I Needed This

There’s a lot of gloom and doom out there–and plenty of reasons for despair. But I keep thinking back to the disruptions of the 1960s, and the then-widespread belief that the country was coming apart, that the riots and eruptions and emergence of a nonconforming youth culture were harbingers of ongoing and unstoppable social disintegration.

Actually,if I can be forgiven the metaphor, those disruptions were akin to labor pains–signaling the birth of a different set of social arrangements and understandings.

The chaos of the Sixties gave birth to massive social change, and although it was uneven, much of that change was positive. Isn’t it possible that the nastiness we are experiencing right now is similar–that it marks a hysterical effort by a minority of the population to foreclose changes that most Americans would consider improvements?

Rebecca Solnit has recently suggested precisely that, in an essay in The Guardian, titled “Why are U.S. Right-wingers so angry? Because they know social change is coming.”

While their fear and dismay is often regarded as rooted in delusion, rightwingers are correct that the world is metamorphosing into something new and, to them, abhorrent. They’re likewise correct that what version of history we tell matters. The history we tell today lays the groundwork for the future we make. The outrage over the 1619 Project and the new laws trying to censor public school teachers from telling the full story of American history are a doomed attempt to hold back facts and perspectives that are already widespread.

In 2018, halfway through the Trump presidency, Michelle Alexander wrote a powerful essay arguing that we are not the resistance. We, she declared, are the mighty river they are trying to dam. I see it flowing, and I see the tributaries that pour into it and swell its power, and I see that once firmly grounded statues and assumptions have become flotsam in its current.

Solnit points to replacement of monuments to the Confederacy and Columbus with statues of people like Harriet Tubman, to the renaming of streets and buildings and other public places–and she notes that “those angry white men with the tiki torches chanting, in Charlottesville in 2017, “You will not replace us” as they sought to defend a statue of Gen Robert E Lee were wrong in their values and actions but perhaps not in their assessment.”

The replacement of statues is symbolic of the far greater changes that have occurred within the lifetimes of many of us. Solnit enumerates several of the most consequential:

We are only a few decades removed from a civilization in which corporal punishment of children by parents and teachers was an unquestioned norm; in which domestic violence and marital rape were seen as a husband’s prerogative and a wife surrendered financial and other agency; in which many forms of inequality and exclusion had hardly even been questioned, let alone amended; in which few questioned the rightness of a small minority – for white Christian men have always been a minority in the United States – holding almost all the power, politically, socially, economically, culturally; in which segregation and exclusion were pervasive and legal; in which Native Americans had been largely written out of history; in which environmental regulation and protection and awareness barely existed.

Solnit compares our current unrest to an effort to push water back behind the dam. Despite the fact that the Right has thus far succeeded in protecting economic privilege and has won preliminary battles against voting and reproductive rights– she is convinced that the Right cannot, in the end, win the war.

While the right has become far more extreme and has its tens of millions of true believers, it is morphing into a minority sect. This has prompted their desperate scramble to overturn free and fair elections and other democratic processes. White Christians, who were 80% of the population in 1976, are now 44%. Mixed-race and non-white people are rapidly becoming the majority. On issues such as climate, people of color are far more progressive; if we can make it through the huge backlash of the present moment, the possibilities are dazzling….

Birth can be violent and dangerous, and sometimes one or the other of the two involved die. There is no guarantee about what is to come, and the shadow of climate chaos hangs over it all. We do not have time to build a better society before we address that crisis, but it is clear that the response to that crisis is building such a society. So much has already changed. The river Alexander described has swept away so much, has carried so many onward.

At risk of torturing a metaphor, we can–we must— work to midwife the birth of a better, fairer society.

 

27 thoughts on “I Needed This

  1. Well, Rebecca is entitled to her opinion, but she is only half right. As she writes from the ivory tower of oligarchy-owned media, she can clamor about “right-wing” zealots. I suppose there are some with her media company clamoring about “left-wing” zealots.

    Aside from losing subscribers, I suspect these media sellouts are setting themselves up for subscriber class action lawsuits or maybe public lawsuits.

    Their claims of being a free press are false, misleading, and outright fraud.

