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writing for godot

How Did We Get Here? Part I

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Written by Carl Peterson   
Friday, 02 June 2017 04:05

How Did We Get Here? Part I

 

The United States has never been a settled democracy; our democratic strength has waxed and waned over the approximately 240 years of our existence.  If you wanted to represent this fact graphically, it would look somewhat like a chart of the stock market, showing ups and downs, spikes, valleys, long periods of sloping downturn and, conversely, stretches of ascent toward (but never very near) the potential inherent in rule of the people, by the people and for the people.

You may have noticed that we are not presently in a period similar to the one last mentioned above.  On the contrary, it seems that we are now in a dangerous valley punctuating a decades-long downward slope of rule by the very wealthy few, and none of them elected. (The current president is not one of the rulers;  he is not sufficiently focused, knowledgeable or wealthy.)

Our democracy is perilously weak right now.  Don't get me wrong, it is not comatose.  It is not without fight left in its emaciated muscles.  There are encouraging signs that the putative sovereigns in our democracy, though long half asleep, and half-paralyzed, relentlessly subjected like herded animals to tactics meant to ensure that they remain divided and unaware of what is happening to them--are beginning to wake and shake off their paralysis, and fight for what democracy really means.

But how did we get here?  Pull up a log boys and girls, gather round the fire, and hear one version of the tale of a Democracy that let itself seep away over three or four decades, little by little at first, and then faster, and faster, through Republican and Democratic administrations and then and then... it was staring the grisly visage of Plutocracy in the face, just maybe 8 or 10 inches away, and Plutocracy's breath was bad! and hot! and bits of foul smelling greenish phlegm hit the Democracy in the face, and the Democracy knew then that it was in trouble, and it was frightened that things had suddenly seemed to get so serious and...just bad! and perhaps fatal, and the Democracy felt sick to its stomach.  Had it waited too long to figure it out?  Was it, like Al Gore's frog, just about done?

Plutocracy's breath was bad enough, but the Democracy noticed also that Plutocracy had thrown two or three scaly coils around it, and each time the Democracy breathed out, Plutocracy tightened its coils so that on the next breath the Democracy could barely inhale, and as it exhaled again, expelling most of what little breath it had left, Plutocracy's coils tightened again, shrinking the space left in the Democracy's now starving lungs...

Let us begin a little before where the long sloping downturn seems to have begun.  Once upon a time there was a president, his name was Richard Nixon, and he was a fine and jolly president and he called for his pipe and he called for his bowl.  No, scratch that.  Once upon a time there was a president, Richard Nixon, about whom some Americans were doubtful from the beginning.  But he was elected president in a close (in the popular vote) 1968 election, and re-elected in a landslide in 1972.  Inaugurated for his second term on January 20, 1973, Richard Nixon had by then already committed the misdeeds that would eventually come to light and undo him, and on August 9, 1974, Richard Nixon resigned the presidency, driven from office by both Republicans and Democrats.

For those of you who were not politically cognizant at that time, or were not yet in existence, and have not researched the subject enough that you have a feel for what was in the air then, it must suffice here to tell you that this was a monumental political earthquake, such that American politics after Richard Nixon was driven from office were never quite like what went before.

This disjuncture in American politics may have had something to do with timing: a president chased from office in disgrace near the end of a long, fruitless, life-force-sapping war that the president had pledged to end.  And the war did end, on April 30, 1975, about eight months after Richard Nixon boarded the helicopter that took him away from the White House forever.  But the war did not end well for America.  Nothing had been gained.  Regarding the goal of stopping the South Vietnamese domino from falling into communism--the domino fell.  What the United States had fought against for so long and at such cost happened anyway.  No, there had been no gain for America, only loss: its young men, its own youth, its self-confidence; the optimism it had held since the end of World War II.

