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The Tyranny of Low Expectations

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Years ago, I was sitting in a cafe' with my rabble-rousing friend James, both of us gnawing our teeth over the myriad difficulties facing the peace and social justice movement. We cited the usual suspects that stood in the way of progress: the entrenched corporate and financial elite; the embedded Pentagon machine; too much TV.

"But you know what our biggest problem is?" James asked, growing animated. "It's our low expectations! Think about it, man. Folks in this country will always fight for their rights when pushed hard enough, yet we always seem to settle for crumbs, grateful to achieve anything. And that's because we've accepted that we can't win much anymore. I mean, we want a better world, can imagine one, but we don't expect it, not really."

James went on to say that our expectations are triply low for our so-called political leaders in Congress and the White House. It's common, for example, to acknowledge that politicians are all "just a bunch of crooks and lairs."

"I don't know how many times I've heard these words, or said them myself," James continued. "Yet we still settle for crap like "the lesser of two evils,' as if that's the best we can do, the most we can hope for. But for the most part, we don't accept that "quality' about our teachers and doctors--or even our car mechanics! We hold them to at least a level of competency and good intention. So why do we accept the opposite for people who are responsible for the life and death of millions? How pitiful is that?"

James had a point, and his words ring truer to me now than when he uttered them a decade ago. This lowering of the bar has gone on for having a president who can speak in complete sentences is considered a lofty achievement. If the sentences are about the righteousness of war and empire, well, hey, how about those active verbs, huh? Who needs substance when you can work a crowd?

I guess a case can be made that with Obama, people's expectations were initially not low but high, maybe even unreasonably high. I submit, however, that deep down most people really didn't expect that much from his administration. It was the very idea of his election that was embraced, a symbol that a Black man can actually become president. Yes there was great hope, but great expectations?

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David Pe'rez is a journalist, actor and editor raised in the South Bronx, New York, and currently living in Taos, New Mexico. He has investigated and written on social justice issues, the environment, the U.S. electoral farce, and the struggle (more...)
 

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The Tyranny of Low Expectations