Monday, October 9, 2006

Monday with McKenna: Trauma and Transcendence

Terry McKenna is back with a piece that reminded me of the experience I had in my private practice nearly two years ago, in the wake of the Bush election "victory." Several folks called or wrote, some in tears, asking questions ranging from "how could this have happened in America?" to "I'm thinking of clearing out either to Canada or Costa Rica—do you have any advice?" I'm serious: people asked these questions, and the depth of their despair has been answered by the cataclysmic events brought upon us by the current tyranny in Washington.

But before we turn the blog over to Terry, I'd like to thank everyone who responded so positively to Friday's post about Ernest Becker. I'd like to specifically mention two leaders in Becker scholarship, Dr. Neil Elgee of the Ernest Becker Foundation, and Professor Sheldon Solomon of Skidmore College.

I personally feel fairly strongly that we'll need the help of academics and scholars in leading us through and out of the current darkness we live in today. Specifically, however, the intelligence we will need to call on will be the kind that Ernest Becker represented: the joining of brain and heart in a transformative synergy that surpasses the isolation of a mechanical intellect which says, "our power and military are greater" and "you're either with us or with the terrorists". And now, Terry McKenna on trauma and transcendence.

Trauma and Transcendence. The title comes from the just published memoir of Matthew Sanford. Matthew is a paraplegic who specializes in using a form of yoga to help the disabled.

That’s also what we are negotiating in the political sphere right now: Trauma and Transcendence. The Trauma is the seizure of power by a right wing plutocracy. Transcendence stands for the best way of coping with it.

Sadly, the Democrats are still in the post-trauma stage. Like shell-shocked victims, they seem unable to pull themselves up out of bed. Thus they remain puzzlingly mute on the WOT. They are starting to speak up, but not forcefully enough. And what about the economy? Job creation is meager, and if we look at the entire Bush era, even the best years were not robust. And so while the DOW rises, wages are flat. Unions, which once guaranteed good wages, are nearly gone from all but public employment – that may be ok, but we have failed to find a replacement for what they did best. AND FOR WHAT WORKERS NEED MOST!

Let me suggest a few last minute talking points:

WOT: a failure. All we have to show for it is the following: a few minor prosecutions of men who are clearly clueless; a mixed bag of middle eastern men in prisons who we’ve alternately beaten and tortured; and, of course, the Iraq war. To those who say that the US has prevented another September 11, I say nonsense – Al-Qaeda-inspired terror continues randomly around the world (from London and Madrid to Southeast Asia). We know of no successes.

The Economy: the benefits of the economy flow to corporations themselves, and to the investor class. Wages are flat, and the future promises fewer benefits to all but the brightest—or the luckiest.

Family Values: our economy delivers goods but no cultural values. Generations are ever more alienated from each other. Our suburbs are islands of personal prosperity, where people barely know their neighbors. Our cities are crumbling islands of the poor.

To help the Democrats get themselves off their sickbed, the fates have sent the Mark Foley scandal. It’s not a big deal in the grand scheme of things: it looks like the teenage boys were able to fend off this creep, but it’s a fitting symbol for the failure of this era’s Republicans to take personal responsibility for anything. It also gives the lie to their agenda of Family Values.

Personal responsibility is the central tenet of Republicanism and the basis for all of their social policies. Thus we see tax incentives to encourage personal saving that are supposed to grow enough to cover every personal need from retirement to medical care. Welfare reform was another sop to personal responsibility. Yet where is the personal responsibility for the many failures of the past 6 years? Thus, the importance of the Foley scandal. It’s yet another moment where, for all their bluster, the Republican leadership has gone into hiding. Everyone is pointing to Dennis Hastert, and he has given us but a single expression of remorse (this will surely not be the end of it). Democrats must seize upon this as the symbol of Republican failure - they must push hard – and push right now!

The facts of the Foley mess are fairly trivial, and nothing compared to the larger issues – the most prominent of which is the Iraq quagmire. Are we to continue to throw away the lives of young American men and women?

At every phase, the Bush administration made bad decisions, and tried to hide its failures with spin. That the American people were duped doesn’t make the lies less of a crime. That no one has been fired* along the way is amazing, and unprecedented in the annals of war. Remember Rumsfeld’s smarmy comments that freedom is messy – he for one should have been dismissed long ago. And what about Abu Ghraib? A single reserve general removed, and a few soldiers convicted (one of them, Lindy Englund appears to have been just a few IQ points above developmentally disabled).

The president has only lately alluded to mistakes, but he shows neither remorse nor any aggressive plan for change. George Bush saves his aggression for partisan rhetoric.

The Democrats appear to have the electoral momentum, and for the sake of the Republic, I hope they win. The polls seem to suggest victory too. But I have a bad feeling about this one. Democratic rhetoric is weak and with heavily gerrymandered districts it’s hard to make headway in the House. Besides, I fear just plain bad luck.

Then what? If we face the trauma of another disappointing election, we may be at a crossroads, where we face decades of single party rule. If that happens, we can find our solace in transcendence, or we may resort to politics by other means (violence). Violence is not unknown in American society. In the 19th century, our cities would periodically erupt into riot and mayhem. The 20th century was a safer century domestically by and large, but labor riots were frequent in the 1930s. Race riots also were not unknown (in the pre-civil rights era, the rioters were whites out to harass blacks).

After WW2, we flirted with peace and prosperity, but by the 60s, African Americans found their alienation intolerable. Those with the best education and talent pushed their way into white institutions; but the poor rioted. The Viet Nam war also created the need for those most impacted (draft aged kids then unable to vote) to speak up over their dissatisfaction and alienation. Campuses broke out in riots; eventually, the draft was ended, and the right to vote moved down to citizens at their 18th birthday.

This election is an opportunity for change, but bracing myself for another trauma, I’m focusing on how to bolster my spirit. If things don’t go well, I may try yoga. But what about the rest of us? If we get another Republican victory, it may be the harbinger for an unsettling future.

--T. McKenna


* A few folks who tried to tell the truth were fired – especially those who said we needed more soldiers, and that the war would cost more.

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