a struggle to survive.
For twenty percent of Americans, things are basically okay. If we’re fortunate enough to be in that twenty percent, then yes the economy is doing well. In fact it just might be getting better. But the lucky ones are on an island, surrounded by a vast ocean of economic despair.
Will the American experiment be saved? The truth is, only if we save it. We have been mentally trained by the narratives and realities of our time to be in too many ways complacent, in too many ways focused only on ourselves, and in too many ways forgetful of the importance of public rather than just private good. Each of us should ask ourselves, “How willing am I to participate in the effort to course-correct America?” How many of us answer that question - and how we answer it - will make all the difference.
The time for decision is upon us now.
The moment calls for us to dismantle neoliberalism from our collective consciousness before fascism completely takes over. I believe in your leadership, Marianne!
If it were only America...it is the trend all over the world.