Abraham Lincoln once said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” The more alienated we feel from our political leadership the more disconnected we feel from those societal institutions that hold power over our lives and well-being.
The kind and quality of government sets the tone for how we perceive our living environment and life experiences. If those in leadership roles treat citizens with respect and regard, if they have as a priority the meeting of peoples’ needs, our environment feels hopeful and positive.
If on the other hand, those in leadership positions disregard the needs of people in general, and the poor, children, elderly, the infirm, and our veteran’s who are returning from war wounded in mind and body in particular, our environment can feel hopeless and scary. A dysfunctional government sets the tone for a dysfunctional society.
In today’s world, instead of having a government of, by and for the people, we have a government of corporations, by special interests, for Wall Street. A Princeton University research paper, after a two-decade long study, has concluded that the United States has become an oligarchy and is no longer a democracy.
Wall Street greed and government gridlock
The 2008 financial disaster was a product of self-serving greed, if not fraudulent behaviour on the part of banking institutions. People lost their jobs, savings, homes, benefits and retirement funds. Communities lost services including fire and police protection, mental health services and agencies that assist the elderly and disabled. Public schools lost essential funding for programs and services. Businesses went belly up. People filed for bankruptcy.
Those who were able to keep their homes lost property values and went underwater. These homeowners were paying their original mortgage that did not reflect the new, lower value of their home.
While Main Street bailed out Wall Street, once Wall Street regained its footing, the bankers turned their backs on Main Street. Underwater homeowners were given no assistance in the restructuring of their mortgage debt or in working out a strategy with lending institutions that would make their lives more bearable. Many simply walked away from their home loans.
On the political front, since 2008, and the election of Barack Obama, before he even took the oath of office, the GOP conservatives pledged to oppose everything that his administration would propose. This tactic has created “gridlock,” as the blockage of the passage of legislation has come to be called. It became a sad, frustrating way of life for all who had hoped that President Obama’s “Yes We Can” changes for working together in government would begin to be realized. During the off year election of 2010, Mitch McConnell, the “leader” of the Republican majority in the Senate announced that “the number one job the GOP has is to make Obama a one-term President.” To make matters worse, House Speaker John Boehner in December of 2010, proclaimed that the word compromise does not exist in his vocabulary.
Another way to describe this political season is to say, simply, that those conservatives who were elected to address the needs of citizens have not earned their pay cheques. They were more interested in thwarting Obama’s presidency than taking care of returning vets, addressing infrastructure repairs, extending unemployment insurance to those who were devastated by 2008, and creating regulations that would safeguard citizens from another similar financial disaster.
These same conservatives were and are committed to shrinking government, in essence they want to do away with government as it is today. This conservative block confuses small government with efficient and effective government. What they have done is to prove that when people don’t do their job, government does not work. In fact, in 2013, these politicians actually closed government down altogether for 17 days. Conservatives led by Ted Cruz attempted to blame the shutdown on President Obama’s lack of leadership. This misguided strategy did not succeed and the GOP paid a heavy price for their misadventure.
As a consequence of such inefficiency and political disregard, people have become even more frustrated and angry at government. The approval rating of the Congress has been below 10 percent for most of the past six years. A recent study finds that only 19 percent of voters even trust government. Many of the very people who are frustrated with the inefficiency of government are the ones who have elected and supported those who have made government inefficient. They have reaped what they have sown.
What these folks fail to realize is that government’s role is to protect American citizens. We have a Constitution and Bill of Rights that spell out, in principal and in fact, how government shall work, who will do what and that the three branches of government will work within a process of checks and balances. These are the basics of the intent for us.
Beyond that, in today’s world, government protects us by making sure that our food is safe to eat, that medicines are safe to ingest, and planes are safe to fly. In addition, government is supposed to ensure that pilots are qualified to fly planes, highways and bridges are built within safety parameters, that banks and business practices will cause us no harm.
