Oct 26 On the Disillusioning of America

Perhaps its my Irish sensibility, or  my own mood about the way the world is going, or I am becoming a grumpy old man, but does anyone else out there feel something is radically wrong? I would love to know, to compare notes.

Do you share an increasing sense that something might be slipping from our grasp, that something is not only not right, but there is a sea change happening. We are watching a tide  slowly recede, a tide of optimism and resilience that used to buoy up America in its severest times of testing and trouble?


A few weeks back, a friend and I attended the documentary  The Tillman Story, about the famous and tragic football star, Pat Tillman, killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan, and falsely memorialized as a Silver Star Medal Winner. It was a cover up, all for the sake of recruitment.   We came away with a sense of utter respect for the Tillman family and their quest for the truth, and an utter disgust for the leaders in the Military and their superiors who, even when they had to finally confront the facts of their heartless deception, retreated to denials and platitudes. And, they got away with it.

If the military is the last institution in which Americans feel a deep and abiding trust,  then this documentary challenges that faith.  Add the controversial Wikileaks files released about American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, add the bungling at Arlington Cemetery and the scandal of Walter Reed Hospital,  and the inane “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” reform that a government supports by challenging!!!! ;. Is it any wonder we feel a growing story of disenchantment.  Semper Fi???-Phooey!


This week, the documentary everyone was seeing was  Inside Job , the story of Wall Street before and after the collapse. This time, there were no heroes, only villains, and villains who instead of being caught and punished, walked away with millions in bonuses, and even got themselves appointed to the President’s Cabinet, without having to pay taxes on their ill-gained profits.

The crooks are running the show. How we long for the days of the good old honest bank robber because banks are now robbing us, the taxpayers, and laughing all the way to their Caribbean hideaways.  Just to hear the groans and gasps of the people in that theater was enough to show how painful and disturbing this story was and still is. The villains got away with it. This week, more disturbing stories circulate  of foreclosures being rushed through summarily, and you wonder when will the bad news stop? What other evils can the banks possibly conceive to defraud their customers?  Safe as a bank? Bunkum.


I am not sure what movie to go and see next week. A friend recommended Casino Jack and the United States of Money about Jack Abramoff and the lobbying scandal. However,  since the Supreme Court’s decision on election funding by anonymous corporations, one wonders if even Abramoff’s crimes now look ordinary.  In principle, any company with money from anywhere, can pay for attack ads to discredit any candidate, and not have to be held accountable. How can a democracy work with such secrecy? The electoral reform that even a conservative like Senator McCain once championed has been overturned.


Who can we trust then? The Church? No, it’s  still recovering from cover-ups and scandal. The Media?  NPR and Oberman on the Left and Fox and Beck on the Right?  You have to be kidding me. We would rather go hear Jon Stewart than trust any of them.  The Academy?-surely, the pursuit of knowledge hasn’t been tainted? But then you find a recent book called  Higher Education? which indicts the University sector for  selling out. So who is left?

At the end of Inside Job, the narrator tells us solemnly that 2010 is the first time that most Americans believe that their children will grow up with less opportunity than their parents enjoyed.  In other words, the American Dream is stuck in reverse. As time goes on, things will go from bad to worse. That might not be true, but it is the anxious feeling growing among us.


If democracy is supposed to privilege the power of the people, then next week, Americans have the chance to throw out the bums, to demand changes. But the Catch 22 is that once people lose faith in government, or think that the game is rigged anyway, that the good guys get screwed while the bad guys get promotions, then, even voting is an exercise in fulitility. One Hispanic group even dared to put out an ad, “Don’t Vote.” it said. “What’s the point?”


The people  may have given up on government but that does not mean they have given up. What it means is that local initiatives will have to become the site of reform.  If Lincoln saved the Union by a war against the states, the Union might also be saved by a state’s war against Federal powers. State’s Attorney Generals are looking at indictments over the bank crisis.  States are cutting budgets, States like Colarado are pursuing innovative energy policies. If Washington won’t, many States will.

Local citizens will step up and lead,  and challenge the government for its corruption.  It happened in the 1960′s  Civil Rights movement, and it can happen again in a modern day Citizen’s Rights movement. If that sounds too much like the Tea Party, then maybe it isn’t as crazy as people make it out to be.  Much of it is good old grassroots activism, searching for another way to change things.

Whatever their influence on November 2nd, one wonders, even hopes that this might be the humble start of a third American Revolution, where if the politicians won’t reform and rebuild a stalled government,  a bankrupted economy and a discredited military, the people will.  If that is the case, the election is more of a sideshow, or barely useful for the Late Night Comedy Shows.  The real change, one that once a President promised and has not yet delivered, is going to happen, with or without him.  It is sad that the American Dream has come to this, but once the people realise that the government is no longer working for them, but for the corporations, their anger might be the healthiest weapon our democracy has.