I am part of a group of gentlemen who meet once a week to discuss various topics that capture our interest at the moment. We are mostly white, retired, male professionals, who consider ourselves progressive, but that does not mean we are all of one mind and view. Meeting the morning after the storming of the Capitol, we engaged in a lively discussion. As our Zoom meeting went on a couple comments caught my attention. Some in the group referred to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party as the extreme left and far-left. Another of our group later called Bernie Sanders and the program he advocates as being radical.
What is most revealing to me in these comments is how it highlights the overwhelming success of the right in defining the opposition and putting it into the most negative context. More disturbing is seeing how their successful labeling infiltrated the center and liberal moderates in the Democratic Party. The evidence is made manifest by their perception of the most progressive portion of the Democratic Party coalition as being too radical, extreme, and far-left.
Republicans see the Democratic Party, no matter how conservative it becomes, as radical, socialist, and a bunch of communists. The success of the right in their labeling efforts is evident in the rightward movement of the Democratic Party since at least LBJ. Its embracing neoliberal policies and ideas are an abandonment of labor, the working poor, the poor, and indigent. It is an abandonment of all the reasons I embraced this party in my youth.
The assertions by more conservative Democrats that Bernie Sanders, his ideas, and followers are radical or extreme demonstrates how successful the right has been in defining the Democratic Party. Viewed globally, Bernie Sanders is maybe, at best, a liberal moderate. For perspective, it is worth remembering the proposed Second Bill of Rights Franklin Roosevelt laid out during his State of the Union address on January 11, 1944. It included:
The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
The right of every family to a decent home;
The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
The right to a good education.
When you compare FDR’s Second Bill of Rights with Sanders’ proposals, you might notice the similarities. Sanders added environmental and climate change issues and updated or restated much of what Roosevelt proposed 76 years ago. Was FDR a radical? Were Democrats radicals in 1944? Of course, Republicans thought so. They always do, so why do we care? Should not we instead be asking what happened? Why have we Americans not enacted the protections and programs that have been embraced by every other advanced country on the planet? Our failure to do these things has led us to this moment.
Following Mitch McConnell’s successful guidance of the Amy Coney Barrett nomination to the Supreme Court through the Senate, a joke emerged. It went like this: Democrats had been locked in a room and given paints of many colors. McConnell did this, knowing they would argue endlessly over the color to use and never bother working to unlock the door. It is a scathing commentary on the current Democratic Party leadership..
At this moment, Democrats are unable to agree on getting rid of the slave era filibuster rule and are being bullied by McConnell and Republicans to back off from much-needed programs. They ponder while Republicans are swiftly turning a disaster caused by the attempted coup into a rallying cry. They are redefining what happened before our eyes as Democrats sit dumbfounded.
It presents an astute observation and makes an important point. Democrats spend a lot of time fighting each other. And more importantly, they do so by allowing Republicans to define who and what they are.
The mob of insurrectionists, wannabe revolutionaries, and crowd followers that assaulted the Capitol exhibiting their anger, frustration, and woeful ignorance, present us with a problem not easily fixed. After what we have witnessed, the current Republican Party cannot be entrusted to govern. Democrats must find the courage to take command and not to be dominated and defined by the right.
Tragically, recent reports and comments suggest McConnell is still in charge of the Senate and manipulating Democrats to have his way. The failure to get rid of the filibuster first used by John C Calhoun in the 1840s to protect the slave interest does not bode well for enacting meaningful change.
Power is of no value if you fail to use it. Democrats need to take command and control of the message. They need to define themselves and not allow themselves to be labeled by Republicans and right-wing media outlets. Timidity is not an option for this moment when so much is at risk. Our future is at peril, and lives threatened by extremists in our midst hang in the balance.
The words, “A republic if you can keep it” are credited to Benjamin Franklin after the Constitutional Convention when someone allegedly asked whether we had created a republic or a kingdom. It speaks to the question about having established a republic, what happens next? A democratic polity requires widespread acceptance, a commitment to its health, and a willingness to adhere to its principles and values. When that is no longer the case, we are witness to what can happen.
