Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Coming Upheaval ?

                  " Gentlemem, I implore you; change the spirit of the government, for it is that spirit that is leadfing you to the abyss. "
Alexis DeTocqueville, speech to the French Chamber of Deputies, January 1848 ( Six months later, France was in the  throes of revolution.)

                      Most of my adult life has been devoted to the study of politics in general and Aerican politics in particular. I was born in 1958, and have vague but real memories of  the end of the Age of Ike and the Camelot era. I lived through the extraordinary upheaveals of the nineteen- sixties. The Vietnam War and Watergate were  the formative experiences of my early years.. I have studied American political institutions and the their history. I know the nuts and bolts of american politics. I have observed every important American politician, and every political trend  and idea of the last half century.  I think I can confidently say that America may now be going through one of the most profound political crisises of its history,  a veritable   " crisis of the regime."

                     It has been bad in this country before now.  The late seventies witnessed what Paul Johnson, the British jouranlaist and popular historian, cal,led "Americas  suicide attempt". . Many American were vexed and troubled in those days of nationwide "malaise".  America seemd Impotent, adrift and purposeless.  I remember it all too well.
                    However, those dark days of the late seventies, when the nation wa still reeling from Watergate and the Vietnam debacle, were nothing compared to the anxiety and pessimism which seem to grip us today. Some like to compare our current situation to the great Depression, when some thoghtful observers feared America might go to Communist or Fascist. ( Indeed, some Americans hoped we would. ) However, back in those days, most Americans still retained a stubborn faith in our basic institutions. No, for a full parallel with what is going on today, we would have to go back still further in our history.  I am not refering to the Populist and Progressive insurgencie sof the  eighteen nineties and early nineteen hundreds. Instead, , I am goiing back still further, to the  "Disruption of Democracy" , the "Ordeal of the Union', the chaos which gripped America in the years leading up to the Civil War.

                    I realiz
e some of you mioght think I am waxing apocalyptic or even hysterical, but all the signs are there. A few weeks ago, the well-seasoned observer of, and participant in, American politics,James Carville,  was guset on Imus in The Morning, and he claimed that he seriously feared  civic unrest in America.  Only yesterday, another guest on the same program, John LeBoutillier, recounted aconversation he had had with two veteran Democratic parrty strategists, Pat Cadell and Doug Scoen, in which they said America was in a virtually " pre-revolutionary" situation. Never in their collective experience had either of these two veteran observers  sensed a more profound pessimism and anger among most Americans, or a greater gap in belief and outlook between the average voter and the members of Americas political class.  Both parties are held in widespread contempt, our whole political process is seen as profoundly corrupt, and American instituions are seen as more unreliable than ever before. More and more Americans have almost lost faith in the American dream, and are convinced that their children will grow up in a world far worse than that of their parents.
                      What is particularrly  scary about the times in which we live is the possibilty of an unsrupolous demagogue taking advantage of the chaos. A third party candidate with what Emerson once called " nerve and dagger"(and a large bankroll"  attempt to take adavantage of the curren drift and malaise .  Somewhere out there in America there is someone who fits the bill. We might get lucky, and this outsider might be a genuine statesman.  However, I have my doubts. In short,  America is in deep trouble, and it will take enlightened statesmen- aand informed and prudent citizens-  to rescue us. Unfortunately, both seem to be in short supply at present.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Living On the Edge

       I have been away from this blog for almost a month, concentrating on other matters. For one thing, I am trying to co- write two articles- one scholarly, one popular- on Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Dubois. For another, I have  been trying to earn a (small) amount of money working on a modest research project for a professor friend. This last has been especially important, as I am a man who is living in dire poverty. I have had no  almost income since April, and I have crushing bills. Because of the article writing and the research, I have been unable to make any further progress setting up my long dreamed of consulting firm.

         However, most of my time is  simply surviving. My mother is almost 77 years old and survives on inadequate social security payments. When I have  academic income, it is easier for us, but I am temporarily unemployed. This is why the two articles are especially important. If I "publish", my chances of a full-time job increase slightly. If I can follow up the two articles with something substantive on Abraham Lincoln, my chances increase exponentially.

                In a way, my academic inactivity is a blessing in disguise, as it gives me the time to actually write important things..things more important than this blog, which seems to have attracted scant interest.I have an idea for a book about life in the academic underclass, all of those over educated  but underemployed academics, toiling at a patchwork of part-time jobs. I often wish I had left academe for a more lucrative career in the world, instead of accumulating huge  debts  getting a PhD which has only resulted in a job which nets me little money.

                 Then why do I persist? I persist because I love teaching. I have the crazy notion that I have something worthwhile to impart. Almost all of my students like me; some have become close friends. Some have even told me that my teaching has inspired them to care more about citizenship and our public life. I only wish that all my work  gave me more income than a janitor. Perhaps it will someday.