The Disaffected

Author: Gary Hart

Political insiders, practitioners and the media, treat America as a nation divided between two Parties, Democratic and Republican, and two ideologies, liberal and conservative—though those latter terms mean very little any more.  This simplified view makes analysis easier, if not also clearer, and lends itself to sports analogies, winners and losers, and even religious analogies, good and evil.

The difficulty, of course, is that it leaves out upwards of a third or even forty percent of the nation, those who list themselves as independents or who don’t bother to engage in the political process, even by voting, at all.

Political scientists spend time and money trying to profile these non-participants and Parties try to sign them up for membership, largely to no avail.  Discounting the laziness factor and the “plague on both your houses” mentality, it does seem worthwhile, especially in an era of disaffection and disillusionment, to seek some understanding of this third American Party for what it might tell us about the nation’s future.

The rolls of the disaffected have increased in recent times by an intensified attack on the United States Government itself.  Sometime in the late 1970s or early to mid-1980s a pattern formed among candidates for national office, first on the right and then spreading to the left, to campaign against “Washington”, even as the candidates were appealing for votes to go to Washington.  Many of the disaffected noted this irony and marked it down for the cynicism it revealed.

The term-limits movement in the 1980s boomed then disappeared as many who espoused it decided life in Washington was better, after all, than life in Oshkosh.

And repeated pledges by conservatives to “change things”, “drain the swamp”, and “shrink the size of government” came to little or nothing once in power.  As the Republican Congress is now realizing, it is one thing to promise your “base” to repeal the Affordable Care Act simply because it was promoted by President Obama and another thing, to actually get rid of a program offering health care and insurance that millions of Americans want and need.

In addition to the cynicism created by the constant barrage of attacks on “Washington”, there is the blatant deficit of courage.  There are more fingers on one hand than examples of politicians putting the interest of the nation ahead of their political careers.  Try to remember a recent example of a profile in courage, a vote against self-interest, a willingness to condemn presidential conduct that is rude, vulgar, deceitful, or simply juvenile.  Party loyalty is more important than defense of the dignity of the Presidential office.

To paraphrase the immortal Dante, there is a special place in hell for those who, in times of moral crisis, preserve their silence…and their cowardice.

Then, on top of cynicism and cowardice, there is corruption.  Putting special, narrow, and privileged interests ahead of the common good is a threat to the existence of any republic, including the American Republic.  And corruption, indeed this form of legal and sanctioned corruption, is rampant in our nation’s Capitol.

The halls of Congress are swarming with more than 13,000 registered lobbyists for those special interest and thousands more who hide behind the title of “strategists”.  That number now includes more than 400 former Members of Congress and hundreds more of former Administration officials of both Parties.

They raise and contribute campaign funds and thus trade in the coin of the realm—access.  And the privileged opened door gets you half way home to the lucrative result you want and need.

Many people don’t vote because they don’t think it makes a difference, or they are exhausted from holding two or three jobs, or are looking for work, or are financially or culturally adrift.  But many more choose not to participate in a system characterized by cynicism, cowardice, and corruption.

It is impossible to know where this pattern ends.  Some think it marks the decline of democracy itself.  The more hopeful believe that when we hit bottom politically, there will be a moral revival, a renaissance of civic duty, a return of genuine patriotism.

It is probably too cliqued to say we are at a crossroads of this sort.  But, on the other hand, we may be.

5 Responses to “The Disaffected”

  1. Paul Borg Says:

    Dear Senator Hart,

    This republic demands, for its preservation, the highest personal qualities and abilities its citizens can muster in its service. We have been at crossroads before. We are at one now.

    A revolutionary war, a civil war, two global conflicts and an unending stream of war, since, has taken its toll on us. We have been unable to create an economic order that is just and equitable for all and this too weighs heavily on many of us. We have horrific weapons of mass destruction that in reality have us in thrall. The planet is becoming increasingly inhospitable to our species. Many of us have lost faith in ourselves and are becoming more than willing to, in our freedom, surrender to something that promises a fiction in exchange for our right to that same Liberty. There is a force that is sucking the natural Joy out of us and offering replacements that never satisfy. What are we to do?

    The list of excuses goes on and on. This republic is the refuge of the wise and honest. For those of us that are disaffected, please reengage and assist those of us engaged in the political process . Perhaps, if you can effectively voice the merits of the road not taken, we may find in it a reason to change course. Those of us who have capacity to make a difference in the halls of government, please, during this critical time, surrender your personal ambitions and look to needs of our People. You will be remembered for this.

