As I watched Michael Moore deliver a white hot speech in Wisconsin a few days ago, and heard the voices of his audience—state workers protesting the concerted Republican assault on public sector unions by yelling “Shame! Shame! Shame!”—it occurred to me. This time, folks, shaming those in power isn’t going to be enough. Though it was enough to bring down two presidents—Johnson and Nixon—in the 60s and 70s, and to eventually stop the Vietnam War, it won’t make even a dent in the armor worn by today’s ruling class. I mean, just think of it: two short years ago, the country seemed so disgusted by the overt criminality of Bush and his gang in the White House that his name was too toxic to even mention. The entire Republican Party was said to be near extinction, while a Prince of the Left had been elected to the White House. And yet, today that same prince is in retreat on every front, groveling before the right, while the worst yahoos ever seen in public office are screaming for the blood of gliberals and their devastated constituency. So we can forget tears, forget revulsion about war, murder, the evisceration of the social net so laboriously put in place over several generations, the enslavement of the newly impoverished, and all the rest. The power mongers and their lackeys in office are simply not susceptible to these common human emotions. Like their forebears in the Germany of the 1930s, they seem to rather enjoy the suffering of those beneath their boot heels. And they’ll do anything, from dirty tricks to the crippling and/or poisoning of workers, to the poisoning of the entire planet, to protect what they view as “theirs.” Hence, we have this so-called Representative from New York, Peter King, our era’s Joe McCarthy, opening hearings on the “radicalization of the Muslim-American community by Al-Qaeda,” impervious to the tears of Congressman Ellison testifying about the sacrifice of one of these “terrorists” who died trying to save his fellow Americans on 9/11, and begging for the hearings to focus on a wider population than this already terrorized minority. And we have this punk governor of Wisconsin along with his newly-empowered Republican majority, ramming through in secret, when he couldn’t persuade by reason, the bill to strip unionized state employees of their collective bargaining rights. Shame? This crude piece of plastic doesn’t even register the stuff in whatever constitutes his innards. All he registers is the coin he gets from the likes of David Koch, the energy baron who’s the largest funder of anti-global-warming science in the world (even larger than Exxon) and the main bankroller of the Tea Party. I haven’t been able to find out if Koch is involved in ‘hydrofracking,’ the latest darling of energy bandits—see the NY Times, Feb. 27, for information on what ‘horizontal hydraulic fracturing’ does to the huge volume of water needed to “frack” the natural gas out of rock, and the corrosive salts, carcinogens, and yes radioactive elements like radium polluting that water when it drains into nearby rivers and aquifers used for drinking—but I wouldn’t be surprised.
So here’s what we’re up against now. These billionaires who brought the country to its knees and emerged richer than ever have now been given even greater power to control politicians and laws than they had during the Gilded Age. The gap between them and the rest of us has grown in the last thirty years—since that corporate shill Ronald Reagan began his assault on graduated income taxes and regulations keeping the corporate rape of the rest of us within some bounds—to a level of inequality in the distribution of wealth and power that rivals Arab sheikdoms. A few of these mandarins control more wealth than whole counties, whole states, whole regions of us. And they will do anything, corrupt any politician, commit any crime, decimate whole countries, whole planets, to keep it.
Shame them? It doesn’t even merit discussion. The only thing that impresses these robots is force. The force of millions of people screaming for their heads. The force of organized and constant pressure outing them and their crimes. The public employees in Wisconsin have begun this movement. So have a few thousands in states like Michigan and Indiana, where similar bills have been passed or are pending. But it is quite clear from the Wisconsin experience that more, far more, is going to be needed. There’s going to have to be not just a few victories over crumbs; a few compromises like “carbon trading” and extended unemployment; there’s going to have to be systemic change. And as far as I can see, that’s not going to happen unless these bastards are made to fear not only for their fortunes, but for their very existence. How is this to happen? I have no specific solutions; besides, it’s a project for the young. But as Michael Moore pointed out in Wisconsin, and as the people always seem to forget: there are a hell of a lot more of us than there are of them. That’s what terrifies them in the night. They know that if the people ever wake up, if the people ever become conscious of their power and use it, the game, the game whereby the corporate pooh-bahs have not only seized obscene amounts of wealth and power, but used it to exploit and blight everything that makes life itself possible, is over.
I’m putting my money on an awakening. But it had better happen soon, because the damage is accelerating so fast that before long there won’t be much left to save.