The Summer of Our Discontent
It's a strange summer, that of 2020.
The West Coast is burning, the pandemic continues to rage, and the American grapevines are heavy with wrath. Many Steinbeck metaphors apply, especially for me, as I am halfway through a week-long writing retreat in Monterey. I can hardly wait till November when we can finally clean house, and elect people who actually believe in science, or at least aren't clinically insane.
Writing is going well; it's a slow and painful burn but I'm making progress. As I describe the turbulence Bulgaria went through back in the early 90's I can't help but make more analogies to our present situation than I'd like, but it's no surprise—regardless of geography or era, social change and political crises are always similar in the way they affect people. There's hope mixed with disillusionment, an unsettling sense of questioning every value we thought was omnipresent, and the opportunity to find clarity amidst the confusion.
Here's how I see it:
The majority of people in America (and everywhere else, really) are just regular people who work, raise families, and live a life.
Regardless of their social status, ethnicity, ideology, sexuality, or political affiliations, they are practically the same group. They are individually different, have varying circumstances and backgrounds, and fall into numerous specific sub-groups, but in terms of their basic humanity and life journey, they are the same: normal people who are just doing what they can with what they have.
And then there’s the elite minority of wealthy and powerful people, who do not struggle with the things regular people do, and who are only concerned with retaining and multiplying their wealth and power.
This is the primary division.
To ensure staying on top—having already achieved their advantaged position by inheriting generational privilege in a country built on slave labor and exploitation—the powerful and wealthy minority defends and maintains the inequality principles of the system by further exercising their wealth and power.
They lobby for laws that benefit corporate interests, suppress voters, control and limit human rights, roll back environmental protections, and generally invest in anti-social political practices that keep the majority in check by denying them basic needs, such as employment security and health care. This puts the majority in a state of a perpetual struggle for survival and bickering, and keeps them preoccupied to see clearly who’s the real bad guy.
Furthermore, the elite minority appeals to the racist and conservative members of the regular majority as a way to receive support among the people while implementing their politics of inequality.
They wrap their personal/corporate interests in a wider ideological platform, thus securing votes and popularity by cleverly utilizing the existing nationalist notions (an archaic set of beliefs and misguided values), without actually having to keep their promises or do anything that would in fact improve the lives of that part of the majority.
This is the secondary division, and it is the one we see daily on the surface in recent years.
The polarization of society would not be as deep, violent, and detrimental if it wasn’t fueled by the elite political minority.
Racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism, the disdain for the poor and the sick, for immigrants, and all other anti-liberal and far right ideologies would be on the decline by now if they weren’t continuously fed to people under the guise of meritocracy, purity, and elitism. I believe that.
Mass incarceration, police brutality, religious authority, reproductive rights control, gender inequality, conspiracy theories, science denial, and lack of universal health care are just tools the wealthy and powerful use to maintain their superiority by calling it conservativism (centered in seemingly moral values such as family and country). It’s a corrupt, institutional totalitarianism rooted in hate, greed, and cruelty, practiced very deliberately and systematically.
In every developed, progressive society the average majority is healthy, well educated and employed, and successful: not by consumerist or materialist standards but in the sense of their ability to contribute to society and give back to their communities, and to raise strong, happy, and loving families.
Such social culture can be qualified as civilized and it can move forward because its makeup is diverse and inclusion is the norm, not despite of it. Being divided over those basic political and social/moral principles only impedes progress and does more damage.
Objectively speaking, in any country, there will always be people who personally dislike other races and practice lifestyle choices that are based off questionable or downright adverse ideologies... The goal here is to ensure that this is NOT the standard principle on which the country functions politically and institutionally.
We can't change everyone's mind or convince them to let go of hate, but we can successfully work to pass laws and build systems that enable and benefit a diverse, multifaceted majority.
Most of us agree that the elite political minority should not have all the wealth and power. Multi-billionaires should not exist, and leaders should not be tyrants. This, after all, is the very definition of democracy: a government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.
In order to overcome our current crisis we need for the members of the regular majority who still harbor obsolete ideas to understand that the minority in power does not have their interests at heart.
While they are distracted by empty slogans (MAGA) and myths about fictional/external threats (5G, immigrants taking their jobs, gun control, gay marriage) they can’t focus on the true issues.
Once people realize that promoting hatred and otherness is only a gimmicky tactic ("divide and conquer") and that it doesn't work for them in any pragmatic or tangible way, interpersonal racism will slowly but surely die off, making it possible for the new generations to repair and rebuild the very system that originated in racism and inequality, so it can start serving and helping the regular majority in doing what they all—conservative or liberal—always wanted to do:
Work, have families, and live a life the best way they can.