Some American cross-dressing

Public school teachers in the rundown city of Detroit called in sick from work en masse. They did not wait for any approval from their ever lethargic unions; they simply went ahead with their strike; they coordinated their efforts and “failed” to report to work because the severe winter weather made them “terribly sick”.

What makes this interesting besides the obvious one of their method, the calling in sick, is the simplicity (or is it sincerity?) of their demand: more funds for public education. Of course, anyone skeptical of mass movements such as this one would automatically consider, without even giving them the benefit of the doubt, the teachers’ direct demand for increased funds for education is nothing but an indirect demand for a pay increase, which it most certainly is not. They did not raise vague questions; the teachers asked of the government, in the clearest of terms, for school buildings which are visibly crumbling to be renovated and for laboratories and other important educational facilities to be repaired. Those are the facts.

But, as is most often the case in social issues as in everything else, facts alone are unimportant; they have to be taken as integral parts of a whole before any sense can be made of them. A bigger question than what are the mere facts has to be asked.

In what direction is American society or American body politic going?  In the simpler days of yore, we could have said either to the Left or to the Right and ended the matter there. Things are not as simple presently. As political terminologies have failed to keep in step with political developments, we cannot avoid using dated terminologies to label or designate (so that we understand) modern circumstances.

Previously, when you said Left in reference to American politics or even international politics, it actually meant Left; and when you said Right, it actually meant Right. There were sets of values commensurate with either designation. For instance, it had always been the position of the American Left to urge that the nation avoids foreign entanglements by staying away from directly involving in other peoples’ domestic affairs; in other words, isolationism was the mantra of the Left. And the American Right had always, at least as far as we can be reasonably expected to remember, endorsed the exact opposite position – aggression, or in other words, militaristic adventurism.

But nothing is what it used to be, or what it ought to be in present-day America; the Left is not entirely Left and the Right is not entirely Right, not anymore. People cross-dress a lot these days. It is a fact, for example, President Barack Obama – someone presumably on the Left – had caused more civilian deaths and other causalities by ordering more American drone strikes in Yemen and other regions, especially in the Middle East and Northern Africa than his predecessor President George W. Bush – someone presumably on the Right. (That is to say nothing of his decision to ignore the plight of millions of Syrians until lately.) The guy who started the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq had conducted less drone strikes than the guy who promised to end those wars. It is also a fact, Bush more than Obama, used his office as president to help social causes, including increased funding for schools in America’s inner cities and HIV/AIDS programs on the African continent.

We only wanted to show how terminologies lag behind events. And only for having said that could we attempt, albeit remotely, to identify in which direction America is headed. Different layers of American society move in different directions. The teachers in Detroit set themselves the task of getting increased funding for their schools and sought to achieve their objective through coordinated action, whereas the teachers’ unions – bastions of social movement in the past but apparently not any longer – heard of the strike like everybody else, after it happened. In this case, the teachers, who are nothing but ordinary citizens after all, can be said to have taken power into their own hands to affect social change – a definite characteristic usually attributable to the Left. The unions, on the other hand, were behind the events; that means, even if they never intended it directly, they played a role that effectively stays the teachers’ actions. In other words, by doing nothing to facilitate the strike, they did everything to conserve the status quo.

Again, this is not the case everywhere in America. Industrial cities, or post-industrial cities rather, have always had the Leftist grit for strikes and protests while other industrial cities, mostly those in the country’s geographic south, have always had the Rightist aversion for said strikes and protests. The similar conditions but dissimilar political inclinations are of course explained by a plethora of historic, social and other factors which have most influenced the people. In down-to-earth terms, some places are inching progressively to the Left and others are inching regressively to the Right. In parenthesis, why one is portrayed in a seemingly positive fashion as progressing and the other in a seemingly negative fashion as regressing will not be detailed here, but the writer’s bias is just not the only reason.

Taken in aggregate, the moves to the Left and the moves to the Right should give us the country’s general direction, something that would probably be somewhat reflected by the result of the upcoming presidential election. And there is a reason we used the word somewhat here; it is to highlight, for lack of a better way to put it, our less-than-certain certainty.

It does not necessarily follow that the next president embodies all of public sentiment or even a majority of public sentiment. The Americans have what they call the Electoral College system which is something they themselves seldom understand; and I can admit, I understand nothing of it either. Suffice it to say, it is an electoral mechanism whereby delegates in conjunction with the general public elect the next president. That is why the results of American presidential elections are never a proportional representation of the general public’s desires; presidents are elected by a combination of popular vote and electoral vote by delegates, or electors as the Prussians used to call their gilded politicians centuries ago. For instance, Al Gore had won the popular vote count in 2000, but the electoral vote, which is what actually matters, awarded the presidency to George W. Bush.

With that being said, how best to characterize the path on which America has been traveling is something that can only be done in relative terms: yes, there are Left-leaning movements and activities inside the bellies of some of the nation’s most unequal and dilapidated cities; by the same token, there are Right-leaning movements in similar places, the tea party and its psychotic local affiliates being the obvious examples. That means, there is nothing conclusively inevitable about either the Left or the Right tendencies.

Be that as it may, we live in interesting times, more so for what rarities we commonly witness these days. An avowed socialist is running for American president. It seems, in some regards at least, a significant number of Americans have managed to put the paranoia of McCarthyism behind them. Commies are still bashed, but less and less.

Of course, Bernie Sanders, the United States Senator from Vermont, insists he is a democratic socialist. (Sure he is. Wink! Wink! V. I. Lenin was only a social democrat too. Even when Karl Marx was around, communist was a term too raw for politics; the words with which his 1848 Communist Manifesto started, “A spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of communism”, is evidence enough.)

Many voters have not been taking Sanders as a serious candidate, but he seems to have started making a greater impression now, something his non-democratic-socialist rivals were too complacent to expect. Could this guy actually win? The possibility is there. The fact that there is even the slightest possibility a person with Sanders’ background replete with a Sandinista portfolio and whatnot could even be considered to become America’s president is a clear indication that, as some restive parts of the country are looking to the Right for alternatives, others are looking to the Left. A Bernie Sanders victory would not mean much, however, considering the stability (or is it stagnation?) of American lawmaking. It may set a useful precedent for more hardened reds to run for the highest office in the future, but it is least likely to signify a departure from the creed of individualism and greed which have characterized American society until now.

All things considered, the American people have been changing before our very eyes, and with them, their politics too. They elected an African-American for president. They now have a socialist, my mistake, a democratic socialist running for the highest office. They also have women who are running for president. That last bit is utterly unimportant, however, if their being women is their most important political, economic, social and foreign policy.