Bos/My Turn: Not what I envisioned
Life in these United States has not turned out the way I thought it would.
I never had hard and fast plans for how I would live my life. But I did have a set of expectations about how to live my life that I learned as a kid and young adult. (And am still learning about.) What I learned feels, in retrospect, like a snow job — or in my darker moments — like a carefully crafted con job. Not by my parents, but by the construct in which they lived along with most other Americans — the so-called 99 percent of us.
Now I’m asking, “whatever happened to respect for your neighbors (locally and globally) — you know, the ‘do unto others as you would have them do onto you’ maxim. Or to the premise of ‘the free market,’ to ‘equal opportunity for all,’ to the ‘land of the free,’ and to the big one — ‘democracy?’”
Growing up in the ’50s, I truly believed that honesty and hard work would get me to the “American dream.” Perhaps I was naive. I thought robber barons were a thing of the past. However, if I was naive, I had a lot of company. We thought the bad old days were over. We thought that, for the most part, politics and business operated on the up and up.
In retrospect, I feel a little stupid for having believed that; it makes me angry. Angry because, as our senator, Elizabeth Warren, observes in her book “A Fighting Chance,” “The game is rigged and the American people know that. They get it down to their toes.” And as the The Boston Globe noted, the book’s title refers to a time Warren says is now gone “when even families of modest means who worked hard and played by the rules had at a fair shot at the American dream.”
For the past few years, I have mainly focused my writing on climate change and the catastrophic future that unregulated capitalism is driving us toward. As 350.org’s May Boeve has written, “The shareholders of ExxonMobil, Chevron and Peabody Coal, along with the Koch Brothers, have dug in to make sure that their ‘right’ to profit from the planet’s destruction is not challenged. Each new disclosure of their covert funding of climate-change denialism,” Boeve says, “further erodes their moral credibility.”
“Moral credibility?” Is there anyone that could possibly believe that morality is in evidence in our gridlocked Congress and the corporate culture that controls a majority of our representatives? Dumb question, for there are more than many whose belief systems insist that eliminating social welfare programs, banning women’s right to make their own health care choices, arming all citizens with guns and further funding the military industrial complex are moral actions.
Pew Foundation surveys reveal that most Americans, regardless of political affiliation, believe that politicians, corporations and other major institutions are, in fact, working against them instead of for them. Of course, there are precious few exceptions such as Warren, Bernie Sanders, Keith Ellison and Tammy Baldwin to name a few of the few. But these progressive voices are all but drowned out by the contagious clamor of what Robert Borosage, president of the Institute for America’s Future, calls the “New Gilded Age elite” that “fight to preserve their privileges, including a corrupted politics that serves the demands of organized money.”
Is it any wonder that the growing public awareness that climate change is damaging life on earth as we have known it takes a distant second place to the more immediate, personally “felt” impacts of income inequality, the emasculating of organized labor, the politically induced threats to public education, profiteering student loan debt, the replacement of full-time employment by contract employment, immigration and, well, you name it.
Barry Lynn, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, has written several books, including “Cornered,” in which he chronicles the return of monopoly in a massive way. In an interview with Thomas Frank in Salon, Lynn stated, “The American economy is more concentrated today than it’s been in more than a century, since the days of the Plutocrats. Pretty much every sector of the economy is dominated by a few Goliaths, sometimes a single dominant corporation. And this,” he says, “poses immense economic and political dangers, to growth and the quality of our jobs, and to our democracy itself.”
“Democracy is not a lie …,” Bill Myers has written. “What’s right and good doesn’t come naturally. You have to stand up and fight for it — as if the cause depends on you, because it does.”
And Robert Borosage adds: “The enduring challenge of America is whether the people can mobilize to overcome entrenched interests and make this a more perfect union.”
NEXT: How to stand up and fight for democracy.
John Bos lives in Shelburne Falls. He invites dialogue at firstname.lastname@example.org.