In a rapidly changing world, Christian white people--particularly middle-class folks--are often at a loss, leaving them in a highly suggestible state. A spooky TV ad currently on the airwaves, almost reminiscent of Apple's iconic 1984 ad, features a perfect storm of Heartland paranoia. Set only 18 years in the future (if you have a kid now, it suggests, this is the kind of world he or she will come of age in!), the ad features scary subtitles, scary foreign-talkin' people, scary technology, and people *laughing at America*. It's the American social anxiety ad.
I'm amused at how the tablet computer/iPad figures in a couple of right-wing front group ads. In one ad, it's being used by a woman who voted for Obama in 2008. Of course, it also shows up in the Chinese-themed ad. We all know where these gadgets come from; perhaps less obvious is the undercurrent of resentment and identification of mobile gadgets with a world that is becoming more foreign and more female and the obnoxious cultural elites who, the narrative suggests, are consigning us to this fate. Perhaps America-lovin' news and content is seen to have its rightful home on dead trees, possibly processed by Koch Industries equipment and most certainly trucked around at an enormous cost of fuel sold by the petroleum companies.
To avoid this specter, Christians should consider how this pre-election Sunday was spent. Did they drive an SUV or minivan to church? How many people were in it? How far was the drive? If in Wisconsin, what Packer festivities did they take part in? Was there a large flat-screen TV involved? How much did it cost?
The heart of the matter, I believe, lies in the answers to the question to the above paragraph. We demand individual mobility unheard of in human history while also demanding cheap, universal, plentiful gadgets that work well...and all this while not wanting to work much ourselves. This is a ruinous path that neither Barack Obama nor Mitt Romney--I almost want to say nor Jesus Christ Himself, were He on the ballot--can save us from by being elected President on Tuesday. Only we, as the world's most powerful consumers, can avoid the course of ruin with our own actions.
Christians must understand that at some point, there must be a reckoning for the fact that major religious organizations too often act like a virtual, tax-free and unaccountable front group for moneyed and powerful interests. Christians must take ownership of the way they are perceived. They can't drink the Kool-Aid of a wealth-worshiping society and expect their inebriation to go unnoticed. When they begin, for example, opening coffee shops and holding craft fairs that compete with tax-paying businesses, they arguably overreach--and I'm indeed suprised that isn't pointed out more often. (In so many cases, these are the same people who give credence to the Romney/Ryan claim to restore manufacturing jobs to the US. Why don't these churches open CNC machine shops instead of boutiques?)
Christians also need to shed the Calvinistic error that financial prosperity is a sign of God's special favor. A more balanced and accurate view is that financial prosperity, when ill-gained and ill-used, incurs God's special wrath. Indeed, to present the Bible without the latter statement, one must redact it more heavily than classified CIA documents. The capital investments of our place and time--the computer and telecommunications networks, Internet servers, and sometimes even social networking sites--are evidence of no great improvement in the moral state of humanity. They, too, are resources that we have wrought into swords rather than plowshares.
Earlier this evening, I was musing over what Hell for hipsters would be like. Not out of any general negativity, but rather recalling a popular blogger and Twitter user--who happened to work as a process server--tweeting a few years back about serving foreclosure documents in a more rural area of Wisconsin. The Twittersphere seemed to be making fun of the misfortune. For a brief moment, I mentally consigned the hipster-heavy Twitter community to hipster Hell. But what is that like?
After just a couple of minutes, it dawned on me that hipster Hell is perhaps best imagined as a 3-D virtual reality world designed by Thomas Kincade, the Painter of Light. I'm picturing a Gloria Jean's filled with 60-year old guys using laptops, not with quick, authoritative movements, but rather staring at the screen with a mixture of befuddlement and "Where's the porn?". The flavor of the day is always Jamaican Me Crazy. (Before globalization, I think this world actually existed at Southridge Mall.)
To all who are empty of empathy--too often, I have to include myself in that indictment--I sentence you to an hour or two spent wherever you are least comfortable. To the heartless who also happens to be a hipster, I sentence you to time spent in a place free of swiping, scrolling and skinny jeans. To the Painter of Light's conservative Christian cohort, I sentence you to Classic Slice.
