Well, the elephant is out of the barn now. Congress is lost and whither Congress, so will go the courts. The executive branch has laid out an agenda that indicates someone got as far as the first half of the adventures of Augustus Caesar and never read on. So much for checks and balances. It’s like being trapped in a car with no brakes, the momentum so great that there’s nothing that can change the course of events much now.
If I’m right that we’re in for a long stretch of backlash and retrenchment, what will matter most is the ability to endure the long-term powerlessness. What will matter now is how to be resilient, persistent, even when reform is not likely to come about for decades. If Jerry Falwell, Ralph Reed and the far Christian right of the Republican Party spent years tapping into what was once upon a time called “the silent majority,” I think that the rest of us are going to get it together to become a new and ever-so-much-noisier minority. Indeed, I’m not convinced that those in charge actually reflect the views of the majority of this nation, but that’s neither here nor there, I suppose. With the new regime change in Washington, a lot more American citizens have effectively become disfranchised minorities. That is to say, the implications of their vote will be written off by the powers that be. If toxic waste dumps were once placed mostly in Harlem or on Native American reservations, Republican Congressmen will now joke about what might be discarded in Senator Ted Kennedy’s backyard, or in the national parks of “traitor” Jim Jeffords’s Vermont.
“Suspect profiling” will swell with a broad and diverse demographic. With a soon-to-be-implemented computer system, called Total Information Awareness, the heretofore obscure Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has plans to profile loads more Americans than just young black men, what with the system’s capacity to scan, without search warrant, our e-mails, credit-card and bank statements, medical records and travel records. They’ll be searching for patterns that suggest terrorist activity, a description that does not adequately convey the fear we ought to feel now that citizens are about to be surveilled not for law enforcement purposes but for military ends.
Like old-fashioned minorities, “Effective” Minorities will endure losing their life savings to crooked businessmen with glib tongues, boyish grins and larceny in their hearts. They will lose their health insurance and funding for their schools so that the men with the boyish grins can have their corporations bailed out in the name of the public good. If they organize protests, they will lose their jobs. If they are thought to be inclined toward transgressing any rule–but not necessarily having actually broken any law–they just might disappear into the darkness of various legal holes called detention centers.
The new Effective Minorities, whether they see themselves as such or not, will include the disabled, young people, seniors, anyone who earns under $200,000 per year, Asians of all nationalities, Muslims of all ethnicities, small farmers, environmentalists, women, moderate Republicans, most Democrats, Northerners, New Englanders and artists. Since a lot of these groupings include people who have never thought of themselves as being in a minority before, I hereby offer a modest survival guide to living in the New World Order.
First, know what you’re up against. Take a look at the new world handbook, also known as the USA Patriot Act. Compare it with the US Constitution. Read it and weep.
Second, stop weeping. Find allies. Get to know someone who’s had some practice at being a despised minority, a nice black multiculturalist, say, or a gay Latino, or your local Native American. Seriously: Join the ACLU or the NAACP or the Tikkun community or Amnesty International. They’ll help you get a grip.
Third, stop lying to yourself. There is nothing you can do that will convince them to let you back into the country club, so wake up and smell the coffee. Don’t just wring your hands about Social Security. Suggest that Kenneth Lay’s remaining homes be subject to forfeiture under RICO statutes, as the ill-gotten gain of organized crime. Don’t just talk to your therapist about whether your ex-wife’s sister’s librarian is going to “tip” the Office of Homeland Security about that unfortunate experience with the magic mushrooms back in 1967. Ask why Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist’s gun-crazy daughter gets to keep unauthorized weapons and a human-shaped target in her office at the Department of Health and Human Services.
Fourth, do not underestimate the impact of media upon your children. If you’re so intent on taking your underage offspring to an R-rated movie, try not to make it the one that glorifies racist, misogynous homophobes like Eminem. Let the kiddies watch old videos like Bamboozled or Bulworth. That way they will be treated to a satisfying level of obscene language and catchy rap music, but their politics will end up clearer, cleaner, more interesting.
Fifth, make a noisy noise. There’s nothing more useless than a silent minority. Effective Minorities don’t have much of a voice by definition, but there’s no need for you to bite your own tongue for fear of being impolite. Be prepared to fend off accusations that you are not really a minority but an “elite”; or that you are indeed a minority–of one, and as such, an unduly self-promoting opportunist. Your best arguments will be met with retorts like: Who are you–to question your betters, to dare to judge, to be so “censoring”? Do not try to answer these questions; they will lead you further down a path whose end is refuting accusations that all you ever talk about is you. Expect not to be granted the dignity of being considered a threat but rather to be brushed off as “mediocre” or “having no agenda.” Do not make the mistake of spending more time watching your words than theirs.
When you’ve been locked out, there is no thinking but “outside the box.” So be brave. Get mad. Speak up. And dig in for the long haul.