The idea of "hope" is incredibly powerful. In fiction, those who imbue it and proclaim their aspirations and hope are characters that we love. We instinctually want others to achieve their dreams just as we want that for ourselves. The second song in most Broadway musicals is typically about the hopes, aspirations and dreams of a better future for our main character and life in general. Whether it's "The sun will come out tomorrow" from Annie, or "Gotta find my corner of the sky" from Pippin, this very human impulse to passionately desire a positive change in our condition is compelling and inspirational. And those who can conjure it in others possess a special currency. Hope and aspirations never entirely die, but there is an obvious tendency for the various turpitudes of life and experience to dampen what once might have been our more fervent belief in the power hope. And then a few years ago, at least for me, naively or not, Barack Obama reawoke it in me... for awhile.
I had never been particularly political. Never actively. My mother was an ardent civil rights advocate and chronically volunteered in various humanitarian groups and causes. Electing America's first black president, in many ways would fulfill many of my deceased parents' social/cultural/societal aspirations. Being raised in a racially and economically mixed neighborhood in Los Angeles in the '60s, electing a black president would also fulfill what I had once assumed, and then lost belief in, that the successfully diverse community model that I grew up in would easily and logically spread throughout the entire country. Obama reawoke the possibility of this lost hope. And then, of course, there was the possibility that a young woman who didn't know the difference between North and South Korea named Sarah Palin would be a heart attack away from becoming the most powerful person on earth -- and how could I live with myself if that happened and I did nothing to prevent it? For the first time in my life I volunteered at phone banks and traveled to a swing state to canvas neighborhoods door by door for O.
And then he won. It felt like a seismic-sized gush of nearly cellular longing being released and actualizing: anticipation and aspiration for the betterment of humanity lodged deep within my genetic makeup, back through my parents genes and their parents who struggled through the Jewish pogroms in Eastern Europe and back further through the great diaspora from Spain and Palestine before that. I found myself at a dear friend's election party uncontrollably sobbing. For me, this is not a common experience.
That was then. The first big ding happened early in his first term when Obama made that deal with the pharmaceutical industry. I looked the other way as I was repeatedly told it was needed in order to get the bigger health care reforms through. A deal that instantly benefited insurance companies and drug makers, enormously. When I read, a few month ago, Steven Brill's brilliant expose in Time Magazine, "Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us," and how commonplace it is for many hospitals today to charge over $6 for those little paper cups they place pills in that they hand to us -- I had a tougher time suppressing the feeling that health care along with other big issues that needed to be addressed were, in fact, not being addressed but were instead being mooshed to the side by platitudes and brilliant justifications. And then when I watched Monsanto get a virtual get-out-of-jail-card for life as a rider in the 2013 Agriculture Appropriation Bill combined with learning about how under Obama, Bush's drone policy was accelerated without a proportional degree of oversight put in place (not to mention non-policy assassinations of Americans) -- I couldn't suppress acknowledging what had been a deepening erosion of my initial trust of Obama and his administration, and his initial, rhetorically implied vision of hope. Suddenly, Obama's slogan that I allowed myself to take a chance and believe in, "Change We Can Believe In," began to seem like Orwellian double speak. Was the most articulate and inspiring speechmaker in my lifetime simply shilling for a darkening status quo? Between my bank charging me more fees than ever before (forget the minimal regulatory changes in the financial sector) and revelations, that are closer to confirmations, that our government, in cahoots with Big Communications, is watching over us in more invasive ways than many of us are comfortable with -- well, there goes the remains of that hope.
And what remains? For me, it's Faith... in an ineffable, positive, life-animating spirit. Call it what you want, for some it requires a greater leap than for others. For some it necessitates a decision, a consciously made contract with living; an agreement to continue on. For some of us, it is a calling and our decision of Faith is not a decision at all but simply an acceptance of being, as tangible as accepting our genetic predispositions. But hold on, my loss of hope in the vision of change that Obama inspired -- and it's subsequent morph or collapse into my individual Faith -- is not a binary phenomena. It's not an either/or, all or nothing, in or out thing. It's not like my Faith was never there until the flame of my Obama hope faded. Of course it existed. Like the muscle to memorize telephone numbers that atrophied since cell phones.
I don't suddenly feel that switching political parties or persons is the answer. The gift of my loss of hope is what feels like the lifting of the veil of a certain agreed upon reality -- behind the curtain of Oz are simply humans doing what humans do. All the cliches are ramped up and operational here: power corrupts; "Money," as Lewis Mumford once said, "has proved the most dangerous of modern man's hallucinogens;" power will never cede power on its own, etc., etc. If J. Edgar Hoover had today's technology we'd wish for the degree of personal invasion we currently have.
In other words, the jig's up. It's all in the open. There's nowhere to hide. People live longer without a correlation to greater fulfillment. We are loath to believe in a leader again, for quite awhile. We are loathe to believe in institutions and corporations and that the 1 percent will "do the right thing" because that is just not always what people do. It doesn't mean we will turn over and die and that we'll stop fighting power with truth. We will continue to cheer for the dreamer, for hope and for the betterment of all. In our current winner-take-all phase of culture, more and more people will opt out of the game altogether and find other means and games to feel esteemed; redefine what "success" means. "Fate" is easily evoked by the already very successful, especially fiscally so. For most of us though, our fate seems now more than ever, dependent on our moment-to-moment relationship with our Faith and with living. I'm willing to capitalize the L.
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