Beneath the shimmering layer of America’s leaders lies a gray mass of followers, and below that, a dark morass in which some reach for a devilish opposite of greatness. I recall (with a shudder) a 16-year-old who’d been arrested for multiple murders, explaining it as a demand for respect. “They disrespected me so they had to go down,” he said calmly. In the teens, along with an emerging sense of self, comes an urgent need for respect.
Early talk show host, Steve Allen, said he only wanted the respect of his peers. This is what awards like the Tony, Emmy, Golden Globe, and dozens of others confer. Yet some people want to prevail, to rule, achieved in a democracy by running for office.
In prehistoric societies, cunning and brute force ruled. But never for long. Scientists studying the bones of early humans learned that very few males lived longer than 35. One can imagine pitiless battles to dominate, a youngster of 15 bludgeoning an oldster of 30, perhaps his own father, for leadership of group, gang, or pack. When family ties grew stronger, the old leader would thrust forward a son, saving his own skin in the process. This led to inherited leadership, and eventually to royal families passing kingdoms from father to son.
That process is at work now in the failed attempts to hold power by Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi, and the ongoing attempt of Bashar-al Assad to hang onto Syria, handed him by his father, Hafez-al Hassad. It is successfully on view in North Korea, where Kim Jong Il owns the nation passed to him by his father, Kim Il Sung, and which he hopes to pass to his son, Kim Jong Un.
This bizarre process may seem like something left from prehistric ages, yet is also happening here and now and in the U.S.A. And if there is no obvious mayhem and death, it is deadly on a far greater scale as a wealthy elite seeks to take command of an embattled middle class. Money is power, and power wielded brutally is brute force. This elite buys politicians, strategists, and advertising. The Koch Brothers, funded the Tea Party, which, playing upon fears, prejudices, and discontents, attracts many and threatens to capture the GOP. Opposing it are those who hope to keep power in the hands of the many.
This is the epic struggle of the 21st Century.