    I saw yesterday that the “shareholders” of Bayer are suing the company for misleading investors about the damages of the chemicals they use on food, etc. Discovery in lawsuits are showing these Big Pharma and Big Chemical giants are lying. We’ve already discovered that Big Oil has been lying about the damages of CO2.

    Well, guess who’s been taking payments from all the above? 😉

    If you want a rosy picture, I’ve provided it; evil capitalism is coming to an end with all it entails which is a lot. A shock is an understatement. We’ll be witnessing a demise to Western Democracies as the Truth shines a light on the darkness.

  2. Indeed, “the times they are a-changin'”. I agree totally that the right-wing minority is in a frothing panic that their fascist desires are being undermined. The white male majority of unfettered capitalists are resisting, with all their might, the trends of today – just as they’ve always done. Since they cannot control the majority of the people, they must try to control them through government overhaul.

    EVERY time this has happened in recorded history, something better evolves. Well, maybe not every time. In our country, white male privilege is one inheritance from our European ancestors that still persists. The monied class has always ruled. Along with that “power” comes the arrogance of the minority that abuses its power. So the results are the oppression of everything that threatens that power.

    I’m re-watching the “Outlander” series in anticipation of season six due out in March and, since Diana Gabaldon is such a brilliant researcher, I’m taken by how arrogant the British were in the colonies. Prior to that period, they abused and oppressed the Scots in barbaric ways – as they did the Irish. Not only did they suppress the Scottish culture, they took the money and the food too. The mantra of “King and Country” overwhelmed egalitarian fairness. The associated corruption and exploitation of the colonists was merely an extension of the ancient attitudes of European monarchies. Once the flag was planted on North America, they felt is was their god-given right and duty to exploit everything in sight including the residents they sent there. The aboriginals? They were just an inconvenience that needed removal. Therein lay the roots for our current situation.

    Now we have the Republicans acting similarly to the pre-Revolutionary British. The tax laws that favor white male capitalists. The barbaric and idiotic attacks against women’s rights. The mutton-headed notion of controlling which history is taught and all the rest of the fascist, monarchal idiocy coming from the right does indeed signal a major lurch in America’s future. Which way it will go and to what degree will be something to see.

  3. During the revolution of the sixties, we had only Jim Crow laws to overcome. It was “only” when you compare those days with the fascism we are fighting today which is led by one entire party of our own government at the federal level. Hate was the Pandemic of those years, fighting for civil and voting rights for all Americans was the goal; today we are fighting against losing democracy, Rule of Law and saving the Constitution of the United States of America for the entire nation. That one party, the now Trump owned Republicans, are fighting to allow even children to die in this Pandemic which is headed into its/their THIRD YEAR of support.

    Todd’s “oligarchy-owned media” are reporting the escalating numbers and are being ignored as they change almost hourly and new variants appear. The media is naming names and quoting those who support letting the case and death count increase, now including our children, and those who are fighting to maintain the slim Democratic majority against the sitting seditious members in the House and Senate. McConnell is not sitting idle; he is the man behind that curtain we need to be watching. And he has Manchin doing his job for him at this time.

  4. “The mantra of “King and Country” overwhelmed egalitarian fairness.”

    Vern; your comments popped up while I was typing mine. For some reason, maybe due to the UK and its Pandemic so much in the news lately; I have been trying to remember when “The sun never sets on the British Empire.” ended. Truths about this country are often printed in and quoted from The Guardian today; we still look to them, not for guidance, but for their media as a news source.

  5. JoAnn,

    Yes. That thought about the British Empire occurred to me too. Having studied WW II history at great length, I recall reading about how bereft Churchill and the other conservatives in the British government were when they finally realized their “empire” was crumbling and that they could no longer hold it together. That said, the good thing that came out of the more progressive politics of the time was the National Health Service.

    It was the first universal health care initiative in the capitalistic world. The philosophy that birthed that entity said that since everyone sacrificed to win the war, everyone should have health care and that everyone should collectively pay for it through taxation. We know how well that plays in this country. And it isn’t just the oligarchs that prevent us from moving in a more civilized direction. The right-wing lunatics also think that their power is usurped by a national health care system. Go figure.

