One day you’re gonna wake up, America
By David Michael Green
And, like every other one since last you can remember, it’s gonna be an ugly morning.
One day you’re gonna wake up and go to your lousy job with its lousy salary and non-existent benefits. You might even remember the good job you once had. Or that the government you once supported gave tax breaks to companies like the one that exported that good job of yours to the Third World (which is what they’re now starting to call your country). Or that that same government undermined the labor unions which fought to get you your good wages and benefits.
One day you’re gonna wake up and be furious at the monstrous tax burden you are carrying, a tab which accounts for fifty of the seventy hours you must work each week just to eke by. You might even figure out why your tax bill is so high. You might remember that the government you once supported shifted the tax burden from the rich onto people like you, and from the taxpayers of the time onto those of today. And that they borrowed money in astonishing quantities to fund their sleight-of-hand, so that you work thirty hours a week just to pay the interest on a mountain of money borrowed decades ago.
One day you’re gonna wake up in anger at the absurdly poor education your children are receiving. You’re gonna remember that it wasn’t always that way, that even after the military’s voracious appetite was temporarily sated, your country still managed to find a few bucks to at least educate a workforce. No more. And you’re gonna remember how you applauded when your educational system was twisted in to a test taking industry that is careful, above all, not to teach children how to think.
One day you’re gonna wake up literally sick and tired. You’re gonna want treatment for your maladies but you won’t be able to touch the cost. You’re gonna wonder what you were thinking when believed your country had the best healthcare system in the world, even though it was the only advanced democracy in the world that didn’t provide universal care, even though it devoted fifty percent more of its economy than those other countries to pay for a system that left fifty million people uninsured, and even though there were massive layers of unnecessary and harmful private sector bureaucracy skimming hundreds of billions of dollars of profits out of the system in the name of free enterprise.
One day you’re gonna wake up too tired to go to work anymore. You’re gonna want to retire in dignity but will be left instead to laugh bitterly at the cruelty of that joke. And you’re gonna wonder what in the world you had been thinking voting for a president who’s primary goal was to allow Wall Street to raid Social Security, destroying what had once been considered the most successful domestic program in human history.
One day you’re gonna wake up and wish that it wasn’t so bloody hot, and that there weren’t so many diseases and species eradications and violent storms lashing the planet. And maybe you’ll even remember that you once supported a government that lied about the very existence of global warming – back when it might have been curtailed – a government that scuttled the barest remedy for the problem in order to protect oil company profits.
One day you’re gonna wake up and wish you had a government that could simply and competently do the basic things it was designed for. A government that could protect you from foreign attack, that could come to your rescue after a devastating hurricane, that could properly manage a new program or other people’s security. An administration that didn’t pervert the purpose of every agency within the government to its opposite, using civil rights lawyers to fight civil rights, for example, or the EPA to protect polluters.
One day you’re gonna wake up and cry out for simple justice, blindly applied without bias. And perhaps you’ll remember when that principle died. When your country stood by and watched the politicization of its judicial system for purposes of partisanship, and said nothing. When it stood by and watched its highest law enforcement officials in the land lie about their failing memory of events and pretended to believe that was acceptable.
One day you’re gonna wake up and wish that you weren’t being drafted to go fight wars you don’t believe in. You’ll remember how soldiers were sent to their deaths for lies. You’ll remember how badly they were treated when they came home maimed and twisted. You’ll remember how real, patriotic, former soldiers were mocked and humiliated by dress-up, unpatriotic, former non-soldiers. And suddenly you’ll understand why no one would volunteer for the military anymore, and why people like you had to be drafted.
One day you’re gonna wake up and want very badly to run outside and scream in anger about a government that long ago stopped serving your interests in favor of the narrow interests of a tiny oligarchy. But instead you’ll stay inside and keep your scream tucked safely in your belly. Because you’ll know that in your country dissent has long since been outlawed, on pain of torture and death. You’ll remember concepts like due process, limitations on government search, seizure and wiretapping, habeas corpus, trial by peers, legal representation and prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment as historical artifacts no longer even taught in schools.
