The 4th of July was a fortnight ago: All across the United States the choking smoke of millions of grills rose higher and higher—even as the country sank lower and lower into what is likely the worst crisis of leadership and citizenship the nation’s ever known. Ironically, as the beer-bottle caps popped and seas of ketchup flowed, most of us scarcely grasped how far our shared state has devolved. It wasn’t always like this; the question remains: Will enough of us act, soon enough, to turn things around?
We, the modern-day peasants…
About 400 years ago, as our ancestors began leaving the Old World for the New in larger numbers, Europe stood for slavery, not freedom. An entrenched aristocracy—1% of the population—rode the other 99% to squeeze every penny possible out of not only the peasants on the tired land, but also those seeking opportunities in the teeming cities. Most people lived short, desperate lives, unable to fill many of their basic needs—let alone realize nobler dreams for themselves or their children.
Once on wild, faraway shores and thus removed from the ruthless tutelage of self-serving elites, the early European settlers shepherded their own advancement rather than forever subsidize the leisurely lives of the hereditary rich. Later, when the crown attempted to re-establish fiscal bondage through arbitrary taxation, some colonists banded together to refuse to sustain an inherently unfair, sick system that served the exaggerated “needs” of coddled elites but hardly anyone on Main Street.
England’s elite, however, had potent tools to keep the wheels of their mighty machinery in place: the official press, a state church… and the status quo—a force always more numbingly powerful than most realize. The Established Order possessed such authority that when the War for Independence began only a minority advocated rebellion; 30-40% of North America’s Anglo colonists still supported the crown [about 100,000 Loyalists later left for other British territories]; most, though, didn’t care.
Once most Americans had rejected hereditary license, ultimately tens of millions of immigrants voted with their feet and joined the search for a better life, set free from the stultifying weight of a class of undeserving rulers granted power not by character or merit but financial privilege. In such an open social climate, the United States flourished as individuals as well as communities sought to thrive, not just survive: In addition to securing basic needs, in America people could improve their family’s lives.
The American Dream lies in shards; the vandals remain at large.
Two centuries later, however, over the past three decades we, as a people, have ever more swiftly regressed to conditions that can be accurately described as modern equivalents of the economic servitude of our pre-democracy ancestors. If current trajectories prevail, the America of the near future will resemble the very fiefdoms that our ancestors fled! Such a state is neither necessary nor inevitable; sadly, however, its greatest chance of permanence stems from the majority’s indifference.
Once again a fraction of the population drives the fates of the vast majority—with the latter’s passive collusion! Ironically, in the past “welfare moms” and, more recently, illegal immigrants have been painted as “parasites” sucking the life out of the American economy and social system—yet today the plunder taken by the highest-earning class far surpasses the value of public funds ever tapped by the struggling masses. With co-opted electronic and print media, we’ve been duped to believe bunk!
Since 2008 middle-class Americans have lost 40% of our wealth, while the top 15% has seen steep increases in the share of the common pie they claim for themselves. The Great Recession arose out of the elites’ folly, by the uncaring greed of a few who bought enough politicians to repeal post-Depression regulation created to keep pilferage in check. They sold junk mortgages to folks they knew couldn’t carry them, junk bonds to pension funds whose holders would not be carried by them.
The greatest threat to our common good is not from single moms nor migrant farm laborers, retired seniors nor unemployed workers, but from elites who feel no allegiance to the nation or connection to its future. While we distract ourselves with passing amusements a mostly faceless clique amasses private opulence while all things public slide into poverty: They’ll continue to do so till we stop them. What we are talking about is our nation’s shared future—nothing less than our collective well-being.
Cancer cells can’t be “recycled”—only removed, maybe replaced.
Numerous proposals exist on how to break the hold the upper crust holds over the life of the nation. They range from the quirky to the genuinely brilliant, from reassigning much current Federal power by realigning states into semi-autonomous regions—such as New England, the Midwest, Dixie, etc.—and thus stripping K Street of power-peddling access to Federal-level career politicians, to limiting campaign-fund maximums as well as the number of years non-local-level politicians can hold office.
The rot is so well rooted, however, that surface reforms will not overturn the money-changing tables that corporations have set up in DC’s halls of power. Instead of allowing one [wo]man to dominate the nation’s political life, it is time to consolidate leadership into the head of a parliamentary-elected system; instead of trying to build consensus after each election, those bidding for power would have to build consensus before they reach the highest office in the land. The current Supreme Court—with its disgracefully disengaged Clarence Thomas and cynical John Roberts—must be disbanded immediately and replaced by a less partisan set of rotating justices. And the corporate whores now clogging Congress? Send them packing in favor of representatives of the people, not mega-business!
