…both parties, Democratic and Republican, were equally guilty in what really was a conspiracy to run the government without outside interference. The only way the public could protest all the handouts and earmarks and fast-tracked tax breaks and other monstrosities was to vote for the other party—and the other party, it turned out, was inevitably whoring for the same monied masters.
Matt Taibbi, The Great Derangement (2008)
The American system is the most ingenious system of control in world history…One percent of the nation owns a third of the wealth. The rest of the wealth is distributed in such a way as to turn those in the 99 percent against one another...
Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States of America
*Re-posted from June 11, 2011
Perhaps it was on my 12-minute drive home after another "we're-not-in-Kansas-anymore" conversation with Charles "The Brain Demon" Cha or perhaps it was after my wife and I watched Inside Job (for the first time) and we just sat there on our couch with a pained look on our faces as the credits rolled. I'm not sure when it was exactly, but there came a time this Spring when I finally realized that the rhetorical battle between our two major political parties is simply no different than professional wrestling.
Indeed, I had a similiar moment in junior high when I was finally unconvinced by Patrick Flood's arguments that the entire Saturday morning WWF world of Macho Man Savage, Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant and Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka was unscripted. But this latest enlightenment concerning the political arena is a lot more sobering for two reasons: (1) it took almost 2 decades of voting to realize it and (2) now...the victims are real people.
Sure, when Nancy "The Gavel" Pelosi proclaimed on CSPAN the other night that the Republicans voted "to abolish Medicare" or when Barack "Audacity" Obama falsely claimed "The vast majority of the money I got was from small donors all across the country," it was not quite as bad as the plethora of chants I've heard over the past two years from the right (from the likes of Sarah "Targets" Palin and Paul "The Slasher" Ryan) concerning "death panels" and "pulling the plug on grandma" and "Obama is a socialist."
But nonetheless, it's just a game for the vast majority of our political leaders. The goal is power, privilege and fame for this mostly wealthy white male club (despite the above examples of Pelosi and Obama) called the establishment ("that uneasy club of business executives, generals, and politicos"--Zinn). They will do whatever it takes to stay in the elite club with high-level corporate CEOs and establishment media stars while appearing to be "for the people."
These leaders are funded by corporations and other elites and, therefore, work for their interests. These interests are perversely perpendicular to that of the other 99% of the country, including, as Howard Zinn points out, our precious young men and women of the armed services:
Would not those young people hesitate before enlisting if they considered that they were not risking their lives for their country, but for government, and even for the owners of great wealth, the giant corporations connected to the government?
While mainstream media outlets beat the Red State versus Blue State drum and continue to play up the storyline of a wrestling match between traditionally pious church-going businessmen and tree-hugging, Prius-driving bleeding hearts, let us consider the often overlooked awkwardly bipartisan coalition formed on several fronts:
1. The Corporate Sponsorship of our Entire Political Process
2. An Obsession with Israel
3. Deregulating and Subsidizing the Banking, Drug, Health Care & Food Industries
4. An Uber-Patriotic Commitment to the War on Terror, American Exceptionalism, The Surveillance State and Torturing for the Sake of National Defense
5. An Aversion to Marriage Equality
6. An Abandonment of Vulnerable People Groups like Muslims and Immigrants
7. A Paternalistic Stance Towards the Developing World
Consider President Obama's untelevised "back room" deals--breaking a key campaign promise--during the health care reform days of 2009-10:
The deals really were ugly. One involved an $80 billion closed-door pact between Obama and the top pharmaceutical industry lobbyist, a pact to lower drug costs that critics charge was entirely too soft on the industry. Then came the $100 million deal to benefit Senator Ben Nelson’s home state of Nebraska to secure his vote.
Consider the rapid increase in gas prices back in the summer of '08 and in recent months. Every economist will tell you it is a really complex formula of supply and demand and "other forces," but we now know that commodity speculators had a huge role in both hyperinflationary cycles. These wealthy investors were betting (yes, betting) that gas prices would rise. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy that benefited these investors and the oil companies who continue to garner huge profits while taking in generous government subsidies. The only folks who lose are the other 99% of us.
Consider the bursting of the housing bubble and the financial investigations that have followed suit. Goldman Sachs and other investment firms bundled toxic securities and sold them willingly to investment funds, including workers' pensions. On top of that, Goldman et al bet against these securities and walked away with billions (while middle America lost trillions in retirement and housing values). Yet not a single person has been prosecuted for this mockery of economic justice.
As Chris Hedges, the patron saint of EasyYolk, would say, the only way we can truly embrace hope is break away from illusion. Our political leaders have completely sold out to the corporate sponsorship of their campaigns so that they can stay in power and enjoy the fruits of elitism.
Meanwhile, the establishment media--from ABC to NBC to Fox to MSNBC to CNN to newspapers and periodicals--keep the illusion alive by selecting the issues and framing them in the glossary of the Red-State-versus-Blue-State grudge match.
The political parties use wedge issues like abortion and gay marriage to stoke fear into "the other 99%" of us, averting our eyes from the real scandal at the apex of the American Empire.
And faith communities in the United States have an overwhelmingly strong tendency to either thoroughly marry themselves to one of the two major parties or play the enlightenment game of "not doing politics"--which of course simply blesses the horrific status quo.
All these institutions (what the Apostle Paul called "principalities and powers") are implicated in this form of politics that is more counterfeit than pro wrestling because it masks a crippling, confusing, dehumanizing reality for hundreds of millions of us. But really it's quite simple. Why do university education, health care and gas prices continue to skyrocket? Just follow the money.
But now is not the time to just give in and give up. We must rebuke every form of apathy, cynacism and addiction. We can't just amuse ourselves to death while America becomes a trickle-down train wreck. We must figure out a way to organize, to mobilize for people that are committed to virtue and honor and healing the world. This is always instinctual during times of severe devastation (ie, Japan, Haiti, Joplin, etc), but in a time of massive illusion like this we lack the sense of urgency. However, we need it more than ever.
We need to find the radical resources to repent and resist--or what Hedges simply calls rebellion:
Rebellion—-which is different from revolution because it is perpetual alienation from power rather than the replacement of one power system with another-—should be our natural state. And faith, for me, is a belief that rebellion is always worth it, even if all outward signs point to our lives and struggles as penultimate failures. We are saved not by what we can do or accomplish but by our fealty to revolt, our steadfastness to the weak, the poor, the marginalized, and those who endure oppression. We must stand with them against the powerful. If we remain true to these moral imperatives, we win. I am enough of an idealist to believe that the struggle to lead the moral life is worth it.
This all may seem drastic...because it is. Although all of us resisters may come from different cultures and adhere to different creeds, we desperately need to come together to create alternatives to the establishment. We live in the tension of a virtual corporate monopoly on our communication, news, transportation, banking, food, housing and education systems. But more and more people are imaginatively breaking out of these strangleholds to find more truthful and humanizing ways to eat, live, share, spend and learn.
This is exactly what Jesus and his disciples did. They transcended the various religio-political options of 1st century Palestine (Zealots, Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, Essenes) by forming an inclusive "community of consumption" that dedicated themselves to healing the world through nonviolent love, humble service and social justice (confronting the privileged powers-that-be). This is the abundant life we were made for.