Henry Giroux was born in Rhode Island in 1943. He began his working life as a high school social studies teacher in Barrington, Rhode Island. He then went on to teach at Boston University, Miami University and Penn State University. In 2005, he came to Canada to teach English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. All the while, he has kept a close eye on his native land, commenting regularly on political and cultural life in the United States.
Giroux was no fan of the second Bush Administration. But he likewise has been singularly unimpressed with the Obama Administration. He believes that the two major parties have been co-opted by the wealthy. The consequences for the United States, he writes, have been catastrophic:
Ronald Reagan’s infamous “it’s morning in America” slogan, used as part of his 1984 presidential campaign, paved the way for a set of market-driven policies that historians faithful to the human record will be compelled to rename twilight in America to signal a historical crisis fueled less by a spirited hope for the future than by a shocking refusal to be held accountable to and for it. The policies that informed Reagan’s neoliberal agenda have given way to the intense assault now being waged by his more extremist governmental descendants on all vestiges of the democratic state. This brutal evisceration includes a rejection and devaluing of the welfare state, unions, public values, young people, public and higher education; and other political, social and economic institutions and forces in American life that provide a counterweight against the political power of mega-corporations, the rich and the powerful.
The end result, Giroux writes, is that democracy in America has been hollowed out:
Political power is now up for sale just as government resources are increasingly being contracted out or sold off to the highest bidder. Like lemmings in heat, thousands of corporate lobbyists flock to Washington determined to corrupt the political process, while multibillionaires such as the Koch brothers use their $42 billion-dollar war chest to fund right-wing think tanks, the Tea Party, and other conservative groups in order to crush the labor movement and enact legislative policies designed to decimate the social state and hand over the levers of political and economic sovereignty to the rich.
The picture he paints is dark — almost hopeless. But he finds some cheer in what is now happening at the state level. As citizens protest against what Governor Walker and Governor Kasich are attempting to accomplish, he sees promise for his country’s democratic institutions:
The current upsurge in collective resistance against the corporate state will succeed if it speaks to and connects with a broader crisis of public values, the eclipse of a democratic public sphere and the disappearance of the social state. If the principles of democracy are not to be turned against themselves in order to further the savage assaults waged on the American people by advocates of casino capitalism, it is crucial that emerging social movements emphasize what the late Tony Judt called the raising of social questions through a language that stresses the importance of public goods, shared responsibilities and a language that connects private troubles with social considerations.(8)
There will be those who will criticize Giroux for leveling this criticism from north of the 49th parallel. But Hemingway and Fitzgerald always claimed that they truly saw what was great about their country — and what was not — from outside its borders. Giroux, I think, would agree with them.
Canada’s Owen Gray grew up in Montreal, where he received a B. A. from Concordia University. After crossing the border and completing a Master’s degree at the University of North Carolina, he returned to Canada, married, raised a family and taught high school for 32 years. Now retired, he lives — with his wife and youngest son — on the northern shores of Lake Ontario. This post is cross posted from his blog.