The American “Helplessness Syndrome” and How to Defeat It
By Timothy V. Gatto
Ask anyone that has any understanding of what is really going on politically and economically in this nation and their answers will probably be very close to the truth. If you then ask them what we can do about changing the current situation, unfortunately, the answer will probably be “nothing”. Why is this so?
Here you will get a range of different answers. When you ask people about changing the way money decides elections for example, people will tell you that the politicians won't change the system. If you suggest electing different elected representatives, they will explain that you can't elect anyone without a truckload of money (classic Catch-22). This is the classic conundrum in the American system.
The unfortunate truth is that this happens to be pretty much the case. I know that some will point out to people like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and proclaim that you can indeed change America via the ballot box. Surprisingly, I’m going to agree with those people, but not for the reasons that you may think.
First of all, the people of the United States are not going to effect change through the two-party system. On a Federal level, there will be few primary wins by candidates that don't fully support the national platform. The exceptions to this have been by some tea-party candidates, but even these candidates have largely been bankrolled by the Koch brothers and other ultra-conservative PAC’s. Sometimes a celebrity will be elected on name recognition, but usually these people aren't very effective.
The political sector isn't the only sector where people feel this helplessness. Still, it is a very important part of any chance of change in this nation, but it is probably the most important, and I'll come back to this later.
A student told me at a fried chicken joint that he had recently graduated from Clemson. I asked him if he had any job prospects lined up. He said he was looking. It was hard for him to launch a full-time job search because he was working two jobs and was paying off medical bills for recent back surgery. I told him that the medical bills could wait and he told me that his student loans couldn’t. It was hard enough trying to get a job in his engineering field, and with a bad credit report, it would be even more difficult. So, two part-time jobs and no medical insurance and a degree to boot, this is the “new normal”.
When I went to Summerville, outside of Charleston, SC for a political meeting, I met a nurse, in scrubs, who told me that he had to leave for a few minutes to pay the title loan on his car. When the meeting was over, I asked him why he had taken out a usurious title loan at 150% interest when he was an RN (how very rude of me, I know). He told me that he was only working ten hours a week and it was either take out the loan or not pay his mortgage. We had quite a discussion that was a real eye-opener for two reasons.
One of the reasons he lost his full-time job was because an old shrapnel wound he received from Desert Storm (He was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army Reserve) had led to gangrene in his foot and had led to his foot being amputated. When he went back to his job after his recovery, there was no job waiting for him. He went to State and filed charges. They brought him back on but changed his job to where he had to be on his feet 8 out of every 10 hour shift. This was impossible for him, he had to quit.
This time he leveled a discrimination claim against his former employers (a large hospital/healthcare corporation) and they refused to settle with the State. Now it must go to arbitration and he told me that the process could take years. This is not the end of his story.
He made a claim at the VA over his foot injury from Desert Storm that he believed led to the amputation. The infection started in the same place as the injury that caused the gangrene. The VA denied his claim because he now had diabetes and they claimed that the diabetes was the cause of the infection that led to the amputation. This may be so, but now he is going to the DAV with his medical records from his Doctor’s. Since the VA is so backlogged because of funding deficits’ due to budget cutbacks (and the sequester), that could take years.
Meanwhile, he is looking for full-time work. Hospitals say that they can't hire him because of his experience; they would have to pay him too much. Recent nursing school grads are much more inexpensive. Instead of paying him 36 dollars an hour, they can get a new nursing grad for 24 dollars an hour. When he replied that he would work for 24 dollars an hour, they told him that it is against corporate policy. They must pay people what they are worth, it’s corporate policy. After all, it’s only fair.
Then there is the family that finally gets the knock on the door that they have been expecting and dreading since Dad lost his job. Dad has been working two part-time jobs and Mom has been trying to be a homemaker while working 20 hours a week at a large department store. Neither of them can get medical insurance from their jobs and their premiums are running almost 1600 dollars a month for Dad, Mom and the two kids (and they feel lucky to have it). The house is 65,000 dollars under-water but it doesn't matter, they can’t keep up their mortgage payments anyway.
Now the Sheriff is here and he hates to do this, he’s been doing it three or four times a day since this “economic downturn” started. They are all pretty must resigned to the fact that they must do what they all have to do. Most of the family’s things are already in storage and luckily for them they have relatives that will take them in temporarily. This is another “new normal” situation, even though they are living in the most prosperous nation on Earth.
I could go on, and I’m sure that anyone reading this could recant similar stories or experiences. Is there anything we can do or is this just life? Do these examples show as some of our leaders have insinuated that somehow these people didn’t work hard enough or plan ahead for unexpected misfortune? Are the wealthiest amongst us really smarter and better prepared to face any challenges that life places before us? Is it, or should it be, an ethos of survival of the fittest here in America, or should the government have an obligation to look out for the welfare of its citizens?
