Red sky in the morning, sailor’s warning; red sky at night, sailor’s delight.
– Old rule of thumb for forecasting weather
One of the sites I follow on Facebook identifies itself as Storm is Coming. Ostensibly it is a site devoted to all things Bernie Sanders. But the title of the site and the tenor of the postings really points toward something different, something a bit more ominous.
There is a sense in the posts on this site that America, perhaps the world itself, is headed toward some kind of devolution into chaos. I also get the sense that while the Storm these folks see coming could be preventable, it’s unlikely that we Americans will turn away from the precipice prior to hurtling over the rim of the abyss.
In all honesty, I do not want to believe that. But I am not able to convince myself at this point that these prophets of doom are wrong. And I am not alone with that discomfort.
Yesterday’s blog post by UC Berkeley economist Robert Reich puts it well:
I just got off the phone with a former Republican member of Congress who says he “can’t believe” Trump won all of today’s primaries. “I don’t get it,” he said. “The Republican Party is completely out of control.”
Earlier today I spoke with a Hillary supporter who asked me to urge Bernie to get out of the race. “He can’t win, and the longer he stays in the harder he’s making it for Hillary in the general [election],” she said. “I just don’t get it.”
Neither of the people I spoke with “get” the biggest single force in the 2016 election: a furious revolt against the political establishment.
The revolt has taken two very different forms – progressive populism (Bernie's "political revolution") and authoritarian populism (Donald Trump’s bloviated bigotry). They are the positive and negative sides of the same coin.
Both should be wake-up calls for America’s two major political parties and the corporate and financial elites that have sponsored them for decades. Unless or until the establishment responds to the growing frustrations of a shrinking and increasingly insecure middle class, the populist revolt – its reformist zeal on one side, and its hatefulness on the other – will only intensify in coming years.
Reich’s final paragraph bespeaks much of the apprehension I feel at the moment. What we are seeing in this election should be a wake-up call. The level of violence at the Trump rallies including the confrontation of demonstrators with police outside the Orange County, CA event last night is alarming. The tone of the campaign rhetoric has become equally alarming with the former Republican Speaker of the House saying of the second place candidate for his party’s nomination that he’d be elected “over my dead body.” I almost find myself pining for the early days of the campaign when penis comparisons and menstrual references were the common fare.
As a friend described it, this is much like watching a looming train wreck. We are unable to bear the impending sight but we are too fascinated with it to turn away.
They simply don’t get it
One of the things I do out of love for my 89 year old Dad is endure his obsession with Fox while I am at his house. As much as I try to ignore the loud chattering (my Dad keeps the TV turned up so he can hear it) of the talking heads on Fox, a few of the comments managed to get through my defense line of crossword puzzles and online solitaire Tuesday night.
One of the commentators noted the exit polling in Pennsylvania where a majority of Republicans there felt the current activities of Wall Street hurts the country as a whole. The polling data demonstrated that voters in Pennsylvania, who were considerably less likely than those in states like Connecticut and Delaware to earn more than $100,000/year, were also much more likely to see Wall Street as injurious to their daily lives. Most of these folks voted for Trump.
I was amused by the flummoxed Fox pundit who repeatedly asserted something to the effect of “How could anyone think that the greatest economy in the world’s history is harmful to their interests?” as if it were revealed truth. It was Lou Dobs who continually reminded the sputtering spokesperson for free market fundamentalism that one’s socio-economic location makes a great deal of difference in how one sees the economic status quo.
Cui bono? Good for whom and at whose expense?
I am hardly surprised that conservative ideologues are shocked to discover that the economic system which has provided them with often largely unearned privilege at the expense of many whose largely undervalued labor produces that privilege could be seen as harmful. As social critic Upton Sinclair observed at the height of the last Robber Baron era during the 1920s, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”
What was striking in this exchange, however, was the vehemence in the denial of the reality the polling data was revealing. As Reich notes in his discussions with both Republican and Democratic loyalists, these are people who simply don’t “‘get’ the biggest single force in the 2016 election: a furious revolt against the political establishment.” And it is precisely that cluelessness and denial that prompt folks like the Facebook posters to warn us that a “Storm is Coming.”
Institutions past expiration dates
The “furious revolts” that Reich observes confirms my sense that the US - and perhaps the world generally - stands on the brink of a major transformative stage in its history. As I have said here previously, while many are prone to construct this point in history as a time when our institutions are broken or failed, reacting in anger and furiously seeking others to blame, in fact those institutions have simply reached their natural expiration dates. The time for change has come.
Clearly, the status quo has served at least some of our interests in the past or it would never have come into being and remained intact. But all innovations have their points of inception and their points of decline. It is when the expiration date of an institution has been reached and the parties who are accustomed to that status quo fail to respond that the potential for “furious revolts” arises.
As I see it, virtually all of our institutions are beyond their expiration dates.
· Our system of electoral politics - with its barriers to participation, its money-driven interminable media campaigns and its hierarchies of power proxies from super-delegates to the nameless and faceless members of the electoral college – no longer serves “we, the people.” America has ceased to be a functioning democracy as former President Jimmy Carter has observed.
· Our educational systems with their obsessions with assessment, the standardized test driven pedagogies it produces and the standardized – but largely uncritical and uncreative – minds it produces, no longer serve our children. A generation of bottom liners who learned early on to hate the schools and universities that served corporate needs at the expense of their own developmental needs will spend a lifetime recovering from this abuse and resenting those who heaped it upon them.
