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« I’m Like, “Wow!” | Main | Elementary, My Dear Watson »

The Politics of Epiphany

When Richard Milhous Nixon’s train stopped in Jackson, Michigan on his presidential campaign of 1960 and I shook his hand, it marked the beginning of my political consciousness.  I was twelve years old.  Since then, a steady progression of seismic events on the national and world stage have fueled my interest, if not obsession with politics.  Unless you were there, you cannot imagine what it was like living in the turbulent decade of the sixties—from music to politics, from race riots to the draft, from drugs to hippies, from social revolution to the Peace Corps, from the “Great Society” to space exploration.  I lived through the era of the JFK assassination, the killings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, the building of the Berlin Wall, the Cold War, nuclear proliferation, the Civil Rights bill, Elvis Presley, the Beatles, Woodstock, the Los Angeles and Detroit race riots, Haight-Ashbury, Timothy Leary, marijuana and LSD, Malcolm X, the Black Panthers and the militant race movement, the student terrorist movement, Vietnam, the Kent State massacre, draft-card burning, Betty Friedan and feminism, Greenwich Village and gay activism, the sexual revolution…and much, much more.   The watershed sixties galvanized an entire generation into an unprecedented awareness of culture, politics and philosophy and life. 

An epiphany is an awakening, a moment of life-changing illumination, a tipping point which delineates a distinct change of direction and understanding.  The sixties decade was epiphanic on so many levels that it essentially changed the course of human history.  Each radical change birthed a hundred more ways to think about issues in non-traditional, even shocking terms.  In my opinion, the cataclysmic events of the sixties fed on themselves.  Many changes took place because the founders were emboldened by other earth-shaking developments that were happening all around them. 

Issues themselves can become subservient to the revolutions that foment them.  This is how “change for change’s sake” gathers momentum.  It is similar to looting and riots that break out with a natural disaster.  People see opportunities to do something that they would never have considered in “normal” conditions. 

In the Haiti earthquake, for example, a 7.5 shaking of the earth six miles underground toppled huge concrete structures all across the capitol city of Port-au-Prince, killing hundreds of thousands of people.  That would have been bad enough, but the crumbled infrastructure threw millions out of work and caused catastrophic repercussions throughout the entire society.  Now, the rebuilding efforts have started to overtake the rescue operations, paving the way for innovation and a fundamental shift in the way Haitians do business. 

Haiti is a microcosm of the way societal epiphanies occur.  For this reason, a political force always arises to try to control the change.  The ascendancy of a political leader or the power grab of a political party is made possible because people fear that the width, depth and breadth of the change will overwhelm them.  Any port in a storm, any straw when you’re drowning and any voice of calm and reason when the world is going crazy—such is the nature of the politics of epiphany. 

America now stands as close to total revolution and societal change as we have been in fifty years.  The Revolutionary War, the Civil War, WWII and the sixties Cultural Revolution may very well pale in comparison.  Look at the mammoth crises looming large before the American people today.  The sub-prime lending crisis, the TARP bailout, the huge crisis over Climate Change and “Climate-gate”, the Health Care Reform legislation now being considered before congress and other political tsunamis are of such magnitude that any one of them can cause a fundamental change in society, not only in America, but the entire world. 

Our government has already spent the wealth of the next two generations.  To use an old cliché, that does not compute.  Literally.  Underwater mortgages is a term used for homeowners facing foreclosure.  Try this:  financially, the USA is underwater.  We may be in so far now, that we cannot back out.  Epiphanies are not always exciting and fun.  They can also be crushing and brutal.  When we wake up and find that each thousand dollars that we own is now worth ten dollars, we will understand.  When we discover that we cannot make the next car payment, we will understand.  When we are told that we cannot get our paycheck until next month—and maybe not then—we will understand. 

When the banks shutter our shopping malls, when the supermarkets have ten percent of the items they used to carry and when we start walking or riding bicycles everywhere, we will understand.  When we are forced to learn Chinese because that is the language of business, we will understand.  When we learn to convert dollars to yen, we will understand.  When we look to China and India to defend our shores, we will understand.  When we move out of our houses and condominiums into public housing projects, we will understand.  When we stand in long lines to get basic health care, we will understand.  When we are turned down for a heart stint, a tonsillectomy or a mole removal, we will understand.  When we cannot afford medications for blood pressure, insulin shots and antibiotics, we will understand.   When we cannot even pay to have a tooth pulled or to get a pair of glasses, we will understand. 

When our vacations consist of a walk in the city park, we will understand.  When we bundle up to go to bed on winter nights because we cannot keep the heat on, we will understand.  When we swelter in the summer heat because air conditioning is out of the question, we will understand.  When we pick a lottery number to decide when and where we can go to school, we will understand.  When we get our schedule of what hours the electricity will be turned on, we will understand. 

Barring a wakeup call for this generation, all of this is inevitable.  Landslides start with a few pebbles loosening and skipping down the hillside.  Avalanches begin with a few clumps of snow breaking away.  Hurricanes start with a pickup in wind speed and the change in atmosphere.  We have felt the rumblings here and there of something big.  The warnings are in evidence everywhere.  Only the lazy, the disillusioned and the ignorant can possibly wave them off as nothing.  Something is happening.  Something is gathering momentum.  If it ever reaches its full-grown form, it cannot be stopped.  

If we do not wake up now, there will be no need to wake up at all…ever. 

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