Is this the Fourth Circle of Hell?

Dore, Dante’s Fourth Circle

I know I’m not the only one who is tired of politics. There are days when I’m convinced election years aren’t to convince independents to choose a side between Democrat and Republican (and the occasion Green Partier, Libertarian, or what have you). Instead, they are created to whip up extremist fervor amongst the parties themselves and wear down the wills of anyone who isn’t a Democrat or Republican so that they lose the will to even step outside of their house, much less vote. Underneath the phony earnestness and the inflammatory rhetoric, the whisper under the shouting says something like this:

What’s the point? It’s me or him, a choice between bad or worse. Not much of a choice at all. What will your vote get you? Bad or worse. And if you vote for another candidate that isn’t part of the two-party system, what good is that vote? Are you glad you stood on principle, even though you stood on principle knowing nothing would happen?

If I vote this year, I could vote on principle and select neither. I could do a write-in, I suppose, but that would accomplish nothing. It’s a mere conciliatory, empty gesture. It’s safe, because you know nothing will come of it, and whatever the direction the country goes, it serves no one when you say of either possibility, “I didn’t vote for him.”

And if I don’t vote, then I get the hoards of screaming activists that tell me that if I don’t vote, I’m part of the problem. If I don’t vote, the terrorists win. That my feminine forebears fought for my right to vote and I’m squandering that right by staying home on election day. If you vote for one of the two-party candidates, sure, your vote actually makes a difference … if you’re in a swing state. You think there’s any point voting for Barack Obama in Texas? You think there’s any point of voting for Mitt Romney in Oregon? Might as well curl up on your sofa with a green tea and wait for the results.

Ideologically, I suppose I lean left and Democrat, with a foot in both capitalism and socialism. I know they’re often presented as diametrically opposed to each other, but let’s just say I see enough virtue in both not to favor pure forms of either. However, that’s only in ideals. In reality, I’m neither left nor right, Democrat or Republican, capitalist or socialist. In reality, I’m a defeatist. I suppose that helps no one, but it’s hard to have hope.

I was tentatively hopeful when President Obama took his oath of office, but I was not nearly as excited and sure of change. I actually wrote about it at that time of celebration. I said, “America, you took a gamble. We took a gamble. I hope we win.” Now, as I watch the election year rhetoric ramp up again, gone is the message of hope from a fresh candidate. Instead of presenting himself as rising above the usual tactics, Obama has embraced them, and that only serves to convince me that the status quo has continued. Our revolution of 2008 petered out and failed, just like the Occupy revolution, and so on. Because Jefferson’s revolution every four years just doesn’t happen anymore; we don’t know how. Maybe we’re afraid to.

The election process is a sham. Candidates sell themselves out to the highest bidder, and they’re at the mercy of whoever signs their campaign paychecks more than their salary. Lobbyists own Congress; Congress profits from lobbyists. Representatives never really represent their constituents, because they can only ever represent a little more than half of them. You think Rep. John Cornyn would ever read a letter I sent him? And yet he’s supposed to represent me?

We think we’re so awesome because we have a representative democracy instead of a dictatorship, capitalism instead of socialism, a two-party system instead of a one-party system. But here’s what I see:  From the feudal system to a democratic republic, from socialism to capitalism, Democrat or Republican … all of these systems theoretically work really well. Until you add people. Then they all eventually work the same: People with wealth and power fight to keep their wealth and power, and they have the means to do so. They make sure that those without wealth and power have several things to keep them in line: the illusion that they get more than they have; the illusion of social mobility if you have the strength, character, and work ethic; the illusion that we have a say in who represents us and makes changes. These things are the carrot. The stick is the stock phrases, the magic words, that instill pride and contentment in the status quo and have the potential to demonize and shut down dissent. Here in America, such magic words (both “good” and “evil”) are freedom, free market, socialism, patriotic, democracy, God, Jesus, trickle-down. I’m sure you can think of a few more.

From divine right of kings to corporations are people, people with power keep as much of their power and money as they can. They release just enough of it that any dissent stays a mere rumble and not a roar. Sometimes, that delicate walking of the line causes them to stumble off the line, but they’re finding that, with a few exceptions, they can blunder and still keep what they have. Sometimes, the government they pay off gives it to them, not from the money they paid their politicians, but from the very people from whom they withhold their wealth.

In this land of independence and independent spirit, of free market and “all capitalism is all good,” we have lost sight of the reality that class systems exist and will continue to exist. They even need to exist. We have lost sight of the reality that even if we must have class systems, it is in everyone’s best interest to take care of everyone. That doesn’t just mean entitlements. It means good treatment of workers, good work environments, downtime to promote good mental health, accessible and affordable health care that allows more people to be more productive for a longer period of time. It means more income for more consumption. But it also might mean that those with less disposable income might be more content with their quality of life because they aren’t worked to the bone and unable to pay medical bills and so are constantly sick. From the overworked rube to the cubicle monkey, from burning coal for energy to dumping waste, from mindless television trash to pharmaceuticals, we are probably still the most financially prosperous nation in the world, and what has our good roads and our fast Internet and our cheap food and our drugs gotten us?

We are miserable people, our spirits broken, numbed by our screens, and not just because of the recession. Our economy of consumption is entirely driven on the principle of making people miserable, so that they can get their quick fix. Our government is entrenched in endless posturing, sticky hands, and full pockets, men and women who can yell at each other on the floor and have a coffee together later, because to them it’s just the game – but to us, we have to drink the poison they feed us. I’m not untouched by this. I’ve tasted the bittersweet draught of escape; I don’t have the spirit for conflict; I don’t have hope for the future. I try not to think about it too hard, because when I do, this is what comes out. I try to focus on things that make me happy and that I hope other people enjoy in the future. I try to make money (I’m not particularly good at it) so that I can dull the disquiet a little longer. I work hard to finish my associate’s in court reporting so that I can get a job. I try not to think of ruts and race blinders and relationships.

We’ve been sold a bill of goods, and I don’t know whether we can ever change that. Whatever the effect of this year’s election, I doubt too much is going to change, and if it does, it’ll probably be by accident. We’d revolt, but we have a mortgage. We’d revolt, but we have to go in to work. We’d revolt, but we’re playing World of Warcraft. We’d revolt, but we’re watching The Bachelorette 27. We’d revolt, but we have a date at the mall. We’d revolt, but it’s too hot. We’d revolt, but they have machine guns. We’d revolt, but we don’t know how.

We’d revolt, but we’d probably lose.

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