Like monarch butterflies, political hope returns

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We'll see, as Trump says. We'll see if the red menace retains its ability to intimidate U.S. voters. He -- or, according to Bernie Sanders, the Koch brothers -- ran anti-Communist ads during the Democratic debates. "Radical, reckless, socialist, they're all the same." Ah, the 1950s. Sigh.

It used to work. Noam Chomsky called anti-Communism one of five "filters" that prevented alternate views from penetrating U.S. media. It's pretty much vanished since the USSR did, till now. What hasn't, is a mindset that's blind to our social -- even socialist -- connectedness. So, in the debate, "moderate" Dems attacked "free," i.e. tax-funded, university. Maybe it should be free to the needy, they chorused, but not for those who can afford it.

That's so ingrained I had to give my head a shake to recall why it's dumb. If education's a right, like free speech, it belongs to everyone. Kids of the rich shouldn't have to negotiate with their parents for it and the poor shouldn't have to shuffle and be grateful.

Does that mean the rich get to "keep" their money? No, there's a tax system to make sure they pay their fair share. We're in it together, we give and take according to our means and needs, and democracy sorts it all out, or could, if it wasn't so dysfunctional. Political domination lies in the ability to get people to always think in some ways and hardly ever in others.

So are bumbly, well-meaning Dems like Biden just commissars for the rich, distorting the thinking of the masses? Not necessarily. They've been programmed that way and to some extent so have we all. Reshaping how we think doesn't come easily. Take government itself. Canadian Marxist maven Leo Panitch wrote recently about his mentor, Ralph Miliband.

Fifty years ago, Miliband argued that most governments aren't counterforces to big money, they're capitalism's essential enablers. Sounds quirky, but put on your thinking cap and it starts making sense. Free trade, tax cuts for the rich, austerity -- have all only been possible under hyperactive governments. Turning those ships of state around will be slow and hard.

Sanders (who's not even all that socialist) and Elizabeth Warren (who may be more than she thinks) are at least talking about starting the process. The prospects are at best uncertain.

On the other hand, I was sitting on the front porch a few weeks ago and there it was, a monarch butterfly, idling on a flower. I thought they'd gone extinct, I'd read it, you hardly see them now. Then, at the cottage, were others, flitting near the dock. And they continue appearing in the city. Hope is so draining. Despair lets you relax.

Monarchs are indeed imperilled. They're down from about a billion 20 or 30 years ago to less than 100 million, largely from eradication of milkweed, in which they breed, due to Monsanto's pesticide, Roundup; and also global warming, which leads monarchs to migrate south earlier in the spring when any still-available milkweed hasn't yet emerged.

Millions also get hit by cars or have lost their end-destinations in California because of wildfires there. Not to mention potential effects from -- wouldn't you know it -- Trump's wall disrupting their journey to Mexico, where the vast majority "overwinter."

These migrations are awesome and unique. Canada to Mexico, then back. The return journey actually involves several generations. Most don't complete it but the species does (or did), by reproducing en route: larvae, caterpillars, etc. Individuals "never make it through a whole migratory cycle." Wow. Sometimes metaphors seem like the only things that are real.

Metaphor for what -- socialism? Nah, for all life, which is interdependent and finds its continuity not in private achievements but in the persistence of the species and of life itself. It's more about social, than social-ism.

Sprouts of hope, like the larger monarch sightings this year, have been nurtured by human effort, some governmental, some non-profit, or just individuals who, for instance, plant milkweed in their backyards.

Extending the metaphor, The Nature Conservancy of Canada says, "The migration of the North American monarch is a fascinating journey unlike any other butterfly in the world, which highlights the need for co-operation." My emphasis, by the way, but I didn't say it, they did.

Rick Salutin is a Canadian novelist, playwright and critic. He is a strong advocate of left wing causes and writes a regular column in the Toronto Star, where this column originally appeared.

Image: Ray Myint/Flickr

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