  6. Much of what you said is 100% correct. You, however, are omitting critically important “data” regarding the situation. There is the “perfect” coalition between – disaffected white men (often supported by white female partners) – of which you speak and an oligarchic few of privileged white men (with a few white women) who Profit – from the divide and conquer strategies put forth. Omitting class – as a significant part of this is simply extreme naivete. Were I in a white family – (mine is majority Black) – with income of roughly $300-400,000 + – I am Not Losing – No matter what happens – and often see a value – in keeping the Status Quo. Even – if Not – reactionary – I am certainly not going to support – “radical change” – which seems a danger. There is a Coalition of interests – Prey on Fears – for the disaffected- and they are Not The Poor People for the most part – though plenty of not well off blue collar type white men support these truths – there are teachers, lawyers, doctors, business owners and more – Fears – Hatred – Self-Centered Self-Pity – is common among – those who don’t see – our common good – a future of – “win/win”- but rather: “zero sum game”.

  7. Are we still in the “Dawning of the Age of Aquarius?” Perhaps we are in the age of the unhinged polemic. I don’t need everyone to get “woke”, but I would like to see Americans wake up and understand the importance of their votes.

  8. What malarky. In the 60’s, SCOTUS was moderate/liberal along with most of the lower Federal Courts. Yes, there were supremacist governors in the deep south – but not in Texas, Florida, Wisconsin, South Dakota, etc. And the right wing ecosystem (Federalist Society, ALEC, Club For Growth, etc.) was in its infancy. I could go on…

    Not sure what y’all smoked for Christmas…

  9. Last Sunday I watched a segment of Fareed Zakaria’s show with historians Doris Kearn Goodwin and John Meacham, who were both asked the question: “Are the present times a repeat of 1968? Or 1858?”. Meacham answered only that he HOPED it was a repeat of 1968 and Kearns was more circumspect . She was more afraid of what was happening in state legislatures of Republican-led swing states and how it resembled the tactics of Southern states in allowing slavery in the newly formed states in the West. That they weren’t brought us secession and a civil war.

    If Dems can’t muster the votes to pass voting rights and other provisions to fortify democracy before November of next year, then a repeat of some aspects of 1858 could be a reality.

    I enjoyed reading the cited article and I agree with the author’s thesis but only in the very long run. If the GQP is successful in usurping power by anti-democratic means in the next couple of years it could be many more years before the tide turns and it may not happen within the framework of existing laws and institutions.

  10. I have often felt that this is the last desperate backlash of the extreme right to keep white “Christian” men in power. I hope that time will show that my intuition is correct. With the changes in voting laws in many of the states, I fear we will have another 4 years of Trump’s insanity. I can only hope that people will rise up to counter the restrictive voting laws as part of a great resistance to the far right’s insanity.

    At the same time we need to remember how a white minority in S Africa maintained apartheid for many years. We will need leaders like Mandela and Desmond Tutu if we wish to overcome the zealots on the far right. Perhaps Stacey Abrams will be just one of them.

    I wish Indiana had such a powerful leader.

  11. As a fan of history, I can almost always find historical precedent for everything that happens. But today’s times are like no other. For the first time, there are huge segments of a major political party which no longer believes in American democracy or respecting the results of free and fair elections. That wasn’t the case in 1968. It wasn’t even the case in 1858 or 1860. Even southern states didn’t dispute the election of Abraham Lincoln was valid.

    We are, for the first time, in real danger of our system of government crumbling in the 2024 election. Democrats need to make Job #1 protecting American democracy. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem like a priority to them.

  12. “The “Dawning of the Age of Aquarius” is a very bitter-sweet image for me, an older, but still “long-hair” type, back in the day. I expect that I may
    not be alone in that, here. There was little, if any, real organization to that movement, which was co-opted by the business types. The conservatives
    got the message of change in the air, and the Koch boys started their slog toward White, Christain, hegemony in the early ’70’s. It still lives, though,
    hopefully at its end.
    I very much hope that Solnit is right, but it may all come too late, as a very funny video a good friend of mine sent to me earlier depicts:
    From on high, heavenly tech support exclaims, “We may have to reboot Earth.”

  13. For Peggy and Mitch….this old hippie still remembers those “Age of Aquarius” concepts. SIGH. If love really did ”steer the stars,” it somewhere got lost.

    Still hopeful … still hopeful.

