There’s a fear coming over the land like an ominous summer storm darkening the skies above the prairie. Even as the two major political party candidates jockey, attack and defend from 30,000 feet, at ground level the forces of law and disorder have come into direct opposition like two colliding weather fronts, most recently in the far-flung cities of Baton Rouge, St. Paul, and Dallas.
After all the progress the country has made over the last half-century in living up to its lofty ideals, not only has the forward momentum stalled, it feels like we’ve regressed 100 years in no time at all. As always, America’s most aggrieved minority is openly fearful of the law assigned to protect it, while the police are now publicly wary of the people they have been sworn to serve. And it’s all organized itself into in a swirling exchange of anger, blame and frustration now come into violent release.
We have put ourselves at opposite poles politically, economically and socially for so long that the mid-ground between has become a barren badlands, dominant white culture on one side, rising black culture on the other with violent jihadism closing in from the dark beyond. But the divisions of America’s own complicated birth have been so deeply planted, then nurtured by bitter experience, that even an outside existential threat isn’t enough to bring old opposition forces into common union. The only thing that has changed, and the catalyst for the new confrontations, is the visual testimony provided by modern smart-phone technology.
No longer do accusations of institutional discrimination come solely from hood-side eyewitnesses. Now unimpeachable live transmissions are out there for all to see and corroborate what has come before. And out of that brutal testimony has erupted a backlash coming from the dominant culture, which now sees its dark secrets brought to light while its once-protected positions have given way to globalization and jobs loss, even as outside terrorism further frays its jangling nerves.
But rather than seeing their plight within the evolving world economic order as a modern-day version of the black struggle for opportunity and relevance, the dominant culture stands feet-spread in opposition, never “us,” always “you people”.
The popular culture has fed it to us for so long, we know nothing else. There was once a quiet strength to America, as well as a moral standing to her higher ideals. There was neither the cynicism of old Europe nor the wariness of the Far East. But neither was there a color blindness to Lady Justice here at home. Plessy vs Ferguson may have ended separate-but-equal under the law in 1896, but courts can never remove discrimination from man’s heart. Primate behavior will be what it is, irrespective of which flag may flutter or which laws may be passed.
Now in this technologically shrunken world where we’ve been absorbed into the larger outside marketplace, a market we used to stand astride, oceans no longer separate us from the outer world even as we’ve gone to our separate corners here at home.
(Of course, we started the larger integration with our own inventiveness, but are now blaming it for our lowered station. That’s like the Soviet Union blaming satellite telecommunications for its collapse, when they were the first to launch Sputnik into orbit in 1957.)
Since the Great Recession began in 2007, the world has been stalled in a global economic doldrums. But as wealth inequality soared during the dot-com and housing bubbles in the years leading up to the market crash, the middle and even lower-classes were still being sold on the virtues of conspicuous consumption. And even after incomes flattened, people were still being offered credit where credit wasn’t due. Without robust oversight, banks and other financial institutions were free to keep peddling mortgages to querulous people who couldn’t afford them, while simultaneously extracting profits and dumping responsibility for extending that debt. Then when the bubble burst, it was the lenders who were bailed out while millions of individuals lost their homes, pensions, and hopes.
Today, more and more people are feeling isolated and anxious, nervous and put upon. It is Us versus Us, but now against the World, as well. Now looms the possibly of Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton to roil and reinforce these ill feelings. This choice does not lessen one’s concern.
“Gone is the mindset when we prepared and sacrificed for future generations,” said one septuagenarian with memories of a different time and ethic.
This is on the 1%. This is what happens when public education falters, jobs disappear and the flame of hope is snuffed out. People have to see a better way ahead or they eventually drop off the grid. Then what? We have seen it for years in the inner cities. You may be able to eliminate them statistically, like in the bogus unemployment numbers, but not in the truth of lives that seem not to matter.
Rather than each group understanding itself to be an individual expression of a common cultural norm, we see separate but unequal rearing up once again in viral form with the white underclass joining their black cohort on the sidelines where frustration and anger fester and grow. But this time we are seeing both sides mustered in marshal formation and armed with the weapons of war, and no conciliation anywhere in view out along the distant horizon.
There is a growing belief, or is it fear (there’s that word again) that the U.S. led, post-World War II Bretton Woods, World Bank, International Monetary Fund world order has run its race. And domestically that the hallowed U.S. Constitution, written late in the 18th century, may be stretched to the breaking point, as well.
In that old church hymn, “Give Me That Old Time Religion”, we sing “it was good enough for the Hebrew children, it was good enough for mom and dad, it’s good enough for me.” But anything old time is particular to that old time, and must be in a constant state of renewal to remain relevant, just as an athlete must train his/her body differently as the body adapts to previous training. As the physics of entropy and writer Chinua Achebe have told us, Things Fall Apart.
History is a series of reactions to crises. Thus, while the founders may have been four square against the tyranny of a capricious King, they were no less wary of the mobocracy. As a guard against both they instituted a slow-moving representational form of government, inserting a buffer of perceived wise men between governed and the governing. And as long as those representatives went to Washington seeking common ground with the best interest of the people in mind, all was well.
But for some time now representative government has gone over to representing the moneyed class more so than the working class. And the irony is that the people have voted for much of that change against their own interest.
It doesn’t require an advanced tea leaf reader to understand the underlying message of Brexit in the United Kingdom to detach themselves from the European Union. The populace is fed up with, and past due for an uprising against, the elites who fashion laws benefiting the few over the many, even if that uprising in the U.S. comes in the form of a blustering orange comb over.
All religions of the world warn against unrestrained mercantilism, because money’s allegiance is to money alone, not to borders organized for political order. By taking more and more of the world’s then nation’s wealth over the last generations, the very top earners of the country have controlled the halls of power from their posh K Street salons while the Supreme Court has validated money as the unfettered equivalent of free speech. But neither walls nor tariffs will protect the few from the many much longer. Never have. And won’t again.
Let’s just hope they can see the warning flags flying before the menacing winds whipped up by all this contention begin to really howl.