But for our purpose of tracking the Democracy's strength over the last three or four decades, we must note here that the manner of Richard Nixon's ejection from the presidency demonstrated a certain confident and orderly power that our asphyxiating Democracy does not now appear to be capable of.  Richard Nixon finally resigned after Republicans in the Senate and the House personally made it clear that they no longer supported him.  According to polls taken at about that time, a slight majority of registered Republican voters thought Richard Nixon should stay on as duly elected president, while a slightly larger majority of all registered voters thought Nixon should go.  The will of the people was that Richard Nixon should go, which in turn was reflected in the message conveyed to Richard Nixon by members of his own party.

Also, as a query into the strength of the Democracy during the Richard Nixon years, relative to our own time, let us consider healthcare.  In Richard Nixon's time, there were dueling healthcare proposals coming from the two major parties, which in itself suggests strength in the Democracy compared to our own time.  Only forty years or so ago, a Republican president felt the need to compete with Democrats to offer major healthcare improvements for the benefit of the people.  In our day, under compulsion from the sub rosa Plutocracy's death-coils, Republicans characterize plans like Richard Nixon's healthcare proposal as job and character-destroying government give-aways, and infringement on basic freedoms.  Nixon's proposal was in many ways similar to the approach taken by Obamacare, while the Democrats, led by Ted Kennedy, wanted single-payer healthcare.  Nixon opposed single-payer, in part because it was too close to what the Communists had, and while conceding that federal involvement in healthcare was necessary, Nixon insisted that he wanted to ensure that doctors worked for their patients and not for the government.  In the end, Ted Kennedy nearly agreed to accept Nixon's plan, but under various pressures, especially from the unions, left the table.

In its orderly and bipartisan dispatch of the president, and by the bare fact that Republicans seriously competed with Democrats to offer significant healthcare reform that would have benefitted millions of ordinary Americans, the Democracy had shown strength during the Nixon years that it has perhaps not since matched.  Ahead lay a decades-long descent into the perilous, bone-strewn, heat and CO2 choked Valley of the Plutocrats from which it yet might not emerge.

And Nixon's Disgrace Begat Carter, Who Begat Reagan, Who Begat the First Bush, Who Begat Clinton, and Anthony Kennedy Begat the Second Bush, Who Begat Obama.

What Begat the Current President?

The results of the next presidential election, in 1976, made Jimmy Carter the President of the United States.  Prior to his election Jimmy Carter had been the finest, handsomest, bravest, most noble knight in the land.  No, scratch that.  Jimmy Carter, some say, was elected because he was everything Richard Nixon had not been:  For starters, he seemed to be an earnest, honest person, and he had promised that he would never lie to the American people, and it seemed possible to many hopeful American that this could be true.  At that time, after all the lies associated with Vietnam and with Richard Nixon's presidency, perhaps Americans thought that they could be happy with a president as long as he didn't lie to them.  They thought to themselves, We won't ask for much, we don't want much.  Now, we need some peace and quiet.  We just need to rest.

Simple honesty may be what Americans thought they wanted, but they weren't prepared after the arduous immediately preceding years that had contained--among a multitude of disconcerting symptoms of a society at the crossroads--travails including but by no means limited to--political assassinations, riots, a seemingly never-ending televised war, a president chased from office--to be asked by this person, this Jimmy Carter, to not leave it all behind them, as they wanted to, but to revisit it, to deal with it, to look inward, and see their own shortcomings and potential.  It turned out that this was not at all what Americans wanted to hear from their president.  Nay, it was the last thing they wanted.  At the time, no one was quite sure what exactly it was they wanted, but rather early in the Jimmy Carter administration, people knew they didn't want Jimmy Carter.  He may have insulted them by asking them to look at themselves, and they, in turn, insulted Jimmy Carter.  Deemed finally by the people to be irredeemably feckless, and snubbed as a self-righteous outsider by insiders of both parties in Washington, Jimmy Carter was alone, and soon could do no right.  It became easy for some to blame Jimmy Carter for all of the things that seemed to be going wrong: an energy crisis, high inflation, high unemployment, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, American hostages in Iran, and so on.  Jimmy Carter did not become the national leader that he wanted to be, but by the end he was the national whipping boy.  When his plan to rescue American hostages in Iran blew up in an Iranian desert on April 24, 1980, Jimmy Carter was done.