November 3, 2020, was the third presidential election since 2000, where the Electoral College became a central issue in determining the outcome. I am referring to the elections of 2000, 2016, and 2020. Although the Democratic candidate received the most votes, the Republican candidate was declared the winner in two by the Electoral College. Joe Biden won the Election of 2020 by more than 7 million popular votes and 306 electoral votes. The outcome should not have been an issue except for Donald Trump, supported by his loyal minions attempting to steal the election by every means conceivable. This bid to become god-emperor was a coup d’état attempt in plain sight with many complicit actors.
I remember the moment in early fall 1951 when I first encountered the word majority. I had just entered first grade at East Ward School in Wabash, Indiana, and on the playground for our weekly physical education class. Being over 80 years old, East Ward did not have a gym. All we had was a gravel-covered playground that surrounded the school and even covered the basketball court. Have you ever tried playing basketball on gravel? This was an old school in a poor neighborhood in a non-descript small Indiana town.
As part of our lesson that day, our traveling PE teacher, Mr. Smith, had us choose between two alternative activities. We did so by joining one side or the other by making two lines. After expressing our preferences, Mr. Smith announced our class activity was determined by what most of us had chosen. He explained finding out what most people wanted was how decisions are made in a democracy and that the United States was a democracy. We believe in the majority rule, he said with emphasis.
This was my first civics lesson, and I passionately believed what I learned then about how we govern ourselves. I still do, but I am no longer as optimistic. After the election campaigns of 2000, 2016, and 2020, it does not take a lot of intelligence to see we Americans have problems electing (if that is the right word) those who will represent us. The issues, unless fixed, are destined to grow and destroy what remains of our democratic republic. The corporate media constantly churning, endlessly repeating, regurgitating fact, pseudo fact, and lies to fill the 24/7 news cycle exacerbates the problem. The 2012 election results were still being counted when they began promoting their continuous political campaign cycle by speculating about who will run in 2016. Frankly, most of us are just trying to survive. We want our government to work and our elected representatives to solve problems we elected them to fix. Frankly, most did not give a damn at that moment about who would run in the next cycle. We cared about today. The interminable drivel continually served up by talking heads that serve corporate media bottom lines, not us, the American people, only compounds finding a solution to these problems.
It is also true unless compelling threats of our doom obstruct our way, nothing significant gets done. So, in that spirit, I offer a few ideas and suggestions. Perhaps they will provoke thought and comment and encourage discussion of our electoral processes I feel long overdue.
To begin, our public officials, media, and educators need to quit lying or misrepresenting the truth to us about our history and political processes, particularly presidential elections. For example: first, we do not have a national election day, we have elections in 50 states plus the District of Columbia held on the same day. It has not always been that way. Early in the 19th century, the election for president took place in different states throughout the year. Second, the national popular vote for president is a meaningless sham. A slave era relic, The Electoral College was intended to appease slaveholding states by controlling and thwarting the popular will. It allows a minority to control the levers of government. Third, is it too much to expect of media and public officials providing us expert information on election issues to know about the functions of government they speak about? Fourth, why are we, the public, never made aware of the millions of votes that are, for one reason or another, not counted? In 2012, it was reported that about 5.5 million votes would never be tallied due to error. It was because they were absentee or were provisional ballots that were systematically disqualified. Because it was believed counting them made no difference in the electoral outcome, they were discarded.
