Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Real Silent Majority

It's pretty much a truism that, in any society, the loudest voices are of those who want change – the dissatisfied... the disenfranchised... the victims (whether actual or self-styled). A subset of this group would be the theorists – the “idea people” who set the terms of the debate and use language in the service of their agenda (whether for good or ill). They are the agents of influence, and of change – but they would be helpless without their loyal followers – the “true believers” (or “useful idiots” in some cases). In the current election season (would that it were only a “season” rather than perpetual) we have – as I've commented on previously – a rare, if not unique, situation of raised voices on both the left and the right – populist movements of people who feel cheated, ignored, and left out. On one side we have the Tea Party (still alive and well, as far as I know – not that it was ever a formal organization), and on the other the “Occupy” crowd (ditto). The Tea Party is represented to a greater or lesser degree by the more “conservative” Republicans; Trump's relationship with them is ill-defined, if it exists at all. And the Occupy contingent is represented fairly well by Bernie Sanders.

This is, as I said, a rare thing in American politics – to have dueling populist movements. Most of the time, there is one party – one world view – in charge, and the “loyal opposition” on the other side. Populist movements, when they spring up, often create a third party, which rarely lasts for more than one election cycle. Someone has commented that Trump's campaign represents a third-party movement within the Republican Party; it seems that the same could be said of the Sanders campaign within the Democrats. And then you have the real third parties, like the Libertarians and Greens, which only complicates the picture even more. But in any case, it seems that no one is satisfied these days, and they are all protesting and fighting against the depredations of some ill-defined establishment -- “big government” for the right, and “not big enough”, or “big enough, but with the wrong priorities” for the left. But both sides are trapped in their own contradictions, since the right wants smaller government except for “defense”, which you can apparently never have too much of... and the left wants government to somehow mend its ways and start serving “the people” -- even though big government is, by and large, a creation of the left, and it was created precisely in order to, guess what, serve “the people”. Obviously, something funny happened on the way to Utopia. The “democratic socialist” (referencing Bernie Sanders' position) movement, which started during the Progressive Era and went into overdrive with the New Deal, has now morphed into oligarchy, domination by the Money Power and the military-industrial complex, and perpetual war – and this with nary a shot being fired, to say nothing of any sort of revolution. If Sanders and the leftists want to rewind the tape and start over, they'll have to go back at least as far as pre-World War I, in other words 100 years. Socialism without a love affair with war and empire might be possible – look at Scandinavia – but for the “major powers” it seems to be an impossibility. Even the former colonial powers, who should have learned their lesson, jump at any chance they get to return to the fray and make a cameo appearance on the world stage, as witness England and France's pathetic tag-along enthusiasm for our follies in the Islamic world.

And yet, having said all this, there is nonetheless a large, faceless, non-noisy portion of the citizenry, and they are, in fact, the biggest single piece – a plurality at least, and most likely a majority. And they are satisfied – complacent... smug, even. They don't object to paying taxes (the ones who do, I mean)... they don't have any problem with big government, even in its current manifestation... they are perfectly happy with every law and regulation that the rest of us find intrusive and onerous... they think that anyone who doesn't like the way things are is some kind of radical, nut, or “hater”... and one never hears from them, because they are profoundly satisfied. They are the true establishment of our time, at the grass-roots level. They are the true conservatives, as opposed to the “conservatives” who want radical change, or who talk like they do.

Who are these people? Why, Hillary Clinton supporters, of course! They are the ones who have completely sold out to the system – or were born into it, so didn't have to. They are like a huge baby that is perpetually locked onto the teat of government, and spends its life in a dream-like stupor. The only thing that can ever get their attention is any sort of threat to their “rights” -- which means their entitlements, which means their right to the fruits of someone else's labor. They are the current-day manifestation of the communist concept “to each according to his need” -- except that their “needs” are titanically greater than anything Marx or Lenin ever dreamt of, or would have tolerated.

And I don't want to give the impression that I'm talking only, or even mainly, about “the deserving poor”. There aren't nearly enough of those to fill this box, and to scapegoat them would show a lack of compassion. No, these would be people of all social classes, right up to and including billionaire “crony capitalists”, who could not imagine getting along without government help of some sort. There might have been a time in our history when welfare was for the poor, but those days are long gone. The poor get a trickle, but the so-called “capitalists” get a windfall. And again, is this a natural and inevitable evolution of our society, or did something go terribly wrong at some point, and might it be possible to go back and take the “road less traveled” again? (This is certainly the fond wish on the part of Bernie Sanders and his supporters.)

So here we have an election arena – a marketplace of ideas, if you will – that is using up all the air time (and all the air) and which seems to involve everyone to some degree or other. It's as if everyone in Rome is at the Colosseum and no one is out there doing ordinary, everyday tasks. But that's not the case! There is a silent majority, and they're silent because they're satisfied... and they are firmly in Hillary Clinton's camp because she represents what they all want – the “nanny state”. She is Big Nurse – just do what she says and we'll get along fine. Otherwise... you don't want to know.

The problem for the noisemakers – populists left and right, and their candidates – is that they don't fully realize that this demographic exists – or if they do they're in serious denial. They assume that revolutionary fervor will carry the day, that it is a force multiplier of sorts and can turn a numerical minority into a majority in terms of energy and impact – and they can point to plenty of historic examples, like pretty much any bonafide revolution. But I don't think we're living in times like those. For revolution to work, you need a lot of desperate people – a majority, even; we might have come close to that state during the Depression, but it's been far from the case ever since. (And no, “quiet desperation” won't do, because that's too akin to despair and is therefore enervating.) 

Religion was supposed to be the opiate of the people, but that was just a myth perpetuated by those who wanted government to be the opiate of the people – which it has, in fact, become. And even those who occasionally stagger out of the government opium den into the fresh air can only think clearly up to a point. They still accept the premise that “something has to be done” and the only entity that can do it is government. If they thought more clearly they would realize that government is the problem, and it can't be expected to fix itself. But then they would also realize that they are in the minority, and... what's to be done? Pass the opium pipe, I guess.

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