How The American Right Used 9/11 To Kill The Progressive Dream.By Frankly Speaking
After the horrific events of 11 years ago there was a brief period when it seemed as if everyone in the country was on the same page and that even though we faced some tough choices it appeared that the terrorists had united us. We had been attacked by a brutal and immoral enemy that struck us at home and targeted our fellow Americans - innocent men, women and children. We were a nation in shock. We wanted to honor those we had lost and the families they left behind. We wanted to ensure that those sacrifices were not in vain and that we would never be subject to such a heinous attack again. We wanted victory. We were not going to let these monsters divide us. There were multiple paths that we could have taken in reaction to this horrendous assault on our people, our culture and our freedoms and it felt like we were going to do the right thing and we were going to summon our better angels and rise above the evil.
Well, we didn't. We took the easier path. The path of fear, suspicion and paranoia. The path of revenge and hatred. The path of cynicism and division. The path of intolerance, hatred and exclusion. The path of mistrust of outsiders and of each other. The path of violence and perpetual warfare.
Where We Are Now:
We've allowed our government to betray the very foundations of our nation and the freedoms that we had always held most sacred. We stood by as our personal freedoms were eroded in the name of security. We fostered a culture of suspicion. We demonized whole religions and peoples because we didn't understand them, because they were different than we were. We turned on each other: white against brown, men against women, right against left, rich against poor, Middle America and the South against the Coasts, Workers against Corporations, law enforcement against the people, Red against Blue, Christians against Muslims.
We incarcerated millions of our young, disenfranchised and minority citizens and killed thousands of people while confiscating millions of dollars of property under the pretext of the failed War On Drugs. All the while corporate law enforcement and private prison interests, banks, politicians and even the bloodthirsty petty thugs of the cartels became obscenely rich. We watched with disinterest as those same cartels murdered thousands of innocent Mexican civilians and threw Mexico into a virtual civil war in their pursuit of profits and to feed our insatiable appetite for illegal drugs.
We armed our citizens to the teeth, passed laws that not only allowed them to carry weapons everywhere but also allowed them to assault and kill each other in public under "stand your ground" laws. We watched as disturbed people took out their frustrations and committed mass killings with military style assault weapons and we never really did anything to try to curb it.
We entered 2 wars on the other side of the world. We.were lied to about WMDs to justify a war of vengeance in Iraq and we entered the longest war in US history in Afghanistan. These wars have been paid for with the blood and lives of many thousands of our children. Wars that have left hundreds of thousands of them wounded, both physically and mentally, many of them permanently. These wars have killed additional hundreds of thousands of innocent foreign civilians and have caused deep wounds to their nations that may take generations to heal. These wars have also cost us trillions of dollars that could have been put to much better use to build our society rather than tear it, and other countries, down. These wars have also helped to enrich greedy corporate interests and have made the Military Industrial Complex more powerful than ever, all at the expense of our freedoms. These wars have also drained our national coffers and left us essentially broke and instead of doing the responsible thing and raising revenue to pay for them, we gave huge tax cuts to the rich and powerful.
Now that these wars are winding down, we are pursuing a policy of indiscriminate murder via the use of drones against suspected terrorists resulting in many civilian deaths AKA collateral damage.
Now the war drums are beating again for action against Iran.
We fostered an atmosphere of political, class and religious intolerance that encourages people to mistrust each other simply because they don't look like us, don't speak the same language, don't worship in the same way (or don't worship at all), don't make as much money as we do, make more money than we do or don't agree with us. We treated compromise as a weakness and began to view stubbornness and intransigence as strengths and as desirable and respectable values.
We have attacked social welfare programs that help the weakest in our society and the middle class while protecting corporate welfare and excusing the most fortunate from contributing their fair share. We have allowed corporate and monied interests unlimited access to our politicians and our government and given them the power to make law through their lobbyists and with their money.
All these things: The fracturing of the American People and Our Nation: Waging War on foreign countries and our own citizens: The movement away from personal freedoms and towards a totalitarian and fascist society: Depleting our resources through war and class divisions: Abandoning the weakest among us: Eroding our education system: Allowing our infrastructure to crumble... They all weaken us.
Weren't these the goals of the people who attacked us? Don't you think that they believe that these are victories?
Where We Might Have Been:
We could have taken the admittedly more difficult journey and achieved our own victory by rebuilding our society into a nation that we could all be proud of. We could have chosen the moral highroad and committed ourselves to forging a more perfect union that lifted all of its citizens. We could have united and pledged to build a society that valued peace, courage, tolerance and inclusion. A society that worked to preserve personal freedoms and opportunities for all Americans. A society in which we moved towards more environmentally friendly communities with an emphasis on renewable energy sources and energy independence.
We could have invested in infrastructure, providing jobs for millions as we upgraded our highways and bridges. We could have modernized mass transportation and helped to ease the overburdened road system.
We could have invested in renewable sources of energy like solar, wind and geothermal power and weaned ourselves from the fossil fuel teat, becoming much less dependent on foreign energy. We could have lowered our output of greenhouse gasses as we provided good paying jobs for millions.
