Status Quo

8 April 2017: The Forum, Norcross, Georgia.

The only thing politicians love more than the status quo is an electorate that never questions or violates it. They relish voters who go to the polls from election to election and mindlessly rubber stamp incumbents regardless of the job they’re doing. It means they get to do whatever they want until the next election cycle, whether or not it’s of benefit to the constituents they’re elected to represent.

In 2018, a bartender from the Bronx, NY had the audacity to take on a ten-term, top-ranking Democrat in the House and she did so by invoking the legacy of New Deal Democrats. We all know the outcome. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won, becoming, at the time, the youngest woman elected to the House. In winning her seat, she became the most dangerous challenge to the status quo politicians hope to maintain.

It’s been demonstrated that if everyone believes they can aspire to public office, more people will try. That’s a problem for our current representatives, who want everyone to believe they’re the only ones who can solve our problems. That’s why people like AOC are dangerous to the status quo, because they give people hope for a change. Whether one agrees with her policies or not, she pulled off an impressive upset of a well-established politician who many felt was unbeatable, and she put together a grassroots network that, so far, has remained on her side.

Coming from the South, I’m well familiar with the phenomenon of average, working people constantly voting for politicians who vote against their interest. More than a hundred and fifty years ago, an elite group of landowners who were a fraction of the population in the South nonetheless convinced everyone else that their right to own other people was so absolute that it overrode the unity of the entire country. Descendants of these same people later convinced everyone that the War wasn’t about slavery, when every official document of the time, not to mention every news article and editorial stated that it was.

The vast majority of those who fought for the Confederacy did not own slaves, and many were not even property owners. Henry Lewis Gates, among others, has discovered records that demonstrate some of the slave owners were Black and may have once been slaves themselves. Rich landowners didn’t just exploit the slaves they owned, but, through a process called “conscription”, could also pay a person of lesser means to go into battle and fight in their place. Slave owners who did fight, often took slaves with them who remained in service to them throughout the conflict.

Unions have been shown to be beneficial to worker’s rights, and yet people constantly reject them, solely because politicians tell them they’re harmful to the established order. In 2015, voters in Kentucky who were benefiting from Medicare expansion voted to elect a governor who promised to repeal it. In Georgia, in 2020, expanded access to voting by mail and other innovations brought about because of the pandemic, led to more people casting ballots than in previous elections and brought about gains by Democrats which the Republican leadership of the state is now trying to curtail through strict, and what most experts feel are unnecessary restrictions on voting. Many of those who support the restrictions have even admitted the system wasn’t broken, but they’re going to fix it anyway. The phenomenon isn’t confined to the US, as anyone familiar with the Brexit controversy in the UK can attest.

It remains to be seen what the long-term consequences of the 2020 election will be, but it’s safe to say that for better or worse, the status quo was upset. The political backlash demonstrates that those in power are worried and the population should take note of that. It would be a shame to return to a worse state of affairs simply to uphold the status quo.

2 thoughts on “Status Quo

  1. I thoroughly appreciate this essay, which includes many things I’d like to comment about, but I’ll pick just one of the topics. I grew up in the Detroit suburbs in the ’60s and ’70s in an area wholly consumed by the domestic auto industry. What the United Auto Workers Union did for protecting workers’ rights and expanding the benefits of their employment transformed this country in many ways beyond the auto industry. Unfortunately, the focus you’ve put on the status quo also is a problem in unionization. The UAW would strike every few years, cost the Big 3 billions of dollars, and drive up costs (pay or be shut down forever) way beyond the marketplace. I grew up with kids who had no interest in college because they could go to work where Mom or Dad worked and earn enough to live the lifestyles of doctors and dentists and other high-end occupations in the same neighborhoods. In college I worked summer jobs at Teamsters steel plants (those auto jobs crashed and never came back), doing the work of men who sat on the loading docks emptying coolers of beer while earning a combined $90/hour in wages and benefits (while I got paid too well to do their jobs). These unions, while doing much good, also became the status quo that would do more harm than good (in my opinion). Using colorful language, Chrysler’s Lee Iacocca once told me it costs them $6,000 more to build a mid-size car than the non-union foreign plants in the South, which also don’t have the legacy costs like pensions and insurance for generations of retirees. When the status quo became three companies driving up the cost of a vehicle because all three stayed about even, it took the disruption of non-union Southern plants to finally break the hold the UAW had on the Big 3. Union leaders realized that striking for another $10/hour could (and was) lead to shutting down a plant and losing thousands of those well-paying jobs. Toyota and Honda and others became the Ocasio-Cortezes that forced the old auto industry up north to change how they operate, something the UAW used to block but now supports. Just as you don’t have to agree with AOC’s positions, it doesn’t matter if you’re pro- or anti-union or just indifferent because inevitably the old ways will be disrupted by something new. Thing is, people often don’t recognize that, and people are protective first of what they already have. Someone with a cup half full is not likely to trying to get it filled all the way if it risks spilling what’s already there. If unions are perceived as so greedy they’ll put a company out of business, then they’re not seeing how much better unions have become at seeing the bigger picture. If your savings are in the stock market and the market is booming, why risk a new political leader, even if the current one is harming you and the country in astounding ways? If you can afford gasoline and your utility bills, why risk letting AOC help disrupt the energy industries–even if her ideas are long-term beneficial? What’s true in politics and unions and umpteen other areas is that the status quo counts on you being content with that bird in your hand, and when someone suggests we check that bush for more birds, all they have to do is convince you the real intent is to take away the bird you have. Your AOC example is poignant, as I’ve heard at least a dozen people spit her name out with bile, but I’ve not found a one yet who knows anything about her or her positions–unless they were straight-up lies from the social-media cesspool. Most tell me she’s a Muslim, as if that’s automatically a threat, but she’s Catholic–all her life. Why are so many lies about her out there? She’s already proven herself a threat to the status quo. Thanks for a thoughtful post, G.M.!

    1. Thanks, Stephen. Glad you got something out of it. My younger brother isn’t a fan of AOC, but also rails about Pelosi. I always want to tell him that one thing he has in common with Pelosi is that neither is a fan of AOC. Ultimately, though, it goes beyond a specific individual to a mindset that’s destructive to the health of the country and the wellbeing of the people. As I say, I’m well-acquainted with that.

Leave a Reply