This weekend has been a study in contrasts. Friday’s news was filled with inspiring stories related to President Obama’s call for National Day of Service in memory of those who lost so much—their lives, their loved ones, their sense of security—on September 11, 2001. On every news channel (with the possible exception of Fox—I didn’t check that one), there were vignettes about positive, cheerful, compassionate people doing things in service of others—lighting candles to defeat a little of the darkness in the world.
Then on Saturday, there were images of the National Mall in Washington, D.C., filling up with cynical, angry, hostile people in response to the rallying cries of Glenn Beck and others who use bitter rhetoric to whip certain segments of the population into paroxysms of raw, unmitigated rage. With the masses teaming in front of the Capitol Building and the Washington Monument in the background, I was reminded at one point of the crowds storming the Bastille during the French Revolution. No heads are being lopped off in 21st Century America, of course, but there are those who wouldn’t mind if they were.
Like similar “tea parties” elsewhere, Saturday’s gathering in Washington was a “just say no” event composed of few misguided “fiscal conservatives,” a few paid agitators bused in by their companies, and a whole lot of rudderless people who are just generally pissed off. Among those interviewed by the media, some were anti-Democratic, many were anti-government, most were anti-taxes, and a few were anti-war. Clearly, “tea-party” organizers—conservative extremists and special interest groups of various stripes—hope to use the power of angst to foment change in their favor. But at this point, it’s hard to say where, if anywhere, all this may lead.
There was a time when the tension between the left and right in America was all about money. But it’s not anymore. Wall Street has lost its way. From the nearly fatal refusal of American car companies to make fuel-efficient cars instead of SUVs to the 2008 melt-down of the entire financial system, the wheelers and dealers have been off the mark. They’ve lost credibility, along with the political party that represented their interests so well for so long.
Now it’s all about power. And the big winners right now aren’t Obama and the Democrats, who inherited a wide range of problems they’re working hard—against all obstacles—to fix. The big winners are the conservative pundits—the Glenn Becks and Rush Limbaughs and Ann Coulters—who are enjoying high ratings, six-figure book deals, and the adulation of the marginalized masses who see themselves as having nowhere else to go.