Decline and Fall

Today I write about the breakdown of the American social compact.

The Congress cannot engage in dialog on important issues.  We do not speak to each other, we do not listen.  Republicans stonewall.  The President campaigns rather than inspires a dialog.

A candidate for school committee in Newton campaigns on the platform of building a bridge between the schools and the 80% without children in the schools.  This in a city noted for its educational system, and where once all taxpayers understood investment in the future of the children.

Commentators on the Occupy movement criticize the participants because they do not have a program, as if having a solution to incredibly complex problems is easy to articulate in a 140 character sound bite digestible by our slogan-ized polity.  Is not the message clear, that many of our fellow citizens feel grossly disenfranchised and mistreated in our society in a variety of ways?  Even suburban populations are forming support groups for the Boston “Occupy” movement.

Is it not clear that movements such as this always attract marginal issues, but that we must strip out the clutter and understand the fundamentals, rather than marginalizing the fundamental content?

The Boston Globe reports a heightened concentration of US wealth over the last three decades, and the Globe may be the last publication on earth to discover this reality.  This factual driver of “Occupy” seems to be missed by some of “the one percent,” and the “movement” seems unable to communicate the core issue to many who clearly are not hearing it.

What do non-Americans think of our political state?   The other day in our offices, which overlook Dewey Square and Boston’s tent city, a dozen Russian entrepreneurs attended a business conference to discuss their companies.  One or two commented on the protesters, but most were politely silent. The business of business is business, not politics.

This convenient dichotomy is perhaps learned in countries where growing economic opportunity must co-exist without political freedom;  but is this a dichotomy (business as divorced from public debate of politics) that Americans living under our Constitution should embrace?  Aside from a mixture of embarrassment and distaste, what should the 1%-ers, looking down on the tents, be thinking?  How many go down to the streets and talk with the people?  Not many, to my experience.

Why is it repellent when people exercise the rights they have under our Constitution?  Seems as if many folks in the office towers love the geographic or non-specific idea of America, but not the actual exercise of American rights which are part of our social compact: free speech, free assembly, economic opportunity in fact, and open communication leading to jointly reached and mediated solutions.

For those people who think that John Locke is a bolt for your toilet door, I suggest an elevator down to the street and a modest exercise in the way in which American society ought to operate: talk with, not over your fellow citizens. THAT is the social compact we once thought we had, and the one we need to redeem.

Yesterday, one of my partners forwarded to me an on-line article complaining that the Occupy people smell bad.  This is what purports to pass for political analysis today.  I’ll bet George Washington’s armpits stank at Valley Forge; let’s give the country back to the British, seemingly smelly people don’t deserve our attention.  Although I would bet my bankbook that the author of the smell test never visited the tents and, well, sniffed around.

And, returning to the young Russian entrepreneurs for a moment, as one of them said: “The people downstairs just want to be treated as people.”  If a twenty-something Russian engineer with marginal English and no tradition of free politics can understand what “Occupy” is all about, why do so many Americans have a problem doing so?  Maybe we have stopped listening….

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