To a person who had not been impressed with Ronald Reagan during the 1980 presidential campaign, a hint of an answer to what Americans wanted in their president came on October 24, 1980, in the sole presidential debate of the campaign.  In response to Jimmy Carter's criticism of him for beginning his political career with a national campaign against Medicare, Ronald Reagan smiled as if sorry for poor Jimmy Carter, slightly moved his head in that aw shucks amiable way that would become so familiar to Americans over the next eight years, and said, "There you go again."  Jimmy Carter's claim was true, but the next day the most celebrated moment of the debate was, "There you go again."  It was a penetrating remark, but not to the truth or the substance of Jimmy Carter's claim:  It penetrated to what millions of Americans were feeling about Jimmy Carter near the end of his term.  "There you go again."  People were tired of listening to Jimmy Carter, tired of him trying to be the conscience of the nation, and no matter what he said they were tired of it.  Ronald Reagan smote him and dispensed with him, and people liked that.  Nobody knew exactly what Ronald Reagan meant by that "There you go again."  It was like a joke that was funny but no one knew why.  But it was a quick and tidy clean-up of the Jimmy Carter problem.  That's just poor Jimmy Carter, babbling again, getting worked up about morality and the facts.  There he goes again!  Goodbye Jimmy! For the people who had become sick of Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan did to Jimmy Carter with that one line what should have been done.  And it was good.  One week after the debate, Ronald Reagan was elected President of the United States in a landslide.

But what about the Democracy's health in late 1980?  During Carter's term both parties had seriously proposed healthcare reform that would have been an improvement over the status quo, but in the end none of the proposals became law.  Special interests seeking to guard their own bags of money had risen up to block reform, and one of their arguments was allowed to win in the end: extending healthcare to more people would be too expensive.  However, in 1980 the United States, as now, was the richest country in the world, and by then many of the developed countries--countries that America had helped to pull from the rubble of WWII--and with economies far less robust than the American, had already implemented universal health coverage.  The probable main reason for the failure of American healthcare reform in the 1970s was not that the country (the richest in history) couldn't afford it, but that focused and moneyed special interests had prevailed over the health interests of the people.  In other words, the Democracy was not strong enough to protect the many from the few.

Once upon a time, there was a president.  His name was Ronald Reagan.  He was a visionary who could see beyond the clouds, the moon, the sun, the stars... beyond the Andromeda galaxy.  He could see what no human had seen.  No prophet, no philosopher, no statesman, no saint, no sage, no guru could see what he could see.  He had been a life guard as a young man, and could have been content doing that, saving five or six lives every day, but he knew that the world needed him for even more than that.  He could, even before he went to Hollywood, glance at a telephone book without really even opening it, know and remember every name in it, and, in his memory, forever correctly link every name with its telephone number.  No.  Scratch that...

Once upon a time, there was a president.  His name was Ronald Reagan.  At first the professional Republicans didn't know what they had in Ronald Reagan, but when they realized that he was that rarest of birds, a major Republican politician who gave a lot of people in both parties a good feeling about themselves and about America, professional Republicans were so relieved that they automatically became happy as the burden they had been carrying for so long hit the ground,

and the professional Republicans wept tears of happiness

that they at first could not identify

 

Boys and girls, if that part of the log you are sitting on is a little uncomfortable--for example if you are sitting where a branch once grew, and what is left is just the sharp broken-off part-- you should move now to a better spot on the log.  We are coming up to a part of the story that is what we call a pivot point, and you should be comfortable and free from distractions so you can follow along.

End Part I

 

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