Some years ago, my wife and I visited our daughter in Moscow, where she was studying the Russian language.  The Soviet Union had recently been dismantled, and the people were being rapidly introduced to the corruption and gangsterism that would become standard operating procedure for their government and their economy.  With their incomes slashed while the bullying few seized massive fortunes, women stood in long lines selling their most valued possessions just to get food to survive.  The thugs ruled the streets, even taking over the Bolshoi Ballet ticket office.  As the years have gone by, those thugs have succeeded in taking power as a matter of policy.  Elections are fixed, the media are controlled by the state, people who oppose the dictatorship are imprisoned or assassinated, and the rich have become dizzyingly rich while the average working person struggles more and more with low wages and decreasing benefits such as health care and retirement benefits.


As Republicans take over Congress and the Trump crowd begins to reveal its direction and plans, we begin to get some sense of the atmosphere in which we are about to be living.  The Republicans passed the first step toward repealing the Affordable Care Act, although absolutely nothing has been done to replace it.  The president-elect has ignored and even denounced America’s intelligence community for giving the American people information that might damage him.  His appointees have made it clear that they will dismantle the country’s efforts to save the environment, they will slash the workers’ rights to organize, they will cut funding to public schools, they will drastically cut supervision of financial industries, and they will, in general, pursue a government of, by and for the wealthy.


Then, yesterday, something happened that was strange and unexplained.  C-Span, the channel that airs government hearings, was airing a discussion by a senator about current issues.  When the senator began to speak about Russia’s attempts to affect our election process, C-span’s coverage was interrupted and replaced with, of all things, state-controlled RT Russian television.  After some time, C-Span’s coverage was restored, and no explanation was given for this unthinkable switch.


Maybe it was an accident.  Or, maybe someone was sending a message.  A few things, however, are undeniably clear.  First, truth has become disposable.  The intelligence community made an airtight case that the Russians had acted to affect the election in favor of Trump, but it made no investigation or judgment about Russia’s success in promoting him.  Trump first denounced and denied the intelligence community’s conclusions, and then, when his position was finally untenable, he mischaracterized its report, saying that it had found that there was absolutely no effect on the election.


Second, whatever may be the intentions of Trump and his gang, their main motivation has nothing to do with the good of the people.  If they accomplish their proposals, health care will cost more and cover fewer, public education will see drastic monetary cuts, workers will see reductions in wages, benefits and safety, and banks and other financial institutions, including most of all Wall Street, will be given the kind of free rein they used to collapse the American economy in the ’90’s and again during the Bush administration.


All this might seem impossible in America.  If it were even half accomplished, the American people would rise up and throw the rascals out.  The public outrage would eliminate the possibility of Republican hegemony for decades.  Trump would be a lame duck president before his second year was over.


Unless.  The one thing that has prevented such skullduggery from succeeding in the United States has always been the very first right the founders placed in the Constitution — freedom of the press.  It was the press that finally ended Joe McCarthy’s reign of terror.  It was the press that finally revealed the truth that Nixon fought so hard to suppress.  And it was the press that, despite vigorous attempts to suppress its work, revealed to the public that Russia had hacked and weaseled its way into the American election process.


It is that very freedom of the press against which Trump has announced open war.  He has, everywhere he has gone, demonized the press as entirely dishonest, this while ignoring and denying blatant facts.  He has refused the press access to him, and, when he finally does appear before them, he mocks and derides them, refusing to acknowledge undeniable facts and blathering on without a hint of substance.  As inconceivable as it might have been a few months ago, it is now a distinct possibility that Trump could succeed in suppressing that one thing that stands between us and tyranny.


I have come to understand how 60 million people could vote for this man.  They were sick of being ignored, and they were ignored.  They are good people, and they are the very backbone of America.  They work their butts off, and their tax dollars fuel this government.  They want the benefits for which they work so hard and which they so richly deserve.  If, however, those assuming power succeed in the policies they seem to be pursuing, it will be these good people who will suffer the most.  If Trump and his gang succeed at suppressing the people’s right to know, and succeed also in stripping their supporters of their rights, there will be only one recourse — violent revolution.  Until today, I would have said that violent revolution in the U.S. was impossible.  But then, I would have also denied that a president would be a habitual liar.

Where Are We Going?

