The Crumb-Pushers Won’t Help Us

A massive mansion sits on ten acres of over-groomed lawn. An odd combination of faux classical Greek and Las Vegas-style Roman architecture, most of its too-many-to-count rooms have never been used. 

A lavish party is taking place in the Milton Friedman banquet room. Republican and Democratic party leaders enjoy a sumptuous feast encircled by the wealthy and well-connected. The leaders sit across a table laden with the kind of expensive, esoteric cuisine the rich pretend to like when they graze together. The Democrats and Republicans sit on different sides of the same table, enjoying the same food.

The non-wealthy are all locked in a small, cramped basement room. Small slivers of light and air enter intermittently from a row of slightly-opened windows near the ceiling.

Every so often, a Republican appears at the basement door and eagerly installs a bigger, stronger lock.  When some in the room shout “let us out!” the Republican replies, “I’m going to put locks on the windows.” 

Occasionally, a Democrat wanders down to the basement, carrying a small plate of leftover crumbs. The Democrat pushes the crumbs under the door, whispering words of sympathy and sorrow.

When the people cry out – “remove the lock, let us out of the basement!” the Democrat responds, “Oh, I don’t do that. But I do offer crumbs.”  The Democrat trots up the stairs with the empty plate, convinced that a crumb-pusher is a far better person than a lock builder. With one final glance back to make sure the door is still locked, the Democrat leaves the basement, proud of their journey into generosity and compassion.

In the basement, people fight over the little they are given. They separate themselves to different corners of the room, accusing each other of taking extra crumbs. Those who claim that the lock could be broken if everyone worked together are exiled to a tiny curtained-off area. People from all corners point to the veiled space and laugh derisively before returning to the battle. 

As the sounds of endless fighting drift upstairs, the Republican and the Democrat smile across the table and prepare to tell each other how much they love the sautéed ladybug wings.

–TGR–

Richard W Goldin; Lecturer in Political Science; California State University thegoldinrule@gmail.com

The Perils of Moderation

Moderation offers a seemingly attractive, common-sense approach to the political that inevitably disappoints when roused into (in)action. It’s the Ford Edsel of American politics.

Moderation contains no specific ideas or vision of its own, nor does it provide a process for balancing competing claims. Moderation is more a matter of faith; a kind of religious experience. 

Moderation is the character in a horror movie who stays fearfully inside the cabin while others are outside fighting evil. And is immediately devoured by the demons.

Moderation functions within political contexts it neither guides nor shapes. It is a dot on a pendulum it does not control; each wild swing producing a new center. Yet its main selling point is “stability.”

Moderation perverts the polarities of change. The perfect isn’t the enemy of the good; one only achieves the good by aiming for the perfect.

Moderation is a passenger trying to stop a runaway political train by moving everyone to the center car.

Moderation is a malleable sliver of metal seduced by the magnetism of the extremes. Expanding private health insurance only appears centrist in the face of forces which aim to take away any form of health care from all who are struggling economically. To include the latter in a calculus of “centrality” is to confuse mathematics with morality. 

Moderation is a strategy in which a thirst for the “center” replaces the parched materiality of people’s lives.

Moderation dims the aspirational shimmer of Progressives with the gloom of lowered expectations offered by Democrats.

Moderation is both Conservative and Leninist. As in Conservatism, it seeks only incremental change and exhibits a general disdain for progressive movements. It is the politics of “no.” Like Lenin, moderates view themselves as members of an elite Vanguard  – a small group of people who have risen above the false-consciousness of Progressives and will lead us all to the promised land of “let’s not do anything.”

Moderation is a place where people drive Edsels, worship the deity of the “center,” and, in the most dire of times, seek shelter in a rickety cabin of moderation while political monsters draw ever closer.

–TGR–

Richard W Goldin, Lecturer in Political Science; California State University;   thegoldinrule@gmail.com

If Tom Hanks Had Died, Would Thousands More Have Lived?

Let me be clear at the outset – I am in no way calling for, longing for, instigating for, or in any way recommending, the death of Tom Hanks. How could anyone wish that on Hanks?  He is a beloved figure in this country. He is our everyman, transcending social and political differences.  And it is precisely this distillation of America diversity into the singularity of one individual which underlies the question posed in the title of this essay.

Would the death of Tom Hanks from Covid-19 have forged a single iconic moment, overwhelming both the complexity of medical evidence and the sharp-edged blades of American politics?  

Throughout the history of this country, arguments calling for Americans to change the way they interact with the world have been subsumed by the habitual forms of everyday life. A rousing of the nation from the slumber of the customary has rarely been generated by appeals to rationality or philosophy. Action is generated by emotion not reason.

In the 1980s, the onset of AIDS seemed, like the coronavirus, to be a distant and foreign enemy. AIDS was viewed as an obscure disease that only attacked populations already cleaved from the norms of American society. It was that disease killing those people.

The death of the actor Rock Hudson in 1985 profoundly altered the nation’s view of the AIDS epidemic.  Hudson projected the kind of warm, self-effacing jocularity that is now bestowed upon Hanks. To many, Hudson wasn’t one of “them,” he was one of “us.. If he could be struck down by the disease, so could anyone.

In the early days of Covid-19 – meaning a few short weeks ago – the virus was portrayed as having the same quality of otherness as had AIDS. The Trump administrant attempted to construct a narrative in which the disease was only spreading in other countries, carried to our shores by  “foreigners” who could be quickly separated and isolated. 

When the virus first manifested itself in America, it was conceptually framed as being limited to particular sub-groups such as “those people” on cruise ships who “really should have known better.” If you were willing to avoid boarding a large boat serving questionable shrimp, you were safe. 

Though the voices decrying this narrative were numerous and varied, to many the medical arguments seemed complex and arcane. Just as in the early months of the AIDS epidemic, the coronavirus was something that happened to “other people.”

The subsequent change in the attitude of Americans came not from sifting through the medical evidence, but from the sheer quantity of people being infected and killed.  Absent a single, galvanizing “Rock Hudson” moment, the disease had to begin its rampage through cities and communities before Americans acceded to the reality of “hey, this could happen to me.” 

Hanks was one of the first nationally known celebrities to be diagnosed with Covid-19. His diagnosis seemed for a moment like a clarion call to action, but his recovery may have furthered a framing of the disease as being far more innocuous than it is.

The impetus for national change often requires the transmutation of an individual’s anguish into the realm of the symbolic. In the case of Hudson, the “everyman” had to die in order to arouse the public to its own vulnerability.  

A long happy life to Tom Hanks. And to a world which doesn’t require any individual to be transformed into an icon of suffering for the country to find its own moment of transcendence.

–TGR–

Richard W Goldin, Lecturer in Political Science, California State University; thegoldinrule@gmail.com