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A New Year and the End of a Decade

December 30, 2019

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They say people are supposed to get more conservative as they get older, but for me, the opposite has been true. Now, at 76, I find myself enraged at the reactionary racist movement that has seized control of this country and frustrated by the bone-deep fear and pessimism that prevents us from doing anything about the critical issues that we face.
Ten years ago, we were just beginning to emerge from a catastrophic recession, but I had a feeling of hope and optimism. There was still a lingering euphoria from that joyous mass celebration that was the Obama inauguration, when it seemed possible that America might finally overcome its shameful and crippling legacy of racism. Congress was on the verge of passing the Affordable Care Act, which would bring health coverage to millions of Americans who did not have it. Congress was also about to pass Dodd-Frank to reform the criminally risky practices of Big Banking and Wall Street that had brought on the Great Recession. America’s prestige and standing in the world was again on the rise.
How different things look today ten years later! The counter-reformation reaction was immediate and implacable. The lynchpin of the conservative backlash was the Supreme Court’s January 21, 2010 Citizens United decision which turned what was already a river of corporate and private money in politics into a tsunami. Corporate money funded the Tea Party movement which transformed the Republican party into an anarchic and nihilistic band of political vandals, in which establishment party leaders could survive only by going along with the radicals.
What the movement lacked was a charismatic and unscrupulous leader. Then along came Trump, who has turned the Tea Party movement and the Republican party into a cult of personality. And here we are.
I wonder where is the outrage at the corruption and defilement of the Presidency? We all knew what what going to happen. We began the Trump presidency with the Women’s March–the largest nationwide protest in American history. People joined Indivisible and showed up at congress members’ town halls. But that energy and anger seems to have seeped away in a daily onslaught of scandals so overwhelming that it began to seem normal. Democrats wrung their hands over whether to impeach Trump for his blatant offenses until a civil servant made it impossible to ignore. The national mood seems to be one of sullen resignation.
Our government is paralyzed and incapable of doing anything about urgent national problems. Where there is any action, it’s in the direction of making things worse, whether it’s regarding climate change, public health, education, poverty, racial equality, income equality, financial regulation, international relations, etc. The political battle is merely to preserve what remains against further erosion, not to seek bold solutions to our growing problems.
As cynical as I sometimes feel, I can’t help being an idealist. I believe that perhaps the first function of democratic government is to protect the weak and poor against the strong and rich and to strive to improve equality of opportunity. As a country, we have made some progress in that direction, but I sense that the tide is turning and something fundamental in the distribution of power has shifted–something our legal and political institutions are ill-equiped to deal with. The more wealth is concentrated in the hands of behemoth corporations and the wealthiest of individuals, the more government becomes their servant. Are we, as a nation, okay with that?
A decade ago, I had no grandchildren. Now I have four. I wonder what we will be leaving them. Americans are taught to believe in the inevitability of progress, but history tells us that rights gained can be lost and that economic and social progress can be reversed. I fear we are at one of those historic inflection points now. If we want to keep America a democracy, the year 2020 will be crucial. This is no time for apathy and despair, but a time for mobilization. Act like your future depends on this year’s election. Because it does!

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