Dalton Delan: They say they want a revolution

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"You say you want a revolution." It was Lennon, not Lenin, who said that.

He went on: "Well, you know, we all want to change the world."

He had ironic detachment. He scorned the trappings of stardom, and it got him killed. Years later, when I worked with his former bandmate, McCartney needed two thuggish bodyguards around him who made Sumo wrestlers seem small. He had been forced to adapt to survive. We want freedom until it proves deadly.

As we celebrated our independence last week, I pondered its meaning in the world we now inhabit, with a Leninist cancel-culture up against a Lennon-ist imaginary individualism, red states asserting the freedom of the lone Texan to congregate while allowing the virus to propagate. Everything seems upside down. Young people on the internet preach revolution, yet they are not the free radicals we were in the '60s. They don't need tie-dye. But they look at the climate-challenged and vastly unequal society we have perpetrated and they say "Stick a fork in it, it's done."

I'm no philosopher. I don't even play one on television. In a career of asking questions as a journalist, I have been to dictatorial, totalitarian and communist countries, and I have kissed the ground on the tarmac upon returning. Yet of late, reflecting on the absurdly low taxation of billionaires; the supreme courting of corporations as bearing the rights of individuals; the pervasiveness of racism and sexism; the singular failure in the world to meaningfully reconcile a history of genocide and enslavement that defined our very foundation; the tolerance of hunger and inaccessibly unaffordable health care in the richest nation on earth; and the craven collapse of one political party to a wannabe strongman and the other party to equivocation and accommodation — Bernie, we hear you now — I know this laundry list sounds like radicalism, but today radical reform starts to vaguely resemble common sense.

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Yes, I said I just ask questions. So here is one: If it is now politically incorrect to say stupidly retrograde things in media and in public, have we surrendered freedom of speech in favor of righteousness, no matter how right? Our founders fled the righteous religion of the Old World. The Washington Post preaches "Democracy Dies in Darkness" — words to live by — yet its owner is also a monopolist who has endangered underprivileged workers and stifled dissent. Money and media make for strange bedfellows. The New York Times twists upon itself in a Mobius strip over whether a U.S. Senator's failure to understand the role of the military should be shared on its pages, when every tweet by his role model is reported and dissected as if there were anything in its belly but the "underdone potato" of a Scrooge raised by a borough bigot.

Indeed, "I grow old, I grow old, I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled," in the words of T. S. Eliot. But something is wrong in our own Denmark of Democracy. We began by revolution, but find comfort in a turtle's evolution. We fear the implications of real social justice and meet peaceful protest with tear gas and rubber bullets. We are two nations at war with each other, coastal culture clashing with southern and central conservatism fraying from bedrocks of belief. Small government: gone. National debt: sure. But in state after state, a woman's body is still up for grabs, and the ACA is the secret sauce of socialism. Or so go the pundits of FOX, the last gasp of paternalism and broadcast bigotry. Do we remember why we were a beacon unto the world?

I am but a lowly scribe, far from family and friends in pandemic pandemonium. I may suffer from cabin fever. Yet this much I know: Our education system is not competitive and out of sync with the technology of the day; our political system is inherently corrupted by corporate contributions and gerrymandering compounded by racist voter suppression; our ecology is headed for a mid-century precipice; our health care system is "broke, busted, disgusted"; our economy is entering a second Great Depression; company loyalty — if it ever existed — is gone. So the young talk of revolution. Can you blame them? What future have we gifted them, exactly?

I am no revolutionary. But I know that a society that talks freedom but walks inequality is no beacon. We don't have the right to do wrong. We need to lead the world, not cling to our Achilles' heels. Let's complete the unfinished business of independence. We are Americans, not one but many. Nov. 3 is as good a day as any. Hey, it's one better than the 4th.

Dalton Delan has won Emmy, Peabody and duPont-Columbia awards for his work as a television producer. He can be followed on Twitter @UnspinRoom. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.


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