Today, November 4, 2014, is election day. We are voting for senators and governors and representatives. We are voting on referenda and constitutional amendments. Woven into all that, we are voting for future policies on wealth distribution and education and health care and abortion and gay rights, and, deeper, on help for the poor and disabled and on improving the environment and on how we use our military might.
In all of that, though, we are doing something far more significant. We are, slowly and by the most circuitour of paths, moving ourselves in an overall direction. We are, almost subconsciously, expressing where it is that we want to go as a society, how it is that we want to shape our world for those who follow after. This is no product of any grand cabal, of any secret society consciously directing us in one direction or another. It is simply the play of various forces, pushing us in one direction or another, the combination of which ends up, almost against our will, in defining who we really are. It is the play of a variety of values taking us, regardless of any one individual intention or even of the announced intention of the vast majority, toward a set of characteristics that will define our society for history.
We think that, because we in the United States have defined ourselves as a democracy, we will ultimately be seen as that. There are two fairly significant problems with that assumption. First of all, remarkably few of us understand exactly what we mean by “democracy.” Do you, for instance, know precisely what the American ideal is, and where it is precisely expressed? In this writer’s experience as a lecturer and teacher, not many of us do. For the record, our form of democracy, which Plato decried as the worst form of government, is laid out in the Declaration of Independence. Be honest now: can you quote those words precisely? “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness;…” If you were honest, you probably didn’t know that. If we are honest with ourselves, we will probably need to admit that we do not review these ideals in making our political decisions.
The second problem with the assumption is that, in a way, the structure of democracy carries with it the seeds of its own destruction. Jefferson is rumored to have said that the price of liberty is license, and in practical fact that is precisely the argument made by those who, oddly enough, want to curtail liberty. Those who successfuly argued to remove all caps on spending on elections argued for that precisely in the name of one of the most basic freedoms of our constitution, the freedom of speech. Having won, they exercised their new-found freedom to gain control of the government so that they could preserve, and presumably, increase their power in our society, not least of all by curtailing many of those same rights, such as the right to vote. In sum, liberty frees up even those who want to curtail liberty. This finds its parallel in the terrorists preying on freedom of movement in America to get on a plane and use it to attack us. The problem with liberty is that, unless it is defined always in reference ot Jefferson’s brilliant statment of our ideal, it can actually become a tool of its own destruction.
So, my great fear, on this election day before which more money has been spent than ever before and more invective and just plain mud has been slung and lies told as truth and hate and bigotry appealed to more than true concern for our fellow humans, my great fear is that we are moving, slowly, imperceptibly, to the acceptance of a national fascism, toward a de facto dictatorship. I feel a movement being driven, not by the recognition of human rights, but by the interplay of various powers all operating solely on self-interest. And, if what I fear is true, what we need now, more than any time in our history, is a revolution, a re-volt, that is, a return back to the ideals that formed the basis for our democracy in the first place. We need to recommit ourselves to an ideal, not of self-interest, but of commitment to the recognition of every human’s rights.
The price of liberty, as Jefferson defined it, is not license. The price of liberty is the sacrifice of self-interest in the constant effort to serve and protect the interests of every human being.
Will we do that? Will we pay that price? I hope we will. I fear we will not.

The R Word

     A large part of my misspent youth was taken up with the study of Roman and Greek language and culture, their history and their philosophies.  One of the great mysteries of both the Roman and the Greek civilizations is why such civilizations, so carefully grounded and structured, should so completely collapse.  The same question coud be asked, and has been asked by scholars far greater than I, about the many other great civilizations scattered through the pages of history — Egypt, China, India, the Mayans, the Aztecs, the Incans, and likely a host more. 

     I have no doubt that there is no one easy answer, but I think it likely that there is one element common to all of them.  Each of these civilizations began as a system created to recognize and protect the rights and needs of its citizens, but, as time went on, some group within it gradually modified the system to enrich that group to the detriment of the other members of the civilization.  The privileged group, finding itself successful in so enriching themselves, just continued to thus pervert the system until finally they had so thoroughly alienated the other members of the society that those other members had no alternative but to bring down the entire system. 

     To put that briefly, each one of these once proud and noble institutions were perverted by greed, and each was then destroyed by some form of revolution. 

     This raises an obvious question.  Why would the privileged group let that happen?  Why would that privileged group, in effect, kill the goose that laid the golden egg?  Why would not this group who had figured out how to have the system work to its profit and advantage not have the foresight and prudence to provide at least enough goods and services to those not so privileged to keep the system going?

     There is more than one answer to that question.  The first is the truism that you don’t have to be intelligent or wise to take advantage of others.  You just have to be more powerful.  You have, for instance, to be willing to break the ordinary rules of morals and society.  You have to lie, cheat, steal, bully.  You have, in other words, to violate the fundamental principle of all society, that the rights of each member of a given society are inviolable.

