Winter of Our Discontent

I have borrowed the title of this blog from Shakespeare’s play, Richard III. Richard III was not a nice man, although the real Richard was probably not as evil as Shakespeare and others have made him out to be. He was the last king of England to actually lead his troops into battle and died in the Battle of Bosworth Field. Shakespeare portrays him as evil, and he may well have been. Medieval kings had a tendency to be corrupt and cruel, and someone I have quoted before, Lord Acton, famously said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” I’m pretty sure that Lord Acton used “great” to mean powerful in the sense of wielding political power. In “olden times” kings and queens were powerful….

The winter of 2018 finds a lot of people, not only in the States but also everywhere the U.S. has a major political and/or economic influence, feeling at least a degree of discontent. Another quotation I have used before, Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it, originally said by the philosopher George Santayana and later quoted by Winston Churchill (and probably millions of others). We have a lot of evidence that Santayana’s observation was correct. Those of us living in the States point proudly to the way our Founding Fathers threw off the “yoke of British oppression, starting with the Boston Tea Party. But we weren’t the only ones. The French also had their own Revolution, as did the Russians, and the Chinese. And those are only the major ones.

When things are bad, people have a natural tendency to look for someone or something to blame. The idea is, “It’s not my fault nor the fault of people like me. It must be those other people: Mexicans, Chinese, Russians, Germans, and even (a long time ago) Norwegians“. The point is that when people are sufficiently unhappy for a long enough time, they tend to do something about it. Resisting evil is so deeply ingrained in the human spirit that Jesus warned us about it.

A very long time ago (I was still a teenager), a speaker at a school convocation said, “If you hit me, I will turn the other cheek, but if you hit me again, the third blow belongs to me.” The difficulty with social issues is that is is hard to determine the real cause of the problem. It’s not always easy to identify who is using us as a punching bag. Those in power use their resources, including the media, to deflect the blame: Our news is the real news. We are told to pay no attention to “fake news,” to ignore “the man behind the curtain”:

Most of us in the States have at least some “cushion,” so we aren’t yet suffering to any great degree. That’s not true for everyone, of course, and however much the Republicans like to brag about their recent tax cuts, we have a sufficiently robust news media that the truth gets out in spite of the fake news also being broadcast. As Abraham Lincoln famously said, You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” We now know who benefits the most from the tax cuts, and we also know what the tax cuts will do to our national debt.

A lot of people got fooled in the last U.S. election. They voted for a major change in the U.S. government hoping that “things” would get better. They are, of course, getting better for those who are wealthy. For the rest of us, that’s not the case. Most of us are like the secretary, for whom the tax cuts mean an extra $1.50 a week. It’s not enough to count, especially as the cost of goods and services increase. Further, at this point we have no idea what’s going to happen with the health insurance many of us rely on, or whatever taxes and/or fees are imposed to repair our crumbling infrastructure, or even what might happen with Social Security. At the moment it is looking as though a major source of health care for the less-than-affluent will be eliminated, as funding for community health centers may no longer be funded. At this point it is even seems possible that we have voted ourselves out of a democracy and into a plutocracy.

For most of us in the States, life goes on as it “always” has. But instead of making incremental progress into increasing prosperity, many of us—perhaps most of us—are now losing ground. As Paul Simon said, we are “slip-slidin’ away”:

We need to be aware that the “man behind the curtain” does not have our best interests in mind. The man behind the curtain is interested only in increasing his own power and wealth. Instead of following his instructions to blame foreigners and those who “aren’t like us,” we to look behind the curtain.