Thursday, March 10, 2011
Late last night (or, early this morning, depending up on your time zone), Governor Walker of Wisconsin got his way – by moving the metaphorical goalposts by way of eliminating budget-language from his union-busting bill, he managed to get his GOP henchmen to roll back over eighty years of Federally-guaranteed collective-bargaining rights in a dead-of-night vote.
Predictably, the people of Wisconsin went mad.
They mobbed the capitol building, and announced that they weren’t going to leave. The police opened the doors for them – small wonder; the police (up to now) have been making at least a living wage (although less than they deserve) by way of belonging to a union.
Of course, it’s not over – this will go to court, and might well wind up a Supreme Court case based on Federal guarantees – but with the Supreme Court also owned by corporate oligarchs, that outcome is uncertain in the extreme; the Citizens United case is fresh in everyone’s mind, and the deck is increasingly stacked against anyone who works for wages in America.
Robert Reich said recently, “…know that we are a nation of laws, and those laws will prevail.”
My response? Bullshit.
We’ve seen this behavior before – not here, but in England. The law didn’t work there, either, until people made the decision to put an end to the nonsense which passed for domestic policy.
When Henry VII defeated Richard III at Bosworth (having the late king’s body hanged on display as a warning), he set about building a stable nation. The seeds of later problems were sown by way of his appointment of ‘justices’ throughout the country – unpaid nobility who more often than not served their own interests. While the nation’s economic fortunes rose, most of that money wound up in the hands of a moneyed elite. Henry’s establishment of his own rule over the rule of Parliament set the stage for further corruption.
His successor, the infamous Henry VIII, ruled as he saw fit – and, if a law didn’t quite suit his needs, he’d go to Parliament and insist on one that did, which happened frequently.
Succeeding monarchs did no better – they changed laws to suit their needs. By the time Charles I came along in 1625, decades of Crown largesse had resulted in Parliament being a rubber-stamp for royal whim.
Several unsuccessful and costly wars (sound familiar?) had nearly bankrupted the treasury; Charles fought this with higher taxes and confiscatory policies. By 1640, both the Irish and the Scots had quite enough; they rose in open rebellion, which spread to the rest of England proper.
What followed is now called the English Civil War; it began in 1642 with a series of Royalist victories, where it appeared that Charles and the entrenched moneyed-interests would win – they had more of everything, and the army raised by Parliament – comprised mainly of peasants – was consistently no match for the Royalists – until, with persistent leadership and training, the peasant-army won at the Battle of Naseby.
Naseby was the tipping point for the entire conflict. Parliamentarians won a string of victories which culminated in Charles being made a head shorter in 1649.
The subsequent republic didn’t survive long – the leader of the uprising, Oliver Cromwell, dissolved Parliament and declared himself Lord Protector (‘Dictator’, by another term); he lived until 1658, ruling with as iron a fist as he was allowed.
When the monarchy was restored a few years after Cromwell’s death, it was clear that no king (or queen) would rule again with such authority – but the country was still a long way from granting a fair shake to working people.
There are a couple of them, as it turns out.
First, what’s going on in America today isn’t exactly new. It’s happened before (the story above is just one such example); to that end, we’re not covering new ground or even making history.
Second, we should understand that if we don’t begin as a nation to recognize some basic truths and begin some genuine compromise, we’re setting ourselves up for something far worse than any potential peaceful outcome.
I see one of two scenarios here.
One is our very own nasty, brutish and short Second Civil War, with the likely outcome of a militarily-backed dictatorship ‘for the good of America’ – given the state of polarization in this country, the military is the only power strong enough to ‘unite’ the place and keep a lid on things.
The other likelihood is some form of Balkanization. This will depend largely on the Federal government’s ability to exercise internal control after years of fighting two demoralizing wars.
(For the record, I’ve heard both arguments –one, which is very persuasive, is that the military would never fire on civilians; the other, just as persuasive, holds that if the conflict is perceived as ‘red vs. blue’, the military – which is mainly ‘red’, ultra-conservative and increasingly insular from America as a whole – wouldn’t hesitate to use whatever means was necessary to put down a rebellion if asked.)
Simon Johnson, in his masterful article for Atlantic Magazine entitled “The Quiet Coup”, points to the confiscation of America’s wealth by a pack of oligarchs on Wall Street, essentially capturing our government. While he writes from a decidedly economic point of view (he’s one of the senior economists at the IMF), he points out that America, regardless of the outcome of this situation, can’t continue as things are – the whole thing will collapse, or we’ll have a revolution.
Michael Moore stated recently that “America is not broke”; we still have the money – it’s just not in the right hands to effect genuine change. Increasingly, we’re told by the oligarchs that we’re not smart enough to manage our own monetary affairs; that the people on Wall Street are there because they’ve established some magic mental-alchemy unknown to the Rest of Us, and that our money – and our futures – are somehow safer in their hands.
They’ve backed up this position by creating organizations like “Americans For Prosperity” to promote this view, and to reinforce the fact that it’s working-class people who are the real culprits here; they had the temerity to form unions and demand a better deal – and for this reason, America is hamstrung by the millions of greedy union members and others who want more than they deserve.
Up to now, this tactic has worked. It’s been successful because Americans are a cheerful lot with short memories – we have the unerring habit of forgetting what happened, economically and politically, five minutes ago – and we also believe with an optimism bordering on suspension-of-reality that we, too, will someday beat the billion-to-one odds and become members of The Club.
No matter that basic math shoots that theory all to hell – with four hundred families in America owning over 60% of its wealth, and with one-percent of all Americans owning nearly 95%, the odds literally are over a billion-to-one that anyone with a college education and a dream will achieve much more than paying off the college loans before they die. With one mortgage in three essentially ‘underwater’, the chances that any working American will have anything to leave to their children past unpaid debts is increasingly slim.
Meanwhile, most of the wealth is at the top.
These people weren’t stupid. They began the process through constant revisions in the tax system over thirty years ago, to the point where the Quiet Coup is now a reality.
The real question is this: How long will it be before Joe and Josephine Sixpack – along with the struggling doctor up the road – turn off the tube long enough to realize that there’s no hope absent change?
And, when they do – what form will that change take?
The oligarchs are betting you won’t see the truth. They’re betting that their semiliterate Tea Party multitudes will continue to swallow the hogswill of ‘big government/unions/greedy liberals’ being the source of all of our problems. They’re betting that their Astroturf groups, like “Americans For Prosperity” (a wholly-funded part of the Koch Brothers empire) will carry the day, and continue to convince America to vote against itself and for the few who’ve come to run this country as the Cavaliers of old England did, by virtue of owning the nation’s wealth and the magic of legislative fiat.
They’re counting on you continuing to believe that you’ll be a member of the Club one day, if you just work hard.
Work hard, and give in.