As the throngs celebrated in Cairo, I couldn’t help wondering about what is happening to democracy here in the United States. I think it’s on the ropes. We’re in serious danger of becoming a democracy in name only.
While millions of ordinary Americans are struggling with unemployment and declining standards of living, the levers of real power have been all but completely commandeered by the financial and corporate elite. It doesn’t really matter what ordinary people want. The wealthy call the tune, and the politicians dance.
So what we get in this democracy of ours are astounding and increasingly obscene tax breaks and other windfall benefits for the wealthiest, while the bought-and-paid-for politicians hack away at essential public services and the social safety net, saying we can’t afford them. One state after another is reporting that it cannot pay its bills. Public employees across the country are walking the plank by the tens of thousands. Camden, N.J., a stricken city with a serious crime problem, laid off nearly half of its police force. Medicaid, the program that provides health benefits to the poor, is under savage assault from nearly all quarters.
Read the rest here. Herbert has been steadily moving Left in the last year or so. Unlike most of the usual suspects on the Opinion pages (Paul Krugman included), he is sober about the Democratic Party, and he is right on target about how progressive changes are brought about:
The Egyptians want to establish a viable democracy, and that’s a long, hard road. Americans are in the mind-bogglingly self-destructive process of letting a real democracy slip away.
I had lunch with the historian Howard Zinn just a few weeks before he died in January 2010. He was chagrined about the state of affairs in the U.S. but not at all daunted. “If there is going to be change,” he said, “real change, it will have to work its way from the bottom up, from the people themselves.”
I thought of that as I watched the coverage of the ecstatic celebrations in the streets of Cairo.
I must admit that Herbert's reaction to the (ongoing) Egpytian Revolution resonates with me. And he's drawing the right inference here: we need to learn from Egypt, not break our arms patting ourselves on the back for allegedly "showing them the way to freedom". We need to see Egypt as an example that impinges on the ways in which the status quo right here at home is legitimated by those in power. Though those in power will attempt to appropriate recent events in Egypt in order to encourage us to reaffirm status quo beliefs, in reality the events in Egypt should lead most Americans to drastically revise their basic beliefs about their own society and their own political process.
What the Egyptian people are learning in the course of struggle is what we need to learn as a society right here, right now: without struggle, there is no progress. Acquiescing to the barely "lesser evil" and settling for a few stale crumbs from those in power is not tantamount to struggle; this is resignation. We need social movements that are organized independently of the two major corporate parties which can force the system to honor its demands. We need to model progressive activism on the labor movement of the mid 1930s and the civil rights movement of the 60s. The cynical, conciliatory "credit card" activism of Moveon.org is not a way forward, but the surest means of thwarting real change.