If we didn't rely so much on foreign oil maybe we wouldn't have felt so compelled to get militarily involved in the powder keg of the Middle East. Thousands of our youth might still be with their families and be contributing to our society instead of losing their lives and getting emotionally and physically maimed while fighting wars that exist to line the pockets of immoral and greedy men.
We could have ended Cannabis Prohibition and the War on Drugs, relieving our overcrowded prison system and overtaxed justice system of millions of prisoners convicted of non-violent drug offenses and allowing those people to make positive contributions to society. We could treat addiction as a healthcare issue instead of a criminal one. We could give patients access to medications that have been recommended by their doctors. We could use industrial hemp for building materials, bio fuel, food, fabric and a hundred other commercial uses; providing a natural low maintenance crop for struggling farmers and millions of jobs for unemployed Americans as well as tax revenue for state and federal governments.
We could have taken real steps to make sure that all Americans would have access to preventive healthcare and to ensure that no citizen would die because they could not afford to see a doctor. We could have made sure that all American kids received a free high quality K-12 education and ensured that every American kid would have affordable access to Higher Education. We could have provided hope for all Americans.
We could have made sure that Social Security would always be there for our seniors and disabled citizens. We could have made sure that all the safety nets were available for Americans who need it and that no American child would ever go hungry.
And on and on.
That would have been a clear victory for us. We would have proved, as previous generations have, that Americans have an indomitable spirit and when we are down we work together for the greater good and lift ourselves and the whole country and build a better society for everyone.
How Did We Get Here?
The seeds of our current society were planted many years before 2001. The Progressive movement was pummeled for decades starting in '63 with the Kennedy assassination which is often cited as the moment that America "grew up".
It can be argued that the fatal blows to the Progressive movement in this country were landed in the summer of '68 when we lost 2 major Progressive voices in Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. If RFK had lived the chances are that we would not have had Nixon's crooked Presidency and his war on drugs... which paved the way for Reagan's trickle down Presidency... which, in turn, paved the way for Bush/Cheney who tried to put the final nails in the coffin of Progressivism, and who were unpopular and were actually failing until that fatal day in 2001.
Or maybe it was the shock of Vietnam and the realization that America could be wrong and that our government was not the benevolent entity that we had hoped it was.
Regardless, after a string of defeats and setbacks, the Progressive movement seemed to have lost its appetite for the fight since the early 70s.
Since the "Reagan Revolution" in 1980, the American Right has methodically attacked and dismantled what they derisively called the "nanny state": The parts of the government which call for shared responsibility and sacrifice for the common good and to care for the least fortunate and most vulnerable among us. The parts which promoted individualism and free thought over societal and religious "norms". The parts that tried to protect the People, workers and the environment from corporate and government malfeasance and overreach.
They perfected the art of Orwellian Doublespeak. People who were for war, the death penalty, denying people healthcare were called Pro-Life because they wanted to deny women the right to control their own bodies. The Estate Tax was renamed the Death Tax. End of life counseling was called Death Panels.
They claimed they wanted to end Big Government but their real goal was to shift the focus of Big Government to a "daddy" state. A government in which the military and law enforcement forces ruled supreme. A government which would value corporate interests over the interests of people. A government which could tell people how to act and think. A government which could keep women, minorities and free thinkers in their place. A government which could control who gets to vote.
For 3 decades American Right has been slowly "starving the beast" using bogus supply side philosophy to dismantle the Progressive gains of the 20th century. They lowered taxes for corporations and individuals and created huge loopholes to cut revenues. They expanded Military spending at obscene rates. They deregulated business and the financial markets and rewarded reckless money traders with additional tax cuts which weren't available to people who worked to actually produce products and services. They offered huge corporate welfare programs, which they called subsidies, to corporations that didn't need them. They demonized and busted Unions so that workers had less power to control their lives.
They also demonized social programs. The idea that there was all this money that they could not get their hands on infuriated them. Their goal was to raid government departments and programs that employed millions of people and provided benefits for millions more, and privatize them so they could profit off of them.
The inevitable and predictable result was soaring debt and deficits. Once the hens came home to roost whom did they blame? They blamed Liberals.They blamed the poor, whom they claimed were just lazy. They blamed social programs, like Social Security, Welfare, Medicare and Medicaid, that they claimed fostered a culture of dependence and proceeded to try to defund them.
9/11 presented an opportunity for the American Right to hammer the final nail in the Progressive coffin and they used the anger, frustration and fears of the American People to further own political goals and finish the job they had started decades before.
"They Hate Us For Our Freedoms"
Conservatives like to frame things in stark black and white terms. Good vs Evil, Right vs Wrong, Us vs Them, there is no shade of grey, there's no middle ground.
After 9/11 President Bush said that Al-Qaeda "hates us for our freedoms". That's a snappy sound bite and it's easy to understand and get behind.
Without getting into the argument about the motivations behind the attacks, I think it's safe to say that it's more complicated than that.