  14. It seems that as one political party has become unmoored from reality and hopefully we are seeing the end stages of desperate political moves.

    I read an interesting editorial in the NY Times that was examining the roots of the current hyper political polarization. The article speculated that Republicans lost focus when the USSR failed, and turned away from a common enemy and toward attacking their domestic political opponents with some success.

    I am hoping that we are finally getting to the extreme endpoint in the arc where “you can’t fool all of the people all of the time” and by virtue of the extreme positions, people start to see the crazy.

  15. “The “Dawning of the Age of Aquarius” is a very bitter-sweet image for me, an older, but still “long-hair” type, back in the day. I expect that I may
    not be alone in that, here. There was little, if any, real organization to that movement, which was co-opted by the business types. The conservatives
    got the message of change in the air, and the Koch boys started their slog toward White, Christain, hegemony in the early ’70’s. It still lives, though,
    hopefully at its end.
    I very much hope that Solnit is right, but it may all come too late, as a very funny video a good friend of mine sent to me earlier depicts:
    From on high, heavenly tech support exclaims, “We may have to reboot Earth.”

  16. Times certainly are a’changing but that doesn’t mean that we are able to pick the winner yet.

    What it explains is why the right wing finds democracy and the attendant freedom so objectionable now. They know that they are losing ground and fear more than anything a country adapted to the global times that are clearly on the way.

    Their deepest fear is equality. The excesses of the lifestyle that results in the inequality that we experience every day here and now has lead inexorably to the collapse of the system behind it. Ask any right wing extremist and they will tell you that means an undefined monster that for lack of an accurate name they label “socialism”, or sometimes “marxism”. It’s the final gasp of aristocracy that represents their full accomplishment in life.

    It’s foolish to either discount their fears of the unknown or to join them in their quest for status yesterday because at its core the monster is us and our energy gluttony and the source to satiate it from the past. It’s over. The only unknown is the rate that we move to save any future at all for upcoming humans.

    The simple reality is that what we see around us is not sustainable which means it is, no matter what anyone wants, temporary. What we know is doomed. In a perfect world all of our thinking would be what we replace it with, not whether we can outrun reality.

  17. With marijuana freely flowing legally, craft beer raging, Amazon delivering and young professionals hanging out in their tech hubs…who will be the new “concerned” Hippies???

    Missing the 60’s….

  18. Interesting. Considering there is often a lot of punching downward( a.k.a. hippie punching) amongst the commentariot on this very forum.

    The DNC and the DLC pissed on the Sanders voters. So did most of the commenters .

    The sixties were uncomfortable. The folks here do not want to be inconvenienced. You’re most comfortable and want to stay that way. That’s really the argument,innit? The heart of the “supposed” culture war.

  19. From the Hopi Elder’s prayer:
    “There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are torn apart and will suffer greatly.
    “Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above water. And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate. ”

    Sheila — thanks for helping me to remember this.

  20. “few questioned the rightness of a small minority – for white Christian men have always been a minority in the United States – holding almost all the power, politically, socially, economically, culturally; in which segregation and exclusion were pervasive and legal”

    There is and was not anything “Christian” about these men. They completely ignore the teachings of The Christ and instead follow John Calvin and Oliver Cromwell. They are heretics of the worst kind falsely claiming moral superiority all the while violating virtually every commandment in the Christian Bible.

    They need to be immediately excised from our society. Unless this happens the US is doomed to become a dictatorship based on heretical theocratic beliefs.

  21. I remember the 60’s very well. Yes, it was a time of upheaval and the death/injury of protesters and government officials. It was also a time that led to change that was badly needed – the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. It was a time of liberation from the stultifying 50’s. The end of the 50’s brought the Freedom Riders and vicious attacks against them. We certainly weren’t all “hippies”, whatever that means. I was a married middle-class white woman with two kids, can’t get any more unhippie than that. For me, the 60’s exposed institutional racism for what it was, an ugly reality on our idealistic beliefs. I consider CRT an extension of examination of institutional racism. That examination needs to take place if we are ever to heal as a nation.

