What's Egypt got that America has apparently lost? An authentic yearning to be free.
How else to account for obscene genuflecting to Ronald Reagan, boytoy of the same reactionary extremists now as intent on taking over as when Ronnie lulled us into a stupor. Or the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee taking dictation from the Koch brothers. Or corporate-fronts passing themselves off as a citizens' Tea Party. The examples go on as far as money can be spread. Unlike the essence of our highest holy day -- the Superbowl -- being free is not a spectator sport. Ask the Egyptians.*
Here's what the bad guys hate most. People not only want to govern themselves. They're actually up to the task. Lincoln fought a war over that point. When we actually govern ourselves, we might choose not to give them free-rein to pollute and profit at our collective expense. Admittedly, in the U.S. we've let insidious, genuinely bad guys have their way with us for decades. Our excuses pale in the face of what the Egyptians have endured. Until recently, our own establishment at least needed to be more cunning and less visible than those who've ruled Egypt. But ours is no less intent on ravishing us than theirs has been. And we've been far too ready to be enablers.
Today we, like the Egyptians, travel a treacherous path. The corporatists are playing a dangerous game when they assume Americans will -- like Egyptians before they rose up a scant few days ago -- put up with the rising American tide of inequality and its evil twin, injustice. I find it sobering when even the United States' Central Intelligence Agency (yes, the CIA) shows our appalling income discrepancy nestled embarrassingly with Jamaica and Uruguay on one side with Cameroon and Côte d'Ivoire on the other. Our privileged few have created an active threat to our entire democratic venture.
So what is appropriate, in the face of a massive "corpocracy" as Robert A.G. Monks so shrewdly describes our current condition?
People power. That does NOT include corporations, which are NOT people, contrary to the sell-outs and Federalist Society ideologues on the Supreme Court. Government of, for and by the people is the gift the United States gave the world. Actually, what we've given is the notion of a self-governing people. We've not yet fulfilled the promise. Ask the Egyptians.
What if -- instead of being onlookers -- we were to take a leaf from Egypt's astonishing playbook? We too need urgently to say "Enough!" That said, we also need to figure out a new set of tactics (and strategies) appropriate to our own time and place. Here's my personal bumper sticker, bleached of violence and aggressively passionate:
Make a Joyful Noise!
... by which I mean: take the offensive and enjoy it. Share the joy. Stop reacting to the defective Beck/Fox/Palin/Gingrich/Koch/Boehner/Michele/et al madness machine. Make your vision the focus of your energies... not theirs.
How fortunate we are! America's experiment with democracy is resilient. We also have robust predicates for resuscitating our long neglected freedoms. Yes, we can create a more just society. I continue to find Kevin Phillips' insights compelling, a decade after we first welcomed him to our program to explore The Cousins' Wars:
All three of these wars -- the English Civil War, the American Revolution, and the American Civil War -- were won, either temporarily or in the longer framework or both -- by the side that was democratic with a small-d and republican with a small-r. and (each) represented a more "progressive" version of history.
You also find that the side represented by the middle-class won. The side that was urban. That side that represented more of the market-place, and less of the old way of doing things economically. And usually the side that was low-church rather than high-church. Now these are all simplifications. But there's all an unfolding pattern ... (the) stream which eventually prevailed was more democratic, more adventuresome, more entrepreneurial, away from the high-church thought process, not wrapped up with monarchy.
America's establishment (monarchical wannabes) really is intent on ruling us, and bleeding us dry in the process. They want things their own privileged way, just as much as their Federalist predecessors did. These elitists will never accept our fundamental, and truly revolutionary, predicate: We are a people intent on governing ourselves as we aspire to fulfill our finest promises -- liberty and justice for all. And we're willing to fight for it.
But fight -- how?
To be sure, "The time for 'physical force republicanism' is past," to quote the indomitable Irish patriot Gerry Adams. And Mr. Phillips reassures us that today's middle class societies have entirely too much invested in the status quo to harbor violent revolutions.
But lest we get too cozy with that notion, America's middle class continues to be pushed ever downward by the very rich, intent on getting very richer. That bodes ill.
Still. As theoretical biologist Stuart Kauffman points out, in a Darwinian world there is simply no reliable way to predict the consequences of even a single action. Did the desperate street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi, who in December set himself afire in the Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid, know the Arab world would be lit by his flame? Of course not.
Thankfully, we have no need to repeat this kind of horrific act in the United States. We've already been there. Done that. Blessedly, biographer David Reynolds -- a deep opponent of violence himself -- has reclaimed from malign neglect an authentic American hero: abolitionist John Brown. Brown grasped the painful truth that the reactionaries of his own era, those who championed centuries of white supremacy's "slavocracy" were -- like today's plutocrats -- utterly without shame. They were bullies of the rankest sort.
John Brown is remembered less for the righteous revenge he took in "Bloody Kansas" than for Harper's Ferry. But in both cases, he put everything he was, did and had on the line for justice and brotherhood. John Brown did it with every fiber of his being. Simply put, when others retreated behind talk about how awful slavery was, John Brown acted. Arguably, he was the essential catalyst it took to cleanse us of our ghastly original sin. His violence ("physical force republicanism") is no longer appropriate. His adamance is.
