Two major tests for the people happened during the Reagan administration. One was when the President ordered the Air Traffic Controllers back to work or he would fire them. Besides cowering the unions, people were taught not to ask for too much. More controlling, physically confining and stunningly successful was the second. Seat belt legislation not only removed an adult’s freedom to choose, it was precedent-setting legislation to establish ‘safety’ as the greater good. I remember this first twinge every time my next freedom to choose is eliminated by some do-gooder. But political correctness, like Reagan’s economic policies, trickled down until we conformed.
To assist our Saudi friends and push Iraq out of Kuwait, oilman George Bush I led a UN coalition force in the Arabian Gulf for Desert Storm I. Saddam and his allies settled the dispute and went home and our military leadership was locked in. Domestically, Bush I can be credited with middle management downsizing and championing industry deregulation. His Waterloo was raising taxes.
Business-friendly Clinton charmed us into free trade agreements and it appeared logical to assume that our goods would be exported. Good for us! But Americans snapped up the cheaper foreign goods and confirmed ‘Made In America’ was too costly to compete in a global market. Cash became passé and we slapped down our credit cards to buy what we couldn’t afford. We believed ‘if we want it, we can have it.’ We did not relate debt to income and fancy thirty-year mortgage deals entered the marketplace. We were the ‘masses’ who sold our ability to individually evaluate.
Through deregulation and contrived financial oversight, American-owned industries merged with their domestic and foreign counterparts to drive this lucrative windfall into their own pockets. They became manufacturer, importer and exporter of their own products and stashed their profits in unregulated global banking facilities. For the most part, no one begrudges the wealthy their monetary success, but taken together, industry repositioning, job outsourcing and the untaxed profits should have caused outrage. A few rumbles of public discontent amounted to nothing tangible. We argued both sides of the Bush II tax cuts and its contingencies and believed the results we wanted to. However derived, income rose for top earners and the end-product consequences were paid by the lower income levels. 9/11 and consumption of the manic distractions of Desert Storm II opened the door to the Patriot Act and the inception of Homeland Security was born. Our right to privacy had ended. On the day the housing market collapsed and Wall Street fell apart, small investors and 401Ks were play money used by the brokers to save the Bigs. Loss of money is sobering. We voted for a change of direction.
There is a point where it must be admitted that nothing changed from Bush II to Obama. Wall Street bailouts originated with Bush II and were enacted by Obama. Gulf War II is in its twelfth year. Working both sides of the fence (or in political-speak ‘working across the aisle’) is familiarly now known as ‘leading from behind.’ The unseemly hatred of Obama became so noisy, questioning the direction and effects of his policies were muted.
The Tea Party said all the right words to make us think they spoke for the middle class. No one questioned where 500,000 people came from for the rally that catapulted them into power or who paid for such a massive protest. We did not know ‘No More Taxes’ did not apply to us. We were naïve and trusting and backed this clamoring crowd with our votes.
Occupy Wall Street was little more than a test case to measure our anger and discontent against the new Washington structure. The powers wanting to know, did not like the message, but had the muscle to brutalize the occupiers and forcibly dismantle their headquarters and eliminate the organization. We all learned freedom of speech can be silenced and the relevancy of peaceful protest is dependent on who backs the protesting organization. So we shut up.
The super majority ‘red state’ legislations had four years to enact big-money agendas into law. Like robots they’ve arrogantly gutted public programs and rammed that funding into corporate-serving incentives. The candidates campaigned on ‘jobs, jobs, jobs’ and delivered ‘cuts, cuts, cuts’ while granting business exemptions that will run beyond the next generation. When $billion-profit corporations like Sea World pay no income tax, there is a problem. We were conned; that is on them. Reelecting them will be on us.
Whether it’s GPS locaters, TSA’s intrusive screening techniques, surveillance camera monitoring or internet tracking, our freedom to follow the pursuit of happiness is in conflict with our obsessive desire to be loyal, cooperative and ‘safe’ We are being run over in a global rage we do not understand and what end game we cannot contemplate. After reading an article on the Sandy Hook massacre, one commenter asked, “What kind of country have we become? What kind of people are we?” To begin we need to answer these questions.