Living in A Culture of Powerlessness

“Well, you know, Elie, you’ve become aware that certain readers are struck with a kind a dread reading our political and historical discussions.   People can only take so much bad news, amid the constant barrage of reminders of their abject powerlessness.  Many progressive types want to believe in a people’s champion during hard times, not be confronted by the details of that champion’s betrayal in virtually every area.  

“If Obama didn’t deliver hope to most people, or change where it was most needed, it’s not his fault, they will insist.  He’s NICE!  He’s a thoughtful, compassionate, very decent guy!   He would have loved to have been a great and courageous president, but look at what he was up against.  He was a hostage to haters, underminers and obstructionists.  His only fault was being too decent, they will say.

“You’ve seen the man’s mean streak, the sharp bullwhip sense of humor, but for the most part, he yielded pliantly to the powers that put him into office, negotiated generous deals favorable to the people who hated him.  Whatever he lacked as people’s president, he’s a born campaigner who presented and sold himself brilliantly twice.   He is the canvas on to which millions could project their hopes for sorely overdue change.  The first gay president, somebody called him today, you know, because he, as they say, led passionately from behind– as one should in gay matters, one supposes– when it was clear there were votes and public sentiment to pass marriage equality.

“This thin-skinned, angry, sleeepless, vindictive, constantly wheedling, whining, hollow victory-obsessed fuck you got now?  You will soon look back with great affection on the president who handed him the drone kill list, and the precedent of killing Americans by drone, even Americans not charged with any crime.  This new winner’s top-secret cabal of deep swamp creatures will make Obama’s opaque administration seem transparent.   Obama’s services to the fossil fuel industry will seem modest by comparison and you will forget the fact that he released huge tracts of virgin Alaskan wilderness for oil exploitation and vastly increased off-shore drilling.  Rex Tillerson was not unhappy with Obama’s oil policy, Exxon had record profits under President Hope and Change.  Plus, Obama gave several truly inspirational speeches about the need for green, renewable energy.

“But I guess one point I wanted to make last time about a culture of powerlessness is that you don’t have to be upset about any of this, Elie.  You always have the option of just shutting the fuck up.  Look, if there’s nothing you can do about it– why torture yourself?  You didn’t make the world.”

No, clearly, I didn’t make the world.  And, of course, I do have the option to just shut the fuck up, and also, in my silence, tenderly bugger myself.  It’s a funny thing, I’ve been listening to old podcasts on the iPod I got Sekhnet. Mine died and she found the iPod she hadn’t used in years, but won’t let me update it until she downloads all the movies on it, which will be wiped out forever if I update it first.  

“Uh, OK,” said the skeleton.

All this to say, the podcasts on the iPod were all originally broadcast from 2010 to 2012.  A surprising number of people, on various shows, offer a very strong critique of Obama, even back then, and highlight the gulf between his rhetoric and his actual policies.  The miracle is how easily he won re-election and it highlights his gifts as a smooth self-promoter.

“Well, he’s always clearly been one of those guys with a keen eye for the main chance.  He was elected on the power of his oratory, his looks and his electric charisma.   A progressive doesn’t immediately put the foxes in charge of guarding the recently raided hen house.    His financial team were the same geniuses who oversaw the engineering and sale of toxic, economy crashing tranches of collateralized debt obligations.  

“The president spoke sternly of their terrible behavior, but insisted they were the only people who could fix the system they themselves had broken.   The record bonuses they paid themselves after the crash of 2008?  Just another sad detail to shake your head about, their bonus clauses were ironclad and it was pay them or pay them trebly if they had to take you to court, best to just get over it.  

“Unless you get ten million people on the street, day after day, your message ain’t getting out there.   Even if you have ten million on the street every day, the consolidated corporate media has to show it on TV.  On one Bill Moyers show they discussed the TransPacific Partnership, which is supposed to be a trade deal.  The T.P.P. excludes China, fair enough, but purports to deliver a host of benefits, including, but not limited to:  promoting economic growth; supporting the creation and retention of jobs; enhancing innovation, productivity and competitiveness; raising living standards; reducing poverty in the signatories’ countries; and promoting transparency, good governance, and enhanced labor and environmental protections.

“So let’s take one laudable goal, promoting transparency and good governance.   That must be why President Obama has taken such pains to make sure details of the pact are kept top secret.  Legislators are not allowed to see a copy of it except under controlled, supervised conditions.  They are sworn to secrecy about its provisions.  There will be no public debate, just an up and down vote, which is neatly named ‘fast track’.  

“Which makes sense, Elie, since the public might be annoyed at some provisions of the T.P.P., which have been worked out by the industries affected.  The world’s largest corporations will be able to rely on an international agreement that overrides domestic laws on the environment, workplace safety and investments, among other things.  The pharmaceutical companies worked out extended patent protections to minimize the predations of generic drugs on their profits.  Oil companies wrote the chapter on hydrofracking and other environmental regulations.   If it hadn’t been top secret, you might have tens of millions in the street with signs saying NO NEW NAFTA and GET YOUR MOTHERFUCKING HANDS OFF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION.

“C’est la guerre, Elie, and you know, you can’t spend time getting upset about every poor little Yemeni girl or Somali boy orphaned by a drone strike, or the death of first responders when a second missile kills those who rush in to rescue survivors of the first explosion, the ‘signature strike’. These policies are decided way above your pay grade. When Putin or someone evil does the same thing to innocent civilians, we can easily see these acts as war crimes. When a man as fundamentally decent as Nobel Peace Prize recipient Barack Obama orders deadly missile strikes in eight countries, he is a man defending us from terrorists. Why be upset about any of this, Elie? People are murdered by states every day, have been as long as there have been states.”

I don’t think I need to point out how much easier it is for you to be so philosophical, being long dead, than it is for those of us who have to slog through this toxic world.

“Oh, poor baby!   You should get a few jobs and start earning the money to pay for that PPACA gold plan you’ve been eyeing, the one with the low deductible. You might actually get to see a doctor! Now go fuck off in peace, my son, I have a long nap to get back to.” The skeleton waved wanly with two fingers and flopped back into his dirt bed.


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