Our federal government, in times of disaster, provides those who have faced devastation with food, shelter and various support services to sustain the afflicted who have lost everything. This is why the balancing of governmental expenditures with income sources is vastly different to the balancing of the family budget.
Today, a politician’s need for campaign funding for re-election has resulted in turning to special interest groups for money. The interplay between those who are in office and special interest groups, some would say, has become incestuous. The Robert’s Court ruling on Citizen’s United paved the way for money from more and varied sources to become part of our political process. And there’s no requirement for transparency. Those who contribute funds for our elections don’t have to reveal themselves to anyone.
Special interest groups have, at times, actually been brought into the writing of regulations that are supposed to protect citizens from the kinds of practices that caused the devastation of 2008. The relationship between elected representatives and special interest groups is not lost on the public and it has further created animosity between our political system and the people.
Many experts have indicated that with the special interest involvement in the writing of regulations, there are, in fact, no better safeguards in place today, to protect Main Street than there were in 2008. In essence, we could experience another 2008 all over again. Only this time, many economists anticipate that it will be much worse.
The new normal
The collapse of our economy in 2008 essentially resulted in the destruction of the middle and working class economy in the United States. We’re now being exposed to a concept referred to as the “new normal.” In this new world, instead of having a full-time job with a predictable set work schedule and a livable wage, with vacation time, with benefits and a guaranteed retirement plan, we’re being told that these conditions of employment no longer exist.
Instead, we’re told that we need to accept part-time hours, with no guaranteed schedule. We need to settle for minimum or reduced wages, no benefits or retirement plan. In this world an individual can work two or three jobs and still earn an income below the poverty line. We even have corporations setting the ceiling for work hours so that an employee doesn’t qualify for benefits, should those benefits exist.
The question resounds, who can support a family on this basis? What this also suggests is that the “new normal” is really preparing us to accept a developing world standard of living. In the world of the new normal, we are being programmed to accept less as a new version of the American Dream.
And, for those who are hurting and suffering in relation to a dysfunctional, uncaring, non-responsive government, where does one turn to redress grievances and to feel the way is open to change and improve our lot in life? In today’s world, no such option exists.
The American electorate has been stonewalled by those who are supposed to represent them. This lack of access to avenues to redressing the plight of “Main Street” folks has caused resentment, anger and frustration on the part of ordinary citizens.
The sad state of politics in 2016
During the 2016 Presidential election cycle, as a result of mainstream medias’ unapologetic showcasing, we have been forced to suffer with the racist, misogynist, xenophobic utterances from a Donald Trump. This aspirant to the White House mocks and ridicules others in the name of being against political correctness. He admonishes us to believe that he knows what to do with the battle fields of Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan by saying, “trust me, I’m good with the military, I know more than the Generals.” Or, again, his answer to what he would do to improve jobs and the economy is, “trust me I’m good at making deals.”
For some, Trump is the personification of an ignorant, insecure, impulsive, narcissist who thrives on being in the spotlight and having people blown away by his vile, outrageously offensive comments and outbursts. Trump’s behaviour, words and ignorance have led the conservative columnists Michael Gerson, David Brooks, George Will, and Charles Krauthammer to declare emphatically that: “Donald Trump is not fit to be President of the United States.” It’s estimated that mainstream networks provided Trump with anywhere from 55 million and 2 billion dollars in free campaign exposure.
His opponent, Hillary Clinton has been scripted, again by the media, with the narrative of “crooked Hillary,” to quote Trump. As a consequence, she’s careful about what she says because what she has said, during the past twenty-five years of public service, has often, without merit, been used against her.
She has been branded as someone who is not forthcoming about the truth. For nearly twenty-five years a conservative organization Judicial Watch has been hunting down evidence to prove the Clinton’s are criminals, but to no avail. Judicial Watch still persists with their obsession that the Clintons are the most heinous unprosecuted criminals in the history of American politics.