· Our economic system has produced the most unequal society in American history. With that inequality has come social instability, the breakdown of social cohesiveness and the crime and acrimony that self-focused individuals inevitably in conflict generate. Our workers do not make living wages and our higher education graduates spend lifetimes enslaved to debt. This paradigm clearly no longer “serves the common good.”
· Our religious institutions no longer inspire hope or provide meaning. Both science and religion have lost their way in largely contrived conflicts between them resulting in dueling fundamentalisms that have provoked terrorism on the one hand and mass exits from institutional expressions of religion on the other. Rabid refusal of religious bodies to confront the confusion of social prejudices with religion and the dogmatic understandings that inform them has disenchanted those with the capacity to think critically and feel compassionately. They have voted with their feet. The time has come for a new way of being homo religioso.
· Our willingness to ignore the changes in our planet’s climate is no longer a luxury humanity can indulge. The challenges of sustainable energy sources and confronting the collateral damage of the war already waged on our planet’s ecosystems must command humanity’s attention for the foreseeable future. The time has come for a new way of being human vis-à-vis “this fragile earth our island home.”
What people like Bernie Sanders recognize is that our window to act, to avoid the Storm that will surely come should the current crisis in legitimacy in virtually every aspect of collective human endeavors be ignored, is rapidly closing. An old classmate of mine from high school who, like myself and Reich, has supported the Sanders campaign noted yesterday on Facebook, “A coup can happen overnight. A revolution takes a little longer.”
I think there is wisdom in that observation. Indeed, I think the revolution has been underway for a while now. But it has fallen well short of its desired goals.
The 2008 Obama campaign focused on two ideals: hope and change. Indeed, I type these words below my framed copy of the famous HOPE poster of Obama hanging on my office wall. Like many Americans, I had enormous hopes when he was elected that change would come to America.
In all fairness, some change has occurred. My marriage to my partner of now approaching 42 years is one aspect of that change. The drawdowns in Iraq and Afghanistan and the resistance to the saber rattlers' calls to invade Syria and to bomb Iran are also aspects of that change even as the liberal use of weaponized drones continues to wreak havoc around the world. America got by with only a moderate depression caused by the latest failure of the free market fundamentalist model in 2008 only because Obama negotiated a largely rotten deal to bail out Wall Street at the expense of Main Street. And while a majority of people in America are not happy with the Affordable Care Act, the truth is that many people who previously had no access to medical care now do, almost like in a regular first world nation.
But, like many of us who dared to HOPE with Obama’s election, our hopes have largely been drowned in a tidal wave of mindless Republican opposition that announced the day of his inauguration that their only focus would be to thwart anything Obama proposed regardless of what it was or how it impacted the American people. As a result, Washington has essentially shut down – once quite literally – for the last eight years.
There is a reason the revolts Reich observes are furious and I fear they will be increasingly so.
With the soft revolution of Obama largely stopped in its tracks, I had hoped that Bernie Sanders might offer a way out of this morass. His willingness to articulate the places where our current electoral, economic and educational systems have reached their limits and must be transformed connected with many voters. His appreciation of the increasing role diversity in our population will play in determining our future was always palpable. His vision of the future connected with the Millennial Generation which as of yesterday became the largest cohort in our country surpassing the Boomers.
But, it appears Bernie’s revolution, struggling to appeal to voters beyond his base of largely well educated white folks and Gen Y Millennials, will not be coming to a polling place near you in November. Instead, we will have two representatives of the status quo facing off in what is likely to be the nastiest and costliest election in US history.
This is where I begin worrying about a coming Storm.
One place I disagree with Bernie is his summation of Hillary’s qualifications. She is certainly qualified to run a government under the status quo system. But if the status quo is the problem, as I and many other furious revolutionaries see it, that is not an adequate answer to the problems we face. It is simply more of the same, a prolonging of the current agony.
But I am not at all certain that Hillary Clinton can win this election. Mr. Trump has an enormous war chest at his behest and his corporate buddies will spare no expense in soft money painting Hillary in demonic tones. She will be absolutely unrecognizable before the campaign is over and frankly after the experience with George Bush, I no longer have a lot of confidence in the American voters to see through that haze. Even if she wins, unless there is an unforeseen sweep of Congress by the Democrats, unlikely given the gerrymandered House districts, President Hillary will face a Congress at least as determined to shut down her presidency at all costs (including to the American people) as her predecessor’s.
On the other hand, Trump will be a disaster if elected. His track record as a businessman is currently in the black but it also includes a long list of failures from an airline to his own brand of vodka. One wonders how many failures America can absorb under a Trump regime after eight disastrous years of Bush followed by eight years of near lockdown with Obama and his Teapots under the Dome. Trump will immediately engender mistrust from our allies and confrontation from our current foes as this American version of Vladimir Putin takes the field. And he has already dramatically polarized an increasingly diverse America that in just a couple of decades will have no single majority ethnicity.
That leaves the Storm….
I do agree with my classmate that revolutions, unlike coups, take a long time. Transformations take even longer. It is when the dominant paradigm of the status quo reaches its expiration date and refuses to relinquish its hold that conflict arises.
Last Tuesday night as I listened to the increasingly anxious voices of the guardians of the status quo who refused to see the new reality that was being revealed in polling places across the northeast, it occurred to me that conflict and chaos may be the only way forward for America. We have rejected the soft revolution of Obama and now have turned down the invitation from Sanders for a more direct and thoughtful revolution.
That leaves the Storm.
I shudder to think of what that might look like. But transformation is surely coming. The only questions remaining are how, how soon and how furious the Storm.
Harry Scott Coverston
If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.
Most things worth considering do not come in sound bites.
Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it. – Rabbi Rami Shapiro, Wisdom of the Ages, Commentary on Micah 6:8