Heffalumps and Woosles in the Living Room

I despair of my country. I really do. If you watched the presidential debates Wednesday night, perhaps you noticed some glaring omissions. I’m not referring to Mr. Lehrers’ utter inability to rein in the candidates (someone give the poor guy a buzzer, will ya? Or, better yet, a gong). Certainly, both candidates were present in their respective blue and red ties (just in case we forgot which team they were on). Rather, conspicuous by their absence were most of the urgent and substantive issues of our time. The targeted assassination of American citizens. The continuing detention, rendition and torture of terrorism suspects. The abrogation of our Constitution and Bill of Rights by a security state and an imperial presidency careening out of control. The skyrocketing cost in lives and dollars of an unending and ever-expanding war. Corporate power run amok, hijacking our democratic processes, along with every branch of government. A failed war on drugs and the racial targeting of Muslims, immigrants, and other people of color. New and unending assaults on voting rights. Exploding poverty rates. Obscene economic injustice and class warfare (no, I don’t mean rich “job-creators” getting picked on by mean poor people. I’m talking about the crushing of the poor and middleclass by the rich). Spiraling gun violence. The abandonment of our veterans (the government calls them “heroes,” except when they need something). Insufficient regulation of big banks, Big Oil and Big Ag. Drought, a looming food crisis, and polar ice caps melting at an alarming rate. An arrogant Israeli PM trying to dictate the outcome of this election and force us into another potentially catastrophic war. And a peculiarly American brand of terrorism called “drone warfare.” Those are some pretty pudgy pachyderms in the living room. Why is it the only things we seem to see are heffalumps and woosles?

Perhaps nothing at all was said about these issues since both candidates are essentially in agreement on most of them. I kept thinking, why are they debating at all? Why don’t they just let bygones be bygones and merge their respective parties and super pacs to form one colossal über-partei. No, that wouldn’t work. Of course. That would dispel the myth of the two-party system in this country, and the illusion that we actually have a choice over who governs us. (I recently tried to explain to a French friend how our two-party system results in minimal change no matter who is in power, since both parties are effectively controlled by the same corporations.)

And where are the American people? If they are engaged at all in this political monologue, they are probably distracted with some form of conspiracy theory (like the President’s Kenyan birth certificate), a futile culture war (such as the so-called “war on Christmas”), or the alleged plot on the part of Muslims, immigrants, or socialists (insert other people group here) to take over America. (Listen, I’ve studied socialism in great detail. I did my undergraduate thesis on socialist dialectic in the works of G.B. Shaw.  And I can say without equivocation, that it is an insult to every socialist who has ever drawn breath to claim the current President is one of their number. Eugene V. Debs is probably spinning in his grave so fast, he could air cool half of Terre Haute.)

How can people be so out of touch? Seriously, astronauts on an orbiting space station are better informed. But you see, as with bread and circuses, distraction is a form of control. The fear-mongering corporate media have done a stunning job of disseminating faux news, everything from half-truths to audacious propaganda, sometime working for the government, sometimes against it—all this designed to take the heat off the real scandal. Like a one-eyed pig invited to a luau, distracted by all the hula, poi, and torch dancing, we don’t seem to notice that the real conspiracy, the corporate coup against our republic, is moving in for the kill.

Who are we as a people, and why do we seem so unconcerned about the real issues around us? Why do we care so little about the power our leaders unleash against distant peoples, as though we were Olympian deities and had the right to dispatch mortals at will? Why do we seem so eager to make enemies of the weakest members of our society, while prostrating ourselves before wealth and cheering the bloated Brahmins of big business? I’ve never seen a nation so easily bamboozled into acting against its own self-interest, nor one so deaf to the cries of those who suffer so cruelly from its crusades, nor one so insanely deceived by its own image—like a circus fat lady who, looking in the funhouse mirror, sees only a ravishing beauty. And all this in a so-called “Christian” nation. Well, I hope we can dispel that myth at least.

Christians often wonder how their German counterparts could have thrown their support behind a certain candidate in 1933. How is such a thing possible? Easy. He used fear, distraction, and plenty of flag waving, accompanied by bales of propaganda. German Christians had two major fears back then: communism and the moral declensions that accompanied modernism. Hitler promised to save them from both: a rabid enemy of Marxism, he also stood for good, old-fashioned German values, like motherhood and mom’s apple strudel. And so they were willing to shut their eyes to his more grotesque projects, like the elimination of all political opposition and his war against European Jewry. The latter was a crude yet highly effective masterstroke of propaganda, uniting the country against a scapegoat who were not Teutonic and who could not defend themselves. And all that in a so-called “Christian” nation.

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