The Death of the Civic Good

Massive disparities in wealth and power along with the weakening of worker protections and the destruction of the social state are now legitimated through a set of market-driven values in which politics is measured by the degree to which it evades any sense of actual truth and turns its back on even a vestige of moral responsibility.”

-Henry A Giroux, in “Farewell Mon Amour: Prospects on Democracy’s Electoral Defeat,” in Truthout Op Ed, 26 October 2010

“As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so they may take hold of the life that really is life.”

– 1 Timothy 6: 17-19.

A woman spoke to me the other night of her distinct feeling that anyone who demanded that Social Security be given to them were actually taking an entitlement and that this was a dangerous mentality in the United States among Americans today: this sense that we have become lazy and indulgent and wish only to have government give things to us we have not earned. Of course, I reminded her that people pay into Social Security all of their working lives which might last as long as thirty or even forty years.

Sharon Angle, the likely winner of a Senate seat in the United States Congress feels those who have to accept unemployment compensation for any length of time are lazy and should be made to take the many jobs that go begging to be filled in America every day. Economists tell us that for every five people who want a job and needs one too, there is only a single job to be had. Further, what you get on unemployment is so far below what you could honestly earn by working that those who cannot find a job are food for the economic sharks that lurk in today’s troubled waters.

A man in Tennessee had his house burn down and he and his family lost everything but their lives because he forgot to pay a fee to have the Fire Department do what they used to do for people who pay taxes in a given locality. He was and is a taxpayer in that community of long-standing. It is uncertain what the additional charge beyond taxes is for police protection and to be allowed to speak to a public official about something but Struggles For Justice can find out.

Teachers and public employees around the nation are under attack for simply being public employees. Their mere existence is cause for resentment. They are seen today more as parasites than real contributors to the civic good. They are the firefighters, police, librarians, teachers, and people who do work that we take for granted. It is conveniently forgotten by those critics of government that these same public employees are not exempted from paying taxes, and obeying the laws, and are even sometimes involved in doing good in their communities. But you would not know it in today’s poisoned political environment where these people have to be scapegoated to cover the cupidity of corporate capitalism. In Wisconsin a candidate and soon to be governor, has proposals that add up to the fact that the average public school teacher in the state will have to come up with eight thousand dollars a year in out-of-pocket expenses to satisfy this man’s plans for the state in the coming years. No other group is being savaged so cruelly in his announced plans as governor. It really raises the whole question if the 14th Amendment rights to equal protection of these people are being violated here. Not even other public employees will be asked to sacrifice so much. As to private sector employees? Well who would vote for a man who says I demand eight thousand more dollars from you so vote for me. You would have to be nuts or unbearably altruistic to support such a candidate. Incidently, he is Scott Walker, Wisconsin Republican. Teachers already sacrifice a great deal. The rest of those who serve us and fill the inevitable wholes in our private market-driven society today are the enemy.

In Arizona, the prison industry is literally already counting up their coming profits which they hope to realize by detaining people suspected of being illegals. They may later be found to be fully lawful citizens of the nation but here the motive is pure greed.
The poor, public employees, the disabled, the weak, anyone in distress, is seen as sucking on the lifeblood of the rest of us while the real bloodsuckers are held up as the victims in need of more aid by the very government that they attack so passionately. When you make prisons a profit-making industry you provide the strongest possible economic incentives to lock people up. Increasingly, states are turning to private enterprise to run their prisons. The result is that justice, also a part of the civic good, is left gasping for air and lying sprawled on the floor of the public interest.

Guns and God and a firm belief that the market should be the entire public sphere, leaving no oxygen for what we used to call the civic or public good, is the rule of the day. We are witnessing the death of the civic good in the United States.

There is a drive to atomize society into a mere collection of individuals who owe nothing to anyone else. The old idea that we must collectively act to do what is right for all of us is lost. Yes, the founders of this nation emphasized individual rights and liberty. We still revere it and always should. But we know that for communities to be healthy there must also be a sense of the larger public interest: the collective good of society. We must see that what we do or fail to do for our brothers and sisters in this nation has a direct bearing not only on us but on the environment for justice and good and decency and right that beats in the heart of any true American or human being.

That is what is at stake in the America of the here and now. It is no coincidence that when the Republican Party offers candidates who dismiss their larger civic responsibilities to help those who already have all the advantages our society can bestow, and who neglect people of color, the poor, and the disabled, the marginalized, and just ordinary people we are in trouble.

It has been a problem for us since about 1980, when an every man for himself mentality set in. Whatever their faults, activists for social justice, people of real faith, government employees charged with protecting us and our rights, working people in labor Unions, and liberals and Democrats have been backed up against a wall of anger, indifference, ignorance and misdirected resentment. People are increasingly voting and acting against their own interests as if they too were among the wealthiest and most powerful. They fail to see their self-destructive behaviors.

But it need not be that way. We can help one another. We can love one another. We can respect each other. The incident the other day where a woman was literally stomped on her head that was being held to the curb by a group of thugs connected to a U.S. Republican Senate candidate, the cuffing and physical arrest of three members of the public at a public school who had come to hear another Republican candidate speak, the threat to “crush” a radio station for permitting a candidate, also Republican, to be filmed in public, and so much more raises concerns about the nature of conservatives and what they want the United States of America to become.

Why has Struggles For Justice highlighted the misbehavior on the campaign trail by Republicans and not Democrats? Because this kind of disturbing campaign violence and meanness has yet to be demonstrated by the other party. It may be out there. Let us know and we will highlight it. But Democrats, liberals, public employees, the poor, people of color, immigrants, the disabled, the powerless all have need of the civic good. They have not tried to literally stomp it into the ground.

It is one of the most powerful ironies of the current election season and what will come afterward regardless of the outcome, that many people who profess a profound faith based on morals and ethics are the most resentful of the very people who are most in need of their assistance. There is a race for what’s in it for me and not what can we all do together to make our nation and world that better place we all truly crave. There are social justice Christians out there. No doubt Jews, and Muslims, and Buddhists, and Hindus and so many more people of faith want to do what is right. They want justice to be done.

How do we communicate to the other people in our nation who are so angry or so consumed with riches and power, and oblivious to the helpless and powerless among us that the public interest and civic good must return in our society for it to be in full health and be supported by us all. If we fail that test on Tuesday, November 2nd 2010 and again in 2012 and beyond, there are dark times coming to America. But Struggles For Justice must remain optimistic. We believe in the good that people can do who truly live out their faith or simply live out the sense of right and good that is their birthright as common members of humanity.

The choice is yours. Which side are you on? What will you do personally to see that the common, civic and public good is done and the selfishness, greed and rapaciousness that is gripping this nation come to an end?

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