Breach of Trust

Dear readers,

There’s always at least one superbly interesting article in Commonweal magazine. This week it’s a book review written by David Kennedy of Stanford University. The book, Breach of Trust, is by Andrew Bacevich, The book’s subtitle: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country, is accurate but also misleading..

“Beneath its surface,” Kennedy says of the book, “smolders a scalding indictment of the entirety of contemporary American culture.” I found that sentence chilling. “In its entirety?” He goes on to conclude that “we citizens….have most conspicuously failed our soldiers and our country, We have destroyed not only the tradition of the citizen-soldier, but perhaps the whole delicate fabric of civic membership, community responsibility, and social engagement.”

It’s intriguing to think that the end of the “citizen solider” concept should coincide with the NRA’s defense of the 2nd amendment with its focus on citizen-militias. The unprecedented popularity of our voluntary army, Kennedy suggests, may be thought of also as a way to brush off guilt about our willingness to let our wars be taken care of by “others.”

This same mood or logic seems to carry over to one after another “civic” duties—like preserving and enhancing public education, public hospitals, public prisons, and more. I heard a story last night from my brother about the struggle over NYC’s parks. He reminded me that NYC does not any longer truly have “public parks”—as they once did. More and more are dependent on private charity. The result includes a great gap in support for Manhattan parks vs. borough parks. (It includes waning maintenance for large federal and state parks, intended to be kept close to its natural state.) I distantly even remember when admission to our museums and zoos were free.

We have turned our “commons” over to the rich to protect and nurture—as they see fit. Sometimes it relates to their financial interests (which do not necessarily coincide with the country’s interests) and, other times to clean up their family name (like Carnegie, et al a century ago), sometimes to help a friend, sometimes because it brings status to them from their social and business circles. And its generosity that replaces much of their duty to pay taxes, which requires more fancy political footwork to control.

The rich are not demons, they are simply unmoored from loyalty to the rest of us. Their experience suggests to them that what helps them is good for everyone (or, as Petrelli suggests in his blog with me on Bridging Differences—they don’t deserve it).

This can only be fought everywhere at once—close to home and far from it. (Time to buy the book.)

Deb

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