The party’s over. The national delusion that began 30 years ago with the inauguration of Ronald Reagan has run its course. Free trade, competition, innovation, entrepreneurship, market driven, bottom line, laissez faire, deregulation, privatization, mission statements, strategic plans, value added and all the other gibberish that was meant to save us has brought us to where we are today.
Three decades of sweet buzzwords and brutal economics fostered by a media that thought “free markets” were required by the Bill of Rights have left America broken, busted, and bitter.
No, it didn’t have to happen. After all, as John Maynard Keynes noted, “Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone.” We might have noticed. But our teachers in government, academia and the press largely went along with the most wickedest of men, girding their cause with false arguments and misleading logic. The rest didn’t have much time to think about it all; they were too busy taking tests or finding ways to make enough money to buy all the things they were told they had to have.
But now the party’s over. A young woman protesting in Portland Maine told a TV camera crew the other day that she was afraid she couldn’t have children because their future was so bleak.
New times often don’t announce themselves. Something just happens that makes the theretofore silent or confused suddenly realize that their angst, their cause or their dreams are not only in their minds. The lies of tyranny, propaganda, and false education no longer work as they once did. And reality returns.
When this happens, the first step is often conceptual anarchy. If you no longer dream of owning a house, rising in the firm or getting an advanced degree, the mind struggles with the empty space. The false prophets have been exposed, which is good, but it there is also a void.
It is even worse this time, because for so many years, normal sources of dissent and wisdom, such as the press, campuses, or churches have been so dutifully acquiescent as America fell apart for the benefit of the few. Even supposedly virtuous non-profit institutions have increasingly adopted the values, language and organization of the corporate world
I watch the men and women who have taken to the streets with warmth in my heart but also with fear in my mind because protest without a new place to go too often fails.
For example, we have been long under the illusion that corporate culture defined business and the commercial, when in fact – like other over large institutions – this culture increasingly led its participants far away from the imagination, integrity, and energy that once created commercial America.
Now we know we were deceived, but what goes in its place?
In other times, there were words and concepts that would leap to the fore, like integrity, community, decency, cooperative, democracy. . . joined by actions, ideas and assemblies based upon them.
There were thinkers, teachers, and organizers who gave these concepts form. But for too long we have only been allowed to talk and think without such words and concepts. And we lost the ability to distinguish between words that meant nothing and those that could lead us somewhere better.
So the party is over but we don’t yet know where to go.
Good preachers have to find courage as well as God, teachers have to introduce reality to a fantasized world, the media has to discover a better future wherever it sprouts, and the voices on the street have to speak of dreams as well as of righteous anger.
It can happen. It is already happening right now but it’s a little hard to see. Some of the angry voices are calling for things like
Repealing the Citizens United Supreme Court decision
Some form of debt cancellation
Taxes on stock transactions
A guaranteed income or negative income tax)
Reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act
Not your list? Okay, compile your own, but remember: the last three decades have been largely devoid of liberals or progressives making concise demands that others understood. Everyone knows what the right wants, but the left’s agenda has been drastically muted and obscure.
And, of course, the extremist center treats every good idea as radical. For example, CNN’s John Avlon recently dissed a negative income tax, implying it was kooky, apparently unaware that a Marxist nutcase by the name of Richard Milhous Nixon almost got one through Congress. And. of course, the centrists will never admit that our land was brought down by those who endlessly described themselves as moderate.
But beyond the specific is the political ecology in which the specific must function. Literally occupying Wall Street is part of it, but we must also end Wall Street’s occupation of our own minds, our books, our souls. We must speak and think the language of a new time, using the words and ideas that help frame a future of decency, democracy and cooperation.
The lie has failed; now we must help the truth return.
False Profits, from “Why Bother?” by Sam Smith, 2001