Lately I’ve been having the strangest dream, in which every core value I hold as absolute is obsolete: The social compact between a people and their government has been replaced by an underground pipeline carrying resources from the least of us to the wealthiest. Public service has become a means to personal enrichment. Instead of a leadership that serves the needs of the whole, the people serve the needs of an oligarchy.
Public institutions, in this dream, have been reconfigured not to further the aspirations of all but to consolidate the wealth with the wealthiest. Our work forces, schools, public lands and international alliances have become tools to that end. Our nation’s promise to protect the poor, the laborers, the locked out, the “huddled masses yearning to be free” has been replaced. Now those people draw straws to be on a game show and compete for a box of food, a minimum-wage job or a green card.
In the dream, these changes are announced in a series of insult-laden, self-congratulatory tweets containing a limited vocabulary.
I scan the faces of our top political appointees seeking reflections from all of our ancestors, white, black, Asian, Latino, native, bringing their respective stories and struggles and experiences to help shape policies. But the rainbow hue is replaced by a monochrome of billionaire men with silver spoons in their mouths. When the president-elect does think of diversity, it’s to suggest his businessman son-in-law would be a good person to craft Middle East policy because he’s Jewish. And a former presidential contender, an African-American surgeon, has been tapped to head up the federal public housing agency, not that he has any expertise in that area.
This is how bad my dreams get: For Cabinet posts, instead of people who have dedicated themselves to public service and the study of solutions, we get titans of industry with deep vested interests in the outcomes of public policy on their holdings. The Environmental Protection Agency will be headed by a man said to have built his career suing it – as Oklahoma’s attorney general – on behalf of the oil and gas industries. The Labor Department would be run by a fast-food industry magnate who thinks $7.25 an hour is plenty for a federal minimum wage. He also thinks women in scant American-flag bikinis eating burgers aren’t just good advertising for his company, but “very American.”
Speaking of the flag, in one paradoxical dream, I could lose my citizenship for exercising my First Amendment rights to burn one in protest. But the next commander-in-chief apparently is OK with his nominee using one to sell burgers that is strategically placed over the same female private parts the president-elect has boasted of grabbing.
I should get my head examined. One of my dreams has a billionaire picked to head the federal education agency who would strip public-school funding by giving some of it to families to spend on private-school tuition. That would gut the notion of a good, accessible education as a means to better future prospects. Yet this appointee has called education reform a way to “advance God’s kingdom.”
In my twisted nocturnal world, the most important position for our relations with other countries – the one long used to negotiate trade and foreign-aid deals, advance mutual goals like human rights, pollution-reduction and poverty-elimination and prevent wars and genocide – will go to a Texas oilman. And not just any, but one who heads the world’s largest publicly traded oil and gas company, and has a vested business interest in our Russia policy. His company, Exxon Mobil, has billions of dollars in oil contracts with Russia, which can only proceed if U.S. sanctions against Russia are lifted. He has voiced support for ending them. He also has close personal ties to Vladimir Putin, now alleged to have hacked Hillary Clinton’s emails to prevent her winning the presidency.
At the helm of the Energy Department, my dream places a climate change denier who once pledged to eliminate that very agency, though he couldn’t remember its name. He opposes standards to lower carbon emissions, while getting paid lucratively to sit on the board of the company building the Dakota Access Pipeline. You know, the very one in protest of which native peoples from around the world have braved bone-chilling cold and attacks.
Unable to find peace in sleep anymore, I’m going to combat these dreams with a fantasy: These cynical truths about agendas and profit motives come out and get widespread attention. Democratic processes kick in, and senators from both parties join to say no to confirming nominees who have conflicts of interest with the agencies they would serve. The American people rise up and say “No, thanks,” to these transfers of wealth to the wealthiest, and the gutting of institutions and standards that protect our Earth and people.
But if all else fails, God Herself intervenes to say, “Not in my name, you don’t.”