     One other reason stands out.  Greed is an addiction, and, like all addictions, it knows no bounds.  The drunk may know that he or she is destroying himself or herself by continuing to drink, but the addiction pushes the addict to keep doing it.  Greed does exactly that.  The robber baron John D. Rockefeller was asked, when he was in his eighties, when he was going to retire.  He is said to have responded, “I just need a little more.”  When he said it, he was the richest man in the world.  On a lesser scale, that is what happens to everyone who suffers the addiction of greed, who defines himself or herself by the amount and character of his or her possessions.  You have a used Chevy, and you want a new one.  You get a new Chevy, you want a new Cadillac.  You get a new Cadillac, and you want a new Mercedes, then a new Jaguar, then a new Ferrari, a plane, a bigger plane, a yacht, a bigger yacht, a mansion, a bigger mansion.  And, in that mad pursuit of newer and fancier things, you never stop to ask what price others may be paying to feed your addiction. 

     To succeed in feeding this addiction of greed, you have, at some point, to limit the rights of others.  There is, after all, only so much wealth in the world, and for you to get more than your share, you must assure yourself that others get less and that those others cannot take what you have away.  You have, for instance, to limit their voice in government.  So you would want to limit the right of the people to vote.  You would need to pass legislation, for instance, limiting the hours of voting, and perhaps requiring some kiind of registration process that would make it difficult for the less wealthy to cast a vote.  You would also have to limit the distribution of wealth, and to loudly decry all attempts at such distribution as evil, as, for instance, a communist plot.  You would have to cut taxes and, accordingly, cut the benefits provided by government for such things as health and education.  You would have to limit the ability of the people to organize.  So you would have to pass laws limiting and even prohibiting the right to form collective bargaining units.   Utlimately, you would have to pass laws even limiting or prohibiting the right of the people to assemble and protest.  And you would have to do all of this while convincing the people somehow that it is all in their own interests.

     If you are very good, you can get away with that for a while.  Eventually, however, the people are going to notice that they are being disadvantaged.  The middle class, for instance, might notice that their once prosperous position was slipping, that they were not profiting as much as they once did and that their number was shrinking.  The poor would definitely notice that they were getting distinctly poorer, that their children were going hungry, that their schools were deteriorating or even being closed for lack of funds, that basic health care was too expensive for them, that the cost of even basic goods was rising beyond their ability to pay.

     Like a tree rotting from within, the society would look pretty much intact for a long period of time.  Inevitably, though, the day would come when some event would bring it down.  The power exercised by that privileged group, political, financial, and likely in the end military and police, would fail.  The people would have had enough, and the people would rise up.  Revolution.

     Revolution.  That terrifying word.  It always appears suddenly, as if it were a total surprise.  In hindsight, of course, it is perfectly predictable.  The French royalty knew it.  “Apres moi le deluge,” said Louis XV.  After me the deluge.  The British likely had a sense of it when they responded to the grumbling about taxation by introducing more troops into the colonies.  The czars likely knew it, or at least those around them certainly did.  Nevertheless, history tells us over and over that revolution is the inevitable consequence of the addiction of greed.

     We are, in the United States today, seeing all the signs of the addiction of greed.  Those in power are serving monied interests more than anyone else.  They are limiting the right to vote, the right to organize, the right of access to education and health care.  They are being allowed to give money a greater voice in the legislative and political processes.  And, through all of this, there is no sign whatsoever that those in power see any kind of limit to their accretion of power.  They feel no need to moderate their pursuit of increased advantage of others.  The ruse, they think, is working and will continue to work. 

     It won’t, of course.  Like the Greeks and Romans and all the others, it will devolve into oppression and, ultimately, revolution.  I am not here advocating revolution.  There are a thousand ways to avoid it, and the pain visited on a society by revoluiton is abominable.  I am, rather, stating a fact.  We are witnessing, today, now, right now, all of the signs of the devolution of our society, of that commitment to the rights of every human being that made us unique and admired and respected throughout the world.  We are approaching a point of critical mass, a point of no return, a point at which the people will find themselves so oppressed and so ignored by the system that they have no other option except revolution.

     Call me chicken little if you wish.  Tell me that it is only a pendulum, that we are only in a conservative phase and that it will swing back as it always has.  I will surely want to agree, and I will carry that hope.  I have, however, lived long enough to know what the pendulum feels like, and I don’t feel it now.  I feel the rot inside the tree.  I love my country.  I see no greater ideals than the inalienable rights of every human being on which our government was based.  I feel, however, the hands of greed pressing around the throat of those ideals, and I know too well the madness that that way lies.  Somewhere off in the distance I hear the tramping of the boots of the oppressed.  It is not too late.  It can be stopped.  We can have our country back, but greed will not give it back without a struggle.  Citizens, unite in peace, or you will surely, in some near or distant future, unite in violence, in revolution.