The hard-liners in the Republican Party say that it isn't the government’s job to coddle people that can’t make it in today’s society. They have nurtured and reinforced the meme that everyone in America has an equal chance at grabbing that big brass ring, and if they can't then it is their own fault, any other reason that is given is just an excuse.
The sad part about this is that a majority of Americans have bought into this notion. It’s easy to understand why. The media portrays most of our heroes as having come up through poverty or adverse situations to triumph over their enemies and their environment. But that is what makes up a successful story, book or movie. If it were the norm, it would not interest people. It’s the fact that it very rarely happens… that’s what fascinates people! Still, some Republicans and Democrats would have you believe that everyone who tries will eventually make it into the upper echelons of the economic class. The worst thing about this is that many Americans believe it!
They did until they lost their shirts in this great recession. Some still believe it, but many are feeling powerless and helpless. What can we do? Well for one thing, we can stop believing in fairy tales! We are all not going to make it to Beverly Hills and shop on Fifth Avenue and vacation in Mali or Costa Rica every winter. Sometimes no matter how hard we work, no matter how hard we plan, it’s just not going to happen.
A Solution to Helplessness
We as a people must make smarter and better decisions on how to survive in the future. One of the first and foremost things we must remember is that we are living in a nation that has the greatest economy on Earth! How does that help the average citizen?
Now we get back to politics. No, I'm not talking about stripping the rich of its wealth. It would be nice for a while, but after their money is gone, what do we do then? No, the key is to stop spending money on perishable things like the 53% of our discretionary spending on war machines and ordinance. To stop spending money on maintaining almost 1,000 overseas military bases. To stop spending money trying to secretly overthrow governments we don't like or fighting real and proxy wars in places most people couldn't point out on a map.
There are hundreds of other ways like fixing the infrastructure that would add 10’s or 100’s of thousands of jobs so that people could buy things that would spur the economy. Ideas like this are only common-sense. But how do we do it? The government shows neither the will nor the way to make any of this happen. We can't change the government because we can't change the way elections are run, and they are run by people and organizations with very big pockets. It appears that no one not controlled by money can even run in an election with any chance of winning.
There is a way to circumvent the current political system
. There is a way but the time must be right and I think the time is right now. I'm not talking about revolution or violence. That will get us nowhere but destruction, loss of life and even more unemployment and economic chaos than we have now. I’m talking about people working together to change things through the system we have now by replacing all of the corrupt people that control the two major political parties.
In order to accomplish this, we first of all must render these two political parties obsolete. The first way to do this is to understand how they have managed to keep us tame and docile with respect to their interests. They have done this by fomenting division. We are a divided people. We label each other. We don’t look at each other as people in the political arena anymore. We are liberal or conservative, right or left, pro-life or pro-choice and so on and so on. We have progressive Democrats and tea-party Republicans and blue-dog Democrats along with centrists (whatever they are).
We have issues that affect maybe just a small minority of us that they use to fan the flames of dissent to keep us firmly in their grasp. They keep us divided so that we will never unite, even when it is apparent that in some way we are all being locked out of the benefits of living in the richest nation on Earth. We must, above all else, throw out this label mentality. We are liberal in some beliefs and conservative in other beliefs and that includes all of us. Nobody is all liberal or all conservative. As far as left or right, what does that really mean when you think about it? They keep us fighting with each other so we don't see the big picture, and that picture shows a rapidly disappearing middle-class that is being replaced with the working poor.
If the Egyptians can overthrow a military dictatorship that had been in place for decades, without resorting to full scale violence, why can't we get people into office that aren't bought and paid for by special interests? Furthermore, how did they do it?
They did it by using their heads and using social media. That’s the same way we can win elections against multi-million dollar budgets and media control by the duopoly. The way we overcome the media is to circumvent it. Just because a candidate spends millions on ads doesn't mean he wins. People can only take so much of that anyway.
What we need are candidates that will put in the time to tour the Districts and the States that they seek election in, sharing their twitter feed and their campaign webpage with everyone that they talk to. The candidate needs to garner each supporter’s e-mail address by having a tablet where people can enter it. Attached to that tablet needs to be a square reader so that the campaign can take donations on the spot.
Precinct and block captains need to be recruited and talked to a regular basis. Staffers can work out of their homes. The key to a successful grassroots campaign however isn't just the logistics. The key to a successful campaign is to transform it into a movement and include everyone that participates so that it also becomes a fellowship that binds people to something greater than what they experience on a day to day basis. People need to feel like they are a part of something and that they are changing history instead of just watching talking heads on TV through incessant political ads (nausea).
We need to get back to the old model of when we had candidates out and about among the people exchanging idea and actually interacting. Social media makes that all possible once again. It could also be the death knell for the major political corporate parties.