Wednesday, December 30, 2009

What's Going to Happen Here?

Yesterday, I listened to Bruce Judson discuss his book, It Could Happen Here on the Leonard Lopate Show on WQXR (NY's NPR station). Judson's book theorizes that America's growing income disparity (the cancerous democracy-killer that no one in our nation wants to talk about), could bring about an environment of extreme political instability. Layer in the toxic anti-government discourse that is so prevalent today, and Judson claims that revolution and / or secession are not outside the realm of possibility.

I have long been troubled by America's growing income disparity. Did you know that during the Reagan years....the Gordon Gecko years, mind you, - the average CEO made about 50 times the compensation that the average worker earned? Do you know what that ratio is now? About 450 to 1. I realize this is an isolated metric but I think it is fair to say that such a measure is indicative of what has become a self-congratulatory culture within corporate America. Maybe the Apocalypse presented by Judson is unrealistic but when we discuss the root cause of our culture wars and tenuous economic prospects, why is no one discussing income disparity?

In the 1930's, Sinclair Lewis wrote It Can't Happen Here. I first read this about six years ago when we were in the heart of the Bush Years. In this novel, reason and democracy have been commandeered by a megalomaniac populist who arrives under the guise of folksy small-town patriotism but eventually gravitates towards totalitarianism (PALIN!....sorry all - just slipped out). Why did I read this book during Dubya's reign? Because sometimes it feels good to feel bad. We were heading into a disastrous war and voices of dissent were being dismissed (at best) and at worst, being shouted down as unpatriotic.

America has an obsession with the end of times. We love to watch the train smash into the unsuspecting parked car. It's a kind of disaster porn, for a lack of a better phrase. Now when I go on, the rave reviews of Sinclair Lewis' It Can't Happen Here come from right wing voices claiming Lewis' anti-tyranny message speaks for them. After all, under the Obama administration, they now feel as though they are living under an oppressive regime.

I'll say this - I was wrong if I ever said, during the Bush years, that I lived under tyranny. The past year has made me realize that Americans are ignorantly culpable of claiming tyranny while we live in the freest, most fortunate nation on the planet. No matter what we think of what's happening in Washington, we should get down on our knees every day and thank our Creator that we are Americans. A dangerous vein has entered our national discourse, fueled by millionaires who sit in little boxes broadcasting venom on AM radio. Such porn gets further bolstered by that blubbering, nonsensical fat man on Fox News who inconceivably has captivated an immeasurable amount of attention this past year.

Americans have become careless with the word 'tyranny'. Richard Ford put it best in the Times opinion pages last Sunday. We have become "dangerously ambivalent and inattentive. We define life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as our right to bury our noses hubristically in our personal lives and public irrelevance."

I don't believe that any of the dire predictions of Lewis or Judson loom in our horizon. But never in my lifetime have words like 'secession' been used so casually in this country.

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