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Portrait of America

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From Norman Rockwell's paintings of The Four Freedoms, his Freedom of Speech depicts the very essence of America as it should be democratically understood.   It is we the people questioning authority. We seem to have forgotten that in a democracy, freedom of speech is not only a right, but an obligation. The portrait depicts an ordinary citizen speaking his mind and fulfilling his obligation at a town-hall meeting. A picture is indeed worth a thousand words.


There is, however, another portrait that stands as an analogy to the situation in which we in America find ourselves.

In Oscar Wilde's novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray,  Gray's portrait lies hidden in a closet growing old and ugly while his person retains its youth and handsome features.  However, in our situation, we continue to see our America as the  youthful "light on the hill" of the "Great American Dream", while a decaying picture of America lies hidden in a closet of our minds behind a door we dare not open. But, for the sake of salvation, it must be opened. For the sake of our sanity, we must face the truth of our demise. We must either use our democracy or lose it to the evil forces that are, behind that same door, on the verge of countering it with fascism. Before anything else, we must act on our obligation to speak out in refutation of the belief in America as number one in anything and everything that makes for a better life.   What we really excel in, other than incarceration and poverty, is a ridiculous narcissistic claim of Exceptionalism. More than any other nation, we see ourselves as and believe ourselves to be superior to all other peoples and nations. We believe that we are endowed by our creator with a promise of favor that no other nation enjoys. Such unchallenged status permits us to hold other nations accountable for crimes and civil-liberty infractions that we ourselves commit with impunity. We admittedly torture. We wire-tap and threaten with indefinite detention our own citizens. Like The Picture of Dorian Gray , the picture of America we dare not acknowledge is growing uglier by the day.


So, what are we to do? The answer, of course, is for the 99% to speak out.  But what if our representatives will not hear? What if they no longer represent us but represent those who bought them, those whose money put them in office?   Such a claim, however, is a lame excuse because it is we the 99% who put them into office. It is a lame excuse because we, the 99%, we allowed ourselves to be manipulated into voting for them by our persistence in believing in a badly tarnished American dream. It is a lame excuse because it is we who refuse to open the closet door and face the awful truth of an American portrait grown ugly.


If there is to be a restoration of our democracy, we must identify the strategies that the 1% employ in the destruction of that democracy, which is perhaps the one, if not the only, obstacle in their path of achieving global military and economic hegemony. They have already rendered our government dysfunctional by creating side-shows like gun control, immigration, gay marriage, attacks on religion, and abortion, all with the intent of keeping us divided and in the dark as to the really dire threats to our survival; things like perpetual war on terrorism and drugs manufactured and designed with only one purpose. That purpose is to satisfy their insatiable greed.


Another strategy in the destruction of democracy is to destroy the middle-class. Most recently this has taken the form of an open attack on labor unions. A sufficiently rewarded labor force once constituted the middle-class, a class now in rapid decline with the openly declared war on the union movement.

Under the fallacious guise of restoring "traditional rights" to the employer, 23 states have now passed "right-to-work" laws which will eventually mean the death of all unions and with it the complete destruction of the middle class and the revival of a wage slavery that only the unions were able to keep restrained. Without a strong union, the worker is at the mercy of an employer whose first commitment i s to a stock holder.  Such an employer will faithfully extract from the employee the utmost production for the least possible remuneration. That is the bottom line. The idea that the worker can effectively represent himself in the face of a dispute with corporate power is simply ridiculous.   I am reminded of a story told by a non-union worker who approached his employer with a request for a much deserved and needed increase in salary. The employer simply opened a file drawer overflowing with folders and said, "You see these folders? They contain applications for people waiting to take your job. Good day."


This is wage slavery, a slavery that is actually more onerous than the black slavery of the old South.   In the days of black slavery, the slave was taken care of in proportion to his monetary value. It was even noted, at the time, that the black slave in the South may have had a better life than workers in the sweat-shops of the North. In truth, they were both slaves but in fact, it could be argued that the black slave may indeed have been better off. While the black slave's only option for freedom was suicide, he, at least, was assured that all the necessities for survival would have been provided. The wage slave of the sweat-shop, threatened with starvation and exposure, had no such assurance. Could we really return to those sweat-shops? In all too many situations we are already there.


Please, Americans, wake up and realize that with the destruction of the unions comes the destruction of the middle class and with the destruction of the middle class comes the destruction of democracy.   We must see ourselves as we really are. We must recognize and acknowledge the strategies employed in the drive to destroy us. Time is running out.  

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Hal O'Leary is an 88 year old veteran of WWII who, having spent his life in theatre, and as a Secular Humanist, believes that it is only through the arts that we are afforded an occasional glimpse into the otherwise incomprehensible. As an 'atheist (more...)
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