I penned this the night before the U.S. election this year. I hadn’t written or payed attention to politics in the four years prior. Yet, recharged I thought I’d give it a go.
So I remember four years ago tomorrow I had blunted someone’s jubilance by being somber in the wake of a tectonic shift in American politics. Certainly the election of Obama, taken at face value alone, was epic. After all, in an allegedly post-racial society it was amazing to see a Black man take the helm of government. Yet beneath the candidates’ polished yet plebian veneer and vacuous rhetoric his truth was easily ascertainable: there would be little difference between he and Bush. In writing, especially in publications like Foreign Affairs, Obama made clear that he had no intention of imperial retrenchment. Thus the Bush wars continued unabated. Campaign donations revealed further the picture of continuity. Wall Street had lavishly lined the coffers of the Obama campaign, greater than any candidate to date; there was, therefore, little reason to believe that the prospects for change would reverse trends of financialized inequality, impoverishment and corruption. The Great Recession saw the hemorrhage of nearly 9 million jobs; of the workers thrown upon the mercy of our demonized yet “generous” welfare state, only half would find work, typically of a far more precarious nature. Meanwhile, during the first year of the recovery from the Great Recession, 93% of all gains went to the now infamous 1%. Unlike the austere terms of the auto bailout, Wall Street still receives money from the Fed, without interest, and continues to speculate. It has, in effect, created vast new sums of wealth while sowing the seeds of our next crisis. And all this on the heels of thirty years of working-class stagnation as measured by every possible metric. No wonder the rise of right-wing populist hate groups has proliferated in the last four years. In the face of unabashed racial bigotry toward the President and civic groups like ACORN, right-wing politicians and pundits have succeeded at making race a scapegoat for our economic and social ills. This was just reflected in a recent poll, marking a somber national trend. There are historical parallels to this ominous condition.
Nevertheless, the first signals that the status quo would be preserved came with the appointments of Geithner, Gates and Bernanke, the standard-bearers of unfettered capitalism and war without cause or end. For those that might argue we have wound down our wars please don’t fail to take into account that while Bush fought two, Obama fights four. There are far more transgressions of note, too. Among them, kill lists and the officiated sanction of extra-judicial assassinations of American citizens leap to mind. Liberals might be quick to defend such state of affairs while conservatives will impugn me for drawing a seemingly unlikely comparison. Obama is, after all, “a socialist” while Bush the ardent defender of the free-market. Yet my purpose here is not to castigate anyone nor is it to defend anyone. Nor am I saying that there is no difference between candidates. For those who embrace Romney do you truly embrace his assault on women? Do you truly know what is meant by the euphemism, “big government”? Do you truly understand that the Ryan plan, as implemented across most of the developing nations and now the cynically termed, “PIGS” nations of Southern Europe, will yield? Typically I think most on the right share a deserved criticism of how the country has fared over the past four years, albeit both wholly off mark and without the social and racial demagoguery that sadly accompanies it. However, the change you “wish” to see, the dismantling of Social Security and Medicare with the concomitant tax increase on the working-class and poor, decreased levies on the rich and corporations, rest assured: President Obama will safely execute these in his second term. Moreover, they will only exacerbate the inequality and fragility of our personal states and social fabric. No, my purpose is not to alert you to the man behind the curtain. For too long he has consumed our attention. Instead, I propose that we take an honest appraisal of our society as juxtaposed to its many, self-assigned signifiers. For instance we are the freest nation on earth yet we oversee the largest imprisoned population. We have a democracy yet this election will be decided by a hand full of voters in 1/20th of the states who have been influenced by ungodly amounts of PAC cash at the same time that every effort to disenfranchise people of their right to vote is being made. We are a peaceful people yet we have waged more war than any other nation. We are a land of immigrants yet we are increasingly xenophobic. America is a meritocracy yet we are one of the most stratified nations on earth. We are a nation of laws yet we have eviscerated the constitution. And of course the incongruities continue.
If we are to have an honest appraisal of ourselves it should reflect the above paradoxes. That we are at once at a disastrous and prosperous precipice depending upon how we proceed should not escape us. And if there is to be an honest appraisal of how we should approach our problems we should recognize that they will not be solved electorally because they were created electorally. With history as a guide we know that the liberties we share, the ones we have lost, the ones we strive for, have only come through popular struggles, too many to enumerate. Equally, the aforementioned incongruities have always existed and absent continuous, popular pressure they will not relent. By all means, go to the polls and cast your ballots, especially for state-level candidates, as this is where our lives are most affected. In four years, however, no matter who you wish to see as CEO of this country, there is little doubt that without direct action things will be better but in fact much worse.
Let’s check back in four years and find out.