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writing for godot

The Phoenix Also Rises: Regenerating Our Democracy

Written by George Monroe   
Tuesday, 26 December 2017 05:37

It may seem that the arrogant and destructive behaviors of Donald Trump, the Koch brothers, and other predatory plutocrats are uniquely self-serving.  In fact, most human societies have long suffered similar machinations by a virulent strain of Homo sapiens. From the time human beings first appeared on the planet, some resorted to force and trickery to overpower others and control most of the earth’s resources for themselves. Eventually, they joined with likeminded power seekers to control common people and amass great wealth from their energies as slaves or indentured laborers.

Egocentric humans who assumed such power roles took on the exalted titles of Pharaoh, Emperor, Caliph, Priest, King, Queen, Czar, Lord, and Fuhrer, etc. to signify a divine right to rule and to induce fear of defying it.  For thousands of years this pattern of human relations was prevalent. It provided wealth and glory for an elite few and abject misery for the masses. Then, about 1000 BC the seeds of democracy began to germinate.  At great risk of life and limb, oppressed peoples around the world began to resist the power concentrations that made their lives miserable. The ruling Pharaohs saw their godlike status questioned and diminished. Some democratic principles for sharing power were created and practiced for a time in the innovative city-states of Greece. At other critical locations there were concessions of shared power, like the signing of Magna Carta, by a recalcitrant King Charlemagne.

Then came the age of revolutions (1774 - 1848), when members of human societies around the world rebelled against repression, exploitation, and exclusion. The American Revolution was a special beneficiary of nascent democratic ideas that were already gaining adherents in restless bodies politic. It was a breakthrough that lit a bright light of real hope for a world that was profoundly weary of government systems based on unrestricted power and control by an elite few.

Many people in the Western World became actively committed to the premises and benefits of democracy. However, aspiring plutocrats in their midst sought to obtain exclusive and excluding control, often embracing Darwin’s theory of natural selection to justify “survival of the fittest.” The supreme egotist, Adolph Hitler, turned this misguided perspective into a scheme for world domination by a Master Race with himself as the self-appointed Fuhrer. The result was a terrible world war with enormous losses of life and treasure.

After the defeat of the Axis powers to end WWII, it seemed that democracy would be forever safe from such takeovers by aspiring power seekers. However, a new form of economic imperialism appeared in the seductive writings of Ayn Rand, a Russian immigrant to the US who wrote novels exalting the primary tenets of selfishness. Through her writings and media messages she had significant influence among libertarians and American conservatives. Entrepreneur economist Milton Friedman elaborated upon the individualist doctrines embedded in The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.

Friedman claimed that his research validated Rand’s socioeconomic tenets and offered strategies for inducing societies to implement them. He and his graduate student “Chicago Boys” were effective in spreading this illusion around the world as scientifically proven gospel. For a detailed accounting of the disastrous results on societies that elected or were forced to adopt his free-market design see journalist Naomi Klein’s breakthrough book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.

Those like Donald Trump and the Koch Brothers harbor the same untamed egos that drove Egyptian Pharaohs, Moslem Caliphs, Roman Emperors, and English Kings to enslave and exploit others in building great monuments to themselves. Temples, mosques, churches, stone images, works of art, and engineering projects were designed and built to emphasize their superiority and dominance.

Donald Trump’s egocentric father was immersed in the Master Race culture of Nazi Germany before he immigrated to America. He had observed and used the tactics employed by the Nazis to amass a New York City real estate fortune. Witnessing the steady accumulation of wealth by his father’s selfish and often illicit actions, Donald learned his lessons well.  His father eventually gave him control of great wealth and encouraged him to make it grow. With the economic windfall also came the mandate to bring “greatness” to the Trump family name.

Like many other aspirants to dominance in the past, Donald Trump has met life’s challenges by lying, cheating, stealing, and bluffing with little concern for the rights and well-being of those he regards as his inferiors. When Trump talks about making America great again, he openly refers to the time when Andrew Jackson and his minions killed millions of Native Americans and stole their lands with impunity. He has always felt entitled to only the best of life’s goods by whatever means it took to get them.  He freely admits using bankruptcy and defaulting on contracts as “very smart” business strategies to escape troublesome debts. His deeply ingrained penchant for recognition as “the greatest” also moves him to insure that his name is displayed prominently on huge buildings, private airplanes, luxury hotels and exclusive golf courses.

Where such egotistical behavior ultimately leads is predicated in Percy Bysshe Shelley’s deeply insightful poem, Ozymandias.  It was written in 1817, soon after the British Museum acquired a large fragment of a once colossal statue of Rameses II who ruled in the thirteenth century BCE. The poem is a clear warning to egocentric greatness-seekers that they are on the wrong side of history.


I met a traveler from an antique land

Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert.  Near them, on the sand,

Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.

And on the pedestal these words appear –

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:

Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”

Nothing beside remains.  Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.


When the ancients suffered under the rule of brutal tyrants, they conceived a mythical phoenix to express hope that their oppressor would eventually be destroyed and their lives improved. According to this legend the phoenix is a large and beautiful bird that is cyclically regenerated after dying in flaming chaos after an abusive life cycle and then obtaining new life by arising from the ashes.

Phoenix energy can serve as a reminder to us that we have the power to re-create ourselves and put an end to the currently negative and destructive cycle in our public life. Working together, we can activate our phoenix energy to increase exponentially the power to perceive and create. We can invent new ways to care for the marvelous planet that serves as both our home and our means of transport into the future.

The good news is that serious efforts in this direction are already under way.  In their timely new book entitled, Daring Democracy: Igniting Power, Meaning, and Connection for The America We Want, Francis Moore Lappe and Adam Eichen document a number of inspired citizen movements to stop the theft of our democracy and regenerate its constructive promise. Their concerted efforts reflect the time-tested message of redress and regeneration offered in the legend of the phoenix.
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