When I wrote this piece, the Tea Party was just starting to rise in opposition to Obama’s … well, it certainly wasn’t his being black that was an issue, so it must have been abuse of power or something like that. But the process that got us to where we are today was just starting. What was it like? It was remarkably predictable, sadly. Here we are, a bit lower than I ever hoped but really on the same path. Enjoy this trip back in time.
The situations have been coming on strong for years, but they seem to be peaking. Everywhere you visit on the internet, and sometimes even in public, we all run into someone who can take any subject and make it into a kind of right-wing rant:
“Sure is hot today!”
“That’s not evidence of global warming!”
It wasn’t long ago that characters and attitudes like this were the domain of the other side – those who were against The System, The Man, The Establishment, They. Has everything flipped, or is this all one big phenomenon?
I’ve been amused by these curious characters for some time. By “amused” I mean in turns curious, exasperated, and desperate to deflate somehow. How do people become this focused on the One Big Thing, the theory that explains all of the powerlessness and frustration that is common in a global Depression?
The answer I think is that the very real sense that things aren’t working for the people of this nation and world is meeting a general lack of appropriate leadership at nearly every level. Our economy is rapidly deteriorating into Haves versus Have-Nots, those with jobs who work long hours and those who are trying to find something to live off of. The people we might want to look to as leaders in government, business, entertainment, or anything else are clearly looking out only for their own interests and grabbing what they can.
Fear seems to have driven us to scatter like fleeing animals.
Many people who don’t like this phenomenon find fault in the infortainment world that has produced a number of clowns turned pundits of many forms. Jon Stewart is my particular favorite of this group and not just because his politics is lefty – he’s the one who has remained consistently honest about his role as clown first. But they are all clowns – entertainers who juggle issues and dare us to keep our eyes on the stuff they fling into the air with artful handwork.
Much as I think it is easy to blame infortainment for our problems, the delusion that it is a substitute for real leadership is what has given the clowns influence and power. I’d rather look elsewhere to explain our lack of real leadership.
Deep in my heart, I do believe that the root has to be a world that is too big to understand. People’s connection to their world doesn’t come in gradual layers that go from individual to family and community and state, but straight into the global pipeline. The structured world that was common two generations ago might seem stifling, but it had effective barriers between large forces and the efforts of individuals. Natural lines allowed people to organize into effective movements, if necessary, and develop leadership skills. There were a lot of “minor leagues” that tested individuals and allowed them to grow.
Not any more. It’s either the big show or obscurity, Have or Have-Not.
I’m writing this on Bastille Day, a topic that I was thinking of using as a central theme of this piece. I begged off because I realized that the French Revolution was just one of those times in history when the class structure was stripped away and the world was opened up – to a terrible chaos that eventually engulfed Europe in the schemes of one selfish “leader”. Times change and we can’t expect our world to go down the same path, yet there is so much that seems similar as feel the divisions rising.
What should we do about those people who feel a need to make everything into a statement of defiance against The Establishment? I’d like to give them all a hug and tell them that it’s going to be OK. Some of them I’d even like to join up with and see if we can’t come to some kind of agreement. The last thing I’d like to do is entertain them in a way that disengages their brains from thinking through how we all connect – there’s plenty of that already.