What’s old is new again… and radical… and bold… and, suddenly, germane

In today’s repressive political climate?  Unless he was fairly well off and not really concerned about whether he could make a living wage… if he was a union man formed in the older socialist forge, your great-grandfather’s politics might seem controversial, perhaps even denounced as unAmerican by those who know it’s not, but fear it nonetheless.  Socialism, today, is an ideological brand name that’s not just fallen out of favor, but has been profoundly booed, tabooed and rendered lfvirtually unnameable as a viable political perspective in this nation through decades, more than a century of “legal” repression driven by political and social propaganda from the right.  McCarthyism and plutocracy notwithstanding, socialism is a term that has been rendered unquestionably profane in the mind of a majority of Americans, as though the mere mention of it conjures visions of Soviet dictatorships, violent repression, tyranny, even godlessness… corruption and vice beyond all comprehension… but hey…  buckle up, America, the “S” word is once more out of the box today… and it’s coming back, slowly, inevitably gaining ground… invading the American ethos.  Whether you consider it a revolution or a necessary and political evolution… it’s coming.  So, perhaps it’s time to put aside your fears, America.  Be objective and find out what it really means.

A near global financial collapse and economic depression caused by out-of-control financial monoliths, coupled with recently and broadly published facts and data concerning the present, shocking disparities in American economic and income inequality helped launch a profound public reaction expressed in a powerful, popular, though leaderless Occupy movement in 2011 and in the 2016 Democratic Primary election, an apparently unexpected phenomenon in which a self-proclaimed democratic

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Photo from CNN.com

socialist Senator launched a viable and powerful challenge to the establishment candidate who had been considered incontestable.  And the Senator mounted that challenge, not with 1,000 dollar-a-plate private events and generous endowments from corporate giants and the occasional hedge fund manager, but with individual donations from ordinary Americans, small amounts from huge numbers of citizens who resonated with his message, a call for equality in all things… in economic as well as social circumstance, a purely socialist agenda.  These two major events and the proliferation of other, similarly progressive activist movements across the nation display the changing perceptions and the prevailing mood of the electorate.  It represents a growing challenge to established American political institutions.

Not that it’s new.  We’ve been here before.  More than once. And in ways that are eerily similar in both the cause and the reaction.  To quote Pearl Buck’s classic novel, The Good Earth, which was written about China before World War II, but has applicability in universal human concepts throughout history… “When the rich are too rich there is a way, and if I am not mistaken, that way will come soon.” 

Following hard times and economic failures in our own history, America came quite close, if not to a social revolution, at least to a social political evolution that involved socialist theories and expressed itself in various ways, primarily through militant trade unions and political engagement.  In one instance, the collapse of the stock market in 1929 and subsequent bank failures throughout the nation entirely upset the American economy and devolved into a dreadful period of economic hardship, devastating unemployment, bread lines, soup kitchens and great numbers of homeless men and women nationwide.  Our grandparents called it The Great Depression.

America’s response to the nationwide crisis was to elect the Democrat and progressive Franklin Delano Roosevelt to the office of President in an election that could be accurately described as a political tectonic shift.  Roosevelt’s New Deal launched bold programs and initiatives that were nothing less than socialist in both concept imagesand in fact.  They were not only accepted by the vast majority of Americans, but proved wildly popular and, eventually, thoroughly successful in bringing the collapsed American economy back toward an even keel.

Nonetheless, more work needed to be done, as those same financial institutions and corporate giants who brought the nation to economic collapse in 1929, began once again to embrace the same greedy practices in ways that clearly threatened to usurp the hard-won gains in prosperity through increased production and to use the profit thereof to enrich those wealthy families and financiers who’d survived the Depression.  The problem then, just as it is today was expansive  and crippling economic inequality.

In his Message to Congress on Curbing Monopolies, delivered on April 29, 1938, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke of the danger inherent in income inequality, calling out the growing concentration of wealth in powerful corporations and financial institutions at home, while alluding to the growing power of fascism in Europe, understanding the relationship between corporate institutions and the governance in both Italy and Germany.  He wrote…

“Unhappy events abroad have retaught us two simple truths about the liberty of a democratic people.   The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger fdr-smile2than their democratic state itself.   That, in its essence, is Fascism—ownership of Government by an individual, by a group, or by any other controlling private power.  The second truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if its business system does not provide employment and produce and distribute goods in such a way as to sustain an acceptable standard of living.  Both lessons hit home.   Among us today a concentration of private power without equal in history is growing.  This concentration is seriously impairing the economic effectiveness of private enterprise as a way of providing employment for labor and capital and as a way of assuring a more equitable distribution of income and earnings among the people of the nation as a whole.”

In response to similar economic inequality today, there is a new voice in America today.  And whether it comes from self-proclaimed socialists like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or… from progressive consumer advocates like Elizabeth Warren, their message is similar and revolutionary… or for the faint of heart… evolutionary.

