The Commons Revisited

I want to return to one of my favorite political / philosophical places on the map, The Commons. When I first wrote about The Commons, back prior to the second election of our current president it was with some hopefulness ( backstory). Truthfully, most Americans do not refer to the Public Sector, the services and systems provided by government as The Commons. Since January 1981, we have as a nation, been on a mission to destroy The Commons and our memory of how they serve us.

How did we get so damned mean?

Do you ever ask yourself this question when listening to news reports, watching a debate on the floor of Congress or reading the latest memes posted from either side of the ideological debate? I know I do. It seems both sides have sunk to new lows, specializing in simple nastiness and personal attacks rather than solving problems. We cloak it in humor, we laugh at political satire and even excuse those who attack our ideological enemies with terms of gender, race, ethnicity where if these terms were turned on us we would scream bloody murder and demand immediate retribution.

What in the Hell is wrong with us anyway?

As a nation, as a people we cling to our notions and ideologies neither side willing to listen or move from their platforms. The problem is both sides have moved both sides have slid further toward the right, leaving the nation and The Commons in peril of ultimate destruction. We have become a nation of sound bites, ignorance, misinformation and political distractions. We fly willy-nilly off the handle at the slings and arrows thrown by irrelevant talking heads and ignore what is important, critical even to our lives as citizens. We fail as citizens to understand what is important for our future and the future of our nation, focusing instead on immediate gratification as if playing a video game.

The Commons, Safety Nets and the Fall of a Nation

Do you wonder what is the Commons? Many do, they haven’t really heard of The Commons, truthfully many think all the services they receive are simply there, free of charge and might be better if they weren’t, free that is. With this in the back of our mind, let’s consider what are commonly thought of as The Commons:

  • Public Safety – Police, Fire and Rescue
  • Public Transportation – Roads, including local, state and interstate and lest we forget bridges, of which many are considered close to failure.[i]  We also shouldn’t forget in here, the ports, river ways, airways, the list truly does go on.
  • Public Health-  including Free Clinics, Hospitals, Research, the FDA and the EPA to name just a few of the services we receive in the name of our health and well-being.
  • Public Parks – preservation of our wild areas
  • Public Education – from pre-school all the way through university in some states.
  • National Security – Military and that great huge spy apparatus we have and all too often decry.

These are just a few, the list could continue, for pages and pages if truth were to be told.

Then there are the safety nets, no I am not talking about those nets we pay for throughout our working lives but instead the ones we have in place for the weakest of our society:

  • Medicaid (Healthcare, but only one part of the whole)
  • Aid for Women, Infants and dependent children (WIC)
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP (aka: Food Stamps)
  • Housing Assistance to families
  • Temporary Assistance to Families in Need, TANF (aka: Welfare)
  • Pell Grants
  • Child Nutrition or School Lunches
  • Head Start and Child Care
  • Job Training
  • Unemployment supplements
  • Energy Assistance (LIHeap)
  • Lifeline (aka: Obama Phone), funny about this one, it was actually started in 1997 but somehow has been attached to our current POTUS.

In their entirety, these programs make up less than fifty percent (50%) of the entire budget, think about that for a moment, ponder it. All the supports, both Common Good and Safety Nets excepting National Defense, make up less than half the expenditure of the federal government. One must ask where does the rest of our money go, why don’t we have a more stable economy and better infrastructure. What are all these fiscally responsible, conservative members of our federal government doing with the trillions of dollars they collect from us and borrow from others? It is a good question, worth asking, isn’t it?

2014 Federal spending chart

Damned Mean and Getting Meaner by the Day

Is it indifference or cynicism that has taken us down this road, allowing us to not see the suffering before us, to not care when a child is hungry or an entire neighborhood falls victim to blight. How do we turn a blind eye as our schools, once the pride of our neighborhoods fall into disrepair, our children once the ‘best and brightest’ are no longer able to read, write or do simple math upon graduation from High School? Why do we find it better to make excuses as our nation drops in every category measuring national success and citizen happiness?

We beat our chests as if illiteracy makes us superior and ignorance of simple science will advance us as a nation. Our failure to advance within the global economy isn’t accidental; we are the only nation with a classification of ‘working poor’, we seem to be damned proud of having added designation, while ripping all security from tenuous hold on hearth and home. A once proud middle class, slips further adrift, families shuffled into parking garages, tent cities and shelters; no longer too proud to beg.

