Because we can’t have both.
The elections are over – mercifully, and millions of dollars later – and one side won most of everything. We have shown ourselves able to speak, after all, as a nation of diversity, and of some responsibility, some generosity, some compassion, and some good sense. And we voted by the millions, as the democracy we are, and were always intended to be.
And, although that is over, the fear mongering is likely not. It will continue – because it works. Democracy and fear are incompatible; they cannot coexist. The mongerers know this fact very well. Democracy functions only when citizens are reasonably fed, housed, educated, informed, productive, confident, and relatively unbowed by fear and want. Frightened people do not make wise decisions, even about their own welfare; often they can make no decisions whatsoever, and will do just what they are told to do, because they are terrified. When we are afraid, we feel powerless – whether we actually are, or not. This is just how most of us are: Human.
If you want to control people, do everything you can to keep them ignorant, poor, and deathly afraid, as much of the time as possible. THIS is the real reason the oligarchs want to gut government assistance for education, nutrition, welfare, job training, medical care, and other social programs. It has nothing to do with “fiscal responsibility”, or “reducing the deficit”, or “reducing the burden on our children and grandchildren”… And has everything to do with keeping as much of the populace as possible in a state of hungering malleability and civil impotence.
The chronically poor have real and legitimate fears: Legitimately afraid they won’t have enough to eat, because they so often don’t. Afraid they will have nowhere to live. Afraid of what will happen to them if they get sick or hurt. Afraid someone else will take what little they do have. Afraid their children will have no chance to live in conditions other than those in which they struggled to grow up. Afraid they are powerless. Afraid their lives mean nothing. (If this election did one thing, I think it did much to convince hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people that they have more power than they knew…)
But how to instill this kind of fear into the “average”, middle class, or even well off, members of our society…? The people who’ve pretty much been feeling they’re basically okay? That’s the ongoing challenge of the One Percent. They’ve got a few ideas, and they almost worked this time. At least almost half of us are apparently willing to give those ideas another try.
A natural disaster, or an incomprehensible act of terrorism, can be a bonanza here… 9-11. Katrina, Aurora, the BP Gulf oil spill, Sandy… In these situations, everyone is reduced to a state of near-equivalent deprivation and fear, at least temporarily. (Read Naomi Klein’s excellent 2008 book, The Shock Doctrine/The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, for an impressive summary of this kind of “opportunity.” She was on to something, even then.) Barring the availability of either of these kinds of events, the most common, and historically effective, tactic is to Invent An Enemy – an Other – and make it very clear that the Other is a real, imminent, and pernicious threat, about to destroy the very fabric of our society, starting by aggressively assaulting everything in which you believe. Nothing has to be rational or proven about the Other; it just has to be presented as an ominous danger, to you, personally. If that gay couple next door is allowed to marry, what’s to stop YOUR children from wanting to do the same, no matter how you feel about it? If that woman who was raped can get an abortion, what’s to stop the Other from making you have one, too? If that lay-about moocher on the other side of town, who probably wasn’t even born here, is given food stamps and a break on community college tuition, who knows what she’ll be asking for next – and how much of that will come out of your pocket? And – good lord – what if the Other insists that you’ll have to register that third AK-47 you’re planning to buy at the upcoming gun show? Keep the veiled innuendos great, and difficult to disprove. Provide plenty of “documentation,” even if you have to resort to recirculating six-year-old pieces of satire you found on the web, as new and factual. Just repost them, again and again, to as many people as possible, with the subject title, “IF YOU CARE ABOUT AMERICA, YOU MUST READ THIS!!!!!!!!!” Truth is for wimps. It’s the goal that matters. And that goal is to engender fear.
Make sure these dangers are kept continuously in the forefront of public consciousness. (It helps to have a good bundle of newspapers and other media outlets under your control for this – but all that takes is cash.) Intone ceaselessly that things are even worse than anyone can imagine, and that the threat has never been greater. Never allow the legitimacy of the danger to be questioned. Make sure that as many people as possible feel PERSONALLY threatened by the behavior of people they don’t even know, at all times, even if – and perhaps especially if – their personal lives are, in fact, not really threatened at all.
The threat of the Other flourishes in either a genuine, or simply perceived, culture of deprivation, oppression, and terror. Democracy, on the other hand, can thrive only in a society of confidence, adequacy, personal empowerment, and the assurance that there is truly “enough” for everyone – a society in which we are confident that we will be given help when we need it, and can give help to others when they do.
The truth is, there really IS – or could be – enough for all, but not as long as some of us insist that it is our “right” to live obscenely at the top, and others of us can be abandoned to live abjectly at the bottom, where we are deemed to deserve to be. It is highly unlikely that the One Percent will abdicate quietly, election or no election, and there is no reason to expect them to do so. Even they are well aware that their tool box is emptying rapidly… But the Fear Hammer is still in there, and I think we’ll still be seeing a lot of it. It’s about all they have left.
So… We have a choice: Democracy or Fear… But we can’t have both. Pick one. And pick wisely.