Our biggest subcultures

 Sam Smith – Starting with the presidency of Ronald Reagan, America began to turn its back on the New Deal and Great Society and develop two powerful subcultures. One consists of the destructively dominant, those who have the money and strength to gain power while ignoring the needs of others. The other is the dysfunctionally decent, those who, though large in number, lack the skill or heart to organize and create meaningful reforms.

The destructively dominant are symbolized by the collapse of labor unions and the rise of Donald Trump. Their basic goal – their own success – was strengthened by a misleading argument on behalf of capitalism and individual achievement that ignores the role of cooperation and sharing common values in a community.

The dysfunctionally decent  are symbolized by the collapse of institutions formerly leaders in moral and mutual achievement, symbolized by the decline in social and political importance of universities,   the growing subservience of the media to the most powerful, the decline in church attendance and the increasing indifference to community issues – rather than just personal,  goals.

Because the destructively dominant are guided only by power, their control of institutions such as the media and politics have led the larger public to increasingly accept behaviors that were once considered intolerable. As one example, the attempted coup of January 6 was the most traitorous activity since the Civil War, yet even the Democratic  led Congress and Justice Department are treating it more like just another complicated legal matter with slight  public recognition of its historical status. We have also been taught to accept the massive dishonesty of the powerful, even their cleverly revised statements when found in error, with the gap between strength and honor growing ever greater. The lies of a Donald Trump are just more colorful examples of, say, efforts  to convince rural Americans that liberals want to ban beef or take their land under eminent domain. It would be hard to find another time when lies played such a major role in our society.

At the other end, the dysfunctionally decent are either scared or unprepared to react effectively against the falsehoods and other excesses. Once much stronger voices from colleges and universities are now either afraid of endangering their own careers or being ignored by the media. Colleges and universities have themselves drifted into the corporate mode. The students, that in the 1960s were redefining their nation, are stunningly weak in their words and actions. Churches that during that same decade provided haven for the active, now settle on faith rather than the causes that exemplify it. There is not only no lively underground press, local media of all sorts has greatly diminished.  

One way to deal with this mess is to think differently about our society and how it functions. Accept for now that the powerful will betray and lie to us while offering few meaningful solutions. And recognize that the answer, oddly as it will seem to many, with our smaller communities.

As noted here before, over a thousand environmental laws were passed at the local and state level before the first national legislation.  And it was some fifty years before the federal government caught up with the wisdom of many on handling marijuana

I have been blessed by having lived in places where the local held its own against national misdirection. For example, Capitol Hill in the 1960s was a dramatically more decent and positively active place to be than in the nearby great white structure referred to in its name.

And now I live in a small town in Maine where I haven’t heard a substantive lie in more than a decade. Where 8000 people donate enough goods to their local community services organization that its thrift shop earns over $300,000 a year. Where the police respect citizens, and the latter return the favor. Where a volunteer fire department will not only be there on time, but with a lot skill.

I can’t imagine Donald Trump or the staff of Fox News serving in our fire department or on any local committee. It is another world.

The challenge before us is strengthening the power of the dysfunctionally decent. Creating an alliance of those working with cooperation and community against the selfish, dishonest and destructive.. Our numbers are there, just our strength and strategies need help.

A good place to start  could be for middle and lower class blacks and whites to discover and act upon what they have in common – like labor organizing, healthcare and education issues. It could be an Internet news site where communities could share their information, problems and solutions. It could involve a campaign to push public schools to teach local civics and getting along with other ethnicities. It could get churches to open up for activist meetings. It could involve gatherings at which those involved in community efforts explain their work.  And it  could involve creation of a nationwide organization of neighborhood and community leaders.

Above all, we need to give strength to our local  goodness, stop paying so much homage just to national power and give communal decency a new prominence in what we do and say.  We have the power; we just have to come together and act on our hidden strength.