It sounds like this:

“When we talk about the word ‘socialism,’ I think what it really means is just 220px-Alexandria_Ocasio-Cortez,_official_portrait,_116th_Congressdemocratic participation in our economic dignity and our economic, social, and racial dignity. It is about direct representation and people actually having power and stake over their economic and social wellness, at the end of the day.”

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

“The billionaire class fully understands what is at stake. That’s why a handful of them SBY3PMQSJNFULFDPZX6QUCK63Yare pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into the current elections. Their goal is not to strengthen the middle class, but continue the trend in which the rich are getting richer at the expense of everyone else.”

Bernie Sanders

“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own — nobody. You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to Elizabeth_Warren,_official_portrait,_114th_Congresseducate. You were safe in your factory because of police-forces and fire-forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory — and hire someone to protect against this — because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea. God bless — keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”

Elizabeth Warren

To be sure, these voices don’t always agree, but whether you advocate a kinder, gentler, and more just form of capitalism, or the gradual dismantling of all inequity and injustice through socialism… business as usual is definitely coming to an end.

Socialism in America has very deep roots.  The labor movement grew up in the same rough neighborhood as the socialist movement.  Their voices were virtually a chorus.  Many of those who fought for their rights in solidarity in labor, were also those who preached the message downloadof socialism.  Trade unions, though many curiously conservative union leaders would deny it today, are the perfect expression of democratic socialism and only one manifestation of socialist thought that pervades our history… quite in spite of all efforts to suppress it ever since that day when men and women found the strength in solidarity to stand up for their rights together.

Socialism in America has yet to be properly defined, even as those human rights upon which our nations was founded have yet to be fulfilled in universal suffrage according to the premise that all of us… every one of us… is due his or her dignity and liberty in perfect equality through a universal, Constitutional guarantee of justice under the law.

Socialism in America has yet to be properly expressed and reasonably defined, but to be sure, it’s coming.  There is much talk… and with cause… about the power and the influence of wealth on the political structures of this nation, but the inequality that exists today is as bad as that which existed in our past.  The force of it threatens our democracy as never before.  We can talk about the history of socialism… discuss the many theories concerning its structure and methods, but none of that will apply to the specifics and the ethos of American life.  The books could be opened and academics can polemicize for hours on end with the many and varied theories that purport to instruct and direct us, but theory is dust in the wind.  What’s failed in the past should not guidedownload (1) us in the future.

America will write its own book.  We the people will define our own society.  Just as we did once before… we will do it again.  We’ll not be paying the piper for his tune.  We’ll write our own… and the other nations of the world?  Just as they did when they saw what we’d done when we threw off our king and built our own and democratic republic?  Maybe they will take heart, one by one.  Maybe they’ll follow our lead and throw off the nominal slavery of corporate dominion as well.  It won’t be easy.

But like the lady wrote back in 1931… ““When the rich are too rich there is a way, and if I am not mistaken, that way will come soon.” 

The parallax view from here….

“As an American citizen of German birth I finally testify that I am painfully familiar with certain political trends. Spiritual intolerance, political inquisitions, and declining legal security, and all this in the name of an alleged ‘state of emergency.’ … That is how it started in Germany.”  Thomas Mann in response to accusations by the House Un-American Activities Committee that he was a communist.

74a72e9d61ef6e8fb175031b4318632dThe novelist who gave us a classic novel, The Magic Mountain, was an early and fierce critic of Adolf Hitler and the poisonous culture of the Nazis.  Because of his public, even fearless words against them, he was forced to flee his native Germany in 1933, eventually finding refuge in the United States where he became a citizen in 1944.  Yet, even in America, he found himself similarly threatened and hounded by the forces of McCarthyism as he publicly protested and wrote against the oppression of American writers and intellectuals during the infamous House Un-American Activities Committee hearings that amounted to nothing less than fear mongering persecution, eventually leading to blacklisting and even to prison sentences as in the case of the Hollywood Ten.  As a result of his public criticism of yet another fascist movement, he was finally forced to leave the U.S. and return to Europe.

The McCarthy era was a low point in American history, proving beyond doubt that the fears of those Americans like Sinclair Lewis, who in 1935 imagined the seed of fascism could find fertile soil in the American psyche, were more than prophetic,  The House Un-American Activities Committee and the later McCarthy hearings in the Senate demonstrated that “it can happen here” and it did to the extent that the foundations of intellectual oppression and propagation of fear was laid.  All that was lacking was the proper demagogue, a role that McCarthy tried desperately to fill.  Thankfully he was thwarted.  The saving graces of our nation at the time were the decency and strength of its leadership, as exemplified in people like attorney Joseph Welch who challenged McCarthy at the Army hearings, and the power of the free press, the courage of journalists like Edward R. Murrow.  The eventual shaming of the demagogues who very nearly destroyed the character and intent of our Constitution was inevitable, but not before they exacted a terrible price on their victims, literally destroying the reputations and careers of thousands of people on the basis of lies and baseless accusation, creating an environment of fear and mistrust.

