Why am I not surprised by Obama’s choice of Joe Biden as his running mate? Because I learned as a child: in America, the future never comes!
Should we shake our heads, wondering, when the candidate for “change we can believe in” chooses a consummate Washington “insider” as his co-agent for that change? Not if we understand that we have lived for decades in a military-industrial, media-fashioned, academia-certified, legally sanctioned Disney World/Murdoch World in which the future never comes.
Expecting the promised future is like expecting to find Weapons of Mass Destruction. Eventually, it becomes a vicious joke: like Bush looking under a table in the White House, then smirking at the camera, “Nope, not here, either.”
When I was a child, our teachers ushered us into the auditorium at PS 178 in Queens, New York … The ponderous movie screen lowered from the ceiling and the future unrolled: wives and mothers in evening gowns (!) danced (!) around spotless kitchens preparing gustatory delights for hubbies and kids. We would all drive shiny autos on super-elevated expressways winding around gleaming city towers. There was no traffic and everything went smoothly, thanks to guidance systems under the thoroughfares. The city was enclosed in a giant bubble dome for perfect climate control and protection from the nastier elements—hurricanes and blizzards. Other huge domes around the city sheltered the abundant food supply. Machines did the hard work, and people devoted themselves to leisure and self-improvement. There was, of course, no war, no violence. Everyone lived long and was youthful—in a technological Shang-ri-la, brought to our youthful attention by G.E. (only later did I learn that meant General Electric, maker of kitchen appliance-wonders and nuclear bombs). “We bring good things to life” was one of their slogans. Another was: “Progress is our most important product.”
No one asked, “Progress towards what?”
As I sauntered a little further down the primrose path, I was assured by no less of an heroic-romantic figure than John F. Kennedy that the U.S. was engaged in a “twilight” struggle against the forces of darkness and tyranny. Once we triumphed in the struggle (and our triumph was assured because we were—though no one would quite say it—on the side of righteousness and God), once we triumphed it would all be sweetness and light and we’d reap the harvest of our sacrifices: the world of the spotless kitchens and gleaming city towers, and, of course, later, California dreamin’. Then Kennedy was dead, King was dead, and year after year the future was prorogued in Vietnam. Someone had to pay for that postponement and no better unshaven character was available than Richard M. Nixon. No better one until Jimmy Carter caught us napping with his speech about our “national malaise.” In cardigan sweater and with fireplace logs crackling, he tried to warn us that the future of cheap oil and endless consumption wasn’t coming. How dare he? the media roared, and we got back on track with the man on the horse who not only saw the gleaming towers, but the “city on the hill,” as well. Reagan’s stooge-in-waiting, George Bush Sr., packaged the future in an end-of-the-Cold War “dividend”; while his successor–sax-playing, cool-shaded Clinton–surfed the wave of an orgiastic stock market dot.com bubble, and somehow the healthcare system that he and the missus were elected to repair and improve got lost in the shuffle in Serbia. And when kids got killed in Waco or Iraq, Janet Reno and Madeleine Albright assured us all it was worth it—the future would be better!
So, by now, I’ve given up on it. When mealy-mouthed Bush or Cheney or Rumsfeld or Rice assured me of quick victory in Iraq, a world made safer because a dictatorship would be dismantled, I didn’t bat an eye. I knew that future would not come.
The future does not come largely because the past upon which these liars and fantasists fabricate edifices of deception never was. We never were a glorious little Republic that had taken on the nefarious British empire in order to establish freedom and democracy on a new continent. How could we make such a claim in the year of our Constitution’s ratification when a fifth of the nation’s denizens (not “citizens”) were slaves? Did we then fight a Civil War to amend that evil? Did we amend that evil only to have a now “united” nation continue its genocide against its tribal peoples? Remember the Alamo? Did we conquer half of Mexico to avenge the attack on Davy Crockett or because we wanted the gold in California? Did we beat down Spain to help the Cubans, or to conquer the Cubans and the Filipinos as well? Did we take on Germany in the War to End All Wars because of the Kaiser’s iniquities, or because we wanted a seat at the victors’ table—to save that still nefarious British empire and get our share of the spoils? Did we take on Hitler to save the Jews (a half century of movie and book propaganda seems to indicate this)—or was it to establish our hegemony in the capitalist world, the burgeoning New World Order that followed the horrific blood-letting?
“History,” Napoleon said, “is an agreed-upon myth.” If the future never comes, and the past never was, what have we got to stand on now in this impinging moment? “The present is too much on the senses,” Robert Frost wrote, “too present to imagine.” And that is the crisis we democrats with small “d’s” must face now. We are a people bereft of real choices because our capacity to imagine a real world–a doable, viable world–has been shattered. We find that we have been gulled about the real nature of our world and our very circumscribed lives within it. Our politicians are not the only ones with “handlers.” We have all been “handled” by fraudulent dream-makers and shape-shifters. One wonders if we dead will awaken in time?