So long as we can point and say, ‘not like us’, we happily run to the polls and pull that lever for the guy who looks most like ‘us’ then wonder why we are losing our jobs, our homes, our cars, our access to healthcare. When we do and there is nothing there to help us when we fall, we still look to the other guy, the inner city guy, the immigrant, the fatherless child, the unmarried mother; we blame them for our fate and cry foul. We look to the guy we elected, we beg and plead and remind them of their promise to, ‘stop those lazy folks sucking on the public tit, not like us hard working folks just like them’. It is only then we might realize we aren’t any different; we also need help but do we get mad at those ‘just like us’ folks we elected who have screwed us into the dirt of our rented land? Hell no, we get madder still at the ‘not like us’ folks suffering right beside us they’re still ‘not like us’ and we are still going to find a way to make them worse off and we are still going to find a way to elect those that are ‘just like us’.

Do we learn though, do we find common ground? No instead, we continue to put the charlatans with their hands out taking money and spinning the wheel to find the next target to focus our ire upon. We would rather put money into the greedy, grasping hands of those who could feed, educate and rebuild this nation with nothing more than the interest paid on the welfare checks they receive from our tax dollars. But we are mean, so long as we have a target we are happy to remain mean, happy to point to the other guy, the guy that isn’t us, that looks different from us and blame them for our misfortune, for our failure to thrive for the failure of The Commons to lift us up from our misfortune.

 Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. Matthew 25:45




  1. Val, I so enjoyed what you had to say and agree completely. The longer we sit idlely by and allow the 1% to erode our education system the less likely we will be able to stop the meanness from hijacking our country. They want an uneducated voter base to keep us from discovering our common ground and taking back the American dream. Thank you for making such a profound statement.

    • First welcome and I love your picture, absolutely adore it in fact.

      You are so right, an ignorant populace is one less likely to vote, or if they do less likely to vote in their best interest.

      Thank you for stopping in and I do hope you will stop by again.

      • Thanks. I took that pic during an intermission while watching my daughter’s 1st play. I loved the idea of rebellion cloaked in a touch of irony. 🙂 I’m sure I will be stopping in frequently.

  2. Agree,

    Something must be wrong, i hate to see little kids get killed by another kid (just for saying an scenario). With the defense budget you signaled on the graph we should have that type of problems because this should be to be spent also inside the country to protect from dangerous people.

  3. Sometimes watching what is happening in the world “HURTS Me.”
    Sometimes I want to open the window and scream “I CAN”T TAKE IT ANYMOOOORE!”

    Luv U.xx

    • Me as well, truly me as well. There are days I look at the world without the benefit of my rose colored glasses and I simply want to through myself into the street in front of an oncoming bus. Then I reconsider, I think to myself, “no, better to fight another day.”

      Much love

  4. frigginloon says:

    Ahh, those pie graphs are back 😉

  5. Gray Dawster says:

    No matter where in the world we view politicians from, they always have the same traits and it’s not something nice either. Tit-for-Tat exchanges and downright rudeness is on the increase but what does it show the public and voters in general?

    I figure we all know the answer to that one and it isn’t positive in the slightest. It is a shame that such learned men and women leading our countries have such shallow thoughts and negative interactions 😦

    Have a lovely rest of weekend Val 🙂

    Andro xxxx

    • Agreed, it is a shame. I don’t know how we change this though unless and until we all get up and demand a change. We only do this through our votes, through standing outside our public buildings with signs and bullhorns. Through making our voices heard. It is time my friend. Polite discussion is no longer getting us there.

      • Gray Dawster says:

        This is true, now where is that bullhorn? I know where I would shove it… Hey stop getting me going with all those asshole politicians, it’s happy Monday so let’s have jam and cream scones and coffee 🙂 Oh yes and some chocolate too 😉 lol

        Andro xxxx

  6. I couldn’t agree more on the escalating meanness in the public square. But it’s not limited to our elected leaders. They provide what their constituents want. I can’t believe how vitriolic the hatred is on the internet, probably because of the anonymity.

    I TRY to remind myself that people who disagree with my answers for our country are probably motivated just as much by love for her as I am. But it’s hard.

    • I agree with you Peg, the vast majority of the citizens of this nation want what is best for the fellow citizens and for the nation. The vast majority, given the opportunity could find common ground given the opportunity to do so, without all the nastiness. I believe if you sat reasonable people down around a table, despite their differences they would find they could agree on most things given the opportunity to talk without ‘ugly’ being inserted.

      It is the trained talking heads, the ideological nonsense that pushes the limits.

