He goes on to write, “Our spirits have been sickened by the toxins baked into our political system, which legalizes graft and is held hostage by special interests and a gerrymandered minority. As a result, we are legislatively incapable of dealing with big problems like joblessness, climate change, gun safety, infrastructure, hunger or – based on recent House Republican chaos – immigration. The public investments we’re not making – in schools, teachers, roads, bridges, clean energy – are killing us. Our tax code is the least progressive in the industrial world. The most massive transfer of wealth in history, plus a cult of fiscal austerity, is destroying our middle class. Tuition is increasingly unaffordable, and retirement is increasingly unavailable. The banks that stole trillions of dollars of Americans’ worth have not only gone unpunished; they’re still at it.”
Mr. Kaplan’s arguments remind me of my own sense of frustration. What can we do when the Supreme Court makes it legal to buy your own politicians and takes out the final barrier to special interest groups? What can we do when political parties gerrymander voting districts and majority interests are over ruled by minority special interests? What do we do when our legislators totally ignore the will of the people they represent and vote in accordance with their sponsors’ interests? What do we do when the Supreme Court decides racial discrimination is over and guts the voting rights act?
You know the answer: We quietly acquiesce and go about making the best of things. And just as Mr. Kaplan ponders our response, so does RJ Eskow, in the article on alternet.org titled, Why Are Americans So Passive? He goes on to write, “The rest of the world is rioting in the face of massive inequality and injustice. Have we absorbed the oppressor’s consciousness?” Then he answers his own question quite well in the same article, which I heartily recommend.
But I want to add another voice to the mix. A voice that was awakened, or more to the point, confirmed by Eric X. Li, a Chinese venture capitalist, in his TED presentation, “A Tale of Two Political Systems.”
Mr. Li points out that we belong to a meta-narrative that goes something like this, “natural social development follows a trajectory from primitive society to the crowning achievement of electoral democracy.”
When we buy into that, it’s a short logical step to “if our system is the crown jewel of social and economic development and I’m failing, it must be my fault.” So instead of rioting in the streets I should sit down, take the blame and analyze how I screwed up.
First, we’re promoting (sometimes at the point of a gun) a form of universalism that proposes electoral democracy is appropriate everywhere and for everyone, so why would we even question it here at home?
Second, this narrative is so embedded in our national psyche, as to be transparent. Another way of saying this is, we are the fish, that when asked how’s the water, we answer, what is water.
Third, we’ve allowed a perverse kind of moralistic condemnation to be associated with economic failure, e.g., if you’re not rich there is something wrong with you. And being the most religious of developed nations, we reinforce the condemnation with religious principles.
In the meantime, we grind away in our never-ending “elect and regret” political cycles, our government becomes less and less responsive, an infinitesimal fraction of our citizens earn enormous amounts of wealth and the rest of us, in the face of all the statistics to the contrary, insist we are the best country in the world.
Our insistence on our exceptionalism obscures our real circumstances, while China surges past us to become the largest economy on the planet in the next ten years. And all organized by a one-party, non-elected government with a structured national plan for development.
I’m not arguing for the implementation of the Chinese system in America. It could never work here anymore than our system would work there. I will argue that if Mr. Li’s three measures of effective government in China, adaptability, meritocracy and legitimacy were to be studied, we could learn a lot.
Don’t take my word for it. Watch his presentation (linked above) and form your own opinions.
Robert De Filippis