All of that seems now to have returned and we are once again faced with the ugly specter of fascist intent and unprecedented demagoguery in the person of Donald Trump.  Time and again, this amoral, despotic individual has proven himself invulnerable to every criticism, moving by incremental steps toward autocracy by pushing against the moral and institutional constraints that we always believed were inviolable.  He toys with Congress, attacks our courts, vilifies his critics, challenges and ruthlessly mocks the authority of anyone in our government who tries to oppose him.

On any given day, one could point to any one of a dozen of his actions as a dangerous precedent, the sort of behavior that would eventually bring down any previous politician… and yet, it almost appears as if he draws strength from every cry of “foul” that comes his way.  What is it that makes this man invulnerable?

Has he so wearied his critics with his lack of shame that they simply give up in frustration?  We know well enough that for all his faults, his enablers are willing to forego any appearance of personal integrity for the rewards they receive when he satisfies their corrupt intent, giving them the license they’ve always craved in pursuit of autocracy.  But now, even his greatest critics within the government seem impotent, utterly restrained from meaningful action against him.

Is it possible that they too see opportunity in the phenomena he’s unleashed?  Are they afraid of him?  Or merely and similarly as jaded as his enablers. The answers may not come from a normal perspective.  Perhaps they will come from a parallax view, an unpopular and skewed perspective from the fringes of our society, from a perspective that may no longer exist in our contemporary culture.  Perhaps it will come from the distance, from the past, from the echoes of what we once held dear but seem, somehow, to have lost.

Where is our Sinclair Lewis?
Where is our Thomas Mann?
Where is our Joseph Welch?
Where is our Edward R. Murrow?

Or have we become the very force that feeds the beast we fear, if not through outright support, then with silent acquiescence?  Is this present circumstance the sum of our failures, the substance of our corruption as a nation?  If we hope to survive, we’d better find out just what it is we have lost and regain it.  And soon.

Time is not our friend.

It comes to this…

We expected too much from the Mueller report. It had already done much to expose rampant corruption within the Trump Presidential campaign, leading to the conviction of many prominent members of his campaign leadership, but the job is far from done. Trump’s Attorney General demonstrated reluctance to do his job in yesterday’s letter to Congress. Subsequently, Congress will have to do its job of oversight. And it’s obvious to anyone who has been paying attention to the abuse of power and the unprecedented levels of misconduct that it will take years for Congress to unravel the full extent of corruption within the Trump administration. Even when and if they do, a GOP Senate will continue to protect him because he gives them and their sponsors in the corporate world everything they ever dreamed of, such as a weak Federal government, unable to protect Americans from corporate crime… and tax breaks designed to make the wealthy few even more obscenely rich than they ever dared to hope.

Ultimately, it will take an unprecedented reformation of Congress and the Senate, drastic change that only an informed electorate and a clean sweep of our government through election can effect in order to finally fix the mess that we are in. Maybe, even more than Trump, America itself needs a full investigation. The whole nation, top down, bottom up…

In a democratic republic such as ours, what is the institution of justice if not an expression of our collective and prevalent morality? In any democratically elected government where a candidate for the highest office can publicly… and with confidence… declare, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters…” then why are we surprised when he corrupts that office he attains through election? Why would we expect such a man to respect the office to which he is elected when he does not respect the normal constraints of morality… when he does not even respect the character of the people who elected him? More importantly, when a corrupt leader upholds those institutions that maintain systemic and visible corruption within our nation’s body politic, why would anyone believe the institutions that administer justice would actually work against him?

Richard Nixon was one of the most corrupt politicians our nation has ever produced, but he managed to rise to the highest office a man or woman can hold… and he did it in spite of what should have been obvious to even the most casual observer, that he pandered to the worst elements of American society. Any man who must publicly declare, “I am not a crook…” deserves close scrutiny at best. Instead, the American people gave him a pass until even his enablers could no longer sustain his power, not even for their own benefit as they had so often in the past. So it is now with Trump. What is it about America that permits men of such a corrupt and cynical nature to become so powerful and virtually immune to prosecution when their crimes are so blatant and visible as to make the concept of justice seem impotent against them, even worthy of contempt?

Maybe it’s a good time to step back and consider where our nation is going. We need to take a long and critical self-appraisal, a serious moral inventory in order to learn exactly who we are as a people, what we have become in relation to those ideals we say that we hold precious and dear. We need to figure out how we managed to screw things up so badly. Then we need to find a way to fix it. It’s quite possible that Trump is not the problem, but merely the symptom… and we’re not going to fix the problem until we finally admit… that we are it.