The Year of Living Dangerously

Already the week is shaping up as a time when even slow learners will finally begin to understand reality. This is the week when things get out of control—a deadly precursor of the rest of the year. Not just overseas, where Middle Eastern governments appear to be changing their tactics and their responses hourly, but also back here in the United States where our own mini-revolution will be firmly entrenched in our future debates about the country’s priorities, especially the national debt.

In the Middle East and North Africa, first in Tunisia and in Egypt and now major upheavals and barbarities in Libya and Bahrain. The first two waves. Algeria, Syria, Jordan, Morocco, and Yemen are lined up behind. Protesters are not going to give up until their governments are either ousted or major changes are made. But those five countries are only the third wave before the next arrives: Iran, Kuwait, possibly even Saudi Arabia, as the ground literally shifts under the governments in control. And the worst possibility for the Middle East? Sunnis and Shiites fighting it out for control of their religion. Given the indications of the past weeks, there are other areas that will be included in the unrest: Ivory Coast, Djibouti, and China, the last already quaking and incarcerating dissidents in huge numbers. Should Cuba, Nigeria, Pakistan, and North Korea be added to the list? Even Zimbabwe?

Here at home, two big changes loom this week. First, with Congress in recess, Tea Party novices will get increasingly hyped up by their base. When they return to Washington, their inflexibility in demanding what they want will be even more myopic. They’re right that the deficit must be addressed; they’re simply wrong about the way they want to tackle it. The poor and the unemployed cannot continue to bear the burden of the tax cuts, but how do you convince Republicans to show any concern for those at the bottom and that an increase in taxes is part of the calculus? The deficit fight will be ugly and brutal with no winners, and many losers.

Worse, by the end of this year, inflation will impact on everyone, but the government will continue to mask it since it will mostly be with food and energy, not included in the measure of core inflation. (Hula hoops and joy buzzers will remain at their current prices, so the argument will be that inflation is non-existent.) Current ten-year treasury rates are 3.39 percent. That may not even budge because at this ridiculously low rate, interest payments are already $207 billion dollars a year. Imagine the rate moving up significantly. Some of us are old enough to remember when the ten-year rate hit 15 percent in 1981, but we can’t even get to half of that without being in deep trouble.

Simultaneously here at home, as states struggle to balance their budgets—again, with draconian cuts and attempts to eliminate collective bargaining—the protests will continue on our doorsteps. It’s no surprise that we discovered last week that it was the Koch brothers—good old Charles and David, always thinking about themselves—who helped fund Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s successful election. Big Money, brought to you by the Supreme Court. My gut tells me that things will get ugly here, too, until all the behind-the-scene influences are revealed.

Imagine being President Obama during these times. For decades, the United States has supported every vile dictator in the world and now payback has begun. Pity poor Hillary Clinton who has to deal with this. As the Onion wrote two years ago: black man rewarded with the worst job in the world. Obama’s got only a brief time to begin siding with the protesters—both overseas and in the United States. Then there are the Limbaughs and the McConnells out there who publicly pray that the President will fail. That’s genuine patriotism—hoping that your elected leaders will fail—or worse.

Tighten your seat belts. This is going to be a roller-coaster ride for everyone, particularly for those of us who believe the United States as we’ve known it—not in recent years, when greed and self-interest have led the fray, but the America of hope, expectation and humanity and Obama’s vision—is worth restoring.

It’s an entirely new world out there, driven by new media, provoking rapid change. By the end of 2011, we’re all going to be living in a different world.

CHARLES R. LARSON is Professor of Literature at American University in Washington, D.C.

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email = Twitter @LarsonChuck.