  7. Val, you are so right. I used to watch a cascade of morning news shows to keep up, but found myself unable to shake the melancholy mood that would descend on me and stick around for the entire day. Then I realized it was the “meanness” that seemed to slime me from the TV (and internet) as well as nobody was listening to each other. Our country has become an “us vs them” rather than a “we.” I fear something cataclysmic will have to happen before we can come to a place of “we” and doing what is best for our country as a whole. And let’s just say, the lifting of all campaign restrictions by the Supremes was not a step in the right direction. Good thought-provoking article.

    • It is so unfortunate at this point, the divisiveness is what gets the money rolling in. The mean is what gets all the talking heads paid, keeps the sponsors by their side. The vitriol is what spills over into all the other forms of communication, spoiling are ability to communicate with each other in any meaningful way. I weep for us. This attitude can only get worse unless we, as a people, recognize what is happening and stop the momentum, realize where this will lead.

  8. Honestly I can’t even bring myself to watch the evening news anymore… It’s awful what humans do to one another without remorse or regret…

    • I think that is where the ‘mean’ comes in. We seem to not have that core of empathy anymore. I don’t think it true on an individual level, truly I think we still have compassion and empathy, but we aren’t passing it around. The problem is so many of us come to expect the cruelty, we simply see it and accept it. That is what is wrong.

      The only way we change this is if we stand up.

  9. This is honestly so depressing, Val. Frustrating, too. And yet so enlightening. You’re right. Most of us weren’t aware of the Commons. Well, we need to start over. Remember the past and the true intention of the Founding Fathers. It wasn’t this. To be at such odds all the time. How can we turn back the clock? How can we make all this go away? And today the Supreme Court made it easier for the Koch brothers and the like to give even more money to their favorite politicians. It’s despicable how the very wealthy, because of their money, have more of a say than the rest of us. Money talks. Indeed it does.

    • My thoughts on this coming in the next couple of days. It is far worse. It is depressing, isn’t it?

      What do we do? We stop sitting back and thinking it will all work out if someone else does something.

  10. Interesting points. No doubt we are a nation of soundbytes, thus all on the surface without much depth and thought … but both sides have slid to the right?

    • Yes, both sides. Consider where we were in the sixties, the seventies. What were the major pieces of legislation? What were the social changes?

      What has happened since?

      Yes, both sides have made a gradual shift to the right.

      • I see your point, but the situations were very different in those times.

        • How Frank? Honestly, have ethics changed? Should we hold ourselves to a different standard? Should we not demand of our elected officials they represent the people who elected them, their interests?

          Is the gross divide between wealth and poverty improving our national debate? The loss of the American Dream improving the conversation?

          No Frank, I don’t buy it. We are the same, as a people we want the same things. The difference is, now there is greater opportunity for the message to be changed and now we have corrupted the system to the extent generations are incapable of sorting the sound bite from the reality.

          • Yes, many inequities still exist, but the Civil Rights movement did bring about change.The environmental movement did bring about change.

  11. On another note …. “It Is What It Is” has been nominated for an award!! Paying it forward!!

  12. This is such an important post, Val. Thank you for raising these questions. I’m with you.

    But I’m also with you on the issue of mean-ness. We notice this is a problem with some ex-pats here in Ecuador. They can be mean–not so much in person–but online, on FB expat forums, etc. As you may know, Sara is the editor of our local English language news site, and so she has to deal with a lot of this. There is even one asshole who’s email address is something like Now is that really necessary?

    We try to laugh about it, cause what else can you do? But, REALLY, people! Get a grip!

    Hugs from Ecuador,

    • My experience of expats is limited to Singapore, I must tell you I would almost have been tempted to give myself the same handle after that. Never have I seen so many terrible behaving people as those who were there on the company dime, the stories I could tell.

      Mean, ugly and terrible. We have become all of this. Egged on by those who have every reason to set us against each other. We simply refuse to see, refuse to reach our hand across what is truly a small divide of nothing more than surface BS. Were we all to ever figure this out and create coalitions to tumble the power brokers, what a world we could create.

      I am no longer laughing. I fear for the world my children and grandchildren will inherit because we were to lazy to demand a better world.

      Hugs back

  13. I think one big reason is our glorification of money, and our definition of success being, invariably, a financial one. And another is our tendency to blame others for our misfortune, which translates into thinking that if we don’t get enough money to consider ourselves successful, it has to be someone else’s fault – the government, immigrants, moochers, etc.
    A fun fact, however, is that most of us are moochers (80% at least) – that’s because per person share of federal spending is about $12000, so whoever pays less federal taxes per member of their family should think long and hard before calling others “moochers”.