Clinton, “the reputed criminal,” has never been found guilty of a punishable offense by the D.O.J. or the F.B.I., never been brought to trial, and has always been allowed to move on with her life and political career free of legal repercussions. Her career has included her re-election to New York’s Senate Seat, and passing the vetting process to become Secretary of State. Needless to say, the people of New York, or those vetting her for a Cabinet position didn’t think she was guilty of malfeasance.
Telling lies and breeding fear
Added to this is that we really cannot trust what we’re being told by politicians or their surrogates. We need to rely on fact checking to learn if what we’re being told is true or not. Those who have a need to continue to tell us lies are following the script that the Nazi’s used during World War II. That script is based on the notion that if you tell the public a lie often enough, they will eventually come to believe the lie to be the truth.
The social dynamic that we’re experiencing in the United States is the kind of incubator for fear, anxiety, frustration and anger that leads to acts of violence. Our system, as it is being orchestrated in today’s world, is setting the stage for acting out behaviour on the part of people who feel they have no options open to them for redress. And, people like a Trump are fanning the flames of fear and hatred that can serve as the trigger for such acting out on the part of frightened, frustrated citizens. We’re already seeing expression of such behaviour in the desecration of Muslim mosques as well as attacks on Muslims, immigrants, members of law enforcement and those who are not in agreement with Trump followers.
So what can we do?
What can we as individual citizens do to change this overcast, stormy political season? What can we as individuals do to address the lies and attempts to create a “new normal” that embraces American citizens learning to live in a third world standard of living?
To begin with, we need to know that we’re not alone in our perceptions of the aberrant political, social and economic behaviour that’s going on around us. There are many informed, responsible, aware, outspoken citizens, writers, pundits and media sources who share the need to do something to regain an adult grip on our democratic processes and way of life. For me, Robert Reich, Bill Moyers, Charlie Rose, David Brooks, Tom Friedman and Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times, E.J. Dionne, Michael Gerson and Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post, Mark Shields, Donna Brazile, Travis Smiley, Arianna Huffington and the Huffington Post, John Dias of the San Francisco Chronicle, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Col. Andrew J. Bracevich, Mike Morell and countless others too numerous to mention, are aware of what is going on politically, economically, socially and on the international world stage. We also have the satirical Saturday Night Live and the Stewart/Colbert Effect that harpoons the ridiculous behaviours of those who are supposed to work on our behalf and who do not.
We need to separate fact from fiction. If we find ourselves reacting to something, we need to PAUSE and look at what is going on within ourselves. We need to get in touch with what we’re feeling, what kind of “self-talk” is going on within us. We need to separate our reactive thinking from responsive thinking. Bringing such awareness into our deliberative process is responsible citizenship.
We need to be well-informed by reading newspapers, weekly and monthly publications, watching daily news programs, listening to discussions about issues, both those that support our views and those that oppose our views. We can follow people on Facebook, and read books on people and issues that capture our interests. Again, being informed is responsible citizenship. Knowledge is power.
In addition, doing something in our sphere of influence might be as simple as Mother Teresa’s approach to overcoming worldwide poverty and hunger by feeding one person at a time. It might be for us to become conscious of smiling as we pass someone on the street instead of having a fixed scowl on our face. A simple hello to a stranger in the supermarket will humanize the world for both.
We need to return to being neighbours to one another, working on the basis of treating others as we would like to be treated. To live with the attitude that if one of us suffers, we all suffer. Realizing that “but by the grace of God, there go I.”
Our treating others from the standpoint of being all for one and one for all would transform an overcast world into a world cleansed by the sunshine that emanates from our loving-kindness and compassionate essence.
By joining together, working together, respecting one another, caring for one another, we can make a difference as fellow members of our one Human Family. Together we can trump the likes of Trump!
For my part, in addition to a smile instead of a scowl, saying “hi” to a sales person, grocery clerk or fellow person who is just walking down the street and asking them “how are you doing,” being a loving husband and father and grandfather, I am adding this essay to my offerings to all who find themselves interested in what I have to share.
As Travis Smiley says: “Keep the faith.”