Failed Democracy and Hopelessness

Well, I guess it’s time to wade back into the cesspool that is American politics.  It’s time to get our ‘hopeless’ on.  Not just metaphorical or spiritual hopeless.  Actual rock solid, empirically provable hopeless.  As in no possible improvement and probably can’t be fixed hopeless.  So open your mind and close your nose, cause this is gonna stink…

There’s a really simple and elegant way to judge governments.  In a dictatorship the powerful get to set the rules.  In a democracy the majority has that role instead of the rich.  In theory we live in a representative democracy.  Behind all the checks and balances, the elections and rules, the fancy talk and two party vitriol, is this one simple idea: The majority’s voice is more important than the rich and powerful.  We. the people, are in charge.  So is that what’s happening?

Let’s try not to get hyperbolic or partisan.  Instead let’s look at what the federal government has done over the last 10 or so years and compare that with polling data that reflects the will of the people.  And to be fair let’s only look at issues where at lest 2/3 -3/4 of the people are in agreement.  No close calls or party line votes.  And let’s also ignore which party killed the bill because we all know that both parties feed at the same money troughs.  So, what do we have?

* Right now the very very rich pay a much lower tax rate than everybody else.  Almost the entire voting populace thinks this needs to be fixed.  Yesterday the Senate killed the idea, guaranteeing that billionaires continue to pay less than their pool boys.

* The oil companies are very profitable.  No big news flash there.  Since they’re making so much profit they don’t really need to be paid millions of our dollars in government subsidies.  It just isn’t necessary and serves no useful broader purpose.  Left, right and center agree.  So why did congress kill a bill that would have eliminated them?

* No one wants to be at war in Afghanistan right now.  It might well have been a good idea to eliminate the Taliban 11 years ago but enough already.  Polling has been consistent for years.  Bring the troops home now.  Nope.  Well, maybe in 2014.  Maybe.  Some of them.

* Everyone, and I mean everyone, agrees that big money donations are fouling up our elections.  The undue influence of lobbyists and political action committees is universally reviled.  Hell, nearly every politician tries to run as an ‘outsider’ who will ‘clean up Washington’.  There is absolutely no credible effort by the government to change the rules and restore fiscal democracy to the system.  Not one.

* When it comes to healthcare the most popular polling result is to expand medicare to everyone in the population.  This simple solution was never even allowed to be considered.  The Insurance industry is just too powerful.

* Here’s an easy one.  Should the government buy weapons systems that the Pentagon DOES NOT WANT?  Of course not.  Except that’s exactly what congress has done repeatedly.  I’m totally fucking positive that is not what their constituents want.

* After the giant economic clusterfuck caused by the banks pretty much every American not in the banking industry agreed on two things; punish the people who committed fraud and make sure that rules are in place to keep it from happening again.  Neither thing happened.

* Did you know that in some states your employer just gets to keep the tax money that’s withheld from your check?  Or that in many cities big box stores just keep the sales tax they charge you?  I didn’t think so.  But it’s true and the trend is growing.

* The TSA , the Patriot Act, and the despotic clauses in the NDAA are reviled by almost everybody.  They all passed with nearly unanimous votes.

I could go on and on but you’re smart enough to have noticed the pattern by now.  And isn’t just perception.  Larry Bartels, a professor of Political Science at Princeton, did an exhaustive study and concluded that the data proves our elected officials listen only to their wealthiest constituents.  It’s time to face the facts.  The majority of the people of the United States of America no longer have the ability to regulate, tax or control the wealthy and powerful.  We are no longer a democracy.

I’m still not being hyperbolic.  We, the people, are unable elect anyone who can reign in the rich and powerful.  In the last couple of decades there is not ONE SINGLE TIME when the needs of the people won out over the whims of the elite.  According to our very simple metric of whether the majority has control over the powerful or vice versa, WE JUST AREN’T A DEMOCRACY ANY LONGER.  Even our checks and balances are failing.  The Supreme court has devolved from being the ultimate objective arbiter to just another partisan mess.  The Bill of Rights, a document to protect our most important rights from both the government and the tyranny of the majority, has been gutted and left for dead.  Our system has failed.

So now what?  The great shining city on the hill, the last best hope for democracy in the world, no longer qualifies.  True patriots should be weeping and tearing their clothing.  Instead we look for easy scapegoats and fight amongst ourselves over meaningless bullshit.  We call each other names and demonize anyone who has an original thought or speaks up.  We put a lot of ourselves in jail.  Cynicism rules the day.  After all, don’t we have the government we deserve?

