‘Hope is not a strategy,’ but neither is despairing doom and gloom – axing ‘never-give-up’ activism

The future looms as long as we live, breathe and think. "History" is knowable only after the fact.

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Whether America is reeling, in decline, or nearly kaput, it ain’t over ‘til it’s over. 

The startling downside of crying “all is lost” – absent any vehicle for positive change – is deterring meaningful attempts at incremental reform. Or any improvement. The American “experiment” is a marathon, not a sprint and despair defeats reform. If America is kaput, reduced to a blundering, imperial empire that depends on racism, violence, unjust taxation and inequality, then time, per the absurd rightwing meme, to burn it all down. 

If both political parties drip only bad faith, competing for prizes in corruption, then let’s call it a day – or a century. If structural Constitutional engines are polluted only with gunky lubricants – the Senate, Electoral College, a recklessly-anointed Supreme Court dictatorship, gerrymandering, wild west gun laws, and states free to abuse human rights – the game is over except for the shouting. 

Admittedly, major systemic (indeed progressive) shifts are as rare as when rightwingers honor reason, say two times a century. Even our slightly above average democracy seems helpless in quashing an oligarchy by which government serves the well-funded, well-organized ruling class, a.k.a. the Lobby Party. Who is surprised that deregulated, international corporations, expert at culling profits across complex, global dynamics, elbow aside other interest groups? If corporations with more clout than populous countries can’t channel resources, then execute their highest priorities, they wouldn’t own so much and dominate the globe. Yes, we have systemic obstacles set against a more just society, but prematurely crying Armageddon is a self-defeating conviction of an unknowable future (rife with unintended consequences, my favorite theory at the pivot of order and chaos). 

Hard times do push us to dwell on negatives, even ponder throwing the baby out with the bathwater. But that means dumping a functional entity, still revered by a vast majority that rejects insurrectionist mobs. For a country rich enough to share, we suffer from inhumane, ass-backward spending priorities, the most conspicuous being bloated “defense” militarism that siphons away basic support for blue collar families striving for prosperity. Finally, conclusions that all is lost leave only a few, unpleasant options: civil war, revolution, or abandoning the ship, leaving real-world reform to others. 

Well, the Trumpers tried to mock-up an amateur-hour revolution, and that folly only lasted one miserable afternoon, with hell to pay afterwards. Years of an overwrought (lying) onslaught from the Trump school of “carnage” aligned with religious, Armageddon-like death rattles. Such deviance now boasts Four Horsemen of the Jan. 6 Apocalypse (Trump, Bannon, Giuliani and Flynn), spewing out shock, awe and farce. In retrospect, closer to the Three Stooges (drop Flynn). But street revolution? What hand-armed, backwater “militia” stands a chance against the potent U.S. power mix on call? Right, automatic rifles vs. tanks, drones and missiles? 

Revolution remains the great long shot, leaving civil war-like skirmishes a prospect – but over what problematic territory and to what specific ends – isolated city states? Stopping abortion? Denying voting rights? Burning books? Secession? How many (older, settled, compromised) insurgents (with or without canes – or guns) will risk life and limb over Biblical zealotry, billionaire/Trump delusions of power, or FOX TV make-believe? Canes up.

In theory, there’s always a second Constitutional Convention, but who votes in the delegates other than the usual suspects, the intact political parties? If the same oligarchs who rule the country dominate this Convention, the laughable “free trade” model gets even less regulated, formalized in new, regressive ways to accumulate treasure. The true populist alternative – widespread passive whining – wins the prize, requiring only overwrought online posts filled with vicious invective. That way lies dissipation of potentially co-operative energy. Sorry, but rigid ideology, wishful thinking and bad faith do not define a plan. If 80% declare America going down the tubes, per polling, the 20% left may lack offsetting ballast (unless they’re the 20% with all the clout). Enough naysayers incite their own nightmares. 

