I can’t pinpoint exactly when democracy ceased to exist in America, but I think I can safely say that it no longer exists and hasn’t existed for some time. I suppose as good an example as any would be the recent failure of new gun control legislation after the Newtown elementary school massacre. For the first time that I can remember, a powerful interest group (in this case, the gun lobby) proved that they were actually stronger than popular opinion. (If you recall, a majority of Americans at that time said that they supported stronger gun control laws, and yet they failed the pass.)
The other day I found myself walking down West 12th Street in the West Village, looking at the sprawling new development taking shape where St. Vincent’s Hospital used to stand and thinking, “Gee, that really would be a nice place to live!” I had momentarily forgotten that a hospital used to stand in that location, a hospital that had cared for many AIDS patients during the worst days of the AIDS crisis and had stood at the ready to care for any survivors on 9/11.
How about the most recent stories about global warming? How scientists are now 95% certain that it’s because of human activity that the Earth’s temperature is getting warmer? Do you think that’s going to stop people from burning fossil fuels? If someone can light the water coming out of his garden hose on fire, do you think that’s going to stop fracking?
There have always been rich people, of course, but the rich today are so much richer than they ever have been before that it seems naïve to think they won’t always get their way. If Mayor Bloomberg wants to overturn term limits and serve a third term, he can just buy the election. If developers want to overturn zoning regulations and build high-rises around the entire length of the High Line, they can just do it. If chain stores want to take over every mom and pop store in the city, who’s to stop them?
The insidious thing about these kinds of changes is that once they happen, they never go back. You can’t undo them. You can’t tear down a high-rise once it’s built. You can’t reverse global warming. You can’t bring someone back to life once they’ve been killed with an assault weapon.
So, as the oceans continue to rise, extreme weather continues to increase, gun violence continues to escalate and the New Plutocracy continues to build their skyscraper canyons, all I can do is say, “It’s been real, planet Earth. Let the next generation worry about it. Thank God I won’t we around to see it. Not my problem.”