At some point over the past month or so, my credulity reached its breaking point. A confluence of disparate events has saturated me with a feeling of hopelessness about the state of our democracy, our media, our ability to address real crises — not just problems, crises — with our politics and government. I have found it nearly impossible to avoid concluding that change is not coming to America.
A couple of catalysts for this awakening are probably fairly obvious. One, on the national scale, is the debate over things like health care and climate change taking place in Washington and elsewhere, a debate so removed from reality, so distorted and absurd that it could have been a piece of bad protest theatre. On health care and the economy, tens of millions of Americans struggle and suffer, and we don’t debate solutions, but the debate is between piecemeal, ineffective legislative tweaks versus screwing people further. On global warming, our species truly is threatened, but the discussion is not about which ways are best to avert the disaster, but instead we gnash our teeth over whether Sarah Palin might be more informed about the science than Al Gore.
Sarah Palin is treated as a serious person. Joe Lieberman pretends to be principled. John Boehner pretends to have ideas. Democrats pretend to have a political party.
The media is no help at all. The major papers give us tired, insipid analysis and tunnel-vision focus. The “next generation” outlets frolic in the trivial and sensationalistic. Truth, as Susan Jacoby has put it, is too often considered equidistant between two points. But I think that it is more frequently becoming the case that truth is not of interest at all.
That’s all one thing, really. The second big, obvious reason for my shift in thinking is the birth of my beautiful son. I suppose most parents-to-be toy with the question of whether it is “wise” to bring a new person into a world so troubled as ours, but I never gave those considerations much thought. He’s a gift to this undeserving world, say I. But now that he’s here, I can’t help but despair a bit about how things will only be getting worse as he comes of age and takes his place in society. I know he will be a force for good, for progress, for decency, but he may not be enough, and it shouldn’t be his responsibility to make up for all we have ruined.
But there’s more. I have just completed Jeff Sharlet’s book The Family, about the secret influence wielded by powerful fundamentalists throughout modern American history, and how it is continuing to grow in strength, totally under the radar. Without going into too much detail, the book chronicles the aiding and abetting of not just policies intended to screw the poor, screw workers, screw unions, and curtail the civil rights of minorities of all sorts, but also of murderers, criminals, oppressors, and genocidaires around the world. The worst of all possible combinations: radicalized, reasonless religious devotion coupled with an unbridled lust for power, topped with a complete lack of concern for those crushed underfoot.
It’s enough to make one take a breath and wonder at the point of struggling. It’s one thing to, say, beat John McCain in the presidential election. It’s one thing to defeat a bad bit of legislation. It’s also good to, say, win marriage rights for gays and lesbians…but of course, we can’t seem to do that, can we? But all these things happen in the public, democratic arena, so it’s something else entirely when one finds that regardless of elections, regardless of law, constitutions, ideals, or simple decency, an enormous shadow organization of religious elitist zealots is making policy without accountability to anyone. How do you fight what hardly acknowledges its own existence?
It’s all too much, isn’t it?
I feel like I am losing a political home. I don’t quite trust that the Obama administration, even if well intentioned, is really committed to solving impending crises and mitigating certain catastrophes. I don’t feel I have many trustworthy sources in the media to which I can turn for anything useful. Anything that does tell me the truth only makes me sadder. I don’t even feel like liberals and progressives are really ready to look at the world as it is. Just read what people like the liberal hero Nick Kristof writes about atheists (citing the New Atheists’ alleged “irreligious intolerance” — gag!), and you can see why I increasingly feel like there is no party, no movement, no politics for me.
But I left theatre for politics. I took my then-fiancée and dragged her to DC so I could earn a master’s degree in professional politics. I believed to my core that it was the best way for me to make a positive difference on Earth. I no longer feel that way. In fact, at times I feel like it might be the least meaningful thing I could do.
I hadn’t listened to it in a while, but a song from one of my favorite albums came up on the iTunes shuffle the other day, and it seemed to express how I have been feeling.
The New Pornographers in “Testament to Youth in Verse” sing:
Should you go lookin’
For a testament to youth in verse
Variations on the age old curse
You blame the stations
When they play you like a fool
And like a fool you get played with
Baby, think twice
Maybe it’s not all, maybe it’s not alright
I don’t pretend to have any skill with interpreting this band’s lyrics. But from what I hear in this song, this is how I feel. Played like a fool by the “stations,” and yeah, maybe it’s really not alright. Maybe things are as bad as they feel, and there’s nothing existing in our institutions or our politics to address them.
The song concludes, as if to really rip the hope right out of your heart:
The bells ring
No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no
And it repeats and repeats and repeats.