American Culture

July 5, 2012: Nothing's changed. The American dream continues to erode

Hope you enjoyed your hot dogs, Mom, apple pie, fireworks, and the inevitable flourishes of patriotism, both faux and real, on the Fourth of July. But nothing has changed in America from the July 3 that kissed you good night to the July 5 that nudged you awake you this morning.

Political warfare by any name is still war. Call it what you will: The haves vs. the have-nots, class warfare, or ideological conflict — it’s still a cruel war, and it inflicts wounds on far too many of us. Some are deep: The bank took the house. Some are possibly fatal: The insurance company wouldn’t pay for the surgery. Or the drugs for that cancer. Some will fester for a lifetime: College students face a one-trillion-dollar student loan debt. Some are a perpetual itch that scratching does not relieve: There will be no pay raise next year, and your contribution to the company’s health plan will double.

Worse, so many of these problems that erode the American social contract are not meaningfully addressed by those we have chosen to do so. Don’t like the Supreme Court decision on Obamacare, governors? Cancel expansion in Medicare. Fail to engineer insurance exchanges.

Don’t like bills proposed by the other party? Filibuster away. Or refuse to allow bills to the floor. Or don’t allow amendments. Want to make political hay with the folks back home (and your super PAC donors)? Pass a bill in the House that the Senate won’t pass.

Forty people — all billionaires — may have more influence on legislative outcomes than the 312 million rest of us. If those billionaires dislike the direction political Party A or Party B is taking in American life, they can engineer an electoral coup by underwriting massive negative campaigns.

For so many of us, it feels like we don’t matter anymore. Too many of us are out of work. Too many of us carry too much debt (and yes, a lot of debt is our own damn fault). Too many of us worry about one of the kids getting sick. Sure, Obamacare is going to fix this — but not right away. That leaves plenty of time for politicians, claiming they are doing the right thing for the American people, to unravel even further the fundamental safety nets necessary for survival of modern life.

We have such little say in determining what is right. We are rarely consulted on what thing needs to be addressed. If we are asked, it is by pollsters who have already determined what the poll will say.

And goddamn it, don’t tell me to stand up and keep fighting the good fight. We’re outgunned (and out-dollared). The public’s ability to respond fully and freely — a dream of Bronze Age Internet days — is diminished by corporatism’s reliance on our willing donation of personal data on Facebook, Twitter, et al. We’re the product being sold. We are sheep. We are cattle. We are demographically useful to modern America only between the ages of 18 and 49. What we say doesn’t matter. What we spend does.

And don’t count on journalists to always ferret out what the public needs to know. They are just too few of the good ones left. Most of what dances into our TVs and iPads and iPhones now is just a narrative predigested and pre-screened by those who know better for our benefit. All the blogs in creation can’t match the firepower of modern media machines powered by the short-term profit motive.

July 4, 2012, lit up the sky with fireworks — and immediately dimmed. Nothing’s changed. As I wrote five years ago:

It’d be nice if, by July 4, 2011, health care had become more equitable and affordable, if more school children had become competent critical thinkers, if more women had received equitable pay, if climate change had slowed, if voting had become fraud-proof, equitable and honest, if no more Americans had died in Iraq, all because President X had done something. But he or she will have been too busy raising money.

So nothing will change. And stop screaming about meaningful campaign finance reform, because I’ll no longer be listening — or doing the screaming. (I’ve lost sight of what meaningful really means, anyhow.)

Maybe July 4, 2013, will be better. But I won’t bet the farm on it — because the bank’s already taken it.

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