The moaning and groaning thunders so loudly that some older friends find solace in being closer to the end than their beginning. Yes, America (and the world) are under siege, wedged between the god of gobsmacking growth vs the appalling human/earthly prices now coming due – from climate change, resource depletion, overpopulation, political stagnation, and global air, water and soil pollution. Though purveyors of gloom and doom have always been with us (including a rather apocalyptic-sounding Jesus), the only truth about the Armageddon delusion is that it won’t happen quickly, isn’t from God, and wouldn’t win the righteous the equally fantastic, eternal, heavenly life. If the world implodes, brace for hell but without even the glimmering charm of a Satan. 

What, good news offsets bad?

Medical science has hardly banished disease (even one pandemic), but consider how much longer the irksome doom and gloomers live now vs. the average life span a century ago, especially when vaccinated, refuse opiates and cigarettes, lose weight, and endure regular colonoscopies. Despite blatant inequality, American median income (19K) is by far the largest of any highly-populated country. Per US News/World Report our standing wins the big country prize. Even across top ten most affluent, we’re #5 behind such behemoths as Luxembourg, UAR, Norway and Switzerland. China remains way, way behind at $4K/year/person, India just over 1K/ median. 

Here’s a shocker: we’re rated first in “Agility” (the ability to adapt to change, adopt modern solutions). We remain high in Entrepreneurship (innovative enterprises and technology), arguably the top cultural influence, and first in “Power” (economic, military, world affairs). Second shocker: we sustain world standards in Education, probably with greater spending, more outlets and over 99% literacy. No one matches our worship of individualism, equating hard work with salvation, thus our being more optimistic than other rich nations. Rights of free speech and travel, plus tolerance for religious diversity are high points, and we pump out more, wingnut Protestant (start your own) denomination than any other realm. That’s why 72% of Americans believe in heaven, with more neighbors endorsing the reality of angels than anywhere else. We probably also win global prizes for amassinggarage junk (and consuming more junk food and junk TV). 

Facile cynicism vs. new politics

In short, however unjust, divided and compromised is America, with low-brow, public “discourse” on par with the worst sit-coms, simply crying all is lost is a downer, worsening reform prospects. The very seriousness of the problems should excite equally bold proposals, backed up by ferocious activism, funding and organization. The bigger the problem, the greater the positive opportunity, calling on our every skill-set. Really, per Joe Biden, what happened to the legendary can-do spirit, capable of resolving when unified whatever “impossible tasks” face us? 

I still say, despite enormous roadblocks, that global climate change can unify a divided world in a productive, collective mission. Humanity is a stubborn species, despite being afflicted with magic thinking, dreaming for quick, affordable miracle fixes. But over time (maybe too much) enough huge warning lights will penetrate the thickest skulls. Certainly, when co-operative, mammoth corporations realize climate reform serves their interests, they will (further) push efficiencies in resource mining and usage, machinery, batteries and technology. Yes, spoiled, ruggedYankee individualism will diminish as too wasteful, along with today’s Age of Self-Indulgence. How much of humankind is saved will depend on bitter fights over diminished choices. 

The very interdependence and complexity of life will demand much greater cooperation in resolving the multiplicity of labor, material and technology inputs that sustain our food, transport and energy systems. Except for the most marginal, everyone on earth will be acknowledged as related to everyone else, just as Gaia is interconnected like a mobile, with vibrations in one place affecting all others. In the end, we will either all hang separately or we will hang together. The future looms as long as we live, breathe and think. “History” is knowable only after the fact – and should not be second-guessed by fear and dread. 

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For over a decade, Robert S. Becker's independent, rebel-rousing essays on politics and culture analyze overall trends, history, implications, messaging and frameworks. He has been published widely, aside from Nation of Change and RSN, with extensive credits from OpEdNews (as senior editor), Alternet, Salon, Truthdig, Smirking Chimp, Dandelion Salad, Beyond Chron, and the SF Chronicle. Educated at Rutgers College, N.J. (B.A. English) and U.C. Berkeley (Ph.D. English), Becker left university teaching (Northwestern, then U. Chicago) for business, founding SOTA Industries, a top American high end audio company he ran from '80 to '92. From '92-02, he was an anti-gravel mining activist while doing marketing, business and writing consulting. Since then, he seeks out insight, even wit in the shadows, without ideology or righteousness across the current mayhem of American politics.

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