I have always had a bit of an apocalyptic streak in me. I think it probably began when I was seven years old, about to turn eight in 1957. That was the year that I developed rheumatic fever. I was confined to my home, mostly in my bed, for more than six weeks. As such, I could not be with my friends, or go to school.
I was tired and weak much of the time. My family was quite distressed, and that was expressed in some misty eyes they did not want me to see, and sotto voce conversation they did not want me to hear. Basically, as a seriously ill 7-year-old in a typically emotional Italian-American family, I thought I was going to die. If that did not sow the seeds of Apocalypse in my psyche, then I can’t think of what else could have.
That was the seed, but it was nourished and attended to over my life (and yours) by events and trends that often seemed unsolvable, and occasionally seemed existential.
Turmoil Amid Progress
Beginning just a few years after my personal apocalypse, and extending through the '60s and '70s, our society witnessed the Bay of Pigs crisis and what we now know was a real potential for nuclear war; the Vietnam War; the social disillusionment of our young; and the movements to achieve racial, gender, sexual orientation and disabled rights that exposed serious fault lines in our society.
Those were scary times. But as I now “age out,” I have come to realize how my perceived brush with death as a child was a gift, in that it gave me a personality that always saw hope in the human attributes of intelligence, compassion and reason. My family was anxious, but they were also present and engaged. My second-grade schoolmates welcomed me back after my six-week stint at home as if nothing had changed. And my family doctor, a Jewish refugee of Nazi Germany who had faced his own existential peril, used his intelligence, compassion and scientific knowledge to heal me so that I could live this wonderful life I still enjoy.
And so it is that I tried throughout my adult life to apply that hope in the work I did, the relationships I formed, and the political and public-policy activities I undertook with others to foster a free, just, rational, enlightened and humane society.
But I am beginning to fear for the continuation of that hope.
And that is because we do not take today’s apocalyptic scenarios as seriously as those of the past because they emanate from the banality of our daily lives. And that inures us to the existential threats they present.
Being Led Astray
Since the dawn of this millennium we have allowed ourselves to be seduced by three for-profit commercial ecologies that have been the basic source of our modern existential threats: the anti-social ”news” platforms of ”Social” Media; Big Tech’s march toward automation and robotization; and old-fashioned unregulated market capitalism. We say that we cherish our rights and liberties, but we mistakenly define liberty as license, and the powers that be are ecstatically happy to accommodate our licentious appetites for physical things and social acceptance.
This has resulted in some of the bizarre contradictions and inconsistencies of our modern political and civic discourse.
• We defend as a key “liberty” our “right to privacy” against government intervention; but we willingly, on a minute-to-minute basis, hand over our privacy to for-profit corporate entities.
• We tout our “right” to speak freely while failing to remember that a prior Supreme Court ruled decades ago that freedom of speech does have limits. (They said it does not give a person the right to yell “fire” in a crowded theater that is not on fire for fear of a harmful stampede. Kind of like yelling “The election was stolen” when it was not.)
• And, in the case of our ongoing pandemic, we fail to connect our perception of what freedom of assembly means in a health emergency to that part of the Constitution’ Preamble that says: “WE THE PEOPLE of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, PROMOTE THE GENERAL WELFARE…” etc.
The United States Government cannot “promote the General Welfare…” of “The People” during a nationwide health emergency like this pandemic if individuals refuse to act in concert as a society.
And so, therein lies the juncture at which I am beginning to lose hope.
Only Limited Progress
In May 2017, I began writing the “My Two Cents” essays. In the original six-part series that ran from May to July, I railed against the Democrats’ inability, even with a 60-vote Senate majority under Obama, to eliminate the filibuster, enact majority union sign-up, or card-check, rein in Big Tech and other monopolies, and get money out of politics. But I did not let Labor off the hook either. I said they must be the dog that wags the Dems—as the tail—into doing what workers need. That was more than four years ago. Unfortunately not much has changed.
• The filibuster lives on. And not only does it continue to constrain a progressive agenda; it also continues to erode The People’s faith in the legislative process that is so critical to the preservation of a democracy.
• Card-Check is not on top of either the Democrats’ or Labor’s agenda, given the much-touted theory that Card-Check is unnecessary because owner interference in union organizing “elections” would disappear if only we had stronger “election” oversight. The National Labor Relations Board did find that Amazon cheated and interfered in the organizing election held in their Alabama facility earlier this year, and the Board has ordered a new election. The organizing union is going back in to try again. I hope they win this time. But history has not smiled on such efforts.
• Money is still corroding politics, and proposed Democratic legislation to rectify this is not likely to pass into law.
• Big Tech continues its march to control every aspect of our lives without our consent, while continuing to shrink actual human labor by accelerated automation and robotization. All without any meaningful government attempt at regulation.
• And “Social” Media is neither “social” nor “media."
GOP's Moral Weakness
So, I think I can honestly say that over the four-year existence of my columns I saw some social and political actualities that, if not addressed, could dangerously erode some of the underpinnings of our democracy. But now I realize that things are much worse than even my apocalyptic psyche could have imagined.
The Jan. 6 attack on our nation’s Capitol with the prodding of then-President Donald Trump was terrifying. But the subsequent excusing, dissembling and rewriting of the actual circumstances of this insurrection by most Republican Senators and Representatives is even more terrifying because it exposes the weakness and lack of understanding of close to half of the members of our Legislative Branch of their Constitutional role as a check on the accrual of dictatorial power by the Executive. Still think the filibuster is a good idea?
Finally, when I add all this to the current ongoing display of willful self-indulgence by most of the 30 percent of our country’s adult population who refuse to get vaccinated, largely because of misinformation they have likely found on “social media," I find that I have been brought to a crossroad. Our goal should be to put meaning in the term “We The People." I think that over the last four years I have highlighted issues that will likely have serious consequences for our society, our democracy, and our fellow workers. I have suggested ways to ameliorate those issues.
So I could continue to write about meeting the threats of which I spoke by strengthening democratic structures and processes, regulating so-called social media to eliminate the explosive spread of misinformation and outright lies, untying our Congress by eliminating the Senate filibuster, making voting easier, reducing income insecurity by empowering workers, and reducing the influence of money in politics.
A Time for Goodbye
To me, these issues form the foundation necessary to secure our democracy. I could continually repeat them in different contexts; but I think I have said my piece.
Therefore it is time to say “farewell.” I am most honored to have been allowed onto the pages that you read. I hope my observations were useful and stimulated your thought. I am most grateful to The Chief's editor, Richard Steier, for welcoming me into this important publication for the workers of our City. His editing was flawless and his titling a joy to read. I still have that gift of hope that I wrote of earlier in this essay. You have allowed me to communicate some ways in which we can secure hope for our precious democracy. My job is done. Thank you.
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