(All music and lyrics written, arranged and produced by Stephen Michael Murphy (c) 2017)
“We the people” back in the day consisted of my immaculate family, seven souls cruising in a two tone sky blue Ford station wagon; hello, muddha, hello faddah…five freckled faced mouths to feed on the way to Cape Coda. The road was filled with elbow flying, request denying, girl boy crying ecstasy. It was a small world after all; a string thing strung like oxygen molecules on the July 4th air or fire hazard Christmas tree bulbs adorning an imperfect pine. Back then America was still an unbranded indescribable feeling of connection. All around me a powerful working class gave thanks through their unions and their offspring, the baby boomers were busy booming.
A Memorial Day parade in the 1960’s was the quintessential patriotic ritual performed without question. There were mandatory young years of parading, scout uniforms, school band, for me the saxophone, always in 90 degree heat and 100% humidity. Mimicking daily life we embarked with unhinged enthusiasm until the dread of debilitating heat stroke reined in expectations. We tarried at the cemeteries of Judeo-Christian faiths, each time regrouping and onward like a Bataan death march. Eventually the band would reappear in the high school parking lot for our just rewards, one vanilla ice cream sandwich and a Fanta orange soda. Every town in the nation participated from sea to shining sea in cut and paste fashion, 10,000 times with slight variations in ethnicity, religion, topography and Soda pop Companies. We were the homogeneous product of America’s triumph in World War II and with it came a surreal mood of calmness, an exclusive civility that managed to aggravate an entire generation. So in due course our mostly white bread recess led to an inevitable childhood’s end, starting when the Federal Label began spinning the hit 45 “The Civil Rights Amendment” with the “War in Vietnam” on the B side. I was too young to take part but still energized living in a country where the people could end an unjust war and upset the applecart 0f blatant racism. The sky was the limit, there were 600 hundred kids like me graduating every year in every town in every state of the union. How could things not radically change? Alas, I had no sense of the shifting terrain that followed the elimination of Jack, Bobby and Martin or how unyielding real power is .
Post Nixon we chose a moral man in Jimmy Carter but in a flash the economy tanked. Our future hopes were then laid on the altar of multinational corporations blessed by his Holiness Ronald Reagan. His first decree was to break the air traffic controllers strike; then big business co-opted the Beltway tilting government policy favoring the rich getting richer. Throughout the 1980’s a careful molding of tax codes, corporate policy, deregulation and safety net issues1 guaranteed today’s massive profits, decimated labor unions and a middle class in retrograde. We the people were then categorized as consumers only and the rudeness followed. Starting with self service gasoline and ending with “get it yourself online”. The old school importance of relationships, loyalty and respect we’d been introduced to (and rebelled against) ended abruptly. Sports became another bottom line business instead of a game of youthful passions. Capitalism ran a muck in search of endless gains while individually we searched for an endless material fix. We’d been robbed of a timeless vision that once soothed our souls. “A simple life”
Remember Freedom Fries with your Big Mac when the French weren’t willing to join the “Coalition of the willing” in the trumped-up invasion of Iraq? The republique was at it again recently staging a nationwide strike over the raising of retirement age. In a stable democracy such protest is healthy, guaranteed; in repressed societies like Tunisia, Libya and Egypt it’s a cathartic revolution. Either way it’s amazing when government fears its people not the other way around. In the late 1700’s the US and France were revolutionary partners (without Facebook) who eventually embraced different social contracts. The French approach viewed man as a social creature and government as an embodiment of communal will (Jean Rousseau). While the US saw its people more as hardy individualists and the world as an ongoing episode of Cops, strong preemptive military with sophisticated network security (Thomas Hobbs)6 . Ultimately, the French take care of their citizens with a superior quality of life and high taxes while Uncle Sam takes care of business letting the trickle-down effect trickle down. The problem is big business isn’t in the business of being just. Since profit seeking reduces the probability of doing the right thing, it’s no wonder they took their jobs and ran. The result over many decades is an angry nation with no shortage of scapegoats. Who made us feel like strangers in our own country? It’s not immigrants; this country always had an Aikido like ability to divert the huddled masses into fuel for the economic engine. The truth is not out there, it is within. There’s a resident evil among us that’s playing with social fire and partisan politics enriching itself at the peril of the common man. The ghost of J. P. Morgan has returned and is taking back the remaining blood , sweat and tears of organized labor; with interest.
The Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling reversed 100 years of precedent turning paper corporations into natural persons with first amendment rights and more constitutional protection than citizens. The SCOTUS overturned restrictions giving a green light to spend unlimited amounts of money to elect and defeat political candidates. The corporate restraints set in place long ago to maintain the balance and well being of our democracy have been eliminated. The puppet masters are now untouchable as “super blocks” of special interest with the potential to affect public policy at every level. The right wing table is being set. A new gilded age is not around the corner, it’s here. Modern transnational corporations will soon openly rule the world as the pretense of a balance with democratic values has lost its meaning.
We’re strangers in America because it’s no longer chic to be guided by higher principles and ideals. We’re Strangers because simple fairness is not a fit topic for political discussion and those most unworthy of high office are arrogantly on the march2. We’re strangers in an age of imposed amnesia where distractions of consumerism, celebrity, hyped violence and self obsession have eclipsed compassion, justice and engaged citizenry in all aspects of our culture3.
There’s a war being waged against logic and there’s no one left to appeal to, Trump is just the ugly face of it. From health care law to alternative energy, sane environmental controls, financial regulation to retrofitting our endless war economy; each has been summarily dismembered by an undead configuration of government sanctioned corporate power 4. Regrettably, we the Planet of the Naked Apes live with inner demons symbolized in the gun Charlton Heston dares us to pry from his cold dead hands.
One thing that continues to protect and project an image of freedom to the world is the American brand. It can’t be duplicated so it’s priceless to the daydreaming planetary masses . Its demise would be catastrophic for global business. Imagine baseball without the Yankees, Rocky without Bullwinkle; no one wants their McRib from Mao or a Danish Dr Pepper. Let’s call it mutts’n spice in a money making shaker protecting our derriere like a nuclear umbrella. As long as the USA can even pretend to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony we shall remain since our momentum as a nation is undeniable. Instead of living on interest though, we’re cannibalizing moral principle; what portion of our soul and our brothers will be sacrificed, at what cost our continued success?
Jean-Jacque Rousseau with grace, composed the following in 1754; the first man who having enclosed a piece of land thought to himself this is mine and found people simple enough to believe him. He is the real founder of civil society. How many crimes, wars and murders, how many horrors and misfortunes might have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch and crying to his fellows, “beware of listening to this impostor, for you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all and the earth itself to nobody5”. ”
1Bob Herbert, NYT, “Fast Track to Equality”, Nov 5, 2010
2Bob Hebert, NYT, “A Gift from Long Ago”, Nov 22, 2010
3Henry Giroux, truthout.org op-ed, “Living in an Age of Imposed Amnesia”
4Chris Hedges, truthout.org, “Tiny Acts of Rebellion”, Nov 22, 2010
5Jean-Jacque Rousseau, Discourse On Inequality, 1754
6 Gene Openshaw and Steve Smith “You Want Freedom Fries with That?
(1) Upside down American flag: Means “we are in distress” flown as a 911 call by the signal core before the advent of radio communication.
(2) Strangers In America, Sung by Micah Read