Where there is no empathy, there is no justice. In my mind, I can taste the Scotch that doubtless now mingles with rocks at Romney/Ryan parties across the land. As much as I like Scotch, I'll choose to be present in spirit with those sitting near pots of burnt, old coffee in pop-up Obama offices. Empathy was bred of the kind of cultural cross-fertilization we had in the days before we cooped ourselves up quite so narrowly. So much more, then, do I look forward to seeing the President with Katy Perry tomorrow.
Last night, an e-mail in my inbox asked me to donate $14 to the Obama campaign. I did, but since I was in a cranky mood, I silently promised myself that at the next opportunity, I would get fourteen dollars worth of rant in exchange for my contribution.
I believe that this election has been an almost textbook example of the shortcomings of the liberal brand. The other "chapters" of the textbook are the things that are going on in our society that have not been addressed in the election. However, they too are on voters' minds as they head to the polls.
I believe that the liberal brand has almost completely abandoned the traditional values that most voters still hold in their innermost being. It has squandered the brand in the culture of the passing, the fashionable and the incidental. Its mind has become the mindless frittering of Twitter and its face, the faceless Facebook.
As the electoral map is drawn and redrawn and Wisconsin acquires a never-before-seen importance, the current Democratic leadership is content to run the state like a second-rate backwater. It runs and reruns lifetime career politicians without productive-sector experience. It jets in national candidates here to campaign in expensive business clothing no one in this state ever wears--not least because there's precious little business.
Where are the left-leaning politicians who honor the culture of hard work and self-sufficiency that is still, thank God, so strongly rooted in this state? Where are the Democrat politicians who advocate paying one's way through life--and where this is impossible, making it possible? Where is the liberal who can roll up his sleeves and "git 'r done" alongside our state's men?
At age 39, I've already seen the pendulum of history swing once or twice. I believe that nothing characterizes America so much as the constant swing of the pendulum. It's always thesis and antithesis, with little or no synthesis. If President Obama loses in two weeks--which I certainly hope he will not--there will be a massive reformulation of the Democratic party. Even if the President is re-elected, such a reformulation should still take place. As much as I admire her lifetime of achievement, Hillary Clinton should politely but firmly be given the hook after a second Obama term. On a national level and in key swing states such as Wisconsin, Democrats need to start cultivating and putting forth alpha male politicians. The cultural forces that propelled Obama into office may have enough in them to get him through this election, but it would be foolhardy to expect any more from them.
When watching footage of this year's Republican convention, I couldn't help but muse that the polished presentation of Romney and Ryan seemed too strained--that underneath this stretched artificial skin, there must be a figurative writhing monster that would sooner or later be revealed, like in TV or the movies. We may have just seen the party's collective beast through the disguise.
Now we see the face of money that exists only to make money--and to satisfy the carnal lust of hedge fund financiers who give lavish orgies. When people become subordinated to such moral depravity--as had already happened many times by Jesus' day--this idol worship is rightly called out as the evil it is. As hard as people try to give it a geek-friendly Ayn Rand face and a minivan-friendly Mitt Romney face, at its corrupt root it's the same hideous force that sees people as objects to be played against each other and as obstacles to be removed.
It will say and do absolutely anything as it rolls relentlessly forward over all in its path. With its left hand, it will advocate for the deportation of Latino immigrants. With its right, it will advise them in Spanish-language bus shelter signs that Obama is the (supposedly) pro-abortion candidate and thus seek to push them to the polls. After all, this system is so skilled at profiting from richer or poorer, up or down, left or right, black or white--it is betting on both. If there's a profit to be made or a dollar to be retained for the oligarchs, they won't hesitate to call the night the noon.
One of the charges being leveled against President Obama during the current Presidential election campaign is a lack of belief in American exceptionalism. I would argue that the choices we have made as a society, particularly in the last decade, put us in jeopardy of undoing the truly heroic role our country played on the world stage for most of the twentieth century.
I believe that the root cause of our current problems is less ideological and more nutsy-boltsy than one might think. In the United States, any degree of individual success brings about the desire for a large house and a large car. Those personal consumer choices have an enormous and indeed exponential ripple effect.