NO NO NO.  We deserve better.  I won’t give in to the hopeless.  This system is dead but from it’s bones a better, more evolved system can rise.  The Bill of Rights can be resurrected.  Elections can be made meaningful.  Fear and cynicism can be defeated.  Money and Corporations can take their rightful place at the BACK OF THE BUS.  This is the revolution that needs to come.  And soon.  So oil up those guillotines and pour powder into your muskets.  The American Spirit needs to rise again.  The tyranny of the elites will be ended.  Vaya con Dios and Viva la Revolucion!


Tough…

Today’s life lesson:  Even comments made by assholes can lead to interesting thoughts.  Here’s the story…

A while ago I was teaching some ‘at risk’ kids at a public institution.  After class one of the administrators, an asshole, came over and said “So, you think riding a harley, having tattoos and teaching martial arts makes you tough, huh?”.  I laughed in his face and walked away.  Later I couldn’t help but wonder about the question.  After all, any kind of self examination can be useful.

To begin with I don’t consider myself tough.  Those guys who wear our uniform over in Iraq or Afghanistan are tough.  Single mothers working two jobs while raising kids are tough.  I’m a goofball who prefers luxury hotels and high end restaurants to roughing it in the great outdoors.  Having said that I am a biker.  I’ve ridden long distances in hideous conditions.  I am heavily tattooed and some of that shit hurt.  I’ve trained in and taught martial arts for 25+ years and I’ve worked with some pretty edgy people.  I’m kind of loud and opinionated and I don’t back down very well.  There’s not much that intimidates me.  Maybe those things do qualify me as tough in a way.  But I think the asshole and his passive-aggressive question put the cart before the horse.

If I’m tough it’s not because of my hobbies or lifestyle.  I’m tough because I was raised by mean and abusive parents.  I’m tough because it seemed like the best way for a kid to survive in an ugly and dangerous family.  Toughness informs my choices, not the other way around.  Being a biker won’t make you tough, but being a little tough might make you a biker.

Look, abuse and ugly childhood experiences are way more common than you’re probably willing to admit.  Hell, nearly 20% of the kids in this country go to bed hungry on a regular basis.  Throw in bullying, absentee parenting, religious repression, shitty schools, and peer pressure and it’s a fucking wonder so many kids survive as well as they do.  If you spend too much time thinking about childhood in this country with an open heart you’ll weep uncontrollably.

Life’s experiences shape us all.  If those experiences are difficult or challenging one must find a way to cope.  There are relatively few ways for kids who face abuse or a harsh childhood to survive relatively intact.  Some people become addicts.  Some cower in fear.  Some get mean or violent or try to fuck up everyone else’s lives (politicians).  Many settle for repeating the abuse they themselves suffered.  And a few just get tough.  To me it might be the most enlightened choice.

Many of those adaptations are extremely negative and involve violence or abuse directed inwardly like addiction or outwardly like hate or fear.  Sometimes the connection is pretty obvious like when the abused kid buys a gun and shoots up a school or fills his veins with heroin.   Other times the adaptation is subtler, like lashing out at gay people or minorities.  Religious fundamentalism is perhaps just an expression of meanness caused by the self loathing of abuse.  As my friend Tim says, “Guns don’t kill people, bad parenting kills people”.

It’s really hard for a child of abuse or hard times to resist the temptation to ease his or her pain by spreading it to others.  But many of us do.  And we do it by being tougher than the impulse.  It’s funny because toughness isn’t a quality that this society seems to embrace any more.  We’ve replaced John Wayne and Steve McQueen with sparkly vampires and a lot of whining.  But toughness is good.  Ghandi said that only a man who understands his own capacity for violence can choose nonviolence in a meaningful way.  The same might be said of a man who carries the scars of hard times or abuse.  Only the ones tough enough to tolerate it can hope to know compassion and forgiveness.

I’m clearly not suggesting that every biker or martial artist is the product of an abusive home.  That would be ridiculous.  I am saying that our choices are shaped by the adaptations that our environments demanded.  Not the other way around.  So if you see someone who seems tougher than you are give them a smile.  They might be fighting the good fight.  And they are certainly the ones who will lead the revolution.  Vaya con Dios and Viva la Revolucion.