After a year of brutal and unrepresentative government by a Republican Congress and President, I want to take a moment to examine an aspect of our degrading society that is, admittedly, not the most important or direct consequence. It resides mostly in the minds of people, but also in the words they speak and the hopes they allow themselves, it is as real as any material deprivation. It is time for each of us to examine our politics, and banish forever the ideas that the stakes are low and reversible, that the only important thing is that we “restore sanity” to the presidency, and that our culture is not sick.
I speak of the despair and fear that millions of people feel- even if they are lucky enough to escape the direct and immediate consequences of radical-right policy. What the United States government is doing in some communities is terrorizing, pure and simple. When you begin rolling up convenience store clerks for the high crime of working without the proper documents, you don’t just create a climate of fear among the undocumented, but also their families and others who rely upon them. When Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers hang out at courthouses and schools attempting to spot people they can legally round up and throw into cages before sending them away forever, they aren’t just looking for marks on some report, but to send a message- Uncle Sam is not your friend if you aren’t white. He has no general welfare to promote among you, no interest in your pursuit of happiness, no interest in your access to justice or education. No, Uncle Sam is racist as hell, 14th and 6th amendments be damned, and he’s done even pretending to care. To hell with your citizen children or your ties to the community or the relationships you’ve formed or even your human rights- your new full-time job is worrying about him and his fascist thugs disappearing people from America.
I speak of the complete collapse of concern among the elite for legions of educated adults, both young and old, who followed the advice of their parents and popular wisdom and devoted themselves to obtaining a coveted middle-class slot in our economy through education. These graduates find themselves facing a society with no interest in the lack of slots available for them beyond a few lucky I.T. staff and software engineers, but an obsessive interest in making sure that every penny of student loan debt is repaid. Is it any wonder, finding themselves relegated to menial tasks and a subsistence existence, that they have concluded that the vision they were sold on is a lie? They want answers, a way to explain what is happening to them- and while some will rightly conclude that the problem is a rapacious and exploitative global capitalism, others will descend into despair, anger, and impotent resentment, and others still will be seduced by the easy explanations of racists and xenophobes.
I speak of my African-American brothers and sisters, who, in addition to dealing with the tangible and direct effects of Uncle Sam’s negligence and/or oppression, also have to live in a climate of consistently heightened awareness of the police- and also with the awareness that it’s entirely possible to do everything right and still lose everything. They teach their children to fear and obey without question men with badges in order to protect them, that they must be careful about crossing this street or that one into the rich, white side of the divide, that their dreams should be smaller and their focus should be survival.
If you’re thinking about politics these days, it’s these sorts of folk you should never allow too far from your mind. For these people, who must expend effort constantly looking over their shoulders, worrying about their futures or lack thereof, afraid of being shot during a traffic stop or put in handcuffs for not having a Social Security number, politics is not a matter of sport-like entertainment but often literally life-or-death. It is for these people and their sake that I avoid the luxury and indulgence of cynicism and false equivalence between our two major political parties, and have little patience for those who still do. Certainly much would be better off if Trump had lost rather than won. But it is also for their sake, those without the ability to simply spectate and offer commentary, that I refuse not to challenge the conventional positions of imminently-reasonable liberals, democrats and cable news pundits. Because the truth is, you shouldn’t have to be a perfect model-immigrant to live in this country in peace, freedom, and dignity. You shouldn’t have to sign yourself into debt peonage for the chance at an increasingly rare middle-class job with health insurance and non-insulting wages. Massive wealth inequality, much of which progressed without protestation among liberals, has led to this turning point in popular political discourse , where the neoliberal vision for America has very publicly lost popular legitimacy but an alternative has not yet been accepted. Time is running out for the Democratic Party to articulate a new vision based upon the universal human desire to live in liberty, peace, and prosperity, even if you’re not a veteran or small business owner or disruptive tech entrepreneur or college graduate. Here’s hoping they do- the future is socialism or barbarism, and one way or another we are doing away with American Dream of old. Will we become a country of oppression and the never-ending struggle just to get by, or one of cooperation, sharing, and ambition?