BY ZENON CHRISTODOULOU
Tahrir Square is more than a congested section of an ancient city. The timeless artifacts in the nearby Cairo Museum and the breathtaking Nile River have overseen one of the world’s most remarkable cultures for more than 5,000 years. Last week, Nefertiti and Osiris witnessed an inspired revolution that will stand as monumental as the Sphinx, which gazed eastward over the protesters’ peaceful rebellion. As we reflect on these historic events, we have come to understand that all the basics ingredients of that globally spreading revolt were present in necessary and sufficient proportions: decades of abuse, growing personal despair, communal apathy and simple organizing technology. The Egyptian people evaluated their economic and social plights and finally said enough is enough. Their tenuous liberation and the Square which bears its name will continue to encourage more ‘Tahrir’ moments as increasingly intolerant citizens blame their leaders for their despair and demand new behaviors for their governments, large and small.
This spreading discontentment is no longer limited to a few isolated exampled. It is already happening throughout the Mediterranean as people’s expectations have come to far exceed the perceptions of their reality. Expectations are intimately personal and everyone has them – some are achievable and that’s what makes American so unique; but, some are not. As the disparity between what we expect and what we get gains a critical mass, the masses get critical. So, when will our Tahrir moment be? It has already happened in Wisconsin and it’s hard to imagine that others will sit passively by as their children’s well-being deteriorates as much as the past generation’s has. With an effective unemployment rate of near 20%, public sector benefits that are out of reach of most families and cost of living expenses that are soon to skyrocket, what will the next failed stimulus plan provide? Foretold is forewarned, and our mid-west neighbor has told us that America’s economic realities make us very susceptible to radical and destabilizing protests. Is Gov. Christie prepared to save us from the social disruption, the financial loss and the embarrassment that a march on Trenton, Paterson or Camden could bring?
We have all come to realize that our financial condition is ‘unsustainable’. That doesn’t mean uncomfortable or ill-advised; that means our current course cannot possibly continue. We may have already passed the point of no return and the prospects we all face are bleaker than at any time in our lives. Even the Great Depression had social factors which allowed our grandparent’s generation to survive the 13 years of hardship: a flexible workforce that was able to travel across the country to seek employment; a young workforce that was able to build with their hands and lift with their backs; the ability to live at a subsistence level without the modern conveniences of cell phones, high-speed internet access and Lipitor. Ah, the good old days. Today, we need to be self-actualized, fulfilled and the best ‘us’ we can be. But, this comfort zone we are all stuck in requires a world-class infrastructure and an efficient public sector that we no longer have. We are totally dependent on the social constructs and fragile linkages around us. We can’t farm or fish, we can’t chop wood to heat our homes and we can’t trade an ox for medical advice. We are dependent on the structures we have created and if they go – so do we.
When we combine our advanced level of inter-dependence with the current state of global, national and local economics, things don’t look promising. We need to rejuvenate the American spirit and entrepreneurialism by starting our economic engine and dominating global innovation and high value production as we did when we became the greatest nation on Earth. But until the benefits of American exceptionalism take hold once again, we all need to pitch in. This is a global fight we didn’t expect to wage, and the certainty that previous contract negotiations anticipated must be willingly re-addressed by all parties – for the sake of each member of society and, thereby, our society itself.
There seems to be no doubt that, in the near term, our standard of living will continue to decline and our noble aspirations to support and promote every member of our communities will lamentably force us to address the question of what does a government owe its constituents. This is a difficult question and one we would prefer not ever ask. But once again, unsustainable means no longer possible. The sooner we accept that we are simply unable to provide as much as we had hoped to, the sooner we can recalibrate our expectations and avoid our own Tahrir moment. Governor Christie has shown great leadership at a time when leaders are in short supply. Bold initiatives are nothing new to him. For 30 years Hosni Mubarak kicked the can down the road (his road) and now, in hindsight, our State Department is only surprised with why it took so long. We will not do anyone any good by objectively reflecting, after the fact, that it was bound to happen. The ingredients of our own uprising and despair are all around us and we shouldn’t be surprised if it takes a life of its own and we pray not the lives of others. We need to act now and take our medicine by continuing to get our house and our budget in order. To preserve our domestic tranquility, the sooner we lower people’s expectations of what governments can and should be expected to provide, the better.
Dr. Zenon Christodoulou is the Vice Chairman of the Somerset County Democratic Committee, a business owner and adjunct professor of business at William Paterson University.