  22. A lot of the turbulence of the sixties was a generation of Americans coming of age, and asserting their understanding of their rights in a Democracy, in an old world order. It was a tough time, loosing friends in what we saw as an unjust and “why were we there anyway” VietNam war. I remember when students were shot down at Kent State in Ohio, by the National Guard, and the realization of how we were being labeled and demonized.The hostility of Republicans (Nixon) toward progressive students was evident at that time. Fortunately a true white Christian President, Jimmy Carter granted amnesty to all the war objecters.
    We’re still pushing against the negative forces that want to tame our pursuit of fairness for everyone. The American Democracy needs to protected against those who don’t appreciate. or understand what it is.

  23. The common denominator in today’s thoughtful efforts is fear of change. Yes, there are the rich-poor and black and white divides, the communist-capitalist economic organizational differences etc., but these are symptoms of the problem; the common denominator giving rise to such brawls is based on fear of change. As thus seen, for instance, is it White male Christians who are at fault or is it their ingrained fear of change that accounts for their conduct today?

    I have often written on how to classify those of us who are called upon to either accommodate change or resist it, those of us who are comfortable with the status quo or those of us who are not – and for whatever rationales. Change itself is certain and inexorable; its pace and direction is political. As to history, I can’t imagine that the upheavals of the Civil War/Reconstruction era are secondary to any upheaval we have ever had or are having.

    Solnit is right with her observations but her examples do not tell us how to remove the barriers to fear of change, whether racial, psychological, and/or sociological in nature, and perhaps for good reason, i.e., because there are no means available for removal of such ingrained and learned views taught from one’s Cartesian childhood through daily adult indoctrination by those who are comfortable with the status quo.

    The good news? The dam will break due to changes in the nature of change itself. Thus a change in displacement of labor by invention of the steam engine varies from the impact of an algorithm breakthrough on labor, horse and buggy vs. spaceship etc. To do: Learn how to accomodate change in the social as well as other sciences by consciously taking fear of change off the table. How to do that? Start young with those blank slates.

  24. Well; I certainly DON’T need this!!! December 29th and I have not yet received my 2021 Social Security Benefit Statement; had Trump never been president and left his minions in this government I wouldn’t be concerned. But; with the Republicans suppressing voters, they could have declared me deceased to prevent my voting in upcoming elections. I don’t even feel certain my barely above poverty level check will be deposited on Monday and the Indiana Republican Senate cut my retirement checks beginning this year.

  25. Nah. The forces working against progress, in the classical sense, are well-organized and working at every level to maintain the status quo.
    Examples abound. Even in this comment section, which can display amazing ideological fixity alongside great flexible insight.
    Blank slate, indeed. Bible banging. Theocracy. Y’all should try some Freddie de Boer…

  26. While I do accept the premise that the anger on the right is largely fueled by fear of change, I will note (as Twain might have said) that history rhymes, rather than repeating itself. The social safety net of the New Deal through declaring real estate covenants unenforceable, from Brown v. Board of Education and Little Rock through the marches in the ‘60s, that change was long in coming, and I suspect the bigotry we saw was partly a reaction, but also partly our increased awareness of what had long been the case.

    Now we have had a long, slow attempt to undo the changes of the half century since FDR. The Reagan revolution was the reaction to all of that change, but we have barely begun to turn the corner. Clinton was in line with Reagan in unraveling the social safety net. Yes, we had a Black President, but he was more a Wall Street guy than a radical reformer. Obama was, perhaps, the person to make the slow turn. Obamacare treats healthcare as a commodity, but at the same time, the notion of healthcare as a human right has been gaining traction.

    However, the push back, with the Tea Party and later with Trump, has been huge and has been unleashing a different era, one of violent hatred. It is possible that the Reactionary Right is a last gasp and change is coming. If that is the case, I wonder how long until the change. Will I still be around?

    Or – could we be on the verge of an Erdogan type overthrow of democracy in this country? The Democratic leaders had better get their act together. The rest of us have to learn to call things what they are. The Trumpsters are “autocrats” and “reactionaries”. Manchin is a “conservative” Democrat. Trump and his buddies are “liars” and “seditionists”.

    My whacko Congresswoman sends me regular emails with her “socialist” and “radical” red-baiting rants. The words I propose may be as provocative, but they happen to be true. Then again, I believe in objective reality – foolish scientist that I am.

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