Summary: The FM website presents information and analysis, but seldom in the first person. However there are frequent requests for information about my activities during these years in which the foundation of the New America was laid. Here is my story, quite appropriate for remembrance on Independence Day.
Just in time for Independence Day I finished a three year project to reform a large non-profit organization in my community, investing a considerable amount of time and money (too much). It ended in total defeat, crushed in a way that proves to me that the New America has arrived.
This was an organization in which I’d worked as a volunteer for almost two decades, and held a high office. Being experienced and with some skill at local politics, I carefully pitched my idea one-on-one to the top five dozen of the organization’s key people. Since the need was clear to all, the solution obvious, the cost and risk low (albeit requiring much work), I succeeded in building a broad base of support — up to and including the senior leadership.
But this is a New America. Local organizations in the America-that-once-was were run by local elites. Doctors, merchants, real estate developers, politicians — responsible, affluent, hard-working citizens. But the growth of a super-rich class of the 1% has transformed these people into local gentry who can do little but deferentially advise our Lords. This makes almost impossible the kind of grass-roots organizing I attempted. The reason is obvious to anyone who has dealt with the 1%.
The 1% — CEOs, ultra-rich, senior politicians — are surrounded by servants and courtiers. Their power and wealth allows them to believe that they are smarter and more knowledgable than their inferiors (the gentry, the help, the peons). Their minds tend to be closed to input from their inferiors. Nor need they share their plans with those not of their class. They are the trump cards in every game.
They dominate their local communities. Even the gentry genuflect before them. They are members of national or even global community of elites, listening mostly to one another and to those of the help that specialize in crafting art and ideas that appeal to the 1%.
The dynamics of local organizations — mostly chapters or franchises of national or international groups — have changed to accommodate the changing pattern of US wealth and power. Control slides towards the center, to national HQs where the elite gather. Away from the grassroots.
My little plan crashed on the walls of the New America. First, I did not realize that our local elites were no longer firsts among equals, but Lords. Insufficient deference in a brief conversation, disagreement over matters in which I had formal authority (which means nothing compared to power of a Lord) — and I lost a powerful supporter.
Second, and more important, my plan ran contrary to a larger plan of these elites. Nothing nefarious; these are well-meaning people sure of their superior knowledge of what’s best for the public good. Not a conspiracy (do you keep secrets from the mice?). But my plans so laboriously laid were sea foam on the rocks.
Most interesting, in a dark sense, were the reactions of my supporters to the wreckage of this plan — with which they agreed as to its necessity and feasibility. More precisely, their silence. Strong people in their own domains, they became deferential and obsequious before the voice of our local elites. That’s when I knew the battle was over, and the New America had been born.
I have shared this story with others. The most common response is that they too have seen similar things in their local communities. Many of us see the New America, but as yet few will acknowledge it even to themselves.
“So too, at the present time there is a remnant …”
— Romans 11:5
An understanding of the New America makes discussion of politics and geopolitics into idle gossip, chatting in the stands about the game on the field down below. For serious people the only important subjects are those which affect their goals and actions (the futures of the people and things they care about). Today that puts politics in center stage for all Americans, perhaps for the first time since the conflicts about civil rights and the Vietnam war.
There is always hope for the future, although I cannot see or imagine how reform might come to America. Perhaps time will reveal other paths to the future.
About the decline of America’s community organizations
Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, Neil Postman, 1985
“Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital” by Robert Robert D. Putnam, Journal of Democracy, January 1995 — Later expanded into the book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (2000).
For More Information
To see the big picture:
A few of the posts about the New America:
- We’ve worked through all 5 stages of grief for the Republic. Now, on to The New America!, 8 January 2013
- How do our leaders see us? Don the shoes of the 1%. Look down on the 99%. Describe the view., 5 February 2013
- Realism about the prospects for reform in America, 3 March 2013
- Confession about a failed forecast, 26 May 2013
- A third try: The first step to reforming America, 28 May 2013
- Compare our New America to the America-that-once-was (a great nation), 12 June 2013
- Glimpses of the New America being born now, 18 June 2013
- The bad news about reforming America: time is our enemy, 27 June 2013
A Commemorative Statue