By John Grant, “This Can’t Be Happening,” 12/16/13
It’s that time of the year again. Ho. Ho. Ho. There’s the urge to celebrate the Winter Solstice (AKA Christmas) with family and friends. It’s also time for end-of-the-year assessments concerning the absurdities of life in a fading empire in denial.
To a responsible American leftist who feels as American as apple pie, the absurdities can be especially pronounced this time of year, given the socially-progressive politics people like me advocate is on the mat and the ref is counting. The pie is getting smaller. And the Social Darwinists are fat and getting hungrier ever day.
In this spirit of Holiday absurdity and frustration, I’m cutting loose. I’m going to just pretend I’m the most ruthless Emperor ever to sit in the cockpit of state of this absurd 21st Century Imperium I’m calling The Corporate and Imperial States of America — C.I.S.A. for short. I sit on a throne made by a homeless designer out of a dozen broken parts from a dozen pieces of thrift shop furniture. A line of correspondents waits to ask me a question. (We’ve cut off Fox News until they learn better how to grovel for access in this new regime.) The correspondent from MSNBC asks the first question. In fact, it’s the only question we’ve allowed this afternoon:
“What are the first ten things you’re going to do?”
1) First we will be releasing Bradley/Chelsea Manning and dropping any legal actions against Julian Assange. We are announcing an amnesty program for Edward Snowden, who will, if he accepts, become a consultant as part of a major re-vamping of the entire US intelligence system. Yes, heads will have to roll. Like they say, you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. While we don’t want to throw anybody’s baby out with the bathwater, we may have to throw somebody’s baby out — for the good of the larger whole. It will not be without some bumps, and my newly formed People’s Guard is ready to monopolize on any violence that breaks out. We support the Second Amendment, and all over the country we are establishing and training chapters of a well-armed militia known as the Smedley Butler Brigades made up of disgruntled unionists, the unemployed and the homeless. These are things that have to be done. We are not allowing change to be quashed any longer. The status quo ends here.
2) The most powerful purely symbolic thing we can do as a nation is, after holding it at virtual gunpoint for over 100 years, we will be relinquishing any and all ownership rights to our military base at Guantanamo, Cuba. We will move all prisoners to a well-designed prison in Oklahoma. Absent any significant criminal evidence, captives will be released on an expedited basis. Most important, we will no longer hold Cuban territory illegally.
3) Tomorrow, we will be eliminating the Affordable Care Act (AKA “Obamacare”) and, as we should have done in the first place, we will be expanding Medicare (which everyone loves!) to cover American citizens from cradle to grave. Citizens will still have plenty of things to worry about, but basic health care will not be one of them. We will simplify and streamline record keeping. Immortality will remain unachievable, but a reasonable, basic level of health care will be guaranteed to all Americans. Luxury-level medicine will continue to be available. For those who are dying to know, yes, we will be raising taxes. But don’t worry, they will be heavily skewed so they bleed only the rich.
4) We will be launching a major new program to break the addiction in America to Police, Courts and Prisons as a solution to the misuse and abuse of a whole range of drugs and intoxicants. If your police department is strung out on arrests of young black males for drug-related crimes, we have the equivalent of a methadone program for you. All your resources will be re-directed to fighting white-collar crime. Bonuses and medals will be given for bagging the biggest, most crooked fat cats. We will try to restrain over-aggressiveness and beatings, but you know being a cop is hard and working places like Wall Street can be very stressful. As far as legal and illegal drug use, we will be assuming a Harm Reduction approach and our courts will be re-vamped to direct the most egregiously addled drug takers to effective therapy. If you have a heroin habit and are functioning fine at the job you do, then we’re fine with you. We will look at you like a diabetic in need of insulin. But when you become a drag on society, we will take our role as society’s guardians seriously and haul your pitiful self before a judge to straighten you out.
5) We will naturally have a Truth Commission. There’s so much to talk about. (See the more detailed explanation in our 400-page handout.) Every American kid will be taught from Howard Zinn’s The People’s History of the United States. Students will be free to read Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Famous Liberals series. Debate is great; bullying is not. The curriculum will be centered on real history and on overcoming human inequality and caring for the Earth. Media and internet resources will be employed with a host of other venues to kick off The National Dialogue, conceived like the old Chautauqua circuit, which Teddy Roosevelt called “the most American thing in America.” The full pageant of American history — bullying wealth, dirty wars, warts and all — will be emphasized at all levels. The point is not to denigrate the truly good things about America; the point is to no longer officially hide the rotten things behind a veil of secrecy or censorship. We’re going to have a free, public airing of lots of bad stuff. Oppositional voices will be encouraged but nonsensical blocking of discussion will be treated harshly.
