President Jesus Christ

Having grown up as a Republican in a blue state, I can honestly say that the only thing I share in common with Republicans in red states is contiguous land because our idea of what constitutes democratic principles couldn’t be further apart.

Tim Pawlenty must be ready to hang himself. With Rick Santoruminejad defying the polls and pundits at every turn and stymieing Super PAC’s and Romneybots, surely this field would have been accepting of another milquetoast social conservative candidate like Pawlenty. Alas, this is now the Romney/Santorum show as the GOP accepts that its fate is linked to the enthusiasm of the evangelical Christian voter.

When then-Sen. Barack Obama proclaimed that “there is not a liberal America and a conservative America — there is the United States of America” at the 2004 Democratic Convention, he couldn’t have been more wrong. But it sure sounded great. The 2012 GOP primary season has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that there are indeed two very distinct Americas. Having grown up as a Republican in a blue state, I can honestly say that the only thing I share in common with Republicans in red states is contiguous land because our idea of what constitutes democratic principles couldn’t be further apart.

The New Millennium has ushered in a resounding victory for democracy and with it the greatest placebo ever absorbed into the global body politic. Citizens of the world have bought into the hype that the American Dream is now available anywhere on the globe and is as attainable as a fake diamond necklace on a late-night infomercial.

For my money, it is the inimitable H.L. Mencken who best captured the folly of American democracy as the means to prosperity nearly a century ago saying, “Of all those ancient promises there is none more comforting than the one to the effect that the lowly shall inherit the earth. It is at the bottom of the dominant religious system of the modern world, and it is at the bottom of the dominant political system. Democracy gives it a certain appearance of objective and demonstrable truth.”

Even Mencken would be impressed by the effectiveness of today’s political hucksters who peddle faux versions of democracy. Modern-day snake oil salesmen dressed in suits adorned with flag pins on their lapels preach the gospel of the American Dream with the zeal of born-again evangelists. Their wide-eyed followers devour their every word believing that they too might someday reach the Promised Land.

Gone are the days of dreaming of white picket fences and a pension; this is the era of winning lottery tickets and gaining salvation through instant affluence. The most troubling phenomenon is the gospel of Jesus Christ as capitalist that has somehow tethered itself to our new collective interpretation of democracy. This mixing of religious and ideological metaphors has seeped into the consciousness of American politics and given life to a bizarre fundamentalist ideology that has inculcated the public with the notion that financial success is the product of divine right. According to this newly adopted testament of faith, Jesus Christ is a champion of corporate rights and free markets who offers his disciples unfettered VIP access to the pearly gates of the hereafter.

“All these forms of happiness, of course, are illusory. They don’t last,” warned Mencken. “The Democrat, leaping into the air to flap his wings and praise God, is forever coming down with a thump. The seeds of his disaster lie in his own stupidity; he can never get rid of the naïve delusion — so beautifully Christian! — that happiness is something to be got by taking it away from the other fellow.”  It is the idea that only the uncompromising person in the self-righteous pursuit of wealth emerges triumphant in a life that has separated humans from their humanity. Community, environment and the welfare of others have been subjugated by a new dogma that places faith over reason, prosperity over compassion.

Capitalism and Christianity, mutually exclusive by design, are no longer distinct from one another under the all-encompassing umbrella of democracy. And who could argue? We credit democracy with ushering in the most technologically innovative century in recorded history. There have also been real victories along the way. America as it was originally conceived was a place where inalienable rights were intended exclusively for white, male property owners. But the system was intuitive and flexible enough to allow its citizens to battle one another and hammer out universal suffrage and civil rights. It is also our right to freely and openly criticize the government and protest perceived injustices. No system works perfectly for all of its inhabitants but liberties such as these that we often take for granted are glorious enough to make America’s democratic system enviable by most standards.

I am an insider, an avowed critic of the hand that feeds me. I’m not writing in exile or from behind a prison wall, but that is not to say we aren’t metaphorically imprisoned by the image we project of ourselves. Much of what we believe to be true about democracy is belied by our very real actions and circumstances.

Americans are trapped by the conviction that we live in a free society despite having the highest incarceration rate per capita of any nation in the world. We see ourselves as the purveyors of peace and democracy, having defeated the Communist menace and dethroned dictators, yet no other nation in modern times has initiated unprovoked foreign wars more than we have or dropped a nuclear bomb (twice) on its enemies. We believe in the theory of fair competition and the ability to achieve success through hard work and discipline but we exist within a system that discourages competitiveness and has consolidated 40 percent of the nation’s wealth into the hands of 1 percent of the population.

