Friday, April 6, 2012

The Arrow of History

For many of us coming into political awareness in the 30s, 40s and 50s, the arc of social progress now in retrograde is hard to witness. Is our promised orbit ready for an obit? Is the wound self-inflicted, forensically speaking? Who are the killers of the dream?

FDR’s New Deal yielded needed programs for both urban and rural poor along with collective bargaining rights which arguably saved capitalism from the perceived threat of communism. The principle of a safety-net was established with Social Security.

After our entrance into the war anti-fascism united the country. Briefly, Russia was our friend. Who knew these were the glory days? We grew up with a common cause and common enemy. The G.I. Bill extended the role of government as a guarantor of certain rights and privileges which, to a large measure, created the middle-class and the promise of an American dream.

Lyndon Johnson was the last New Dealer to occupy the White House. Medicare and his war on poverty extended the reach of Roosevelt’s vision even as he tragically plunged us into a wrong war. The misadventure in Vietnam engendered a social upheaval which, along with a redress of racial grievances, began to polarize the country.

During the Cold War years the allure of the Soviet Union turned into a dreadful and dreaded opposition. When the U.S.S.R. crumbled a new narrative emerged. Republicans seized the opportunity to capitalize on the incompetence and abuse of strong central governments.

In the absence of any powerful model for further social programs and with the supremacy of the U.S. on the world stage, the Liberal paradigm fell out of favor. Anti-government rhetoric became the norm under Reagan in an era that saw the rise of evangelicals consolidating around conservative values. To a certain extent Regan Republicanism was a reaction against the anti-war and civil rights movements of the sixties and seventies.

The move to dismantle progressive initiatives is well underway. With diminishing push-back from Liberals the far right agenda prevails. Elections have become exercises in fund-raising. Democrats now feed at the same trough as their opponents. Bush II stoked fear and revenge giving free rein to the Neo-Cons, off the ledger, while dooming the country with financial recklessness.

Obama’s presidency, full of promise with a changing demography, has further incited racism from latent to blatant. The beast is un-caged. Our founding precepts are under attack with calls from the right for restoration of child labor, our declaration as a Christian nation, anti-contraception laws, voter restrictions, Nativism , fake science, abolition of income tax and other issues seemingly settled a century ago.

It doesn’t take a master sleuth to smell a corpus delicti. With heedless hegemony abroad and a semi-moribund electorate shooting themselves in the foot we have a body politic on life support. There is blood on corporate hands; having been defined as people, they are therefore culpable. Motive: greed and privilege, Weapon: demagoguery and a slumbering public, Accomplice: bought politicians, Casualties: resources wasted, lives squandered, Verdict: democracy subverted.

History is not an arrow; more like a pencil, first writing pages of progress, now flipped and leading by erasure. It is less a projectile than a football game with ground gained and lost.

A death rattle can be heard in the land; the noise of errant drones, of words gone limp on politician’s lips, the sound that lies make, an imperial army in retreat, the silence of shuttered factories and maybe the last gasp of resistance from the old boys club clinging to an imagined life where everyone knew their place.

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