An often applied litmus test for a politician is if he or she is “someone we’d want to have a beer with”?
On my Facebook feed, my “friends” proudly post pictures of themselves from “grip and grins” with politicians and other celebrities.
When we seek guidance from opinion makers, many of us turn to the highly paid talking heads on television or the journalists with regular columns in the major newspapers.
I wish it were otherwise. I’ll never trust the politicians, talking heads, and syndicated columnists to lead us in the right direction. Sometimes, I don’t trust their intentions. Sometimes, I don’t trust their intellect. Other times, it’s their judgment. So the size of the crowds following their lead is discomforting, to say the least. I know they never will lead us to a good place.
Which means I’m not interested in joining them for a beer or having my photo taken with them. I will watch them yak on television and read their columns. That’s out of necessity. I don’t see any other way to stay abreast of the information that is shaping public opinion. But does it shape my opinion? Hardly.
Are there influencers out there whom I respect? Absolutely.
They’re on the fringe to be sure. I not only respect them; I look to them for insight, guidance, and intellectual sustenance.
I think of them as the brotherhood of decents. They appear on websites like Truthdig and TomDispatch or on television shows like Democracy Now or webcasts like On Contact. “Decent” actually is an adjective, so my using it as a noun to refer to individuals is wrong, grammatically. But it describes best how I perceive them — decent in their intentions and not displaying the unfavorable attributes that afflict our politicians, highly paid talking heads, syndicated columnists, and other mainstream opinion leaders.
I’ll miss more names here than I’ll capture, to be sure. I’m speaking of Chris Hedges, Amy Goodman, Medea Benjamin, Nick Turse, Andrew Bacevich, Miko Peled, Glenn Greenwald, Tom Engelhardt, Phyllis Bennis, Cornel West, Noam Chomsky, Patrick Lawrence, and others. They think clearly and write and speak eloquently. They question false premises. They challenge conventional wisdom. They speak truth to power. Almost always, however, they’re relegated to the fringe. Rarely will you see one of these decents interviewed on NBC or appearing on the op-ed pages of the New York Times or Washington Post.
I’ve noticed that they function as a brotherhood of sorts. They turn to each other for guidance and support. Chris Hedges will promote the work of Nick Turse. Patrick Lawrence will support the work of Andrew Bacevich. Amy Goodman will turn to Glenn Greenwald for his expertise. Quite clearly, there’s common cause. It’s not a drive for money or fame. It’s a desire to move America and the world to a better, saner, more moral, decent place.
Were I to start naming people with whom I’d like to join for a beer, they’re the ones who’d be topping my list.
By no means am I alone in following them. There are thousands of others like me. But not millions of others. And that difference — between thousands and millions of followers — is the crux of the problem. For every person who follows Chris Hedges, there are perhaps a hundred who follow Chris Matthews, who will focus on spectacle, bloviating endlessly about the latest spat between Republicans and Democrats, but never mentioning the injustices both parties routinely ignore.
If we’re to survive, somehow, some way, this brotherhood of decents must become the nation’s thought leaders. They won’t be leading our thoughts on who to support in the next election cycle. Rather, they’ll be leading our thoughts about the uprising, hopefully peaceful, that is needed to break the stranglehold America’s corporations and billionaires have on our collective wealth, our climate, and our well-being.
It won’t be easy. You see, the Brotherhood of Decents likely will be the first victims as the billionaire class tightens its grip. Ironically, as I was writing this post, Chris Hedges posted his Monday column at Truthdig, When Fear Comes. He explains:
Resisting despotism is often a lonely act. It is carried out by those endowed with what the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr calls “sublime madness.” Rebels will be persecuted, imprisoned or forced to become hunted outcasts, much as Chelsea Manning, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden are now. A public example will be made of anyone who defies the state. The punishment of those singled out for attack will be used to send a warning to all who are inclined to dissent.
“Before societies fall, just such a stratum of wise, thinking people emerges, people who are that and nothing more,” Solzhenitsyn writes of those who see what is coming. “And how they were laughed at! How they were mocked! As though they stuck in the craw of people whose deeds and actions were single-minded and narrow-minded. And the only nickname they were christened with was ‘rot.’ Because these people were a flower that bloomed too soon and breathed too delicate a fragrance. And so they were mowed down.”
If the Brotherhood of Decents comes under attack and is allowed to wither, we’ll know it’s too late.