To give a concrete example, when in Switzerland six weeks ago, I visited a friend who was my host brother when I was an exchange student in Germany. He now lives in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, not too far from Zurich. I spent a couple nights as a guest in their lovely home. It had two bedrooms, one-and-a-half baths and a guest room, all on the one floor that served as the main living space. I am a small house fan, but it seemed borderline cramped.
As I learned twenty-plus years ago and was reminded in August, such close quarters inevitably bring about a different way of relating to people. Those who have been to Europe, or even quasi-European North American cities such as Boston or Toronto, might share my impression that the biggest difference is to see people walking the streets, just going about their everyday business. Behaving in a civil and civilized manner, I might add--not being a public nuisance like students in the UWM area or even just being boisterous bros going to a Brewer game, Water Street or the Lakefront Brewery tour.
Being able to behave in a way that fosters coexistence with others in a small space is an immense source of personal and public wealth. Imagine Milwaukee's Downtown and East Side being able to attract the relatively free-spending older adults who now increasingly stay out west for dining and nightlife. Though we Americans have always been a rowdy bunch, we used to have manners. Genteel Southern manners, after all, are some of the world's most famous. American exceptionalism requires exceptional American behavior--and that is down to each and every one of us.
I've observed something of a megatrend that includes fields as diverse as coffee and politics. It's the desire, especially among older and more well-heeled consumers, to want no goods, services or experiences to be merely cookie-cutter. I wonder sometimes how this relates to my observation that people seem to be getting a little more cookie-cutter all the time. The five years in my apartment building seem like a blur of 22-year-olds going to or coming from Brewers games--I can barely tell the kids apart anymore.
Imagine, if you will, a coffee company CEO--so well-versed in taking the temperature of the minds of millions--were reviewing Mitt Romney's nomination acceptance speech. After all, few business executives are more conscious of the effects of "standing there watching the gas pump hit 50 dollars and still going" and other ills of the litany that Romney recited. I wonder which other passages would attract the CEO's attention.
The executive might think about the superautomatic espresso machines that are likely in his or her company's stores. Because pulling a shot of the concentrated coffee is a small process repeated millions of times over, efficiency is everything. The machines are made by a Swiss company. I wonder what the executive thinks of having to put such expensive machines in every last store--regardless of sales volume--to gain that extra edge in efficiency so that the employees can stand around and talk to each other about their Film Studies major.
Similarly, getting into our cars is a relatively minor process repeated on a millionfold scale. For whatever reason, by and large, we're evidently not interested in driving fuel-efficient vehicles. . .nor in maintaining even our inefficient ones. A piece of junk mail from my car dealership--granted, not the most trustworthy source--stated that 84% of cars on the road today need some part or maintenance. This, while seemingly no 40-year-old woman would be caught dead without a $100 hairdo. And if this sounds like a hypocritical thing for a driver of a poorly maintained vehicle to write, I might mention in my defense that I've recently run the numbers and determined that my 1999 Toyota Corolla still gets 40 MPG highway or thereabouts.
Americans are a wise and a smart people--and by no means a lazy people, intellectually or otherwise. Despite the many assaults we face on all these fronts, I don't hesitate to state as much. No less importantly, we're a people who are connected to nature. We camp, hunt, fish, even ice-fish. A coffee company CEO would be especially conscious of this fact. He or she spares no opportunity, after all, to associate the coffee product with environmental consciousness.
And make no mistake, the green movement is an undeniable and irreversible global megatrend. Like the information technology and telecommunications revolutions, it presents the private and public sector alike with a stark choice: get on board or be scraped off the pavement. Or, at minimum, be embarrassed by the obvious conflict between your statements and events.
"President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans.
And to heal the planet."
Laughter, huh? What was that, erm, inconvenience that caused the convention to be rescheduled again?
I'm betting that among those who haven't recently been treated to dinner or other perks by the Koch Brothers, that sentiment elicits anything but laughter. Most particularly, the family-oriented demographic targeted by Romney's speech is, I'd bet, conscious of the fact that efforts to save the planet and those to "help you and your family" are of a piece. Thus Romney is fishing on thin ice indeed with this turn of phrase. Why? Because capital, noting the undeniable appeal of the sentiment, has been telling us for years that we need to choose their products and pay premium prices because it's good for the environment. And in many cases, rightly so.
And Romney thinks he can, all Superman-like, make the world's thinking start turning in the other direction?