In the movie “Network” from 1976, a TV news anchor played by Peter Finch builds a mass following by promising to kill himself on the air while declaring that “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore!” The network execs are all too happy to encourage him – as long as his outrage is good for ratings and doesn’t threaten the system. But when Finch starts to step on corporate agendas, he has the riot act read to him by Ned Beatty, who explains “There is no America. There is no democracy” and that “The world is a college of corporations.” A visibly shaken Finch realizes he’s in over his head.
I’ve always liked that catchphrase from the movie, for we the people should be as mad as hell, and we should refuse to take it. We should act. But what’s interesting is how our anger is redirected before we can act.
We’re not supposed to be mad at the oligarchs – that “college of corporations” – who own it all and who push all the buttons. No — our anger is supposed to be tribal. We’re supposed to hate Republicans, or Democrats, or anti-vaxxers, or Trump supporters, or someone — someone ultimately like us, without much power. The anger is ginned up to encourage us to punch down while keeping us disunited.
If we continue to be at war with each other while punching down, we’ll never turn righteous anger against the right people.
Being mad can be good if the anger is channeled against the exploiters; it’s not good when it’s exploited by the powerful to keep us divided and weak.
America’s two-party system is designed to deflect anger away from the moneyed interests and toward each other. What we need is a new political party that truly represents the people rather than the oligarchs. Neither major party, Republican or Democrat, seems reformable. Both are captured by moneyed interests. After all, if money is speech, who can yell louder: you and me, or Lockheed Martin and Amazon? Even the “anti-establishment” voices in either major party have largely been neutralized. Or they get sicced on the enemy of the day, whether it’s evil woke Democrats or evil unwoke Trumpers.
Hence nothing really changes … and that’s the point.
America needs an anti-imperial party, a “Come home, America” party, a party that puts domestic needs first as it works to downsize the military and dismantle the empire. Yet, in the spirit of Orwell’s 1984 and the Two Minutes’ Hate, Americans are always kept hating some putative enemy. Russia! Radical Islamic Terror! China! Immigrants at the gate! Maybe even an enemy within. We’re kept divided, distracted — and downtrodden.
If we continue to be at war with each other while punching down, we’ll never turn righteous anger against the right people. We’ll never effect meaningful change.
It’s said that power never concedes anything without a demand. Why do we demand so much from the powerless and so little from the powerful? Isn’t it high time we reversed that?