With the passing of this month, our country bowed its head in reverence to those we lost now 10 long years ago in the terrible attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Local prayer services, state-sponsored events and national news stories all ensured that we as a people would live up to the credo that we swore to that solemn day after we were assaulted: never forget.
Yet, while our individual memories will always be scarred by the images of burning buildings and plummeting people, we seem to have collectively forgotten the events of three short years ago that occurred during this very same month.
Sept. 15, 2008: The day when the Wall Street investment bank Lehman Brothers officially declared bankruptcy because of its over-leveraging and speculating in global financial markets. It marks the day when the dream of “too big to fail” banks for the wealthy and corporations became the nightmare for the “too small to save” middle class and working-poor in this country.
Sept. 15 marks the day when the system of American free-market capitalism failed us and the world, while we as a people did nothing to change or stop it.
Three years later we are living with the consequences of our complacency, mired in economic stagnation from a financial crisis whose destruction and pain have seemed to harm everyone except those who actually engineered and caused it.
The story of the American Left is one of rich history with a long legacy of the politically, socially and economically disenfranchised seeking to reclaim for themselves what society had unjustly taken from them long ago. Civil rights, gender equality and social justice are all interwoven within the tapestry of America’s leftists, from the most ardent socialist to the most lukewarm Democrat.
Members of the left know full well that the original sins of the American republic — African American enslavement, Native American extermination and the subjugation of American women — have yet to be fully atoned for.
The forces that converged on Washington to end depression, racism and war during the era of Roosevelt, Jim Crow and Vietnam have not returned to right the wrongs of our time. The brave men, women and children who believed that the light of justice now could defeat the darkness of injustice before are nowhere to be found. The old power structures of the left: the union, the church, the arts and the academy have been hollowed out and all but destroyed by the rise of the new right.
The busting of unions and assaults on organized labor in the Midwest, corruption of the church by religious demagogues and homophobic bigots in the South, defunding of public education and infrastructure in the Northeast as well as the denial of evolutionary theory and rejection of climate science in the capital have all culminated to bring about the death of the left.
We live in an era in which the word liberal is viewed as a disparaging remark and progressive taxation is perceived to be a despicable evil. What were once called social insurance initiatives for the vulnerable are now demonized as entitlement programs for the undeserving.
Since 1980, America has undergone a fundamentally conservative revolution that has created vast income inequality, terrible endless wars and devastating economic calamity stemming from plutocratic tax cuts, preemptive war doctrines and corrupt financial deregulation. The circumstances of our times might lead you to think that the dawn of a new age of American liberalism is nigh. You might believe that the fertile soil of our politics is ripe to reap the rewards of reclaiming the American dream for those who too long unjustly denied it.
However, you would be wrong. The individuals and organizations that have arisen from the ashes of these policies are the very same people and institutions that helped enact them in the first place. With the birth of the Tea Party comes the death of the left, and with it, the work goes no further, the cause endures no longer, the hope lives no more and the dream shall finally die.