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America’s Wile E. Coyote Moment

Budget repair bill protesters in Madison, Wisconsin, on April 8th, 2011. (Photo: ra_hurd)

The funniest thing about Wile E. Coyote is how far he has gone beyond the edge of the cliff before he gives that big-eyed, “Uh-oh!” expression, realizing he's got a long fall coming. It isn't funny to the coyote, but it is to us. It's our schadenfreude: the joy we derive from the misfortune of people with whom we don't identify. Many world leaders are now facing Wile E. Coyote moments, with more to come. As the citizen uprisings continue, we discover that we are siding with the citizens, not their leaders, and, as we're seeing in Wisconsin, we're not siding with our leaders either. In one of history's ironies, Muslim Arabs have become our role models for courage and determination against governments that systematically keep their citizens poor, frightened and easy to control.

Because of long habits of brutality by their leaders, all these societies had immense income gaps between the rich and the rest, as we also have. Their rulers have all claimed some version of “emergency power,” enabling them to use whatever force is necessary to make their citizens compliant. The “emergency powers” claimed by tyrants like Mubarak and Qaddafi have strong family resemblances to the US Patriot Act. The result of all these emergency powers is machinery to keep citizens under control and ineffectual. Noam Chomsky has offered this view of the “operative principle” of many governments, including ours:

“As long as the population is quiet, acquiescent – maybe fuming with rage, but doing nothing about it – everything's fine, there's nothing wrong, it's all under control. That's the operative principle.”[1]

He could be speaking about almost all countries on the planet.

If we really think our president and members of Congress are working for us, and that their polluted political channels are our only hope, then we are doomed to be settling for one compromise after another in the perverse hope that those who rule us will instead want to serve us – especially after we have proven ourselves so easy to rule.

As the Libyan rebels are finding, it's hard to win an armed rebellion, because the government has many more weapons, and much better organization. If the ruler is pathological enough – as Qaddafi has proven himself to be many times – armed rebellion will probably end in mass slaughter on a scale that will make the citizens unlikely to try it again for a very long time. But with the possible exceptions of Libya, Bahrain, Yemen and Saudi Arabia, nonviolent but noncompliant uprisings are showing the masses of citizens reclaiming and using their power.

A few weeks before Tunisia's uprising began, citizens in England were already organizing their plan to dissolve England's economic disaster by making the rich corporations and individuals pay their fair share of taxes. They called themselves UK Uncut, a name denoting an England that can resolve its financial disaster without cutting social services or the country's infrastructure. They decided to educate other citizens to the fact that if the biggest tax-dodgers in the country paid their fair share, the economy would be fine. They reasoned that the only way to attack capitalist organizations would be to cut their money supply. They did this by blocking entrances to stores owned by tax dodgers and spreading the word through social networks. Other citizens joined them, including many police, as their movement is still spreading throughout the United Kingdom.

The citizens of the Middle East and Britain have realized that once your government has been bought or seduced by money and power – once it exists mostly to rule you rather than serve you – the official political channels will no longer work to change anything important. They found that the citizens have immense power, if only they will claim it and combine it with the courage to protest systems of grossly unequal income distribution that may be legal but are not morally or ethically right. The citizens (in every country where there are uprisings) believe this nullifies the law's authority.

Bringing It Home

Citizens can be robbed and pushed into poverty by the brute force of tyrants with armies. Qaddafi threatened to murder half a million of his own people. However, it's surprising to learn that the masses can be pushed even further into poverty by democratically elected leaders in countries like England, Israel and the United States. Israel's poverty rate in 2007 was about 24 percent, with 35.2 percent of all children in poverty – compared with eight percent of children 20 years earlier.[2] According to the CIA World Factbook, Israel had a higher percentage of its people in poverty than Egypt (20 percent), the United Kingdom (14 percent) and the United States (12 percent – a figure many have challenged as too low). But even the US has a higher poverty rate than Libya (7.4 percent) and Tunisia (7.4 percent). Even in democracies, the government's actions are not serving their people's wishes. They have been hijacked by leaders who take their orders from rich corporations rather than their much poorer citizens. All these uprisings involve class wars between the rich and the rest.

Once citizens realize that power can be theirs through sheer numerical advantage if only they will organize, focus and seize that power, Wile E. Coyote is ten feet past the edge of the cliff. People in Britain and the Middle East saw this before we did in the United States, but citizens have seen it in Wisconsin, where over 100,000 gathered to protest the governor's assault on worker unions, and they are now attempting the recall of sixteen Republican leaders. If they succeed, it may well galvanize citizens all over the United States to “get up, stand up”.

In the United States, even the most committed Republicans and Democrats are realizing that we have been consistently and intentionally misled by our leaders. All five presidents since 1980 – Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama – have used the rhetoric of their speech writers to keep their followers complacent, like hypnotists swinging a pocket watch back and forth to hypnotize audience members. They have all talked the talk of serving our citizens in this great, God-blessed America, but their actions have consistently helped break worker unions and kept those with the most money from having to pay a fair share of taxes. In their different styles and to different degrees, all of our last five presidents have been corporate lapdogs. In their January 21, 2011, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, the Supreme Court empowered corporations to buy or rent as many lawmakers as they need to get laws that favor them at the expense of the vast majority of our citizens. In return for the favors our politicians do for their corporate sponsors, permanent revolving doors have been installed between Congress and the corporations that sponsor it. And how did Bill Clinton make a $100 million between 2000 and 2008?

President Obama, as well as a majority of our 535 elected lawmakers and a 5-to-4 majority of the Supreme Court, have been and will remain the hand puppets of our best connected corporations and special interests – like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the National Rifle Association (NRA), health insurance companies, big pharma and the ever-present military-industrial-congressional-media complex – and their courtiers on the Supreme Court. When our politicians say “America's interests,” they mean the self-serving interests of the largest corporations, not the interests of health care, education and jobs that are the interests of the vast majority of Americans. It is time for us, then our leaders, to realize they have already gone beyond the edge of the cliff.

1. Interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now, February 2, 2011.

2. Naomi Klein, “The Shock Doctrine,” p. 439.

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