Yes We Can? No, We Can’t!
This used to be a country of big ideas. We broke away from an English King and formed a nation (sorry, slaves). Then there was the great Westward expansion (sorry, Native Americans). When the Republican Great Depression hit, FDR got the country working again. We saved the world in WWII (sorry about those internment camps, Japanese Americans). We were it, baby! With the Eisenhower years we built the vast interstate highway system, bridges, schools, hospitals and libraries. When the Russians sent up the first satellite, President Kennedy urged us to go to the moon before the end of the decade, and we did it! I was in college then, and it seemed everyone wanted to be an engineer; they wanted to build things.
The Reagan years brought a change in consciousness, from we the people to me the individual (it was even called the Me Decade), and the social fabric became threadbare. After thirty years of failed Reaganomics, the demonization of taxes, the gutting of unions demolishing the middle class, today the country isn’t broke, it’s broken. In the past fifty years we’ve done nothing to repair a crumbling infrastructure, and now we’re told we can’t afford to. We can’t afford not to. The American Society of Civil Engineers reports that if we began today, it would cost $3 trillion. But we can’t do it, you see. One political party would rather see the country ruined, before they’d let this President succeed (I forget, which is that — treason or sedition?). Once we went to the moon; now you mean we can’t even fix the goddamned plumbing?
Can we get people in Congress that will be responsive to the public, rather than dismissive of it? No, we can’t! When the Supreme Court ruled on Citizens United in 2010, it gave corporations and the rich unlimited power to buy our elections, or destroy anyone who tried to interfere with their rigged game. The greatest nation in the world is barely capable of governing itself. How pathetic.
America used to have the best education system in the world. Today our schools are falling apart, teachers are getting laid off, and our children are falling further down in math and science. The American Dream was to get a college degree and do better than your parents. Now kids are graduating college tens of thousands of dollars in debt, with a tight job market. Can’t they get jobs in the lucrative high tech job market? No, they can’t! Employers have to insource tech talent with special visas, while our graduates bus tables, lucky to be paid even minimum wage.
Once we went to the moon. Today, if we need to repair the Hubble telescope again, or work on the international space station, we have to hitch a ride with the Russians. That’s no knock on them, but on us. Proud to be an American? Embarrassed, is more like it.
Well, you’d think at least that the most powerful military the world has ever known could win a land war with no front lines, against insurgents in donkey carts, wouldn’t you? No, that’s the lesson we failed to learn from Vietnam, and so we’re caught up in that loop again. When you invade and occupy a country that has never attacked you, the indigenous population tends to resist.
How about rolling back an out-of-control national security surveillance state? Nope, sorry. A former NSA official said the agency considered 9/11 “a gift.” They could expand their efforts to spy on the entire population with little government oversight. We have something like sixteen different intelligence agencies — plus a horde of private contractors — and over 800,000 people with top secret clearance stumbling all over each other. We’ve all been imprisoned for our own safety.
Will there ever be some kind of war crimes tribunal for the torture, rendition, and other crimes against humanity under Bush? No, we can’t do that, because the present administration has continued, if no enlarged, the same practices.
As one of the world’s biggest polluters, surely we can set an example by investing in renewable energy, and quite possibly saving the planet. No, we can’t; the fossil fool industry and their lobbyists have a hammerlock on Congress to block legislation of anything that would threaten their little welfare state. They don’t give a rat’s ass about the environment, as long as there’s money to be made destroying it.
Alright, is there anything that we CAN do, anymore? You bet. Remember that crumbling infrastructure? Spend the $3 trillion to fix it! If the private sector won’t do it, the government has to be the employer of last resort. We’ve got to start thinking big again, like another New Deal. It would put millions to work while dropping the unemployment rate below 5%, and all those people with money in their pocket would spend it, creating demand, which also drives up wages, and that’s what makes a robust economy. And as for anti-government, anti-spending demagogues, shut the hell up! The only time we hear you shrieking about spending is when a Democrat is in the White House. You’re all hypocrites, on the wrong side of history. No one can name one country that has ever cut its way to prosperity; it has never happened. The role of government is not to balance the budget, it’s to balance the economy, to work for the most possible people, not the least.
If we really want to cut spending, start with the bloated Pentagon budget, as well as subsidies for military contractors. We don’t need a NSA facility in Utah that can store the equivalent of 250 quadrillion pages of text, and we don’t need over 700 military bases around the world. Cut the gas, oil, and coal industries off the government teat, and encourage green technologies.
We can lean on our Congress members and our President to do the will of the people. That goes for Republicans and Democrats, too. But they have to be genuinely willing to put aside ideology, and work with the opposition, for the good of all. I don’t know if we’re capable of that, anymore. If all else fails, there’s always civil disobedience, but for that to be effective, we’d need millions in the streets, not thousands.
We still have the vote, though, if we can keep the Republicans from taking that away. No matter how much money the Koch brothers and other billionaires pour into election ads, they still only get one vote each. We can each fulfill our civic obligation to be better informed, and thereby immunize ourselves to propaganda. When you hear someone complain that 50% of Americans don’t pay any federal income taxes at all, ask yourself why that is. Could it be that half the country doesn’t make enough to have to pay income taxes? Isn’t that really the outrage here? It’s not because they’re lazy, either. Don’t believe whatever the media tells you, look it up. Oh, you don’t have time? Then you should make time. It’s kind of important. This country had better get its head out of its ass, or it will join a long list of former empires in that dust heap of history, all having imploded from within.
There are good things happening, as well. People’s attitudes are changing. We now have nine states, plus the District of Columbia, that have marriage equality, and two states have legalized marijuana. The old ideas of the past haven’t worked, and are being abandoned. Here’s a country still full of deep-seated racism, yet we elected, and reelected, a black President who was raised by a single white mother on food stamps. It’s hard to give up on a country like that.