On day you’re gonna wake up and want so badly to change governments. You’re gonna treasure the concept of democracy like no Soviet dissident ever did. You’re gonna crave the opportunity to own your own government, to make your own societal choices, to make a change of direction never before so desperately necessary. And you’re gonna wonder why you didn’t speak up as you watched first-hand the dismantling of the democracy you had been handed by previous generations of patriots. You’re gonna wish you had been patriotic enough yourself to demand, above all else, free and fair elections, and you’re gonna shake your head in puzzlement at how you stood by watching in silence those that patently were not.
One day you’re gonna wake up and want to get the hell out of your rotting, repressive country. You’re gonna remember a time when that wasn’t true. But, oddly enough, you’ll find that other countries remember too. They’ll remember your country’s arrogance, its unilateralism, its walls, its racism, and its politicized abuse of immigrants. And they’ll remember how your government undermined and violently replaced theirs whenever corporations from your country had their profits threatened. You’re gonna want to leave, but there will be nowhere you’ll be welcome. You’re gonna find out that walls can face both directions.
One day you’re gonna wake up in a hostile world where your country no longer has any friends. There will be governments of other countries – former long-standing allies – that cannot afford to have anything to do with you, lest their publics angrily remove them from office for collaborating with a country as hated as yours. Nor will those governments trust yours anyway. They will perhaps possess intelligence that could save your life, but they will not share it. They will possess forces that could help you survive real security threats, but they will not provide them. Your country will have become an international pariah, the South Africa of the twenty-first century.
And because no one will assist you, one day you’re gonna wake up fearing for your life as your country is brutally attacked by angry militants deploying weapons of mass destruction against your cities. Long dormant connections in your brain will resurface, and you will dimly understand why. On this day – perhaps March 20, 2023 – you might be assisted in your comprehension by the message of one of the attackers, someone whose family your country callously destroyed in its mission accomplished in Iraq, and who spent the next twenty years plotting this day’s revenge. And you will wonder again why you stood by as your country attacked Iraq on a completely bogus pretext. You’ll remember applauding when this mailed fist was long ago sent. And, just as it comes hurling back in your direction at a lethal velocity, stamped “Return to Sender”, you’ll wonder what you were thinking. And you’ll realize just how much you weren’t.
One day you’re gonna wake up, America, and you’re gonna find out what was happening while you were sprawled on the couch watching endless mind-numbing loops of CSI, Desperate Housewives or Dancing with the Stars.
One day you’re gonna wake up and realize that catching all the action during week seven of the 2011 NFL season really wasn’t so critical in the greater scheme of things after all.
One day you’re gonna wake up and wished you’d invested a little more energy into monitoring and choosing the people who made monumental decisions on your behalf.
One day, with a flash of remorse greater than you thought it possible that one human vessel could contain, you’ll remember the ignored warning shots across your bow. Moments later, you’ll discover the human capacity for searing remorse is actually even greater still, as you contemplate your inattention even to the shots that were fired right through the bow. With a fury you would yesterday have thought yourself incapable of, you’ll hurriedly attempt to affix Band-Aids to the tattered splinters remaining from your country’s once sturdy hull. But you’ll learn quickly the toll of those years spent wasted in a civic coma. You’ll find that no amount of patchwork can any longer save this sinking ship from its appointment with the dustbin of history.
In shame, you’ll regret the callous arrogance with which you laughingly dismissed those who sounded the early clarion call. “We are destroying ourselves”, they tried to tell you. But even on the rare occasion when you roused yourself from your stupor long enough to learn the slightest bit about the very threats that jeopardized your life and that of your species, still you found it more reassuring to follow the blustering worst amongst us, with their patently absurd pretended confidence, and their ever constant resort to the cheapest of false solutions, and the rudest of demeanors.
One day, you’ll desperately search for hope of any sort, but none will remain. Nothing will be left to save you.
One day you’ll realize that once there were solutions, but that that day is now long past. You’ll see that human technological capacity ran its evolutionary race with wisdom, and the latter came in second. You’ll sadly realize that you stood by while your country led the once great tool-making species to its own destruction.
One day you’re gonna wake up, America, and realize how far it’s all gone. But if that day isn’t very soon, it won’t matter.
Because one day you’re gonna wake up, and it will be far, far too late.
David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York. He is delighted to receive readers' reactions to his articles (firstname.lastname@example.org ), but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. More of his work can be found at his website, www.regressiveantidote.net.
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