Reason for worry about how much has changed in American society appears in our better news sources every day. Take today’s article in the New York Times by Gretchen Morgenson about Neil Borovsky’s experience as the person who was supposed to police the TARP program. His new book, she says, tells us how Washington seems to be working these days; well, not working. Borovsky found little interest in exercising the responsibilities of governance, and more interest in advancing one’s career. So many of the crucial reforms were never enacted.
Another article in today’s Times, however seeming distant from the above topic, adds to my sense of alarm. Janine de Giovanni describes how it is possible to live in a city where war is at the doorstep while affairs inside the city are unaffected by it – that is, until something happens that radically forces upon the citizens how serious and dangerous the broader situation is. I have seen this in many cases: Friends in cities on the edge of war have often seemed unaware of how much danger lurks nearby, until it breaks into their social setting, often suddenly and tragically.
It is not merely that the world is a mess that worries me. It is that so few people around me are paying attention. I can’t blame them because we are all busy. We have leaders that are supposed to be doing their part while the rest of us work, doing what we are supposed to be doing. But as we worked and slept and occasionally looked up long enough to decide who we wanted to vote for, something tragic and perhaps ineluctable has happened: the system we thought we were living under has been co-opted by powerful forces we had little knowledge of: powerful interests, mainly in the form of great corporations. In fact, corporations whose true interests are global not local have intervened in the whole process of governing. We thought we had a representative government; we elect our representatives to represent our interests in our communities, cities, states, and the federal government, right? But another kind of element – a whole industry in fact – has intervened in the process of legislation. It is called lobbying; representatives of the powerful and wealthy members of our society, supported by the wealth of the corporations they control, has intervened to control our government in their interest. Our “representatives” can’t represent us because they must first pay off the big interests – usually corporate interests – who paid for the expensive process of getting elected.
That’s why our government is unable to put into place a health system that adequately serves all our citizens; that’s why the gun lobby can shamelessly keep this country from enacting reasonable weapons legislation (even after yet one more tragic massacre takes place in Colorado); that’s why nothing much has been done to control excess in Wall street, despite the meltdown of 2008 that continues as banks that are supposed to be too big to fail report colossal losses in “one of the greatest financial dramas of all time” (Morgenson); that’s why, in fact, Congress can scarcely pass any legislation.
What is to become of this country? And of the world? The most tragic events in history can be repeated in our time – only this time it will be on a global scale. And in the mean time everyone is busy with their own local and provincial projects. The shock will come, as it often has, in places where internecine conflict engulfs whole cities, whole societies -- and suddenly, as if without warning.
In fact, warning signs are all around us.