In the land of mankind, conceived of as a pyramid, there are few at the top, and many at the bottom,” the congregation sang. “In the land of mankind, those at the top crush those at the bottom. Oh, people of the poor, people subjected to domination, what are you doing just standing there? The world of mankind has to be changed, so arise people, don’t stand still.I think David Frum is absolutely right about the "apocalyptic terror" that grips the 1% in America. Likely it was triggered by the glimpse of the abyss that opened at their feet back when Bush as still President, and then they heard the faint echoes of tumbrels when the Occupy movement was occupying everyone's attention last year. They are terrified because, at heart, they realize that what they own is made possible by the 99%, and they own it only because the 99% allows this situation to prevail.
But is that likely to change? Again, Frum is right:
[A]ll this is occurring at a time when economically disadvantaged Americans have never been so demoralized and passive, never exerted less political clout. No Coxey's army is marching on Washington, no sit-down strikes are paralyzing factories, no squatters are moving onto farmer's fields. Occupy Wall Street immediately fizzled, there is no protest party of the political left.
The only radical mass movement in this country is the Tea Party, a movement to defend the interests of elderly incumbent beneficiaries of the existing welfare state. Against that movement is a government of liberal technocrats dependent on campaign donations from a different faction of the American super-rich than that which backs Mitt Romney himself.
The strongest movement on the political scene (still!) is the one trying to protect what it has; and most of what it has comes from the government. Were it not for favorable tax and finance laws, Mitt Romney would not only not be a rich man, but he wouldn't pay less in taxes (13.9%) than most Americans pay in payroll taxes (15.3%). Mitt Romney, never let it be forgotten, is a Harvard lawyer. He is an expert in manipulating the law to benefit himself and his investors, and that is really all he has ever done. Yet to hear him speak, he deserves his money, while working class people in the factories he shut down, the factories they made successful by their labor, are mere parasites who feel "entitled" to something.
Mitt Romney is the man who feels "entitled." And he speaks for an entire class who apparently fears their entitlements are soon going to be taken away, because the government won't protect them.
Ironic, no? Frum puts it this way:
From the greatest crisis of capitalism since the 1930s, the rights and perquisites of wealth have emerged undiminished - and the central issue in this election is whether those rights and perquisites shall be enhanced still more, or whether they should be allowed to slip back to the level that prevailed during the dot.com boom.But why are they scared? I honestly think it is the fear of justice; it is the knowledge, however deeply buried, that they cannot maintain what is their own unless there is justice in the society in which they hold it. It is the same fear of a brown planet, the same white people's fear of angry black men: the whites know that what goes around comes around, and the horrors and injustices visited on others will have to be paid for in time. Their fear is that it must be paid in the same coin. It's an interesting motivation. I was watching the first episode of "Battlestar Galactica" recently. After they Cylons destroy most of humanity, what is left flees and the military, the one battlestar remaining, wants to go back and "finish" the fight. They have no hope of winning, of course, and until the military commander realizes the civilian leader is right, and humanity has lost the war, everything hangs in the balance. So the humans flee, looking for a new home.
Yet even so, the rich and the old are scared witless!
But the Cylons are convinced the humans will come back, that they will regroup and build up weapons and population, and attack again some day, just as the Cylons did. Annihilation is the only recourse. And if you know the story of the whole series, they finally, with the humans, find "Earth," find the '13th colony.' It was all Cylons: the centurion robots, and the humanoid Cylons. And they destroyed each other in a nuclear holocaust. There is a deep lesson there.
We aren't on the verge of any such holocaust, not even of a French Revolution. No tumbrels, no guillotines, no people's courts a la "The Dark Knight Rises." But the fear of it is driving our politics; even when it is exposed, it is not denied. Mitt Romney braved this release, and some on the far right are saying he should embrace it, that this is a winning strategy. David Frum says it is all a scam. I wish he were right. What this tape has done is turn over the rock, exposing the crawlers and grubs of our national discourse. What it hasn't done, is make the discourse either immediately illegitimate, nor immediately a pariah. That may yet happen; but for the moment, all it has done is reinforce the fear some people feel, and perhaps given them more reason to fear that, if they are honest, they will lose their power and position and possessions.
Maybe they should be afraid. But maybe the real issue is what they are afraid of; and I think they fear justice. Not punishment, not revenge, not mob violence and chaos: but justice.
Would that we could have that conversation now.