Our state of denial has caused us to drift far from the nation we believe ourselves to be while holding tightly to an image of the nation we wish to be. And whoever prevails on the GOP ticket will have no choice but to continue touting the conservative agenda and wooing the evangelical vote. I am a Republican living in a blue state; an American capitalist who was born in socialist Canada. I have Mohawk and Dutch roots. In short, I’m a walking contradiction. But I’m far from confused because this I know: Jesus Christ isn’t on the ballot and fundamentalism is the opposite of freedom.

 

Top Photo: Presidential Candidate Rick Santorum
Bottom Photo: H.L. Mencken

 

Reluctant Revolution

Capitalism has only succeeded to the extent it has because it inherently recognizes the most fundamental quality of our nature: greed. In this, capitalism is the most authentic of “isms”; yet even it is not immune to empire-crushing corruption.

The very economic system that fuels democracy in America has provided me with financial gain beyond my ability while simultaneously dispiriting me to such an extent that I cannot help but quietly wish for its demise. The greater the evidence of corporate malfeasance and political ineptitude, the greater my admiration for the nascent revolution taking place on Wall Street where thousands of disenfranchised Americans approach a fortnight of protest against capitalism gone awry.

Mind you, I’m far from what you would call an anarchist. Quite the opposite in fact. I’m an intransigent conformist who ought to know better, given all that I know. But these days I’m finding most “ists,” “isms” and “ologies” increasingly uncomfortable to wear out in public as humans have the unique ability to deform even the purest of ideological intentions. Any organized system that seeks to harness the natural tendencies of humankind is destined to eventually suffocate under the weight of its own construct.

Capitalism has only succeeded to the extent it has because it inherently recognizes the most fundamental quality of our nature: greed. In this, capitalism is the most authentic of “isms”; yet even it is not immune to empire-crushing corruption.

Capitalism can only thrive within a democracy that cradles, coddles and spoon-feeds free enterprise with regulations that govern conduct. It’s this necessity that is lost upon my libertarian friends who seek to abolish anything that would impede free markets and entrepreneurs as though successful Americans weren’t aided by laws that protect their ideas and property, infrastructure that allows the passage of trade and trustworthy currency with which to transact. The phantasmic and magical world of radical Ayn Rand sycophants flourishes in storybooks but founders in history books.

Likewise, capitalism has been the engine of democracy, allowing the formation of a legal structure that, while imperfect, is still the envy of the world. So, too, has it funded a government of disproportionate militaristic might that American hegemony is unrivaled to the point that any chink in our armor can and will be strictly by our own hand. In this, the Project for a New American Century has already been fully realized. Read into this what you will.

So what of the fearless cadre of would-be revolutionaries who are raging against the machine in the belly of the beast on Wall Street? What is to become of us if they are somehow successful in forcing us to look in the mirror and utter aloud treasonous words that would question our collective morality and therefore our patriotism? Imagining the almost unthinkable collapse of capitalism inevitably brings to life the words of Mao Tse-Tung, who pondered this fate and concluded that “humanity left to its own does not necessarily re-establish capitalism, but it does re-establish inequality.”

History is rife with philosopher-kings who have cautioned against unadulterated capitalism and promulgated the need for the equal and opposite influence of regulations and morality to counter the natural forces within us.

It’s why I struggle to wholly align myself with the notion that all we have known must turn to dust if we are to rebuild a robust and equitable, yet competitive future for America. Though as much as I despise the oil oligarchs, banking miscreants and neocons who have hijacked our nation, I am not yet ready to light a match, gather the animals two-by-two and select a few beautiful people with whom to breed and repopulate the planet.

I am, however, as in touch with my inner-Tyler Durden and Chris Hedges as I am with Henry Thoreau and H.L. Mencken. The former inform my understanding that the democracy we live in today is perverted beyond recognition while the latter offer a healthy mix of civil disobedience and cynicism. The result is perhaps a quixotic optimism, a belief that we can still exact a proper balance between economy, ecology and morality. Because if I am to accept that the propagation of inequity is in our DNA, then why start over? Or as my friend Dorian would say: Completely abandoning our version of democracy and capitalism in order to discover our inherent morality is like “burning down the barn to get to the nails.”

Therefore, I continue trying to define what exactly is fundamentally wrong with our economic system today. I offer the following points for your consideration. They are strictly economic measures that would restore balance and sanity to the markets, not some high-minded, socially conscious dreams for a peaceful Utopia. But make no mistake: Absent some or all of the reforms listed here, I truly believe the revolution is nigh.