January 4th, 2010 10:55 EST
Just About the Only Thing Americans Can Trust is Their Own Common Sense
Only someone as ignorant as I am would try to psychoanalyze an entire people "and certainly not a people as diverse as Americans "but just for the sake of argument suppose that Americans at this juncture in their history are especially resistant to anger management and conflict resolution because deep down they suspect they`re being screwed on a grand scale.
They don`t know how and they don`t agree on who the villains are, but they listen hard to anybody who dials up their anger and frustration. The problem for society is that its members must be more interested in finding solutions than villains in order to find its way out of predicaments. Good reason, then, to be wary of anyone who stokes anger.
We`re losing our jobs, our homes, our health, our education " it`s all slipping away, and we`re told that everything will be just fine if we buy more or save more. Yeah, sure. With what? Our unemployment checks? Our food stamps?
We have an increasingly narrow economy devoted to war, oil, construction and finance. We have sprawled out into suburbs and exurbs we can`t afford, destroying inner cities and town centers. We have shipped our jobs overseas and replaced our own reliable products with inferior goods and materials produced by cheap labor overseas and sold by anti-labor retail corporations. And we have swallowed the squalid argument that all this has been necessary to help American business compete with foreign business "and create jobs that haven`t been created and support a middle class that is being destroyed. We called it trickle-down economics, but the only place to which wealth has trickled down is offshore corporate bank accounts. And millions of us are still buying this lie. The only way the wealth might have trickled down to the middle class and the poor was to have had a moral capitalist elite, but we have an amoral and often immoral elite who feel no obligation to share their predatory gains with anyone. They are more interested in a new yacht than our children, but they`re very quick to yak about putting our children in hock with new taxes. Such crocodile tears. Since when did they give a damn?
The banks "you know, the ones too big to fail "had a moral obligation to stimulate the economy by extending more credit when they received a taxpayer bailout, but regarding morality as for suckers, they chose instead to fatten their bonuses and take care of their shareholders.
What in this picture is there for the American people to trust? Under these circumstances, any loudmouth of the right or left is able to reach deep into the American psyche and stir up fear and rage.
I was a newspaperman for a long time. I began my career in the late 1950s when most Americans trusted the press to tell them the truth, to keep government honest. Today the press is one of the least trusted sectors of society. I strongly suspect this is because the press has so consistently failed to explain to the people how they`re being screwed and by whom.
Whether you blame Big Government, Big Pharma, Big Media or Socialism, there is a vast consensus across the political spectrum that the people are being abused and betrayed. They have watched corporate greed destroy the middle class that gave rise to our prosperity and hopes. If you adhere to the far right, you may dispute this and blame government or socialist policies. If you are on the left, you may blame the dismantling of unionism that began under Ronald Reagan. But one thing you will probably agree on is that very few Americans are better off than they were thirty or forty years ago.
I don`t know who to blame. Or what. But, like almost everyone else, I have my suspicions. I tend to lean politically and socially to the left. I tend to vote as a centrist, and I find much that is admirable in true conservatism but not in what passes for conservatism on today`s far right. If handling money with common sense is conservatism, I`m a conservative. But if conservatism is to wage endless war, blame immigrants for our troubles, deny women the right make decisions about their own bodies, and blabber about taxes while refusing to do anything about cronyism and corruption, I`m liberal as hell and unapologetic.
Our widespread conviction that some kind of system is loaded against most of us is making civil discourse and dispassionate examination of our challenges so difficult that the republic is in danger of falling to myth-mongering fanatics who are unwilling to listen to anyone who disagrees with them. In this they weirdly resemble our enemies.
Given this kind of paralysis it is no wonder Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who owes his exalted post to President Obama, feels justified from a distance in London and Kabul to dictate foreign policy to his commander-in-chief while millions of irrational chicken hawks at home say the President should listen to the military. Paralysis is always a standing invitation to militarists to seize the reins of government. I don`t argue that this is about to happen, but I do think there are troubling portents. If General McChrystal is so prescient, let him tell us how to pay for good health care.
We need to speak with each other, not shout, not rant, not denigrate or mock or ridicule. To my mind, Barack Obama is not keeping his promises, not sticking to his word. But he has introduced a tone of moderation and respectfulness to the conduct of our affairs and, for that reason if no other, has incurred the hatred of fanatics. They correctly perceive reason to be the enemy.
Djelloul (jeh-lool) Marbrook was born in 1934 in Algiers to a Bedouin father and an American painter. He grew up in Brooklyn, West Islip and Manhattan, New York, where he attended Dwight Preparatory School and Columbia. He then served in the U.S. Navy.
His book of poems, Far From Algiers, won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize from Kent State University in 2007 and was published in 2008. His story, Artists Hill, adapted from the second novel of an unpublished trilogy, won the Literal LattÃ© first prize in fiction in 2008. His poems have been published in The American Poetry Review, Barrow Street, poemeleon, The Same, and other journals. The pioneering e-book publisher, Online Originals (UK), published his novella, Alice MIller`s Room, in 1999.
He worked as a reporter for The Providence Journal and as an editor for The Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette, The Baltimore Sun, The Winston-Salem Journal & Sentinel and The Washington Star. Later he worked as executive editor of four small dailies in northeast Ohio and two medium-size dailies in northern New Jersey.