The tension in America has hardly lessened by the fact that Trump is now a “lame duck” president wallowing in his infantile denial of failure, unwilling to cooperate in the American tradition of a peaceful transition of power. Instead, he continues to rally his ‘base’ with foolishly tweeted feeble claims of, “I won!” or that he lost only because the election was “rigged.”
Trump’s brace of Washington lawyers filed multiple lawsuits in ‘battleground states,’ embarrassing themselves by their inability to produce a shred of evidence to support the fake president’s claims. Prestigious Washington firms drop like swatted flies after judges rebuke their unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud and vote-counting irregularities. They understandably fear the consequent damage to their professional reputations.
Rudy Giuliani, of Four Seasons Landscaping infamy, leading a few lawyers of lesser standing, can’t help now beyond relentlessly brandishing old discredited political baloney.
The Liberty Illusion
Yet, we must not forget, Trump garnered some 70 million or so votes to stay in office. All the corruption, lies, and damage inflicted upon not only democratic institutions, but also the health and economic well-being of the people, is so obvious! Then, why do millions of followers refuse to face such facts, no less the obvious facts of a viral pandemic?
History has demonstrated so many times that demagoguery works when hordes of citizens feel the pain of economic loss and status anxiety in a nation where they feel displaced by Others, and are no longer respected. The fake president exploits these facts in terms of classic racist ideas of righteousness and patriotic outrage. The wannabe autocrat translates economic and status loss into loss of political liberty at the hands of a deep state and foreign Others or domestic ‘criminals.’ Conspiracy theories abound.
Yet, liberty and efforts to express it in political action are far more complex than simple individual rights to do anything one wants, regardless of its effect on others. That is the basis for the classic exception to free speech, why it is unacceptable to cry out, “Fire!” in a crowded theater. To do so exemplifies the abdication of one’s responsibility to his/her fellow citizens not to act in ways that threaten their safety or impinge on their other rights.
That is what is so peculiar about the politicization of the responsibility to participate in efforts to suppress a pandemic and not cause others to become very sick or die from a virulent virus. Why are so many citizens blind to their responsibility to wear a mask when it is such an obvious and effective public health practice? They don’t reject their responsibility to stop at a traffic light in the interests of public safety. However, they drank the MAGA Kool-Aid when it comes to masks and social distancing.
The demagogue turns their social resentments of government failures to protect them from economic failure, against their fellow citizens in the guise of protecting their own liberty, their God-given freedom to do as they will. Wearing a mask becomes a symbol of the freedom they have lost in the ‘class war’ in which the corporate rich have stolen their economic opportunity. The political agents of plutocracy then scapegoat the most vulnerable groups—immigrants, foreigners, racial minorities—and the demonized “radical liberals” and “socialists.”
One form of societal decay resulting from popular participation in the corporate industrial-consumer society stems from the social isolation that accompanies the corporate ideology of extreme individualism. A century of marketing and advertising has promoted a level of narcissism and self-indulgence that leaves little room for empathy, compassion, or responsibility for one’s neighbors or others.
Self-indulgence in seeking relief from a sense of failure, anxiety, and depression makes for more sales of the never-ending flow of big-box consumer products, which give a quick high followed by more of the same futility. The underlying problem is the lack of authentic relationships with other people. Such relationships were once an integral part of communities. Today, what we call communities are actually collections of individuals, whether in suburbs, apartment complexes, professions, occupations, or special interest groups, where relationships are generally superficial at best.
Mutual Aid and Reclaiming the Commons
One of the essential characteristics of real communities is mutual aid and support. Remember the stories of barn raising in early rural America? An entire community would join in to build a barn in little more than a day. Today, barns are manufactured products purchased by giant corporate agribusinesses to house huge machinery or automated milking operations.
In Scotland and England before the industrial-agricultural revolution of the 17th and 18th centuries, local families had often shared a “common” shared by all in allotted amounts for their subsistent planting or grazing. The “improvers” got laws passed to “enclose” small farming plots worked for generations by local families, who were “cleared” to allow much larger plots on which to apply the new industrial farming technologies.
The Enclosures and Clearances drove people into industrial towns and cities where they had to look for work individually, nothing mutually shared or supported, until later when labor unions arose, soon to be violently crushed by agents of the factory owners. Today, we have diverse processes very similar to the enclosures of the eighteenth century. Corporations gobble up small family businesses or just drive them off, a modern form of the clearances. Workers are cleared from newly automated factories.
Relationships of sharing both land and labor along with mutual support in communities constitute essential components of being human. We must transform alienated industrial-consumer societies into more human social formations, such as ecological communities and local-regional bio-economies tied to the land. The Earth System can no longer carry the load of pollution, ecosystem breakdown and resource waste of industrial civilization. Human social groups cannot achieve happiness or genuine prosperity without restoring the conditions that allow communities and commons to flourish.