Below is a version of my most recent column for the print version of Counterpunch.
It is a commonplace of our commentariat to say that American society is deeply divided — indeed, perhaps more polarized than it’s ever been before. Of course, this leaves out any number of emblematic events that might possibly undermine their blazing insight — like, say, the Civil War, Haymarket, Selma, Little Rock, Watts or Kent State, to name but a very few historical instances of “polarization.” But then, willful ignorance has always been the coin of our realm, the golden ticket to the circles of power — or, for the commentariat, the fearful, bootlicking fringes of power. For these sages, history begins and ends with whatever is gurgling in the unflushed toilet of Beltway politics right here and now.
So it should come as no surprise to find that the truth about American society today is the opposite of what these cud-dripping masticators of conventional wisdom are wont to opine. Far from being a house divided, America is actually in the midst of an era characterized by remarkable unanimity. In fact, I would go so far as to say that American society has never been so united and uniform than it is today.
Yes, “hot button” issues — centered, as always, around genital activity and gender roles — remain heatedly contentious. Yes, the chronic, virulent racism on which our society was (literally) built continues to sicken the body politic. And yes, Tea Party trogs and NetRootsy progs still hurl insults across an ever-widening cultural abyss, each side increasingly regarding the other more as separate species than political opponents. Who can deny that our public discourse grows ever more harsh, frenzied, aggressive and stupid?
And yet, the fact remains that on those issues which truly concern our elites — the issues on which their continued (and expanding) dominance and privilege depend — here we find remarkable (not to say alarming) agreement across a depressingly broad swath of American society.
The Obama years have given us an America that looks something like a bad Kurt Russell movie from the 80s: a weird, garish dystopia, where the president runs a death squad out of the White House, wages robot wars in foreign lands, operates a techno-panopticon sucking up every message, musing and secret desire of the populace, and lets tens of millions of citizens sink into poverty and despair in their gutted communities and crumbling infrastructure while he doles out trillions of dollars to rapacious elites gleefully bleeding the country dry. Actually, if you tried to run this scenario past a few coked-up studio execs in those halcyon years, they would have rejected it out of hand as too unrealistic, even for a bad Kurt Russell movie. Yet this is our reality.
Add to this such things as the corporate-backed ALEC movement stifling the ability of the people’s elected representatives to pass measures on matters of vital importance to their communities, such as gun violence, pollution, collective bargaining, etc; the return of Jim Crow laws openly designed to rob the dusky races (and poor white trash) of access to the ballot box; the incarceration of a greater percentage of its own population than any regime in human history; the reckless sell-off of public services, public lands and the environment itself to frackers, venture cap vultures and other corporate profiteers; and the relentless persecution of any government employee who dares to inform the people of even a few of the sickening crimes being done in their name.
This hardly exhausts the litany of abuses, punishments and humiliations to which Americans are subjected daily. They live in a pestilent swelter of authoritarianism and militarism, of fear and insecurity, of ugliness and hopelessness that few if any generations of Americans before them have ever known. And yet …
Where are our Selmas, our Haymarkets, our Marches on Washington? Where is the anger, the outrage, the action? True, the Occupy movement blossomed for a season, and the seeds it sowed may yet bear good fruit. But for the most part, most sectors of American society have remained notably quiescent, when they have not been downright supportive. (This includes the African-American community, which today, as always, is bearing the brunt of our elites’ depredations. For more on this tragic development, see Glen Ford and his indispensible Black Agenda Report.) Congressional and media ‘liberals’ take to the airwaves to defend Obama’s Stasi-like spy ops, his death squads, his drone wars, his force-feeding torture of Guantanamo prisoners long cleared for release. They hotly condemn the ‘narcissistic’ Edward Snowden for revealing state crimes – yet happily revel in leaks that depict our noble, thoughtful president consulting Thomas Aquinas before ordering American citizens (and countless, nameless others) to be murdered without charge, trial or defense.
Every day, all across the world – and in the holy-moley Homeland itself – Obama commits and countenances crimes beyond the wildest dreams of LBJ and Richard Nixon. Every day he helps tighten the stranglehold of rampant militarism and corporate power on the lives of the people. Yet there are no riots, no uprisings, no public or institutional dissent that might trouble the complacency of our overlords.
A “divided society?” Would to god we had one. For beneath the gaudy spectacle of hot button-pushing and the scattering of a few crumbs of cultural change, a drab, grim conformity to the overarching agenda of elite power reigns supreme.