In 2020 Biden received 81,283,098 votes winning 51.3% of votes cast. Trump received 74,222,957 votes or 46.8% of votes cast. We had the largest voter turnout ever. There were 159,633,396 votes cast, representing 66.7% of the voting-eligible population. It was the highest voter turnout since 1900 when 73.7% voted, but only males voted in 1900. The greater numbers notwithstanding varied attempts by Republicans in the Red States to limit turnout of minority voters is due in part to early voting and especially voting by mail or absentee due to the COVID19 pandemic
In contrast, in 2016, about 138 million citizens voted of the approximately 242.5 million eligible, representing one of the lowest citizen participation levels of any democracy on this planet. Why? This low number stems from voter apathy, voter registration procedures, including voter photo ID cards, which discourage registration, particularly among the old, the poor, and minorities. We are the only democracy in which Election Day is a workday weekday instead of being either a national holiday or held on the weekend. Election Day is held in November during a time of the year weather often is a definite factor in turnouts. The time polls are open vary from state-to-state, with places like Indiana having voting hours that actually discourage working people from voting. Our two major political parties are both oriented toward servicing the same middle to upper-middle-class bias. No one is speaking to the lower 80% of the social-economic ladder. Neither party listens to or cares about the poor. Finally, The Supreme Court added nothing to this process in its 2000 Bush v. Gore decision but took away much. The Court, in effect, selected its own president. It set a bad precedent of having the Court interfering directly in the electoral process in a very partisan manner, issuing rulings that were, at best, confusing and contradictory. Then to make a mockery and turn democracy into absurdity, the Court, in Citizens United v. FEC, expanded the concept of the corporate person to have more rights than actual living persons. The more money you have, the more citizen you are and vice versa.
A defender of the Electoral College recently began his defense of this institution with a quote from the poet Robert Frost. Frost wrote, “Don’t ever take down a fence until you know why it was put up.” Good advice. So, we should look deeper beyond the usual reasons and excuses for the Electoral College and see what stands behind it. We were all indoctrinated about our founders wanting to protect us from majority tyranny. The rights of the minority must be safeguarded. It all sounded good, but we never examined what tyranny of the majority our founders actually were referring to? We never delved into whose minority rights were they really protecting? Oh, it was claimed there was the danger of the domination by big states over the small. The states with the largest populations would dominate and discriminate against the rest. This is the reasoning for the creation of the U.S. Senate and the Electoral College we were taught. Looking deeper, we know it was all a cover for their real intent.
The authors of this document represented a fine example of late 18th century thought influenced by the Enlightenment. The tyranny of the majority the founders feared was the mass of citizens of this country who wanted more democracy and more voice in their government. The new elite feared the people, as the elites always do, seeing them as a mob. The poor and the masses are what the elites refer to today condescendingly as “You little people.” They fear the participation of all our citizens. It threatens their privileges, and they do all in their power to limit the poor masses from voting or having a voice.
When we were taught about government and the Constitution, the protection of minority rights was emphasized. They had to be protected from the tyranny of the majority. Translated, what they really meant was that the elites needed protection from the masses. They wanted provisions inserted to ensure their position, power, and privilege in the new government. They were very successful. We live with their legacy in all its inequalities.
I grew up during the height of the Cold War. We were inundated with the virtues of American democracy. We stood every morning facing the flag to recite the pledge of allegiance to our civic god. We were continually drilled about the evils of communism. We were told how cruel it was but denied any attempt to discover why and understand what it was.
Our government promoted the idea of democracy around the world as well as at home during that time. We never realized while we promoted democracy to others, we denied and did all that was possible to keep from practicing it ourselves. If a country did create a democratic government, it had better not be in conflict with American aims and interests. There is a long list of countries that can attest to what would happen. The list is long and includes Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, Honduras in 1963, 2009, Chile in 1973, or the Dirty War in Argentina, Brazil in 1964, Greece in 1967, and numerous other places.
Is it any wonder that when we try to sell our democratic ideal, we are met with blank stares and suppressed laughter? Who would believe anything we are selling when we do not practice it ourselves?
Donald Trump and a substantial part of the Republican Party tried to subvert and overthrow the duly elected government. He used a plethora of underhanded and unconstitutional means that culminated with the violent assault on Congress. They simply revealed who they really are and what their vision for our country and society is. The Congress, after all, is composed primarily of the wealthy or soon to be rich. They have no interest in serving those who sent them there. They only think of protecting themselves and promoting their personal agendas as was evident in the last-ditch effort to overturn the 2020 election. Further, throughout this unprecedented assault of American democracy, did you once hear an utterance in opposition or condemnation to Trump from the wealthy and the corporate elites?
We survived an attempted coup by one who was cunning but ignorant. We were lucky Trump did not have more support. Our problems have been exposed. We have the choice and opportunity to make changes and fix what needs to be addressed to prevent a repeat. The second impeachment of Trump is a fact. His trial must lead to a conviction for the sake of our future.
