Monday, December 15, 2014

A Ponderous Vessel, our Ship of State



There’s the Old Guard, the New Guard and the Left-behind Guard, but changes they are a-coming. Our Ship of State currently appears destined to drift like a Carnival Cruise, stranded and rudderless, with its toilets out of order.

From where I sit, we are hardly alone among the Western democracies. Great Britain and the European Union face similar pressures and are equally slow to change course. The speed of this fascinating technological age in which we live leaves change (particularly change we can believe in) a promised, but unfulfilled dream. Ah well, even Carnival Cruises eventually limp into port and usually without fatalities.


Elizabeth Warren’s straightforward talk of thievery and fraud in high places made her an American icon—virtually (the pun very much intended) overnight. Without any of the additional qualifications required, Warren is touted as a shoo-in for President in 2016. Lessons to be learned from that for the major parties, but premature to their deafened ears, I’m afraid.

Thus the two forces propelling our Ship of State at quarter-speed are totally out of synch—a long, excruciating and tedious lack of energy in the wheelhouse (or White House, take your pick), while mutiny foments below decks. Yet I’m fascinated by the choices Americans make when it comes to either mutiny or quietly acquiesce to another chained-turn at the oarsman’s sweeps.

The shooting of an unarmed black man in Ferguson, Missouri and choke-hold death of another at the hands of NYC police brought massive demonstrations across America and even into Europe. Conversely, the nearly unbelievable revelations of what our CIA was up to, during an extraordinary decade of torture, brings no torchlight marches nor angry crowds in the streets. Some conclusion can be drawn from that, but it’s unclear to me.

Likewise, the Edward Snowden unmasking of the NSA’s clearly unconstitutional snoop into every aspect of personal privacy grows colder by the day—simply more old news. Ho-hum, what else can you expect of politics and are the Chicago Bears really that bad as a football team?

So is our ponderous vessel actually changing course or are the winds of change mere farts in a whirlwind that politicians, police forces, spy agencies and Wall Street fraudsters know will blow over? My observation is that we are actually changing course, but in such a stormy sea of outrages that the famously undeclared center will take a while to define itself. But it’s in the air and the winds they are a-blowing.

Who knows? A case can be made that we’re currently witnessing the Last Hurrah of Old White Men in charge throughout an America that’s quickly becoming younger and less white at every level—and they’re frightened. Panic-stricken men and women in power is never a pretty sight and there’s much evidence of that, from the board rooms of corporations to the back rooms of politics. Homeland Security, the CIA and NSA are but the instruments of those frightened old hands clutching the levers of their fading power. But ultimately, when the curtain draws back, we’ll find there is no Wizard in Oz.

America is like no other nation in the world. It’s young and brash, faulted and often naïve, courageous and occasionally wrong-headed, but it never fails to correct itself and come back around on course. Winston Churchill said it elegantly—“America can always be depended upon to make the correct decision, after it’s explored every alternative.

So steady on, you John McCains, Dick Cheneys, Hillary Clintons and whichever  white guys currently run the CIA, NSA and FBI, as well as whoever controls the levers of power across state and local governments—your days are dwindling down to a precious few.

We are exploring alternatives.