Recently, I had the sad occasion to review video footage of former President George W. Bush shortly after the 911 attacks, announcing that the attacks had awoken “…a sleeping giant.” At the time, W was speaking about an aroused American electorate, shocked from the summer backyard barbecue complacency of all that post Reaganomical good livin’ by a rapid-fire intrusion of ugly reality: The Global Threat of Terrorism had finally fetched up on America’s doorstep. The Terror had finally crossed the oceans that (he’d earlier announced) could no longer protect us. Soon, he told us, we’d have to worry about “…mushroom clouds over New York.” And thus the great military industrial complex of which we had also been warned, ramped itself up to hysterical heights. Movies about World War II flew out of Hollywood like fruitbats on steroids; War-happy video games flew off store shelves with the same frenetic energy; militaristic jargon, toy guns, pro-military rhetoric that drowned out nearly all voices of protest seemed to galvanize the country. The Sleeping Giant had indeed awakened; but this was the Not-so-Jolly Behemoth of Corporate Hegemony. And it stomped its way across the entire country, smashing our common sense into kindling before it headed off overseas, intent upon bringing American ideas like Democracy, Free Market Capitalism and FREE ELECTIONS (Don’t forget those Free Elections. Where would we be without those?)
Well, nearly eight years and who knows how many trillions of dollars later, the Not-so Jolly Giant is running out of steam. A global economic downturn will do that it seems. After the groundswell of opposition that seemed to crystallize around Barack Obama’s election has petered out, we find ourselves with a new giant; this reactionary flailing known as the Tea Party, peopled by a lot of perfectly well-meaning but frightened patriots, funded by far right business interests and fomented by Fox News and other conservative media. Liberals like me expected a Republican wave in this last election and we got it, but it wasn’t quite the sweeping ‘mandate’ that the Republicans make it out to be, was it? The country seems to swing back and forth between these extremes, sort of liberal/moderate/conservative/ xenophobic mania, but every five minutes, rather than every few years. But I think the reason why none of these ideas or movements is really able to gain permanent footing is one that no one is really talking about: We’re waking up.
I think that America may be in the grip of a kind of enforced maturation, brought on by calamities like the Iraq/Afghanistan Wars, 911, Hurricane Katrina, the Haitian earthquake, undeniable global warming and other large scale catastrophes, and by the unquiet recognition that everything we’ve been told should work to fix these problems, IE our politicians, our religions, our institutions…aren’t working. The only thing that seems to help, is a focused, human connection to one another. Does anyone else sense a trending toward a kind of emotional nullity? Not numbness. I’m talking about a feeling more akin to a resignation that we are all we have. That the problems that face us both on the national and personal levels, are only going to be addressed by us? Think about it…who believes in politicians anymore? Really? Who really believes in religion? I’m not talking about spirituality and the action that it can motivate. I’m talking about a profound sense that all the old standbys are falling away. Caught between our need to create a better world, and a world that seems intent on tearing itself apart, it feels like people are beginning to take their destiny’s into their own hands. I think the Tea Party movement is a small, misguided example of something that is genuinely taking place in the American character: people are angry, scared and looking to make things better. But we’re not waiting for our leaders to tell us how to go about making changes. We’re just…changing.
I think the election of Barack Obama is another example: Symbolically, the election of an African-American man to the office of the American President represents a double edged crisis/opportunity. On one level, many people think that any President is really just a tool of the corporate interests that paid his way to the White House. But on another, subtler level, President Obama represents the end of Patriarchy, of the white, male-dominated power structure. If you believe that every President is just a puppet, you also have to accept that the idea of the American President is incredibly powerful. And that idea has actually gone out to the masses…It really IS possible to be the President…no matter what I look like. This is much more powerful than the actual President, with consequences unforeseeable and therefore uncontrollable by the forces that would keep the status quo unchanged. I see evidence of the fall of Patriarchy everywhere, in the masses of non-white immigrants into this country, their migrations brought on by policies created right here in the USA. The forces that call for their rejection cannot win: You can’t un-ring a dinner bell. The country will be forced to deal with them in the same way it was forced to deal with immigrants from Europe in the early twentieth century; Assimilation. I see the end of Patriarchy in the disgrace of the Catholic Church. Too many people are questioning the provenance of a religious institution devoted to spiritual purity and service, but that almost gleefully abuses its most defenseless members. That door has opened and there’s no closing it. Ever again. I see the fall of Patriarchy in the increasing acceptance of gay people, the repudiation of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell; the acceptance of medical marijuana, the number of states outlawing the Death Penalty…and the inevitability of racial and ethnic/gender equality in schools, businesses and other institutions. All of these awakenings are being propagated by media, and the internet. And the same forces that seek to limit them, fearing their impact on their ability to make tidy profits, also help them spread the hidden message at the same time: Freedom of Speech may foment hate-mongering, but it also demands the opposite response.
I’m hearing more and more anecdotal stories about how the “old ways” are dying. I’ve even come to believe that maybe all the talk about End Times among Christian fundamentalists is, in reality, a metaphor for the End of traditional religious mental constructs; as everyone realizes that whatever happens next will involve humans saving ourselves, those old structures and traditions quielty become quaint mythologies. Like all the other great religions of the past; We’ve simply outgrown them. Maybe the greatest secret of all is at the core of the growing awareness: We are ultimately responsible for ourselves, and for each other.
The Sleeping Giant Is Definitely Waking Up…and I think it’s us.