If we do not punish someone for attempting a coup against our elected government. If we fail to punish those who gave their support. If we fail to learn from our failure after the civil war to make systemic changes to punish and shun those responsible, we have no future. Rest assured, the next aspiring autocrat will be far more intelligent and adept. He/she will use the system to destroy what is left and plunge us into an authoritarian or quite possibly a totalitarian black abyss.
Reflecting on the assault on the Capitol, lyrics of the Beatles song Revolution came back to memory. It seemed like an appropriate place to discuss where we find ourselves and the future we will shape or surrender.
“You say you want a revolution Well, you know We all want to change the world”
We all want to change the world. We all want a better life for ourselves, our families, loved ones, and our nation. It is not difficult to understand when a large segment of society is passed over, ignored, devalued, and forgotten by those who control the levers of power, that sooner or later, like a pressure cooker with a faulty pressure gauge, there is going to be an explosion.
The rebellion from the right we are seeing is a consequence of decades of neglect by our political system and both major political parties. Donald Trump, the wannabe dictator, and god-emperor was able to tap into and take advantage of this energy. He may not be the all-knowing stable genius, but he understands the disrespect, pain, frustration, and anger of a large segment of our society that has been ignored and left behind by technology, globalization, and the hoarding of wealth by a few. Trump is cunning in his manipulation of their feelings. He has conned them to believe he cares about them and speaks for them as all blame is placed on favored scapegoats. He tunes in to their fears using race, ethnicity, immigration, climate change denial, and his political opponents as targets to both deflect and direct their anger.
We most certainly have an abundance of problems. There is no denying many are angry and frustrated. Trump’s success in mobilizing these groups has been greatly enhanced by the ignorance of many of his followers. We have lied to and dumbed down American society over the past several decades with deliberate intention. It began with the Powell Memo written by future Supreme Court justice Lewis Powell to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 1971 that was a blueprint for corporate domination of American democracy.
“You say you got a real solution Well, you know We’d all love to see the plan”
The memo was a reaction to what many on the right and in corporate board rooms mistakenly believed was the threat posed by the demonstrations and acts of rebellion during the 1960s for civil rights and in opposition to the Vietnam War. In short, they panicked.
Their efforts to gain control and undermine everything in American society they identified as being a leftist threat was successful beyond their dreams as time progressed. The Reagan presidency, with the addition of neoliberalism and its adoption by the Democratic Party under the leadership of the so-called new Democrats, led by Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and ultimately Barak Obama, opened doors to opportunities only dreamed about.
The demise of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War was interpreted as a hint there was no longer any need to pursue changes to help the poor and the working poor. The impetus and necessity for reform were felt not only no longer necessary but not desirable. The emphasis was on getting all we could for ourselves. Others were on their own.
After more decades of neglect and seeing their jobs leave and being forced to take low-paying service jobs and struggling to make a living, the anger reached a boiling point. What we witnessed in the invasion of the Capitol Building was only a prelude.
“You say you’ll change the constitution Well, you know We’d all love to change your head”
It is easy to talk ourselves into getting our guns and pumping ourselves up to go out and make revolution or civil war without any clue or idea of what that really means. They have some romanticized notion of overthrowing what they see as the evil order creating their misery. All they have to do is show up in force with their weaponry and take over. Unfortunately, nothing is ever what we envision in our fantasies. Going down this path, we open doors with no idea and no control of the outcome Once you initiate this kind of action, the process takes over, and no one has the slightest idea of where it will end up. You should not believe and accept my word on this. You need to study history and discover for yourself.
Our own revolution in 1776 went in directions no one envisioned. What emerged in 1787 was not what most thought or would have wanted at the beginning. We can see what happened in France after 1789, in Russia after 1917, and elsewhere.
We all share the same wish. We want good-paying jobs, enough income to be comfortable and provide for our families. We disagree on the best way to achieve these dreams. In a society such as ours, there are inevitably divergent views. If we take the time to listen, we may discover we agree on far more than we disagree. Our government needs serious reform. The checks and balances our founders put in place 234 years ago have been breached, perverted, and neutralized by those who put their personal interests above the rest of us. The system is broken, and the social contract voided. The fault is our own, by our collective apathy and neglect.
