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Gong Show Government and the End of the World

Wherever they have power or influence, right-wing extremists are fast building barriers between the people, their government and future economic opportunity. There are various motivations for the anti-democratic tide, including simple greed, selfishness and racism. For some it’s fear and ignorance.

For many on the right, democracy is not democracy unless it guarantees them power. They don’t see the contradiction. Their nationwide attacks on voting rights makes moral sense to them because restricted voting rights help them achieve that guarantee.

You wouldn’t think extremists had much left to accomplish in a state like Texas. But Texas’ Gong Show of a government is undeterred. They’re about to cut public school funding by billions of dollars, put college further out of reach of the middle class, throw seniors out of nursing homes, require strict new voter i.d. requirements, etc. etc. etc.

Texas is behind Arizona in the racist, legislative vigilantism aimed at Hispanics, largely because so many Texas employers like their labor pool cheap, replaceable and politically passive. Let’s not be too tough on our neighbors to the South.

You want to know what it’s like around the Texas Capitol? A person with a concealed handgun permit wearing a pistol can skip the metal detector when entering the Capitol. A person without a permit or a gun has to go through the metal detector. Told you it was a Gong Show.

Back in 2007, Republican state Rep. Warren Chisum caused a bit of a flap when he formally distributed documents from a Georgia group that claims the Copernican revolution was a Jewish conspiracy. The earth, they claim, doesn’t move around the sun.

The controversy didn’t last long, though, because everyone excused Chisum. He is an affable older man, after all, and we shouldn’t make fun of affable older men. Southern standards of politeness are odd, aren’t they? We must speak kindly of our elders, but we can and should deny them medical care, close their nursing homes and throw them out in the streets.

Sometimes I wonder if we wouldn’t be better off picking legislatures like we pick juries. Here in Texas we could pick 181 people at random, put them through an orientation that taught them that everything any lobbyist ever said was a lie, and set them to fixing our problems. They couldn’t do any worse.

Now, the problem with poking fun at this carnival is that it might distract us from the fact that democracy really is at risk.

I read a recent piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education the other day that talks about the coming economic and environmental catastrophes. Here’s an extended quote from political economist Paul Mattick’s article:

Even if continuing stagnation should slow greenhouse gas-caused climate change, the damage already done is extremely serious. Elizabeth Kolbert, a journalist not given to exaggeration, called her soberly informative account Field Notes From a Catastrophe. The melting of glaciers threatens not only Swiss views but the drinking supplies of whole populations in such areas as Pakistan and the Andean watersheds; droughts have ravaged Australian and Chinese agriculture for years now, while floods periodically devastate the low-lying South Asian homes of tens of millions of people. The rolling parade of disasters is, unfortunately, only getting started. It will accompany a stagnant economy and only be exacerbated by the increased greenhouse-gas emissions that a return to true prosperity would bring.

What both of these continuing social stresses promise is that the decline of the economy, however cyclically inflected, will simply be the lead-in to a crisis of the social system that, because it is based on the laws of physics and chemistry, will transcend strictly economic issues. If the peaking of oil supplies and the catastrophes of climate change do not provoke a major transformation of social life, then it’s hard to imagine what could. This idea may seem unreal today to those of us who still live, for the most part, in what remains of the material prosperity wrought by postwar capitalism, much as the misery and terror of the inhabitants of war-torn Congo are hard to grasp for the inhabitants of New York or Buenos Aires. But this demonstrates only imagination’s weakness, not the unreality of the challenges in store for us, as local disasters like the flood of oil that poured out from BP’s drilling rig into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 will perhaps make it easier to understand.

If that sounds like the end of the world as we know it, it may be. Now, if I was rich and powerful and looking to a future of unparalleled human suffering I might want to build the ultimate gated community in, say, Dubai, and place as many barriers as I could between the sufferers and the government. Just saying…

Of course, if Chisum is right and Copernicus was wrong, maybe we could  just turn the sun off like a bedside lamp, cool down and nap awhile and awake in a new world.

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Glenn W. Smith

Glenn W. Smith