    • All of us, with few exception get something from being citizens you are so right. We simply fail to count our ‘blessings’ and find it far to easy to point across the street and the other ‘bums’. Thank you, you have such a way of bring this forward, straight to the point, it is what I adore about you 😉

      The offer of an altar and worship services is still standing.

  14. Alert the press: VAL IS BACK!

    This post was great — just perfect. What has happened to all of us. How can we not just scream out at the injustice of the Ryan budget, at the top 1% of the 1% … the list goes on and on. “Don’t tread on me” – the attitude of the right = fuck everybody but me.

    Well said, Val, every damn word.

    • This has been percolating for a bit. I never left, truly I never left, but yes I suspect more of me is coming back.

      I ask myself this all the time Elyse, what the hell is wrong with us. There are days I want to simply shake elected officials by their lapels and ask them what the hell is wrong with you, do you not see the suffering your inaction causes. Then, well then I realize they simply do not care. I am banned from most of the Facebook pages of the elected officials within Texas, they don’t want to see me on their pages for the upset i cause, imagine that.

      Thanks Elyse. Thanks for sticking with me, thanks for reading.

      • We have so many similar feelings/thoughts, Val. And we all have bad times and hardship and well, shit. So yeah, I read, I listen. I feel your pain. Personal and societal ones. With your writing it would be impossible not to!

    • What’s happened? People aren’t making an effort to go to the polls and at least try to vote the bums out. I finally realized I had the power to make a difference when I voted for the first time in 1992. I know a lot of people wonder why Texas keeps putting right-wing extremists into the state house and sending them to Congress. I wondered that, too, knowing most of my fellow Texans aren’t that insane. Then, I read a comprehensive analysis of voting trends here and was (almost) shocked to learn that only about a third of eligible voters actually make it to the polls. More people in the 18 – 25 age group, for example, voted during the first season of “American Idol” than in the 2000 elections.

      I don’t really blame some folks. With all of the hateful rhetoric that permeates most political campaign and candidates trying their best to destroy each other’s credibility, who wouldn’t get tired? Regardless, people in any democratic society need to take their right to vote seriously. True democracies can’t function properly without it.

      • It’s nice to meet you Alejandro. And I agree completely. “Elections matter” is something of a motto for me!

        • Same here, Elyse! I wrote about this voting issue on my own blog last year. I’ve pointed out to friends and relatives that Ted Cruz is what happens when people don’t vote. I know it’s a pain sometimes to make it to the voting station and stand in line for a while, just to decide which of the lesser of two evils you’re going to select. But, I always think about the tens of millions of people worldwide who wish they had that luxury.

  15. I’m glad you pointed out that the decline in this nation’s welfare began in January 1981; the moment Ronald Reagan first took office. A few years ago documentary filmmaker Michael Moore wrote a piece about the 1981 air traffic controllers’ strike and how Reagan’s termination of so many of them marked the official war on the middle class. Except for that blip of economic prosperity in the late 1990s, we’ve pretty much been on a downward trend. Of course, right-wingers blame abortion, feminism, gay rights and environmentalism. They keep forgetting to look inwards; thinking if you just give everyone a gun and a Bible, it’ll make the world a better place. But, simple minds always seek simple solutions to the complex problems we intellects see. Thanks for this, Val!

    • At some point Alejandro some of us will have to do more than write about it, we will have to take to the streets. We will have to march, on our state houses. We will have to remember the days of the peaceful sit-in and by our cushions. At some point, if we want our nation back, we will have to take it back. We will have to reach across to all our brothers and sisters and take our nation back.

  16. How did we get so damned mean?

    I ask this question every time I encounter some people’s words and actions. This is a bane in all societies – more in some, less in others.

  17. Jueseppi B. says:

    Reblogged this on The ObamaCrat™.

  18. Thought provoking. Your lament goes beyond the US to Western Society in general.

  19. Interesting pie chart showcasing where our money goes. At 27% going to a healthcare system that failed so many in the past, it’s surprising so many people are against the new healthcare law. It may not be perfect, and it may require some changes, but we clearly were headed to a much larger share of that pie chart if we didn’t do anything at all.

    • That 27% is predominately in things such as Medicare and if you look even further, a large portion of it is for services that are not direct medical spending. Forth link down.

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