By Donella Meadows
–November 17, 1994–
It was a tidal wave, an earthquake, a rout, a cultural revolution, a mandate for sweeping change, say the media. The people have spoken, say Gingrich and Dole, preparing to cut loose on Capitol Hill. But look around. Do the people you know feel they have spoken? Did you call for the mandate the Republicans think they’ve just received? Are your friends rejoicing in the belief that the government is finally in good hands?
If so, you run with a rare crowd.
We Americans total 260 million. Of that number 200 million are of voting age and 133 million have registered to vote. In the recent election 50 million voted; about 27 million voted Republican. This “landslide” reflects the votes of just over one in ten of all Americans. For every person of voting age who cast a Republican ballot, seven stayed home. Most of the people I know who voted for either party did so holding their noses, bent not on electing someone they trust but on defeating someone they detest.
Hardly a candidate spoke to us honestly or even uttered a self-generated thought. We were polled and focus-grouped, not to find out what we think, but to find out how to ring our emotional chimes. The media covered the election like a sports match, telling us more about who was ahead than about what anyone stood for. Most of our information came from sound bites in which the candidates told us about themselves or, worse, about each other.
If there’s a mandate out there, it’s expressed by the three-quarters of the electorate who didn’t show up. If the people have spoken, what they have said is: we quit. This game is so disgusting there’s no point in playing.
The tax cuts Gingrich wants to push through are for the rich; the service cuts are for the poor. Which people spoke for that?
The Republicans will stop the Congressional investigation of the tobacco companies, claiming that “that industry has been regulated enough.” Only a recipient of contributions from the tobacco lobby could believe that.
Poll after poll has made it clear that Americans in great and enduring majorities want to protect endangered species, want stronger environmental laws, want to regulate guns, don’t want to give away public forests or minerals to private profiteers, don’t want government to tell children where, when, or how to pray. On all these issues the new masters of Congress claim the people have just said exactly the opposite.
It’s hard to know what to call these new masters of Congress. The word “Republican” has lost meaning. Some southern Democrats have long acted more Republican than some northern Republicans. If we count conservatives instead of Republicans, the Senate already had a majority before this election. But “conservative” is not the right label either. There are traditional conservatives, and then there’s the Gingrich kind. Traditional conservatives paled at the Reagan-Bush deficits. They were outraged at the irresponsibility of the deregulated banks. They invented conservation; they never thought of environmental protection as a “liberal” issue.
The most accurate word for the new conservatives is a hard one to say, given its historical freight. It is “fascist.” My dictionary says: “fascism: forcible suppression of the opposition (unions, leftist parties, minority groups, etc.), the retention of private ownership of the means of production, belligerent nationalism and racism, glorification of war.” Fascism is a dangerous word, but the new conservatives use more dangerous words when they call fellow citizens who don’t agree with them un-Godly and un-American. That is fascist talk, hate-talk, the kind of talk that seduced the Germans and split apart the Yugoslavs.
If “fascist” is too hard to say, I suggest that in honor of Newt Gingrich we call the new conservatives “grinches” and that we make the grinch agenda very clear, since the grinches themselves do not. Grinches think large corporations can do no wrong and government can do no right, except when it is imprisoning people, waging war, or dictating personal behavior. They have a mystical faith in the free market; they are blind to the market’s systematic drive to put costs onto communities, nature, and the future.
They are willing to spend public money for weapons but not foreign aid, for jails but not schools, for subsidizing businesses but not families. They worry about welfare cheats, not defense contractor cheats. They think that poverty comes from moral failure, not economic oppression, and that people of other races are born morally and intellectually insufficient. They are so insecure about their own toughness that they proclaim it at every opportunity. They are gun-totin’, tough on defense, tough on crime, eager to execute, tough, tough, tough.
Proclaiming absurd, self-serving opinions as if they were the voice of the people is a classic grinch trick. In fact grinches are too busy manipulating the people to have any idea of what the people think. Only a tenth of the people voted for them. Let us not forget, as the media have, the 23 million or so who voted against them and the 150 million who stayed home. Those people have not spoken. They have gone silent, as so many people do, understandably but mistakenly, in the presence of bullies.
Copyright Sustainability Institute 1994