“The society that loses its grip on the past is in danger, for it produces men who know nothing but the present, and who are not aware that life had been, and could be, different from what it is.”
— Aristotle, Politics
The title is an unapologetic P.T. Barnum hook. The three reasons? Why not a sacred ten? Or 350 million? Doesn’t everyone have his or her own take on Twitter? Isn’t reason what is behind our opinions, or my“whatever” about your reasons? And “doomed”? This is shameless trickery in a title signaling the apocalyptic in a country nervously nudging the notion of The Rapture. At some point, the Roman Empire was doomed but even Gibbon’s three volume history couldn’t nail three reasons why. And it seems Shelley’s Ozymandias went to his grave without suspecting that his kingdom was doomed.
I cannot deliver on irrefutable three and only three reasons. Don’t blame me. The times are awash in communiqués. Phantasms have two million followers on Twitter; there are 27.3 tweets per day, each no more than 140 characters; Facebook has 1.26 users, all posting words and pictures; countless bloggers pitching their own take on things, although “social media” has tended to make blogging old school. We live after Pandora’s Box has been opened, when the Sirens are always singing, when the Muses anoint everyone’s vocal chords or typing thumbs. In our time when personal opinion trumps all, everyone has a take on why US politics is a circle in Dante’s Inferno. I have got nanoseconds to get your attention amid the cacophony. I will do 140 characters on Twitter, a kind of abbreviated triage emergencies demand. Fitting when one thinks of how language is being tortured on every sort of hand held device, how “society” is trampled by narcissism on “social media,” and reason amputated from sense and stitched to personal opinion.
The swarm of opinions that cannot be challenged leads me to think of one reason why US politicians cannot reason together. I mean that you can expect that when a two party system does not represent your personal take, which reigns supreme, you feel justified in ignoring politics as irrelevant in your life. A cynic, then, might say this is one possible reason, our first reason, why politics in the US has gone from bad to worse. At some point, one’s personal reasoning/imagining/feeling has become detached from a rational or empirical approach to knowing anything, not only detached, but ascendant.
If you expand this certitude and fixedness regarding one’s own opinion to legislators and legislation, you wind up with a weird sort of politics, or really no politics at all. All of the 28 Congressmen elected in 2010 share a very bad opinion of President Obama, an immoveable opinion. There is no give, no compromise, and no recognition that one’s truth may not be absolute and universal. They don’t want “to do politics.” Why were they elected? People who share their opinions, including their intent not “to do politics,” elected them. But many, many more extend their unwillingness to knock the supremacy of their personal opinions down a few notches, in other words, “do politics,” by not voting at all. An individual may refuse without public notoriety to adjust his views as time, chance, the un-Thought and others alter affairs. A legislator, however, should be committed to an ever moving open and free exchange of ideas and viewpoints, unless of course he or she is committed for all time and without hope of alteration to some sworn ideology or faith.
A Socialist has a sworn ideology, as does a Neo-liberal/Conservative. A Liberal does not. You could define a Liberal as someone without an unchanging core of faith or any ideology beyond adapting to and accommodating a lot of stuff the no one thought of before or paid any attention to or demeaned and demonized and so on. There is definitely no Sharia law to a Liberal. This loosey-goosey style smacks of an ethical relativism as well as a sense that Liberals do not put Jesus at the center of their politics. Recognizing that reality is in motion, that we drift in and out of stories that claim our attention and that “doing politics” demands a recognition of all this leaves Liberals subject to a “flip-flopping” charge. If you know what The Truth is, you are bound not to flip flop; flip flop is deviation.
A Tea Party affiliate might say a second reason why politics in the US is both tragedy and farce has all to do with a Liberal’s lack of a firm center. An accompanying flip flopping relativism has eroded hard core, heartfelt American values. If Conservatives conceded to all Liberals desired, there would be no gridlocks or government shutdowns. But Conservatives hold a defensive line and they do so because a core set of values and beliefs (the Tea Party has provided the most recent version) prevent them from moving toward a reality that is, in the final analysis, “un-American.”
