The one personality trait that I have that has kept me alive and functioning for more than 72 years, is that I maintain an optimistic outlook, even when my world seems to be collapsing around me. This outlook by no means makes me unique, because it is actually among the most human of human characteristics. It is why the majority of humanity has gone on with their lives throughout the tumultuous and violently bloody history of our species. Since I think and write about politics almost all the time, with of course my admitted ”‘Left Wing” bias, these almost 100 days of the Trump Presidency have proven difficult for me. It isn’t the fact that we have radical Republicans controlling all three branches of the Federal Government and the majority of States that upsets me specifically. In the end, it isn’t even that our President is incompetent, unstable and decidedly working against the interests of most Americans, that is so hard to accept and move on from. What I find to be almost unbearable, is that since the murder of John F. Kennedy in 1963, the country I love has been on a downward slide towards authoritarian dystopia and I am not confident that it can be reversed.
The greatest advantage of being an old man, providing one does not let the mental sclerosis of fearing change prevail, is that having a long history of experience provides context for understanding that life is change. It may be hard for those who are not as old as I am, or without my political leanings, to understand how the brief Presidency of JFK was such a meaningful occurrence in people’s political lives. Let me encapsulate.
Despite the Right Wing biased history being vended by Conservative revisionists, Franklin D. Roosevelt and his ‘New Deal‘ saved America from becoming a Fascist Country, With the political philosophy and the progressive programs that FDR put in place, America was able to spearhead the defeat of the Fascist AXIS powers and become the pre-eminent nation on this planet. For thirty years the ‘New Deal‘ philosophy dominated American political life and more importantly the mindset of most Americans. However, FDR was despised by many members of his own stratified social class, who saw him as a ‘traitor‘ and a danger to their economic dominance of American society. Even as they were made even more wealthy by the money they extracted as profiteers from World War II, they seethed with hatred for what they perceived as the loss of their rightful prerogatives. They found advantage in demonizing, the rightfully demonized Soviet Union, because it allowed them to start a national witch-hunt to root out “left wingers” as Un-American. This wealthy elite helped to create a “cold war” which supplied them enormous profits, use of U.S. power to destabilize governments that found their business practices colonialist and most importantly for them demonize liberals for being soft on communism.
Their Communist Witch-hunt was used to fight against social changes in the 1950’s and tamped down the efforts of any who would question the social order. The most prominent exception to this was the Supreme Court, led by a Republican liberal Chief Justice and its’ many landmark rulings for social justice and intellectual freedom. The 1950’s, for the most part, however, represented a time of a dull status-quo where liberals were fearful of being seen as “too far” Left and conformity was the desired social norm. I was 16 years old when JFK was elected and his relative youth, along with the youthfulness of his Administration, was the promise of a future of exciting changes for me and my contemporaries. It also was an all to brief symbol of resurgent liberalism.
All the hopes we had for this charismatic man and for the future of our country that he promised, came crashing down on November 22, 1963, when we heard of his murder. In the aftermath of a bungled murder investigation, allegations of conspiracy and the ascendance of the lugubrious Lyndon B. Johnson all pall was cast upon the nation. I was 19 at the time, a sophomore in college and an orphan. My mother had died 15 months before the assassination and my Father barely 3 months before. My mourning for JFK no doubt was exacerbated by my mourning for my parents. Then came the Civil Rights Movement and then came Vietnam and those two momentous struggles exposed the rot at the heart of the American system. This was embodied in the belief that despite all evidence, the United States was a democratic society, that ran by the will of the people and promised equality for all. This rot had been somewhat ameliorated by the lingering of the ‘New Deal‘ philosophy and programs. Fortified by JFK’s death, the profits from an anti-communist war and the incipient but denied racist nature of our country, the elite oligarchs set into motion their long range plan to eradicate the “New Deal” and replace it with a “Conservative” philosophy that would free them to rape the country, its’ workers and its’ people at will.
