Passing glances: talkin’ bout a revolution

“The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised. There will be no rerun, brothers and sisters. The revolution will be live.” Those and other lines from Gil Scott-Heron’s 1970 song-poem have been taunting and teasing viewers during the title sequence of Season Six of the Showtime series Homeland, prompting us to wonder what hoped-for transformation of society in the world of the show it alludes to and whether, as happened with the 60s ideal of a new order, it’ll come to naught.

Maybe it’s just coincidence, or maybe there’s something in the air; either way, the theme has come my way from two other directions lately. The Axios AM newsletter for Thursday, March 23, included this note about the possibility, since foreclosed, that the Affordable Care Act would be supplanted by the American Health Care Act:

George Will’s column in the WashPost points out that “whatever replaces the ACA’s tapestry of subsidies, regulations and mandates will be a tapestry of subsidies, regulations and mandates … hardly … a revolution in the relation of the citizen, or the health-care sector, to the government.”

Whether Will would like to see such a revolution or was simply pointing out that it wasn’t going to happen isn’t clear (to me) from that column, and I don’t know his thinking well enough to guess, though I suspect him of being inclined to old-school limited-government conservatism. In any case, he’s right that the AHCA, though different in some major ways, would neither substantially reduce the government’s role in providing medical coverage nor totally reassign it to the government. Interestingly, Will says, “Republicans are insufficiently radical” in another respect: they’re unwilling to tackle the fact that “About 180 million Americans are covered by employer-provided insurance, which is not taxed as what it obviously is — compensation.” He could’ve gone further on that point—hardly anyone is willing to tackle it.

Perhaps revolution is always mentioned these days as an ideal that’s equal parts hoped for and hopeless? Not so. Micah White, one of the founders of the Occupy movement, decided after the collapse of that movement that traditional protest was ineffective and that progressive reform had to come from a ground-up effort to win political power at the ballot box. He appears to have since broadened his views, and in a recent essay published in The Guardian, he declared that “the true patriots throughout history have traditionally been the rebels, insurrectionaries and revolutionaries who forcefully overturned the status quo in favor of a higher vision.” He reminds us that the original American revolution wasn’t favored by everyone, and he points out that a handful of earlier presidents spoke openly of revolution, not as a part of the past but as an ever-present possibility. Jefferson said, “a little rebellion now and then is a good thing”; Lincoln said the people have a “revolutionary right to dismember, or overthrow” the government; Grant repeated Lincoln’s point.

What does White hope to see, in concrete terms? As with Will, I don’t know. Some answers probably emerge in a Los Angeles Review of Books interview published a few days ago, but I haven’t had time to read it. I think I know broadly in which direction history is tending, though, and it’s not with limited government or Trumpism. But on this, Homeland offers a useful reminder that progress won’t be easy. Just as Jean Giradoux’s remarkable alternative-history play The Trojan War Will Not Take Place illustrates the desperate lengths to which some people will go in order to bring about war, so this season of Homeland appears to be suggesting that there’s no substitute for keeping the fear of terrorism before the public, even if has to be, so to speak, trumped up.

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