“You tell me it’s the institution Well, you know You better free your mind instead”
As I watched in horrified silence at the assault on the Capitol, I recalled words spoken to me by a Russian emigre student in my U.S. History class in the late 1990s. He and his family had been forced to flee Uzbekistan after the collapse of the Soviet Union. We were discussing a historical event after class when he looked at my eyes. “You Americans are always in a hurry, but you don’t know where you’re going…You don’t realize how fast it can all go away.” At this moment I am reflecting on those words.
The way forward is for us to listen to the anger, frustration, pain, and feelings of disrespect and abandonment. We must be willing to listen and respond to their calls for help. We need to acknowledge their grievances and design programs to address their needs. We all occupy the same boat. If we fail to fix the leak at the bottom, those below may drown first, but we will all drown in the end.
The scenes were horrific. Watching the mob swarm and desecrate the U. S. Capitol, I sat mesmerized. I did not want to believe what I was seeing. I was enraged by images of hate being paraded, the Klan, Nazis, militia wannabes, Holocaust deniers, and particularly seeing the ultimate symbol of treason, the Confederate battle flag. I was dumbfounded by the lack of preparation for this attack. It seems obvious the mob had complicit help from those who are entrusted with protecting the building and all of us?
While what I saw was horrifying, I was not surprised. My use of the term “flyover country” in the title was intentional. I recently read Sarah Kendzior’s incredibly insightful books Hiding in Plain Sight: The Invention of Donald Trump and the Erosion of America and The View From Flyover Country: Dispatches From the Forgotten America. More importantly, I was born and have lived in flyover country all my life.
I grew up in a north-central Indiana community of around 12,000 during the 1950s and 1960s. The town had three Black families, all of whom lived in my neighborhood. Racism was not displayed overtly. It was more subtle. There were no problems as long as they stayed in their place. They understood this very well.
The 1950s were boom years across my area of Indiana. The shortage of labor resulted in businesses seeking workers, especially low-paid workers from elsewhere. My town experienced a large influx of families seeking work from impoverished areas of Eastern Kentucky coal country. They were poor, white, and their view of the world fit with local beliefs and attitudes.
It is no mystery or surprise this area of Indiana possessed a rural outlook. Most of the population was one generation removed from the farm, very conservative in outlook and holding prejudices against anyone different. Jews, Catholics, and Blacks were at the top of the hate list, but it did not end there. The Mexican field workers who came every summer to pick tomatoes at area farms were referred to in several uncomplimentary ways. I grew up hearing every dog whistle and derogatory characterization imaginable in referring to or identifying them from relatives, friends, and neighbors.
After my older brother joined the United States Air Force and was investigated for a security clearance, we learned an uncle by marriage had been a member of the KKK. In the 1930s, the Klan was powerful in Indiana and controlled the state and the governorship.
I remember family political discussions centered around the Russians and the communist menace. My relatives and neighbors seemed to believe godless commies were everywhere, and we had to be vigilant. I heard them say the commies were meeting secretly at some rural location to plot their overthrow of our government. I overheard some of my relatives say that the barber who cut my hair was one of them, probably because he was a Democrat.
Why am I sharing this with you? Because what happened on January 6, 2021, has a past. It did not suddenly appear. We should pay close attention to the issues, pain, and frustration that lead them to follow a demagogue and seek to undo an election, defile the Capitol, and overthrow our government.
As a city dweller, it is easy to overlook what is happening just outside our doors, beyond the sprawl of suburbs and the appearance of plentitude. Owning a lake cottage in rural Indiana for some time, I became reacquainted with the America that exists, hiding in plain sight. If more of us took time to see, we would be taken aback by what we discover a short distance from our backyards.