Officials representing the interests of the populace at large and not only moneyed sponsors would stop wasting our shared wealth on unnecessary, unjust wars or voting [as of this writing] 33 times (!) on an issue that clearly won’t be changed under current partisan conditions. The posturing of sham public “servants” squanders our national vitality like little else; we must reclaim the social discourse.
Ultimately, however, no amount of reforms at the top (“leadership”) will solve the systematic problems destroying America as long as the grassroots (“citizenship”) continue to willingly swallow the lies of the elite. As a people, we have become the things we said we opposed or even hated: Life in the United States today shares sobering parallels with life in the former Soviet Union—namely, the masses serving a Big Lie that holds together a house of mirrors that thus rides the back of its people.
“The Truth shall set us free”—if we let it.
If we start telling the truth, where to begin? By demanding to know what really happened on the 11th of September 2001—e.g., a factual investigation into non sequiturs such as the mostly ignored collapse of the third WTC building or how CNN and the BCC could have “confirmed” the building’s demise 23 minutes before it imploded! But, all of the unexplained discrepancies in the Grand Lie that gave birth to so many Baby Lies aside, we 99%-er Americans must engage in a national heart-to-heart conversation—of a depth and quality like Truth and Reconciliation projects in other troubled lands.
We thus might issue, for one, the cleansing admission that instead of protecting our young men and women over the past decade, most us stood aside and watched as sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, neighbors and colleagues were sent to Iraq—repeatedly!—and put in harm’s way as a direct result of Colin Powell’s shameful lying, Don Rumsfeld’s muddled delusions and Dick Cheney’s machinations. We should boldly acknowledge that numbed by knee-jerk, post-attack group think, we condoned US-sponsored crimes against innocent people—including torture, rape and murder—and ruined lives.
Our flayed economy aside, we will not be able to recapture our national dialog as long as most of the voices now dominating it simply refuse to tell some basic truths. Who we’ve become—as a nation—since the manipulated tragedies of autumn 2001 is something foreign to who we always thought we were or ever strove to be. Until we stop swallowing hollow narratives that feed the power of an undeserving elite, we will not overcome our current moral drifting and social disarray; we’ll stay lost.
The only way “out” truly is “through”…
Until we have owned up to what really has been taking place in this country the past decade or more and who those events have turned us into, we cannot arise out of our current malaise. Indeed, the poison of such darkness will taint every effort at renewal and reform. There is no other way forward than to admit what we have done while serving elites who care nothing for us, only for themselves.
To become again truly “independent,” we must band together and cast off the elites’ usurpation of the government our ancestors pioneered. Instead of fighting each other for ever-shrinking pieces of pie, we must reclaim the pie! Just as the ancestors of those Americans not descended from slaves or Natives came in search of ways not only to meet needs but realize their highest dreams, we must refuse to accept less than full sovereignty over our purses, our bodies, our voices and our ballots.
Don’t vote for hollow puppets!
We must acknowledge that it does not matter if one votes for the Mitt Romneys or Barack Obamas that power brokers payroll as front men. The executive office has become so corrupt that only a new structure of leadership will free us from these cynical, plastic figures groomed by the money-soaked Adelsons and Kochs of this country. As our national morals have declined to new lows, we must ask our churches, synagogues, mosques to break their silence and to counter our times’ worst failures.
We can take none of these steps, however, till we recognize the degree of decay that’s settled upon our land. We must stop retreating into the phony refuge of under-water homes or blaring headsets; we must speak with—and listen to!—one another again, to find common ground, then step forward to defend it even as we advance our joint welfare. We must refuse to be slaves even while defending the sovereignty of those around us: We cannot turn a nation around alone, but only by truly uniting.
Awaken or perish!
Finally, we must demand truth and true freedom immediately: We have little time, as the Earth is groaning under the weight of our material-addicted lifestyles—the very consumption fanned by the elites because it keeps their bank accounts swelling even as the ice caps are shrinking. We need to speak truth to power, to declare real and lasting independence from the enslaving efforts of a self-serving elite who we’ve let too loose, too long—at great expense to our world and our very survival.
About the author: Born in Iowa to family that had farmed in North America since 1630, Michael Luick-Thrams currently lives and teaches in Southern Germany. He has run the TRACES Center for History and Culture [www.TRACEs.org] for more than ten years. To view samples of his work, view: