AMERICA IN TRANSITION, SEPTEMBER 2008
by Jessica Murray
As the premier drama of this American moment, the presidential election deserves our keenest attention—as a phenomenon, first and foremost. Regardless of whether, for whom or why we plan to vote in November, we owe it to ourselves to be clear-eyed about what’s going on.
This cannot be accomplished without distancing ourselves from the big, noisy media show. Our job as sky-watchers tracking volatile current events is to isolate and analyze the archetypal themes that run beneath the cultural discourse. The first step in achieving clarity is to slowly back away from the TV. (1)
Then we can make use of the big-picture model that astrology provides, and watch the goings-on with new eyes. We get beyond the compulsive partisanship that dominates the cultural conversation. The minute we achieve this perspective, meaning starts to emerge. Clarity begins to arise from the chaos.
We start to see the egregious social dysfunctions around us as nothing more or less than new ideas chafing to break through (Uranus) the crust of the old order (Saturn) in order to renew the group soul (Pluto).
The Saturn-Uranus opposition
The Saturn-Uranus opposition is the most important mundane transit of the rest of the calendar year. It reaches exactitude on November 4. Bingo: the signature of the election. The symbolism here is that of governmental, financial and civic institutions (Saturn) being broadsided by the enormous power of change (Uranus).
Woops, there’s that word again. Over the past several sound-bitten months, the word change has been tossed around as ubiquitously as the word democracy was tossed around just before the invasion of Iraq. Clearly the intention has been to appeal to that fervent hope harbored in the breast of every sentient American that our political institutions could provide an answer to the staggering afflictions of the epoch.
As astrologers we might ask, what does the word change mean in the language of planetary archetypes?
Yesterday’s pinko; tomorrow’s hero
True Uranian change involves an explosive clash between the status quo and the unstoppable force of new ideas whose time has come. Uranus is the planet of revolutions, whether fought with the sword, or with sex, drugs and rock and roll. The last time Uranus and Saturn had a stand-off like this was in the mid-sixties, giving rise to the coinage counter (Uranus)-culture (Saturn).
Uranian change cannot be orchestrated by the powers-that-be. It is by definition an affront to the powers-that-be. This is not some random theory cooked up by astrologers or anarchists. It is one of the most demonstrable truisms of social history that significant social change arises through grassroots popular agitations—starting, in the case of the USA, with those of the unapologetically radical Founding Fathers themselves. Yet every four years Americans manage to forget the fact that their cherished social benefits came about not because of, but in spite of, the in-house machinations of the two ruling parties (Saturn).
As every schoolchild knows, the end of slavery came about because of extraordinary people like the wild-eyed John Brown and the literally-and-figuratively underground crusader Sojourner Truth. They and other heroes of the abolitionist movement predated and compelled Lincoln’s great emancipation proclamation. These individuals were not products of the status quo (Saturn); they were messengers of revolution (Uranus). Similarly, the labor agitators of the 1920s and 30s, thanks to whom the 8-hour workday is now taken for granted, risked their lives defying the political machines of their day. They too forced the hands of the agents of Saturn and demanded that Uranian ideals be written into law.
And consider Social Security, now perceived as a social right so sacrosanct that politicians try to gain points by impugning each other’s sincerity in safeguarding it. It was neither the Democrats nor the Republicans but the hard-fighting European-influenced thinkers of FDR’s day who pressured his administration to pass it. More recently we have the civil rights protesters of the 1960s (Uranus-opposed-Saturn again), who braved armed cops with water hoses by day and white-hooded lynching parties by night. It was because of their collective efforts, not because of Lyndon Johnson, that the Democratic Party buried the Jim Crow laws.
Far from being seen as patriots (Saturn), these activists were persecuted at the time as heretics (Uranus). Inevitably labeled outside agitators or agents-provocateurs, they were posthumously anointed heroes.
Obama: Uranus or Saturn figure?
“Mainstream political leaders will not move to the left of their own base.”—Tom Hayden
Progressivism is a relative term, as is the diminished label “liberal” (which “progressive” returned into currency to displace). This relativism is risibly apparent from place to place (think: San Francisco’s downtown-financed mayor, Gavin Newsom, who is despised by local leftists but seen everywhere else as the radical gay-marriage guy).
Even more strikingly, progressivism is relative from time to time. As we have seen, one generation’s forward-thinkers may be hung on the gibbet in their own era and lauded as visionaries in the next. Conversely, those extolled for being mavericks at one point in their long career may be revealed as reactionaries later on. The rules of the long view dictate that we let history make the call.
From this perspective the jury is still out on a politician like Barack Obama. The electorate is now faced, for the first time in eight nightmarish years, with the prospect of a well-spoken, intelligent candidate with tremendous personal charisma. American progressives, starved for sanity and leaderless for two administrations, may perhaps be forgiven for ignoring the fact that this Democratic nominee, like every other, is the product of a political machine (Saturn). But above in the heavens Saturn is in a showdown with Uranus, a planet that knows the difference between change and a sound bite.
To keep our finger on the pulse of this phase of history, we must not leave the job of evaluating Barack Obama to the corporate media, which has a vested interest in keeping the powers-that-be powerful. If our intention is to step outside the talking heads’ reality bubble, we might begin by applying a pinch of historical perspective to assess Obama based on his proposed policies. The act of considering these criteria—rather than distracting ourselves with the bizarre irrelevancies that now occupy pundit discussions—will allow us to hazard a few guesses about where to locate the man along the Uranus-Saturn spectrum.
How far forward is this presumed forward-thinker (Uranus) likely to go in leaving his auspices (Saturn) behind?
Chip off the old Saturn block
On the subject of Barack’s Iraq policy, the problem is not just the timetable. The problem is that the occupation will remain an occupation. Obama’s adherence to the Baker-Hamilton plan means he would leave hundreds of thousands of Americans and taxpayer-subsidized foreign mercenaries behind, to safeguard the precarious control that has been wrested from the Iraqis of their own oil fields.
As to Iran, many conscientious Americans are heartened to hear Obama making reference to diplomacy: after the past eight years, any mention of negotiating instead of bombing comes as sweet relief. But any genuine diplomacy in the Middle East would have to realistically acknowledge Iran’s position. The only state in the region that refuses to play puppet to Washington, Iran is staring down the barrel of Israel, its nuked-to-the-gills neighbor, whose recent assaults on Syria and Lebanon were aided and abetted by the Pentagon and whose abominable occupation of Palestine goes unmentioned by anyone with a shot at high office. Israel’s trigger-happy arsenal, not to mention the fact that Iran is surrounded by US nuclear submarines and would be instantly obliterated if they so much as lifted a finger militarily, makes the White House narrative about Iran being a threat to the USA ludicrously disingenuous. For Obama to pretend that he does not know all this is dishearteningly shoddy.
Obama’s proposals for Afghanistan are especially troublesome. He wants to fly ten thousand battle-weary, soul-shattered veterans of Iraq to the Central Asian poppy fields, where the Taliban—a virtual invention of the Carter years—is resurgent. As are the poppy fields themselves, which fund the bloodshed. Similarly worrisome is Obama’s approach to Pakistan.
The fundamental folly behind all of these policies is Obama’s seeming embrace of the deeply irrational “war on terror,” a propaganda conceit posing as foreign policy. The most poisonous legacy of the Karl Rove years, this bit of nonsense phraseology—presumably a reference to waging a nonspecific, multi-fronted, state-of-emergency-style overt and covert “war” against all holders of anti-American sentiments anywhere and everywhere in the world—has through sheer dint of repetition not only gained legitimacy but become entrenched in the American mass mind as the signifier of postmillennial patriotism.
Morality and military contraindications aside, on the baldest pragmatic level there is no way this “war” can be funded. The country is flat broke, addled with debt and facing immense domestic issues of unprecedented urgency (e.g. the need to retool to a green economy, tackle health-care reform, assure social security for millions of aging Boomers, address the housing crisis, stem uncontrolled gun violence, etc.). The Beltway policymakers who will have to figure out how to run this sprawling morass of a country know full well that these issues will never be addressed so long as the “war on terror” keeps devouring the nation’s GNP. For Obama, who seems to have more wit than most of them, to continue to beat this despicable drum comes off as mordantly cynical.
Looking beyond the narrative
The lesser-of-two-evils approach suggests that because we are stuck with two ruling parties funded by entrenched power elites and boundaried by a severe lack of common sense, we have to expect that any politician, no matter how bright or charming or sharp a dresser, must shift to the “center” to get elected. Just to get nominated. But the immense challenges on the world’s plate require more imagination than this.
What is required is not a candidate but a movement. This word, too, has been bandied about a lot lately in reference to Obama. Could the change this candidate offers become a real movement? If so, its inspiration would have to come from the bottom up. The American democracy has been staggering along for years, having devolved from a nation of citizens into a nation of compliant consumers. Among those who take the trouble to go to the polls, the most idealistic seem to have held out the hope that the candidate with the least offensive policies will prevail and do our work for us. This weary state of affairs flies in the face of the idea of government-by-for-and-of-the people (Uranus).
By contrast, if the forces rallying around a given leader possessed the energy of a movement, the People—the word deserves capitalization once it coalesces into the force of Uranus incarnated—could use an election rather than be used by it. This is the Age-of-Aquarius vision: that of evolved individuals taking charge of the groups they inhabit, and choosing leaders accordingly. Could a movement form around Obama that was capable of creating leadership in its own image? Someone who would embody and safeguard the voice of the People, not that of the king-making elite? And could such a movement avoid being sold out by the mainstream media? These are the questions we have to ask ourselves; not whether Obama, a single man doing his best to stay alive in a corrupt system, will or could single-handedly return the country to sanity.
Uranus, the Great Awakener, will use whatever mechanisms it can to rouse a people out of lethargy. If enough discernment is maintained throughout the current cacophony, Uranus could conceivably use an election like this one to galvanize collective impulses into genuine breakthrough. If Obama can orchestrate that surge of consciousness-raising despite the stagecraft of American politics, he will become a Uranian messenger.
If not, the revolution will come through other means. The only certainty in this debate is that Uranus is stronger than Saturn, and will win in the end.
(1) However, turning it on again for a few minutes every once in a while is also a good idea—or more advisedly, reading a newspaper, a less toxically assaultive medium—because we need to keep abreast of how bizarre it is. The fact that Mercury is opposed to Pluto in the USA (Sibly) chart is an important clue to the way America’s mass mind works, and an integral part of every individual American’s soul identity. Mercury is in the US 8th house of corporations; Pluto is in the house of business. Misused, this opposition signifies the takeover by the telecommunications industry of popular impulses for plutocratic ends. In order to transform a collective aspect such as this one from a dangerous propensity into a creative group potential, individuals of insight must confront it, not ignore it or dismiss it (discussed in detail in my book Soul-Sick Nation: An Astrologer’s View of America).