It certainly seems that as long as the poor and downtrodden have cell phones with games on them – provided to them, in many cases, by state and federal programs – places to watch television (if their phones are not sophisticated enough to display American Idol), and access to drugs, legal and illegal, designed to alleviate psychic pain (drugs which I would classify as a sort of circus in themselves), they can accept the inconvenience of being cold, sick, homeless and hungry.
Do you think that is a cruel and cynical thing to say? Then, please, explain to me why there are not demonstrations, riots, revolts against a system in which 80% of the population owns only 7% of the nation’s wealth. (Those are 2007 figures, and the consensus is that the gap has increased since then.) What happened to the Occupy movement? You can hardly call the U. S. a police state. The governments of many countries in which the poor do rise up in frustration from time to time are much more repressive than ours.
Furthermore, although it is true that many of those at the very bottom of the money chain are too far gone – too ill, too discouraged, too disoriented, too disengaged – to vote, the rest of that 80%, if they were organized and if they were motivated, would have it in their power, in one even-year election, to change everything. Why has that not happened?
Circuses. Elections themselves have become entertainment – American Idol writ large. It certainly is more difficult for a true political reformer, beholden to no political machine, to find his way onto a ballot for national office, than for a really talented performer to wheedle his way onto American Idol.
Having written the above paragraph, I must pull back from it. In the 2010 elections we were treated to an example of a bunch of idealistic political nobodies who were able to win enough congressional seats to cause havoc in Washington for a few years. Interestingly, the Tea Party, which had its moment of glory then, represented people who were extremely angry not because they were poor, but because they were afraid of becoming poor.
My impression is that the Tea Partiers were indifferent to or even distressed by many of the circuses which were successfully distracting the rest of the country, and that the circuses that did hold their attention – Fox News, primarily, and radio talk shows – unwittingly (at least that’s what I think, although perhaps I’m wrong), simply because to do so was good for ratings, encouraged their iconoclastic political movement.
It is unlikely now that either political party will allow a circus of any political stripe again to get out of hand. If, by some miracle, MSNBC and a bevy of progressive radio talk shows were to reach the brilliant levels of polemic and demagoguery that the right-wing circuses have achieved, the Democratic political machine would – having learned from the Republicans’ mistakes – know how to channel the anger that they inspired into votes for well-intentioned, but ultimately safe (as far as the power structure was concerned) candidates.
Compared with the rest of the country, New York City is a special case – as is California – but still, it will be interesting to see how far Bill de Blasio is willing to go, and is allowed to go, in redistributing the city’s wealth.