Scene4 Magazine: Kathi Wolfe - Life Among The Heffalumps

Slouching Towards the Apocalypse


November 2013

"Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;" William Butler Yeats wrote in 1919 in the aftermath of World War I in his poem "The Second Coming," "The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity....And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,/Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?"

I've never thought so often of these stirring words from Yeats' magnificent, prescient poem as I have now as everyone worldwide watches the Unites States teeter on the brink of default.  Having grown up with childhood memories of air raid shelters built to help us survive the "nuclear winter," I periodically ponder what an apocalypse, should it come, would be like.  Would the world end in a flash of burning, radioactive light?  Or, would we fade out gradually from radiation sickness — naked, hungry, wounded, looting, raging – with all government and morality cast aside? But, having seen the U.S. and the world survive assassinations, wars, stock market crashes and cultural clashes, I haven't been consumed by apocalyptic preoccupation (no matter how pessimistic I've been about humanity or the future).  No matter what happens, somehow we'll make it through, I tell myself. I jokingly think: if there is an apocalypse, I won't attend my high school reunion.  I couldn't bear all that grim, exhausted smoke.

Until now.  Watching the White House, the Senate, the House of Representatives, to-the-death Tea Partyers and diehard liberals play a ruthless, unblinking game of chicken that looks ever-more-likely to lead to a U.S. default, I no longer pooh-pooh my apocalyptic worries.  We may not in the next minute exit this earthly vale of tears in a nano-sec of hail and brimstone or burst of fire; but, according to even the most conservative, Republican-leaning economists, if the United States defaults, economic stability world wide, as we have known it, will end.  This will adversely impact everyone from small business entrepreneurs to vulnerable people throughout the globe.  For many of us, if not everyone (the upper middle-class and rich may be exempt), life as we know it will end.

Last week, I met a small businessman from California, already hurt by the U.S. government shutdown, who'd flown all the way to Washington, D.C.  "I want to talk to anybody in the government who'll listen," he told me at a DC Starbucks, "I'll be out of business if we {the U.S.} defaults.  It'll wipe out my family and my workers."

I'm one of the millions of vulnerable people who'll (likely) be devastated if the United States defaults.  If there's a default, it's highly probably that I won't receive my disability check and that Medicare, on which I depend for my medical care, would be hit hard. Everyone from children to elderly to children would be hurt.  The pain would not only strike vulnerable people.  Corporations, companies, doctors, lawyers, actors, athletes – anyone you can think of – will be hit in the solar plexus.

Why have we gotten to this place?  Partly because Ted Cruz and his destructive band of Tea Partyers, a tiny, but vocal, vile and vociferous, minority of the U.S. population, have shut down the U.S. government and taken it by the balls.  But that's not the only reason.  We've also come to the edge of the abyss, because government and politics in the United States is now powered by extremes – the right-of-the Atilla-the Hun-Tea Party faction (red meat base) of the Republican party and the way-out-in-outer-space-left faction (oh-so-politically correct-we-know-everything base) of the Democratic party.  Compromise (once the coin of the realm in U.S. politics) is now an obscenity to politicos.  Forging a relationship with anyone, in your or the opposing party with whom you disagree, is tantamount to an act of treason. 

"If I thought you agreed with anything that the Republicans said, I wouldn't have you for a friend," a pal told me recently.

I don't like the Tea Party.  As someone who's legally blind and whose (late) mother was a type 1 diabetic, I know what it's like to have trouble getting health insurance in the United States. But, having said this, we didn't get to the Tea Party and to the current abysmal situation in a vacuum.  I voted for President Obama.  Obama has been fabulous for myself and other LGBT folk (in repealing "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," supporting same-sex marriage and in not defending the Defense of Marriage Act).  It was historic when he became the United States' first black president. But having said that, Obama has made some mistakes.  The Affordable Care Act was rammed through the United States Congress with no Republican votes.  Obama and his team did next to nothing to get Americans to understand – to embrace – his health care plan.  You can't enact a law that makes broad changes in a country without getting the nation's citizens to "buy into" it.  You can't govern effectively if you don't build collegial relationships with members of your own and the opposition party.  Obama has never done this.  Call it schmoozing.  But it's an essential part of governing.  Even Democrats have complained of Obama's lack of collegiality.

As Newton's third law of motion says "for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction."  It's not surprising given Obama's ineptitude in politicking, that (erroneous) rumors of "death panels" took hold in the U.S. culture or that the 2010 election send a batch of Tea Partyers to Congress.

I don't approve of what the Tea Party has done.  Yet I don't endorse Obama's strategy of not giving the Republicans a fig-leaf (such as delaying the medical device tax which is hated by members of both parties).  Years ago, I interviewed Andrew Young, the former Atlanta Mayor and U.S. United Nations Ambassador) for Modern Maturity News Service, a now defunct AARP outlet. "I learned from Martin Luther King, Jr. who had studied Gandhi: you have to give your opponents, however wrong they are, some way to save face," Young, who worked with King and others in the civil rights movement told me, "otherwise you can't move forward in the struggle."

Chris Matthews' new book "Tip and The Gipper: When Politics Worked" is an absorbing account of a time, when Ronald Reagan was president and Tip O'Neill was Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, when civility, compromise and respect, were, generally, the order of the day in U.S. politics.  "The cloak-and-balance relationship between president and Speaker can either propel the government forward or not," Matthews writes. "Put plainly, they either talk, or they don't.  When they join in alliance, the government rumbles ahead.  When their interests collide, something's got to give. Either one side prevails, or a compromise is struck.  Otherwise the republic stalls."        

There was a respect for each other's office and for each other personally, George A. Covington, a friend of mine, who worked for both the (late) Democratic Speaker of the House Jim Wright and the first Bush administration.  "They fought each other tooth and nail on political principle and procedure," George told me, "but they respected each other. Republicans and Democrats socialized with each other {across party lines}.  Politically they might be far apart but personally they were like brothers {and sisters}."

I urge President Obama and the Congressional leaders to read Matthews' book. I implore Obama to put aside his feelings of anger, frustration and protectiveness towards his health care act. Mr. President, I beg you, consider this: what good will it do if you give up nothing (no matter how small in your health care law), if the U.S. defaults because you refuse to let Republicans (however wrong they've been) save some face?         

I fervently hope that my apocalyptic visions will prove to be merely nightmares from which we shall soon awake.

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Scene4 Magazine - Kathi Wolfe |
Kathi Wolfe is a writer, poet and a Senior Writer and columnist for Scene4. Her reviews and commentary have also appeared in an array of publications. Her most recent Book of Poems, The Green Light, has just been published by Finishing Line Press.
For more of her commentary, articles and poetry check the

©2013 Kathi Wolfe
©2013 Publication Scene4 Magazine



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November 2013

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