Replacing 'They Decade' with Can-Do
Editor’s Note: The decade, which began with George W. Bush stealing a presidential election and got worse after the 9/11 attacks, saw Americans react passively to clever propaganda and other assaults on democratic principles, not to mention basic standards of justice.
Mostly, Americans let the government do what it wanted to "keep us safe" while standing aside as free-market enthusiasts shifted the nation's wealth to the upper crust. In this guest essay, American journalist Mort Rosenblum (based in London) says this era must end if the promise of democracy is to be restored:
America's “They Decade” is ending, and it is time to heed Edmund Burke. Evil happens when good men do nothing.
The silver-tongued Irish hell-raiser excoriated King George's tax on tea and urged Parliament to let the American colonies find their own greatness.
Burke was leery of universal suffrage; ignorant masses might fall for simplistic demagoguery, such as catchy malapropisms from a moose-hunting mom.
But democracy worked, with moments of shining greatness. Lawmakers stopped business from egregiously plundering the citizenry.
Then, in 2001, "They" shaped a class system of rulers and ruled. No conspiracy, just common interest. Fearful people who've abandoned their dignity are easy to sway.
Government outsourced prisons and parks. Mercenaries tortured in our name. Armed men with badges pushed us around. Private enterprise was free to pick our pockets.
The surface signs can be laughable. Hadley Freeman wrote in The Guardian: "Welcome to America! You get yelled at when you arrive and felt up when you leave."
Deeper down, it is not so funny.
In vain attempts to protect ourselves from terrorism, we empowered "them" to create endless enemies frustrated enough to commit mass murder by spiritual suicide.
"They" bankrupted us with two unwinnable wars for indefinable reasons. Their America speaks loudly and its big stick is proving useless against lots of little ones.
"They" convinced us against all evidence that climate chaos does not imperil our present and our children's future - or that the world is not running short of food.
"They" made auctions of elections, leaving victors in debt to special interests. As education budgets shrink and unemployment grows, the ruler-ruled gulf widens.
"When bad men combine," Burke wrote, "the good must associate; else they will fail, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle."
Bad or only inept, the effect is the same. It is time for A Do-Something Decade.
Find reliable sources you trust, real reporters who check facts and add context. Read books and smart blogs. Keep an open mind. Think commonweal.
Then organize. Rally friends. Contribute. Give a damn.
Joe Wilson/Sean Penn said it well in the movie, “Fair Game”: "The least we can do is care."
Let's start by dropping our lazy shorthand: liberals, conservatives, "the media," and other such collectives. All of us share blame. We have to find solutions together.
We need leaders who get it. Sarah Palin just told Glenn Beck on Fox News, "Obviously we've got to stand with our North Korean allies." There are silly Democrats, too.
Leaders must be held to account. Like the British, we ask politicians and parties to put national interests above their own. But we only ask.
Britain's MPs resign when shamed. A minister's sex scandal once toppled the government. One screw and the whole cabinet fell apart. In America, we all get screwed.
Republicans swear allegiance to us all but unite to sabotage the President so that voters will punish him in 2012 for not cleaning up a mess made by George W. Bush.
Democrats temporize, voting with Republicans to further damage a national tax base that Ronald Reagan and two Bushes crippled.
How can reasonable citizens argue with fair but graduated taxes rates? Working people need their wages. At stratospheric levels, money is simply a way to keep score.
Ask Warren Buffett. We lionize the Donald Trumps who take pride in snarling, "You're fired," as they amass more riches. Buffett, a real hero, happily gives wealth back.
So, in hock to China, we can't afford to create jobs, repair infrastructure or improve schools.
A White House commission calls for sacrifices to save $3.8 trillion by 2020. That's just about what Iraq cost, by Joseph Stiglitz's numbers. Afghanistan is extra.
When leaders betray public trust or merely do something stupid, don't grumble quietly. Raise hell. If necessary, impeach.
America at a Distance
Correspondents like me look back at America from a distance. From an ocean away, it is easy to see what our smug myopia blocks out.
China alone should keep us up at night. At the last G20 summit, a solid source tells me, a Chinese aide told an American delegate: "You're not running the world anymore."
In Russia, the KGB is now a scarier FSB. Oligarchs and mafiosi run the economy. Nukes are deployed again. Vladimir Putin just threw a nostalgic theme party: Back in the USSR.
Crises bubble on every continent. North Korea is a loose cannon with nuclear shells. Iran plays us with sophisticated skill. Israeli suburbs in Palestine irk our friends and foes alike. South Asia could go up in smoke.
If you want to terrorize yourself, read 7 Deadly Scenarios by Andrew Krepinevich, a Pentagon analyst who shows how easily we can bumble into world war.
Don't count on our allies. Britain decommissioned its last aircraft carrier and is scrapping its 80 jump-jet Harrier fighters. It can't even protect the Falklands.
WikiLeaks dumps show U.S. diplomats understand these threats. In Washington, some brilliant minds offer wise counsel. The problem is at the top: Them.
Their Guantanamos, Bagrams and Abu Ghraibs all come back to haunt us. So do drone missiles and bombs on wedding parties. If victims cannot bear witness, someone else can.
In a wired world, hackers and whistleblowers will expose what is behind our veils. America's business should stand up to hard scrutiny and reflect our national values.
We should thank Julian Assange for telling us much that our officials won't. He owes America no allegiance. If he is a sex offender, that's not about WikiLeaks. When "they" accuse him of treason, he becomes a martyr.
Still, his last coup went too far. Diplomatic cables are blunt. Imagine Russia's - or China's. All governments need some secrecy. Snippets out of context incite crazies to yet more desperate acts.
If war and terror don't scare you, read Bill McKibben's Eaarth. He first warned of climate chaos in 1989. Now he outlines what is already lost.
Look around. Freak cold now paralyzes Europe, closing airports and stopping trains. Factories shut as just-in-time delivery collapses. That's just a warning blip.
Food stocks dwindle as temperatures spike and plummet. Serial drought dries some rivers. Flooding swells others, washing away crops and topsoil. Seas rise and acidify.
Yet another summit, at Cancun, ended with vague future deadlines. We need to demand urgent, massive global action and to lead by example. We're supposed to be the good guys.
Our children's future should be reason enough, but there are other factors. Our outsized consumption feeds a sense of injustice that turns societies against us.
We have to get serious about reducing poverty and disease. This takes well-targeted foreign aid but also equitable terms of trade for poor countries' exports.
For our own sake, we need to understand others' legitimate causes. Defending one ally or another, no matter what, makes implacable enemies all over the map.
To do the right thing, we have to know what that is. We need real journalists as our eyes and ears.
Yes, this all sounds naïve. Plenty of us have simply given up, convinced that government is mired in populist sentiment and firmly in the pocket of special interests.
Paying sustained attention is hard these days. In Baltimore, I tried to indoctrinate my 13-year-old grandnephew. He loaded Angry Birds on my iPod. For the next three hours, I slung rocks at pigs entrenched in trees.
But we have to care, and we have to act. Again: Organize. Rally friends. Contribute. Give a damn.
If we cannot do that much, let's not add hypocrisy to our sins. "They" win. And we have to admit that the grand experiment Burke championed has failed.
Mort Rosenblum is a longtime journalist and author of Little Bunch of Madmen: Elements of Global Reporting. He can be found at mortrosenblum.net .
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