6) Hand-in-hand with this dialogue, we will be launching a program to improve the education of our children nation-wide known by its acronym PADLOCK. (The People’s Action Division for Liberating Our Children’s Knowledge.) The point is to move beyond test scores, family status and economic power to encourage education as practical engagement with the real. We’ll even inject a little Paolo Freire and some liberation theology and the preferential option for the poor. There are no stupid questions. Excelling is encouraged. Cliquish bullying will be discouraged. In conjunction with the above-mentioned Truth Commission, a major part of the PADLOCK Program will be a national effort to deconstruct The Myth of American Exceptionalism and replace it with The Myth of American Competence, a myth based on humility and compassion.
7) Yes we will be beginning the overdue and necessary process of re-distributing wealth in America. Redistribution is not a dirty word. It’s also not class warfare. Or at least it’s not the opening volley. The poor did not shoot first. It’s needed as a corrective action to balance a long period of the accumulation of government-protected greed based on a free market that doesn’t exist and an unregulated drive for profit. The movement of wealth upward needs to be turned around. The Supreme Counsel has decided to do it. So, the important next step is to figure out how to do it as painlessly as possible — emphasis on “as possible.” It ain’t an easy task to strip people of their wealth. This is American, so we certainly don’t want to get Leninist and bolshevicky and run roughshod. The more self-re-distributing we can encourage the better. We really don’t want to put anybody up against a wall. We don’t want to nationalize anyone’s wealth. We want to be cordial. But it’s important for people to know the free ride is over. My imperial staff and I will not be Mister Nice Guy when it comes to weeping sob stories from billionaires.
8) These things tend to logically unfold. So next we will be encouraging the resurrection of unions in America. People who work hard for a living need to be represented against the accumulated power of Capital. That should not be such a scary concept to grasp. From now on all workers in businesses and industry across the nation will have the right to organize expressed unambiguously in an Executive Order. Our first goal will be to obtain an amicable top-down/bottom-up dialogue in which neither Labor nor Capital overpowers the other. We want to re-fit a tough, pragmatic union movement to balance the runaway, top-down oppressive power of Greed.
9) We can’t forget our natural environment and our aging infrastructure. We’re a speed-oriented society that thinks it’s un-cool to repair old things. With resources tight, spending to maintain systems becomes less important than investing in spiffy, profitable future ventures. From now on, we fix up the stuff we have before we invest in new dreams. And we in the developed world, we spend more resources and practice more restraint in order to save the planet from ourselves. If that sounds politically correct, great!
10) Last but certainly not least, there’s The Monster In the Room. The Really Big Show. The Pentagon. The Military-Industrial Complex. Those who rule the behemoth I miraculously sit atop as a fluke Emperor. Closing this down is my challenge.
Our first act will be Project Shake-Off. Our logo is a large, wet sheepdog shaking itself off. For the next five years, each month we will be eliminating 10 bases around the world. That’s 600 wasteful, unneeded bases. Gone. History. That will leave around 400 for the next five-year-plan. Will we be making ourselves vulnerable to terrorism? Not if we do it right. Look, we’re going to do it. Period. So the question becomes how do we do it right. Smart. Will there be bumps along the way? One should always expect bumps. Will a “terrorist” ever get through our security and blow something up? Yes, certainly that’s possible.
But our driving desire is to get beyond the FEAR — that thing FDR said was all we had to fear. The trouble is, to get beyond this fear we have to accept some danger in life. We need to give up any illusion of security. Maybe the hardest thing to face in today’s bizarro world is that at any time any one of us can be absurdly blown to goosh in a gut bucket. It should be seen as good to stop fomenting so many globalized armed enemies. No, this is not a perfect solution. There are no perfect solutions. We are not pacifists, and we are keeping a strong military with reasonably sophisticated intelligence capacities.
The real problem is inside all of us. The Pogo dilemma. It has to do with the mythic chords of who we are as Americans. While we may have started out as ruthless Indian-killers, the question is do Americans have to remain proud Indian killers to the bitter end? Moral flaws — like genocide and carpet bombing — are good to recognize. As your Emperor, trust me, once properly studied and interiorized, societal moral flaws become the fodder for positive change. Go with me on this. To move forward with a fair society in mind a people must learn to see their warts as a positive force. I love warts. Those who continue to hide from and censor warts will not be part of our dialogue.
Thank you. I have to go. My imperial duties beckon. But a final thought:
Remember, those opposed to those opposed to the Vietnam War liked to say, My country right or wrong. I agree. And as long as I’m Emperor, no one will ever be shamed or intimidated from recognizing — with change and improvement in mind — all that’s wrong with America.
May the Great Mystery bless America.