This is not strictly Al-Qaeda vs The US or the West and it certainly is not a new conflict. 9/11 was just the latest event in a bloody religious and cultural war who's roots can be traced over fifteen hundred years of history to the birth of Islam in the 6th century and who's path leads pretty much uninterrupted through the crusades of the 12th through 14th centuries, the colonization of the 19th and 20th centuries and all the way to the present. Both sides have been victimized and both sides have committed unspeakable atrocities against each other over the span of this conflict. It's been mutually destructive and mutually beneficial as both sides have also used this conflict to demonize each other and to distract their people with fear, hatred and vengeful thoughts so that they can further oppress and control them.
What is Freedom Anyway?
Progressives believe that a People's freedom and a nation's strength is directly connected to how it treats its weakest and least fortunate citizens.
We believe that a Free Society:
- Has a government that plays a positive role in society including helping to lift people up to give them the opportunity to exercise their rights of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" as spelled out in the Declaration of Independence.
- Has reasonable regulations on corporations and commerce in order to protect the people, the economy and the environment.
- Ensures that essential services such as healthcare, education, courts and law enforcement are not run on a strictly for profit basis and that they are available and affordable to all citizens regardless of financial status.
- Allows its people to consume what they wish and act as they wish as long as they don't cause harm to other people, the economy, the environment etc.
- Protects the rights of minorities (be they racial, cultural, social, religious etc,) from the whims of the majority.
- Does not have a government that favors one religion over another. (This does not mean that government is anti-religion but that it respects and protects all religions.)
- Has a strong reasonably funded military and law enforcement community that serves to protect the people and the nation, not to protect special interests, not to control the population, not to dominate the world or invade other nations to impose our will on them.
- Expects those who have benefited most from our society and can best afford it to live up to their moral obligation to pitch in a little more and help empower those that have been left behind.
Conservatives believe that all those ideals actually infringe on the freedom of individuals to control their wealth and lives and that true freedom is allowing unregulated commerce and economic Darwinism and letting the chips fall as they may. They believe that freedom lies in a nation that favors the dominant religion and legislates religious dogma and the behavior of its citizens based on those beliefs. They believe in a strong overwhelming military and law enforcement establishment that they can use to impose their will on the people. They believe that freedom really only needs to be available to some people and that it is appropriate to deny people or groups their rights in order to protect the beliefs and lifestyles of whom they believe have the correct political and religious views. So they try to deny women the rights to their own bodies, they try to deny Muslims the rights to worship where they please, they try to deny healthcare to the poor and disenfranchised. The result is a society divided along class, racial, sexual, political, religious and gender lines in which distracts the people and has them fighting amongst each other while the rich and corporations hold all the power. They will be the ones who determine who gets education, who gets opportunity, who gets the good jobs, who gets healthcare, who will be able to feed their children, who succeeds and who fails, who lives and who dies.
This is not the first time that we, as a nation have been here. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries we were in a similar economic and political situation. Corporations ruled supreme and the government bolstered that by passing laws that supported them over people. That began to change when the labor movement began in the late 19th century. In 1901 Teddy Roosevelt, a Republican and Progressive, became president after the assassination of President McKinley. Roosevelt became known as a "trust buster", breaking up huge corporate monopolies and diluting their power. Women won the right to vote in 1920 and in the '30s another Roosevelt, FDR, took over during the depression and led the country to prosperity through work (stimulus) programs and by installing Social Security and other social safety nets. In the 60's JFK and LBJ championed civil rights and LBJ declared the War on Poverty, talked about the Great Society and enacted Medicare and Medicaid.
All these presidents faced fierce opposition from the ruling class, but they did what they believed was right and they were supported by the electorate.
It takes strong, visionary leadership and an engaged electorate to make real change. Neither of the two main presidential candidates really qualify. Romney is obviously a member of the 1% who just wants to strengthen the power of the ruling class. Obama campaigned as a Progressive agent of change, but has governed as centrist with no real stomach for the nitty gritty of meaningful change. He has also face a divided electorate and an intransigent opposition party. He isn't the answer to the problem, but he is acting as a force that slows the trend towards a plutocracy.
In this country when 50% of eligible voters actually vote, it's considered a high turnout. This means that millions of people are not exercising their right to vote. It's estimated that 90 Million eligible voters will not vote this year. The rich, seniors and educated tend to vote in large numbers and youth, minorities and poor tend not to, so our government reflects that and is stacked against the non voting public. If everyone voted, this government would not look like it does now and would be more representative of the people.
Progressives need to wake up and become active again. We need to look everywhere for champions for our cause, be it within the two parties or independents and 3rd party candidates.
I believe that the Occupy movement is a positive force, similar to the early labor movement, that is making people take a more critical look at what we want this country to look like. I would say it's not strictly a Progressive movement but, more of a Libertarian/Progressive hybrid. What it really does is illustrate to people that there is significant dissatisfaction with the status quo and that people are willing to speak out about injustice and unfairness. Perhaps it will motivate Progressives to take action.
Maybe it's just the old Progressive dreamer in me. Maybe I'm just an incurable old Hippie. I still think we have a chance to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and set our nation back on a moral and free path.
I still believe that Freedom is better than Oppression, that Democracy is better than Authoritarianism, that Cooperation is better than Conflict, that Unity is better than Division, that Tolerance is better than Bigotry, that Peace is better than War and that Love is better than Hate.