The Presidential Election and the Prospects for a Decent Future

Published on ZNet, by Paul treet, Nov. 2, 2012.

The content and character of the 2012 U.S. presidential election does not bode well for the human race and other life on Earth. If the American people do not broaden the sphere of public concerns that matter far beyond the ones being discussed in this the latest big money-big media -major party-narrow spectrum-corporate-managed candidate-centered “electoral extravaganza” (Noam Chomsky’s phrase[2]), then there is not going to be a decent, desirable, or democratic future worth inhabiting. If we accept this and other such periodic U.S. elections as an adequate expression and spectrum of democratic politics and popular voice, we’re done for.  

Eight Key Issues:

Let’s take an honest look at the most crucial issues we face today. The first and top such issue to me and many others, including 97 percent of the world’s Earth scientists, is the ever more imminent existential threat posed by anthropogenic climate change, which is intensifying at a scale that has scared the Hell out of even some of the most pessimistic analysts. According to research released last June by science journal Nature, humanity is now facing an imminent threat of extinction – a threat caused by its reckless exploitation of the natural environment. The report reveals that our planet’s biosphere is steadily and ever more rapidly approaching a “tipping point,” meaning that all of the planet’s ecosystems are nearing sudden and irreversible change that will not be conducive to human life. “The data suggests that there will be a reduction in biodiversity and severe impacts on much of what we depend on to sustain our quality of life, including… fisheries, agriculture, forest products and clean water. This could happen within just a few generations.”  So says lead author Anthony Barnosky, a professor of integrative biology at the University of California-Berkeley. ”My colleagues who study climate-induced changes through the Earth’s history are more than pretty worried,” another leading scientist said in a press release. “In fact, some are terrified.”[3] The remarkable hurricane that ravaged the eastern U.S. seaboard one week before the election was certainly a reflection of those human-made changes to no small degree.

A second top issue to me at least is one you don’t hear about that much anymore but which remains very real in ways that merit attention as we pass the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The threat of nuclear war remains alive and well in the post-Cold War era.[4]

A third issue is mass poverty. Poverty is endemic across a world in which 3 billion struggle to get by on less than two and a half dollars a day. It’s a big problem in the United States, where one in six citizens live below the federal government’s notoriously inadequate poverty line, where one in three live at or below 150 percent of official poverty, where half the households are officially low-income, and more than a million children live at less than half the poverty level.

A fourth issue, intimately related to the third one, is inequality. Economic disparity is a huge problem in the United States, where the top 1 percent owns more than 40 percent of the wealth, nearly two-thirds of the financial assets, most of the media and a possibly larger share of “our” elected officials. “We must make our choice,” the Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis wrote in 1941, “We may have democracy in this country, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both.” This is the issue Occupy Wall Street briefly placed front and center in the political culture just more than a year ago, before it was dismantled by force to make way for the quadrennial extravaganza – the dominant news story since early this year.

A fifth issue, intimately related to the fourth one, is the distinct likelihood of another epic financial crisis, something that many insiders are predicting in the wake of the federal government’s failure to significantly check the size and power of the leading financial institution after the 2007-08 meltdown.[5]

A sixth issue, inextricably linked to poverty and inequality, is the long-term structural employment and enforced obsolescence of tens of millions of formerly middle and working class Americans.[6]

A seventh issue is the deep persistent problem of societal and institutional racism. Racism deeply understood remains firmly embedded in the U.S., where black median household wealth is equivalent to 7 cents on the median white household wealth dollar, where  black unemployment and poverty rates remain double those of whites, where blacks and Latinos together make up more than two thirds of the country’s unmatched prison population, where 1 in 3  black male adults is saddled with the crippling mark of a felony record, and where millions of black children are stuck in highly segregated,  inadequately funded, and standardized test score-obsessed schools.

An eighth issue is American militarism, seen by most of the world as the single greatest threat to global peace. The Pentagon system accounts for nearly half the planet’s military expenditure and spends more than $1 trillion a year to maintain (among other things) more than 1000 U.S. military installations across more than 100 nations while granting gigantic cost-plus taxpayer subsidies to filthy rich high-tech American corporations like Boeing, Raytheon and Rockwell Collins, not to mention the oil access and protection service it provides to Exxon Mobil.

Ignoring, Worsening, and Dancing Around: … //

… Hope

If we accept the painfully constricted parameters of acceptable debate on display, if we recognize this and other U.S. election contests as the sum total of what passes for meaningful democratic politics and popular voice in the United States, the outlook for humanity and other sentient beings and living things is dim indeed. That’s an ominous statement, one this writer finds unavoidable given the dire threats. At the same time, there are reasons for hope. I am convinced on the basis of our history going back to the American Revolution through the abolitionist movement, the labor movement, the Civil Rights movement, the peace movement, the women’s rights movement, and, more recently to the Wisconsin rebellion and the Occupy Wall Street movement last year and the Chicago NATO protest and teachers’ strike this year and the Justice for Trayvon demonstrations and more this year….I am convinced on the basis of all this and more that we the people not only must but can act collectively beneath and beyond the quadrennial extravaganzas to broaden the range of acceptable debate and the field of relevant politics to include the issues that need to be addressed if the future is going to be worth inhabiting.
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(Paul Street (Paul is the author of numerous books, including most recently, The Empire’s New Clothes: Barack Obama in the Real World of Power (2010) and (co-authored with Anthony DiMaggio) Crashing the Tea Party (2011). Street is currently writing a book titled “The 1%”:  How They Rule and What We Can Do About if Before It’s Too Late’ and can be reached here. He will speak on “The 2012 election and the Future of American Politics” at the Open University of the Left, in Chicago in early December 2012 (further details pending – check at open University of the Watch Open University of the Left events on our YouTube Channel).


Global Meat Production and Consumption Slow Down, on nourishing the planet, by Danielle Nierenberg and Laura Reynolds, October 24, 2012;

Gold or Freedom? on ZNet, by Nick Lalaguna, Nov. 2, 2012.

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