The counties in northern Indiana are known for their lakes and large Amish populations. It has also been home to some interesting religious groups. The fundamentalist evangelist Billy Sunday built and preached at a Tabernacle on Winona Lake by Warsaw, Indiana. Ultra-conservative Grace College occupies that space today. Evangelist and faith healer Hobart Freeman, a graduate Grace College and founder of the Faith Assembly, a cult that refused drugs and medications and met in a barn called the Glory Barn near North Webster, Indiana. Another cultish religious group, the Way International, was once headquartered in nearby Rome City. These Northern Indiana counties were at the center of the Meth Lab culture. It was and is a hotbed for the Tea Party movement. Extreme conservative religious and political beliefs are two of the region’s identifying characteristics.
This is the heart of Trump country. He won this area of the state by 30-40 percentage points in 2016, and it was pretty much the same in 2020. The reasons are all too evident. Take a trip down backcountry roads where a reality you do not see on the evening news is revealed. I was shocked and mortified witnessing the deteriorating conditions of lives. The squalor and poverty are evident. It continues to grow like cancer spreading and infecting everything in its path. The desperation is apparent and visible from pickup trucks sporting twin flags of either an American flag and a Trump 2020 banner or an American flag flanked by the Confederate one. I saw levels of poverty I had not seen since my youth visiting my father in South Central Kentucky, in the early 1960s. Here you see society literally decaying and disintegrating from the inside out. It exposes what has taken place all over the U.S. as jobs left followed by the slow strangulation of services that support lives.
One thing that captured my attention exploring these communities was their jails. The County courthouse was always the dominant structure. It was the largest building in town, usually dominating the main square in every county seat. Today things have changed. The prominence of the courthouse has been replaced the county jail. It seems every county has a big, new jail and Sheriff Department headquarters. You cannot help but feel we have our priorities confused and headed in the wrong direction.
Another insight I have taken away from these explorations into rural Indiana is disconcerting. For one, people are warm, friendly, and helpful. Life here is at a slower pace. The stars are visible in the night sky. They relish viewing the beauty of a sunrise or sunset. Conversely, many suffer from ignorance, prejudice, narrow-mindedness, religious fundamentalism, and bigotry. Their behavior reveals an underlying fear and distrust for people of color or of another ethnicity. Their form of conservatism incorporates extreme intolerance. Whipped up, they are capable of committing the most terrible and horrific acts against those who dare to be at variance or antithetical. This is the reality in this part of the heartland. This is the danger we face as we meet the future.
My wife was confronted and threatened by a farmer after she stopped on a county road to take a picture of a country scene that caught her attention. The farmer came out of his house and yelled at her not to take a picture of his property.
A couple years ago, I took the time to watch the corporate network news and log the location of the stories they aired. As time passed, what emerged was predictable. With rare exception, all the stories were from the coasts. The exceptions included a few scattered stories from Chicago, Denver, or elsewhere with importance or significance. Many of the stories were done in New York City or its immediate environs. It hints at the bias and blindness of corporate media and why Sarah Kendzior’s book, The View From Flyover Country, is so apt.
If the corporate media elite left their comfortable office towers and ventured inland, they might discover why the mob storming the Capitol was no surprise. Their anger and rage have been building for decades, fueled by both political parties’ abandonment of the working and rural poor. Their pain has been ignored. The millions who live in the so-called rust belt where industries vanished, jobs melted away, and vital and essential services dwindled, evaporated, and disappeared were forgotten and ignored.
In October 2019, I joined my sons in California to chase the Union Pacific Railroad’s restored “Big Boy” steam locomotive 4044. It came to Los Angeles as part of a system-wide excursion celebrating its restoration to service. We went out to the Yermo, California UP rail yard east of Barstow where it had stopped overnight on its journey. We ventured there to get close to this magnificent example of steam locomotion technology, but that is not all that attracted my attention. The road taking us to the locomotive took us down a desert highway through areas reminding me of a Mad Max movie set. We passed dilapidated homes sporting scrap sheet metal fences. The hulks of abandoned vehicles served as crude monuments or sculptures gracing barren yards. We stopped to eat at Peggy Sue’s famous 50s Diner for dinner before driving through Daggett, a town divided in two by the railroad. Half the homes seemed to be occupied, and the remainder appeared abandoned and deteriorating. This is the other America that has been and is being ignored. This is America where Donald Trump did very well. This is where the anger seethes and builds just below the surface, waiting to explode like a dormant volcano.