There are many who worry that as money and capital continue to flow upward towards the apex of the pyramid that passes for our democratic republic America could turn into an impoverished wasteland pocked by secure, thick-walled gated communities behind which the very wealthy would hide from the ravages of torch and pitchfork bearing mobs.
An article in this month’s Harper’s suggests that Arizona may be on the cutting edge of becoming America’s first gated state. In “Tea Party In The Sonora,” Ken Silverstein walks us through the madness that passes for politics in Arizona.
The state is facing a financial crisis that makes California look wealthy by comparison. Silverstein cites as an example of the political “wisdom” that is driving the state a decision by the legislature to slash the budget for the Department of Revenue, which is responsible for tax collection. Sure, they saved $25 million, but one official estimates that by doing so the state will lose out on $174 million in revenue.
Howver, there is one quote from an Arizona resident that jumps out at the reader because it underscores the gated-community mentality that seems to dominate Euromerican thinking on the far-right fringe of our political spectrum. To this individual’s credit, her statement was so perceptive that I doubt she shares its sentiment. Commenting on the right’s aversion to big government, she said:
People who have swimming pools don’t need state parks. If you buy your books at Borders you don’t need libraries. If your kids are in private school, you don’t need K-12. The people here, or at least those who vote, don’t see the need for government. Since a lot of the population are not citizens, the message is that government exists to help the undeserving, so we shouldn’t have it at all.
Now, there’s gate-building with a vengeance. It personifies the attitude of many Euromericans: I’ve got mine; screw you! Unfortunately, I’m not sure it’s an attitude that is strictly confined to our wingnuts. On sometimes wonders if the democratic liberals are cowed by the right or if they’re somewhat in agreement with them. It’s the old “Yes-they’re-fine-as-long-as-they’re-like-us,” syndrome.
One of the things that is sending the right into its spasms of bigotry is the sense that the age of Euromerican supremacy is drawing to a close. This could explain our collective obsession with military spending and wars. If your economy is hollowed out, if, instead of a community, peoples’ lives have been reduced to one of fragmented isolation, if the good life has been reduced to a question of how much junk you own, then the only feel-good experience left in to go to war and kill somebody. It’s a great high, especially if you’re not the one doing the killing.
America’s strength has been her ability to absorb wave after wave of immigrants. It has not been easy; it’s been traumatic and violent at times. Yet, as each wave was assimilated, America was re-energized. One of problems facing Europe has been its inability to absorb its immigrants.
Each wave of immigrants has arrived in this country poor and, over several generations, has prospered, and, in doing so, has made its contribution to our greatness. My grandfather arrived in America in 1892 with just the shirt on his back. The third generation of his offspring included doctors, nurses, teachers and business people, all of them on the make.
Then there’s the right’s lament that the latest wave of Hispanic immigrants are overburdening what’s left of our social welfare system. This is as it must be because the America into which the Hispanic immigrates differs from the world into which my Grandfather immigrated.
When my grandfather immigrated to America, it took a team of men armed with picks and shovels to dig a ditch. Now the same ditch is dug by a single back-hoe operator with a union card in his wallet, which he probably inherited from his father. The social services provided to new immigrants are not money down a rathole; they are an investment in the contributions their children and their children’s children will make to our country, if we allow them to.
Fear corrodes a people. A frightened people can never be a free people, and the great irony of the right is that the very fear that powers it is eating away at the freedoms they claim to value. Once fear takes over there is neither a wall thick enough nor a gate strong enough to make it go away. The point is reached when fear ceases to be an emotion and becomes a way of life. The right, particularly in Arizona, appears to be in the vanguard leading us into that putrid swamp of fear and paranoia where dreams die.
But then, if you can still afford to buy books at Borders…