Passover is upon us. Time to re-tell the story of famous tyrant, Pharaoh. He builds his wealth. Rails against foreigners. Then, enslaves them for his own profit. Punishes them cruelly. Targets children for the worst abuses.
Is Pharaoh, or someone like him, alive today? Of course. But he looks a bit different. Still, we can see him if we know how to look.
So, I’ve been learning. Mostly by reading. And I’d like to share with you some of what I’ve read.
Sarah Kendzior, The View from Flyover Country (Unwitting Pharaoh)
Economic inequality in the US has been growing for four decades. It is destroying even high-skill industries like academia. Student loans cost more than graduates will earn. Work experience starts with unpaid internships. Graduate students and adjunct faculty can’t earn a living wage. Who can afford to become educated these days? Only children of wealthy parents. They will become the professors, journalists, policy experts, financiers. And they will churn out knowledge reflecting only their life experience.
David Korten, When Corporations Rule the World (Ignorant Pharaoh)
Corporations, too, are often blind to the world around them. They are persons under the law. But they are hardly personable. Actually, corporations are profit-driven machines. Sometimes manufacturing corporations need a new source of raw material. Staff will choose a spot to dig or chop or harvest. Perhaps in a country they never actually visited. “We’ll boost the local economy with high paying jobs,” they’ll say. Based on no economic research. No understanding of life in the region. And no plan to clean up the area once they have what they want. Instead, they just move on, seeking profit elsewhere.
Michael Lewis, The Fifth Risk (Greedy Pharaoh)
The federal government has funded huge scientific research projects. Energy. Environment. Agriculture. Health. Weather. Things people need to know about if they want to grow food. Build buildings. Create safe schools. And the government shares its information for free. But, under the current presidential administration, these research agencies are shrinking.
Why? Research can reveal the folly of a corporate plan. It can lead to laws that limit corporate actions. Or make available for free information that a corporation would like to charge for. Imagine if NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) no longer sent out tornado warnings. If warnings were only available to paying customers. Say, those who bought it from the private AccuWeather company. Then realize: the new head of NOAA is the CEO of AccuWeather. And this is actually what he is planning.
Timothy Snyder, The Road to Unfreedom (Cruel Pharaoh)
A clan of oligarchs runs contemporary Russia. Their profits grow. But citizens’ lives worsen. And leaders don’t plan to invest in them. But if citizens know this, they might rebel. Insist on self-determination, or fair and free elections. Like Ukrainians did. So, Russian leaders invest in propaganda. There’s no democratic utopia, they say. Europe is poor. The US is sexually depraved. Don’t hope in alternatives; life in Russia is better.
And yes, the U.S. government copies this style. Recent federal decisions aim to inflict pain. Shrink health care, education, military service opportunities. Expand arrests and detentions. Respond to problems by inflicting pain, but not by implementing policies. People will see others suffer. But as long as they are slightly better off, they’ll feel they are winning.
Jason Stanley, How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them (Divisive Pharaoh)
Authoritarian leaders gain power by pitting one group against another. They may start by criticizing immigrants. Then rallying angry locals against them. And finally, with popular support, curtailing their civil liberties. So, local rage subsides. But the leader needs attention. So, they may exploit sexual anxiety. Then criticize gays, lesbians, and transgender folk. Finally, with popular support, curtail their civil liberties. And so on. Eventually, our own rights will be denied. But, on what grounds will we protest? We’ve already supported the government in denying human rights. We’ve agreed it’s a good way to disempower people. Maybe even to punish them.
Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, How Democracies Die (Populist Pharaoh)
But some people have a special responsibility to speak out. People who have made public politics their life’s work. Elected officials and leaders of political parties. Sometimes a demagogue will capture public imagination. This person may campaign for office with fiery divisive rhetoric, but know little about governing. They may encourage violence, or cast other politicians as enemies. That’s when party leaders should step in. They should ally across differences to block the demagogue. Too often, however, party leaders hope the demagogue’s popularity can help the party. They think they can compromise in the short term. And then, in the long-term, control the would-be dictator. But they are wrong.
Torah: How Resistance to Pharaoh Grows
They need to learn from the Passover story. Because it focuses on resistance. A leader steps forward. He is close to the people, but also to Pharaoh. So, he takes responsibility and speaks out. Pharaoh punishes the slaves, but the leader persists. Pharaoh’s greed begins to strip the country of its wealth.Pharaoh’s advisors speak out. So do his citizens. Gradually, the land is destroyed. Everyone suffers. But everyone agrees who has suffered most. So they work together to help Pharaoh’s first target, the foreign slaves.
May we all learn from this story.