This Conservative defense of a very determinate Constitution, a very transparent American Dream and undeniably fundamental American values does not lead to a fluid politics or really any kind of politics in the sense of carrying on a dialogue that may re-interpret the Constitution, the American Dream and fundamental American values. Politics in this view is not to disturb what is bedrock but rather only to insure and preserve, to make sure change does not revise, re-interpret and corrupt our sacred traditions. Because left-leaning Liberals have through FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society and now “Obamacare” already revised, re-interpreted and corrupted traditions, there has been an offensive/pro-active aspect to Conservative politics, namely, the need to roll back all the harm done in the past. In a left-leaning Liberal’s view, this determined campaign to dismantle Liberal legislation, including President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, may be a third reason why politics in the US is more a Mafia-like vendetta campaign against a rival gang than politics as defined as so glorious by Aristotle.
Because, as I’ve admitted, I don’t know The three reasons, I don’t hesitate to mention a fourth reason: politics in the US are going nowhere but Dante’s ninth circle because neither party wants to take on an Entity that is pushing Conservatives into a stubborn defense and a defiant offense while pushing the Liberals into a weak offense. Unfortunately, this “He Who Shall Not Be Named” Entity is wreaking havoc on the lives of about 80% of the population while solidifying a top 20% into what is surely the demesne of medieval feudalism. The levels of real anxiety to misery are growing among The People and neither party will take on root causes because they are, in vastly different levels of commitment, attached by purse strings and ideologically to an economic system that throws dice as in a Monopoly game. The battle cry of “Let Markets Rule!” has left a Wild West sort of financial sector in charge of our democratic aspirations, marking egalitarianism as just one victim of “creative destruction.” The more loudly and repeatedly Conservatives label Liberals socialists, the more Liberals run from a socialist critique that defines ways to tame the excesses of our Market Rule. It seems no one is able to stand up and say that you do not have to be a socialist in order to apply its corrective rod to our Market Rule.
When wealth brings legislators to power, it is not hard to imagine that wealth’s power has a great say in legislation. And wealth’s power is not ideological and therefore crosses party lines in order to pursue quite axiomatic ends: maximization of profits and the elimination of all constraints and restraints. This has inevitably led to the scrunching of the majority of the US population. Politics done on their behalf is the proper recourse. Unfortunately, the sort of politics that Aristotle pushed for, one tied to an individual’s ethical responsibility to create social well being, has been replaced by the politics of personal choice as well as by a politics of not doing politics at all. Not surprisingly, both conditions are amenable to the axiomatic drive of Market Rule. This axiomatic drive, eroding the politics of democracy, may be a fifth reason why politics in the US stink.
“Doom” is a very final word so I will end with it. A sixth reason (I could change my title but this might lead you to think there are six) why US politics are so damn dismal, disgusting and infuriating has to with The People’s lack of a political memory. This probably results from too many years of not “doing politics” which probably results from an intensifying disdain and rejection of politics. Ironically, the more we fail to “do politics,” the more ignoble politics become and thus the need to “do politics” increases. No one heads for anyplace, not Valhalla or Doom, Heaven or Hell, if they drink from the Lethe, the river of forgetfulness. What they do is wander, not recognizing where they have been before, without direction because without memory there is no road, no destination, and no goal. We now live in a moving river of cyber seconds; no one scrolls down very far or ponders an archive of Tweets. It is difficult for memory of any kind to survive here. It is a failure that sustains Market Rule.
Eventually if some 80% of the US population discerns what improves the quality of their lives and what does not, the quality of US politics will improve. A sustained awareness will shape a political memory, one that will keep us from pushing that Sisyphus rock up the hill with the same result each time. Wall Street won’t rise to do yet another “Great Recession;” yet another incarnation of Newt Gingrich won’t appear and close down the government; we won’t do Vietnam in yet another place; yet another Joe McCarthy won’t rise up to “speak for The People;” and somehow the idea that a really obscene wealth gap is just an incentive for the Losers “to start a business” will vaporize.