  2. LORENZO CHERIN Says:

    There is nothing cliched about anything herein, just sense , a level of sense uncommon and a sense of what can be done to change things for the much better.

    Today is the one hundred anniversary of the birth of President Kennedy. I have just had published on an excellent site , Ustinov Forum, which I am a member of and contributor to, a piece I have written, Inaugural Redress, can I take the opportunity on this day to encourage people to visit the site, for it’s terrific work. As this anniversary commemorates the late , great , President and man of so much promise, the site and its work, started by Ustinov,s son, Igor Ustinov, himself a sculptor, commemorates the work of the late great humourist, actor, humanitarian ambassador. Both great men, I admire hugely. The full title or name of the site is Ustinov Prejudice Awareness Forum, it is dedicated to the sort of concerns these two did so much on , it has less traffic than it should , so thought I would share knowledge of it, as all are free to apply to join, and once accepted , or , they refer to it as nominated, nominees , can write for the website and contribute to it,s work for good.

  3. Gary Hart Says:

    Is it a cliche` to say clique? GH

  4. Eric Jacobson Says:

    Senator, the purportedly legal means of palm-greasing of elected pols to obtain “access” you eloquently describe is a symptom of an even deep-seated corruption that has for decades ossified opportunity and fairness in our Not-Great Society.

    Sometime during the 1990s Lord Acton’s dictum (“power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”) began to resolutely govern the thinking and actions of all advantaged people in our country. The wealthy and upper-middle class essentially seceded from the union and formed their own society-within-a-society. It’s territorial lines were largely invisible (although zip codes and gated communities are part of it), but its force became palpable in every transaction and detail of American life.

    Class standing began to control the outcomes of virtually every employment, educational, purchasing, credit, housing, health care, professional, law enforcement and other criminal and civil justice transaction. And lamentably, class likewise came to govern many if not most personal relationships, particularly serious ones. Significant social mobility and fairness became a myth (with exceptions proving the rule). In short, as 2 prominent presidential candidates (Sanders and Trump) said in 2016, the entire system became “rigged”.

    In a 2003 book titled “Somebodies and Nobodies: Overcoming the Abuse of Rank” Oberlin College president Robert W. Fuller belatedly tried to identify this form of class warfare as an “ism” (ala racism, sexism, etc.), dubbing it “rankism.” The name never caught on. But in 2007-2008 the “haves” sure employed it, moving heaven and earth to ensure that their own privileged kind only took a “haircut” not a “bath” during the Great Recession, one the elites’ own recklessness and greed had caused. African-Americans, on the other hand, saw most of their household net worth plummet with real estate prices.

    This morning on NPR, reporter Steve Inskeep (to his credit) interviewed Richard V. Reeves, a British scholar and author of the new book “Dream Hoarders”, who is taking another stab at naming the class problem of our epoch, which NPR summarizes as the manner in which “the wealthiest 20 percent of Americans unfairly grab opportunities for themselves and their children.” Listen to it and weep: http://www.npr.org/2017/05/31/530843665/blame-the-top-20-percent-not-the-1-percent-author-argues

    Part of the solution lies in massively restructuring our institutions and the people who staff them to promote what Fuller called the dignitary interests of the multitudes. For example, in 1997 I urged law schools to revise their admission criteria accordingly: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5ilXuTzT1mlejlQUjVfbGRENWs/view?usp=sharing .

    But my suggestion, like Fuller’s after mine, went unheeded. Perhaps Reeves’s will now break through. In a best case scenario, maybe the new Trump Administration will now “get religion” and actually do what America’s vast majority of non-elite voters (including a statistically significant segment of previous Sanders’ voters) elected them to do: Drain the swamp, throw the money-changers out of the temple of government and unrig the system. In sum, in the subtitle of Reeves’ book: Stop the wealthy and the American upper middle class from “leaving everyone else in the dust.”

  5. Paul Borg Says:

    Dear Senator Hart,

    “After more than a half century, the historical truth of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy has been finally established beyond rational dispute. The Kennedy assassination is a false mystery….” —Vincent Salandria, 2016

    https://ratical.org/ratville/JFK/FalseMystery/contents.html

    I bring this up in order to demonstrate the existence of many Americans that demonstrate extremely high levels of integrity and love for the truth. I hope it may be a comfort to many of us that they truly exist and are making every effort in a compassionate and responsible manner to lead us out the darkness and in so doing, empower us to reverse the wrongs that have been committed in the past. May we forgive ourselves our ignorance and God willing, proceed in good faith to re-establish this republic and its governing institutions as it was meant to be: not static and intransigent but as a living entity that is capable of adaptation to new circumstances and able to heal itself.

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