I had the rare pleasure of getting my husband out of the house on a weeknight to accompany a friend and I to the Orlando Shakespeare Theatre Company’s production of Les Miserables. It was an excellent production and well worth the money the evening out (including a delicious supper at nearby White Wolfe Restaurant) cost us. It also does my heart good to know that Orlando is capable of producing such shows, a sign it is slowly but surely giving up its little town mentality to become a real city
Weeping for Lost Dreams
The ending number of the first half of the play was “One Day More.” It was well done and wonderful to finally see it live and in context of the rest of the play. But I found myself drawn back to the events of six years ago when I first heard this song.
On the eve of the 2008 Presidential Election, the staff of then candidate Barack Obama created a video on Youtube with various staff members lip-synching the words to this song. The lyrics lent themselves to the occasion, a staff hopeful of victory, frightened of the possibility of defeat, dreaming of change, lyrics which ended with the following:
Tomorrow we'll discover
What our God in Heaven has in store!
One more dawn
One more day
One day more!
Today, as the impending 2014 midterm elections approach, much of that hope for change has vanished amidst a sea of fear, gloom and angry acrimony. As I watched the play last night, flashing back to the hope for a new era in 2008, I found myself weeping, not just for the moving lyrics but for the way this hope for change had played out in America since that video was made.
I think it is fair to say that there have been few, if any, presidents who have faced the kinds of obstacles this president has been required to deal with since before he took office. This has not been loyal opposition. This has not been vigorous partisan politics. The tenor of this opposition has been vicious, personalized, and nihilistic. The good of the country has rarely been even a remote second thought in the calculus of utter and absolute obstructionism.
While we white, non-Hispanic Americans continue to vigorously deny it, race has always played a role in this political acid bath of the past six years. We have compounded the sin of unacknowledged racism with the sin of repeated denial. This is a reflection of ourselves most of us absolutely don’t want to look at. The result has been the eruption of this vile misanthropy in bizarre forms like the birther non-scandal and the emphasis of Obama’s middle name as somehow proof he’s a Muslim (and thus, by this same non-reasoning, a terrorist).
This alone is troubling. But what has proved even more troubling is the impact this zero sum politics of personality has had on the country.
The Sword of Damocles
In the past six years we have not dealt with the pathologies of the financial industry which continue to hang over our collective heads like the Sword of Damocles awaiting the right moment to fall and pitch our nation into a depression that could make the 1930s look tame. We have not dealt with the chronic unemployment and underemployment that renders the life of up to ¼ of all Americans lacking in meaning and bereft of any hope for improvement.
We have not dealt with the impending problems of climate change whose challenges may render all the rest of these problems moot if not met emphatically and soon. And we find ourselves unable to extricate ourselves from the profoundly misguided and destructive invasions around the world we entered into under the last presidency.
We watch as our infrastructure crumbles in America even as politicians like Florida’s governor Rick Scott rejects federal funding for badly needed rail projects only to make room for his cronies to make millions off the taxpayers to build the same system. We watch as the working poor who become sick are demonized as lazy even as they are denied increases in minimum wage to pay for their care and real medical care to deal with their ailments. The ACA’s meager attempts to insure that all Americans can be medically treated regardless of income and status have been resisted at every step by the beneficiaries of a status quo among providers of health care, big Pharma and an insurance industry which exploits human misery. The overt greed and callous indifference to suffering is absolutely disgraceful.
Even as more and more tax breaks and incentives are provided the wealthy and the corporate interests, funding for schools continues to be cut (with the exception of the election year momentary increases, bribes designed to make the pols running for reelection look like the benefactors of schools). Our public school students are daily pounded with Pavlovian testing programs that stamp out both critical inquiry as well as any kind of love for learning itself. Our college students are being rushed through colleges, penalized for delay caused by changed majors, herded through overcrowded classes and shoved onto overcrowded online sections which bring those systems to a crawl, only to graduate with enough debt to hobble their lives for at least a decade after graduation.
The coup de grace is the activism of the best Supreme Court corporate money could buy who has ordained that our elections will be bought by the highest bidders and that our very ability to vote will be restrained by parties in power whose ideas are not compelling and thus who cannot win elections if everyone is actually able to vote. This is the same court who has incredibly declared that corporations are people with religions they may impose upon their employees and whose decisions have allowed our streets and our college campuses to be flooded with the weaponry of war.
Anyone else see a problem with a nation of angry people armed to the teeth?
Which brings me back to the anthem at the barricades. As I listened to the anthem of the Bourbon Revolution last night, I grieved for the failure of our own Bourbon Revolution. The economically unjust society we have become, increasingly maintained by coercive force and the corporate propaganda passed off as news, is a complete refutation of the democratic ideals we say we hold.
So many of us had hoped for something different in 2008.
Plenty of Blame to Go Around
It is too easy to blame a single individual for all of these failures, even if he is president. The cesspool into which American political and economic culture have devolved is the result of the values and resulting actions of many parties and the inaction – and thus acquiescence to injustice – of many more. There is plenty of blame to go around here.
That begins with a Republican Party which is merely obstructionist on a good day and extremist on issues ranging from voting rights to women’s rights to children on our border on most days. This is a party marked by ideologues with names like Rand Paul and Paul Ryan that has tumbled far from its days of thoughtful, venerable statesmen like Everett Dircksen, George Romney and Howard Baker.
But the problem also includes the voters who rely on the barrage of mindless negativity that has become our campaign ads to tell them how to vote. We have traded our role as citizens with duties to inform ourselves for being consumers waiting for someone to present us with limited choices to select between. The best packaging inevitably wins but America loses.
I also admit to a disappointment in President Obama. He is a very thoughtful man who sees a big picture, something that stands in stark contrast with his very limited predecessor. But he hates politics and thus allows those with no scruples to dominate that arena. He is wrong on his education policy (Barry, everyone does NOT need to go to college) and the verdict is still out on his willingness to continue playing foes against each other in the middle east. We’ve had no 9-11s thus far and most of our soldiers are home. But, frankly, I am not at all sure that the world is not a whole lot safer than when this Nobel Peace Prize winner took office.
I fear things could get much worse if the billions of dollars folks like the Koch Brothers are pouring into this year’s midterm elections manage to mobilize the politics of greed and fear and neutralize the turnout of those who stand to lose the most by the same. It is easy to lose hope in a situation like this.
Do We Dare to Still HOPE?
I believe that one day we will look back on the Obama Administration and the way it was completely neutralized by big money as an enormous squandering of opportunity to take badly needed new directions. Sadly, I fear that hindsight may occur in the wake of any number of disastrous possibilities on which America currently lies at the brink.
And yet, I write this with the stylized poster of Obama emblazoned with the word HOPE at the bottom over my right shoulder still on my office wall. I long ago learned that hope is not the same thing as optimism and, truth be told, I think optimism about our future together as a people is a luxury in today’s America. Even so, I still hold out hope for a tomorrow in which “we'll discover what our G-d in Heaven has in store” and that it will be the brighter future we hope for even as I recognize that is,at least for the moment, not terribly likely.
May that G-d in Heaven be with us in our waiting and watching.
The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., M.Div. Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Asst. Lecturer: Humanities, Religion,
Osceola Campus, University of Central Florida, Kissimmee
If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.
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