Now I know our own defenders of privilege -- in cahoots with rabid religionists -- are just as American as our better angels are. I also know they too are bullies. So let me repeat. "Physical force republicanism" is no longer the answer. So what now? Again, Mr. Phillips' insights are particularly relevant.
I think one of the questions is going to be, 'Is there a way short of war that works in the broader sweep of history?' Clearly mature societies have a problem with war. They're too comfortable in their boundaries; have been for generations or centuries. so (they) don't really want to fight between X and Y.
But all this yeast and temperament and bad blood is there. And all this instinct for combat. can you work it out if you don't have combat? will enemies overseas serve the purpose? Can you do a missile strike on somebody far away and work much out? I don't think so. ... We have been talking about "culture wars" since the 1960s. You had two presidents impeached; a lot of animosity. And there's something that's in human nature that needs to be drained off periodically. We haven't figured the new drainage system.
What a splendid opportunity! Yes, our status quo is virulently infected. But nothing is permanent. Ask the Egyptians.
Before we can construct any "new drainage system," let's be respectful of our own fears. Sure, it's scary to defy social conformity. So? And little humility wouldn't hurt either. If we'd come together to resist Reagan's glittering mirage -- scripted word for word by right-wing extremists intent on benefiting themselves at everyone else's expense -- we could have rescued the middle class they plundered just as recklessly as they are endangering our future.
Now... let's get busy building that new drainage system.
First, it's past high time we reclaim our public airwaves for the greater good. Hold the profiteering Rupert Murdochs, Time Warners, Comcasts, and AT&Ts accountable. Rightwing radio and television have always been with us. What's new is allowing them to overwhelm the public discourse. We must push the radical rightists back to the irrelevant sidelines where they belong.
The same holds true for our access to the internet. It must be open. It's humanity's last best hope. Today's Egyptians are free to prostrate themselves under army tanktreads because the world is watching. On the internet.** The duopoly controlling the internet in America provides lousy, expensive service. Not only must we defend the free flow of information and knowledge on the internet (a.k.a. "network neutrality"), we must insist on genuine, properly regulated competition providing affordable, accessible authentic broadband service. Tell the FCC and your elected representatives.
Make a Joyful Noise!
Boycotts are a powerful, much-feared, and remarkably effective economic expression for resistance. Refuse to buy anything from any and all sponsors of nefarious hate mongers and from the people who sponsor them. The Kochs of the world are rich because we fund them and allow them to extort special priviledges from our government. Sad. True. And not inevitable! Refuse to buy anything from any and all sponsors of nefarious hate mongers or enterprises intent on preserving our toxic status quo. Example: Koch Industries owns Georgia Pacific. Don't buy Georgia Pacific products, whether it's their plywood, their Dixie Cups, their Lycra, Brawny or their AngelSoft. You catch the drift.
Dust off your inner skeptic. Corporate interests at every turn have systematically anaesthetized us for decades. Question, query, inquire -- challenge! Adamantly.
Oh, and if you're worried about the younger generation? Being a skeptic is the best possible way to teach your kids not to be gullible.
By all means, share the fun! Go public with your actions. Talk about the corporate bad guys, as well as the political ones. Many corporations, like the wrongwing they fund, also lie. Spectacularly. They spend millions -- no, billions -- to deaden us with their PR. When it works, we share the culpability. Corporations avoid being called to account like the plague. Believe it. "Outing" them on editorial pages, annual shareholder meetings, and over lunch is something anyone of us can do. You will have their attention.
In like measure, when you come across a corporation acting as a genuinely productive member of the community, thank them, tell your friends, buy their products. Just be sure you're acting on substance not PR.
Seek out and engage people who are also struggling to be free. Do it at the club and at church, with your peers, mentors and mentees, on the internet and in all those lines in which we all stand. But don't stop there. We've all been lied to, over and over. And none of us is guiltless in where we've ended up.
After decades of putting up with entrenched reactionaries, it's long past time America expressed the courage of our convictions.
Accept it. Diplomatically fancy footwork is ahead for the U.S. as we look for a responsible new center of gravity in a radically altered geopolitical landscape. We must be bold enough to accept the discomforts of fundamentally different approaches to the Middle East for which we elected President Obama. Call it "change".
I choose to take heart in what is best about America. We DO change. And again, a dollop of humility is always in order. We're only one leaf bobbing along in history's ever turbulent stream. So hold this thought. On the 10th anniversary of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. quoted the Greek historian Thucydides. "The secret of happiness is freedom and the secret of freedom, courage." Ask the Egyptians. Make a joyful noise.
*-- Almost a decade ago, Oxford University Press published No God, But God - Egypt and the Triumph of Islam by Geneive Abdo. It remains a valuable source of insights into the future of democracy in Egypt and much more perceptive than most of the opinions being offered up by today's media's new-found "experts." Ms. Abdo reported on the people of Egypt rather than its elites -- an approach other reporters should consider.
**-- Al Jazeera has proven to be one of the most reliable sources covering the ongoing uprising of the Egyptian people. Try finding Al Jazeera on your local cable channel. On the web it's available here and here (among many others).