One of the most effective tools utilized by those privileged few wishing to extend their “privilege” was to co-opt organized religion morphing it into an instrument for supporting a corporate-centric state. Life for most of us is confusing and frightening. Many of us humans seek solace in our religious belief and practice. If through money and power, various leaders of religion can be convinced, or bribed, to reinvent the terms of religious belief, while retaining the threat of eternal damnation, then somehow Jesus could become a staunch Republican and the Torah become the scripture of a Capitalist God.
The first great victory of this sub-rosa aristocracy of wealth, was the election of Richard Nixon, via a Southern Strategy imbued with coded racism. However, Nixon was surprisingly too liberal in his economic policies to satisfy this group that was primarily made up of members of the bigoted ultra-Right Wing John Birch Society. Ronald Reagan’s election marked the most important milestone in their coming triumph. What Reagan’s years provided, besides disintegration of the labor movement; higher taxes for the workers; a bloated Defense Department and the institution of a radically right wing Supreme Court; was to turn the word liberal into an anathema. So much so that even liberal politicians began to refuse to admit they were in fact liberal. The shallow Reagan Presidency, re-formed the Republican voters into fans for their party, electing labels rather than programs. By selling the country an unqualified and shallow man, who could look Presidential, the way was paved for other vastly unqualified Republicans like George W. Bush and now Trump.
All of this past history weighs heavily on my aged mind and make no mistake it is a history that has provided few victories for my side of this American political equation since the death of JFK. The plans of this Administration and the Republican extremists in Congress, are nothing less than to completely eradicate all vestiges of the “New Deal” in government; destroy the separation of church and state; diminish the citizenship rights of women, people of color and LBGT Americans; control people via the intimidation of police power; limit voting rights to ensure continuing Republican power; lower taxes for the wealthiest Americans and their corporations; and finally removal of all restraints and restrictions upon banks and big businesses. As I write on my laptop, it seems to me that these forces, of what I see as evil, have a very good chance of succeeding in their awful aims.
How then can I and you perhaps, maintain optimism in the face of continued losses against these forces of dystopia? Let me be clear when I state that I am finding it hard to do so personally. Yet what I have to comfort me and to cajole me away from these bitter and frightening musings of my mind, is that I am someone who in all probability was about to die more than six and one half years ago as my heart was about to give out. In January of 2010 my cardiologist told me that I had little chance of living much longer, unless I got a heart transplant. He referred me to a Heart Transplant hospital, which first saw me in March. Unbelievably, as these things go, I received a new heart in record time and obviously I am still here. In one month my oldest grandson will be Bar Mitzvah’ed and so there is much I have to live for and to experience. So that is why I maintain my optimism from a personal perspective, although I see that dire things are possible for our country.
Obviously, my own personal affairs mean little in the grand scheme of things, especially when this planet has literally billions of people being downtrodden and destroyed via the mechanisms of totalitarianism and greed. I am an old, fragile human who can do little to change the direction of a country an the cusp of dystopia, which if it occurs will sweep me and mine away. Yet, banal as some might see it, I am hopeful because improbably a Movement has begun which may not only beat back the forces of dystopia, but actually change the political direction of the Nation. It is a Movement of resistance, but even more importantly it is a Movement of education and most importantly of all a Movement for human social justice.
The fuel of this Resistance, if you will, is the widespread anger of how the powerful in this country and on this planet, are cruelly exploiting us all and seeking to crush us by widening the already huge gap between them and us. Anger can be effectively used to create optimism, for in the energy it provides, comes the belief that the seeming impossible can be achieved. Stupidly, those with so much wealth and power, have pushed our collective backs up against a wall and activated humanity‘s more important defense mechanism…..the will to survive. I derive optimism from my sense that finally there are multitudes on my side who will sustain their anger against those who would exploit and oppress us. Perhaps my optimism is in vain, but right now it is all I have got. Resist!