America in Decline
June 09, 2012 "Information Clearing House" -- I could tell you that my heart was broken by what
happened in Wisconsin this week, but in truth that’s not quite
I grew into
political awareness and maturity in the middle of the 1970s. For people my age,
then, our entire adult lives have been one long witness to the dismantling of
that which we grew up taking for granted as a foundation for any further
progress that might come. We lived in the relatively egalitarian country of the
New Deal and the Great Society, with its robust middle class and a measure of
earnest compassion for the poor. Today, that seems like a foreign country, if
not a remote planet.
course of our adult lives:
We watched in
shock and horror as the country turned to a Hollywood washout, who was literally
a national joke candidate five years earlier, and made him president, following
him down every path of joyful self-destruction and absurd deceit.
dropped in the 1990s at the visage of New Gingrich, the most overtly petulant
and destructive piece of self-loathing to ever occupy a human body, as he was
elevated to the highest position in the United States Congress, and pioneered
the basest politics and the shattering of our government that remains our
inheritance today. As if that weren’t shameful enough, at the same time
Gingrich’s buddy down at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue was destroying the
meaning of the Democratic Party, aping the Republican sell-out to corporate
thieves and the abandonment of the public interest – especially the poor, the
first to be thrown under the bus.
the fact Bill Clinton deserves to rot in hell for the damage he did in exchange
for his personal joyride in the White House, we were nevertheless forced to
watch in horror the relentless and destructive lunacy of the president’s
impeachment for the high crime of lying about a blow-job.
We had to
endure the travesty of Bush versus Gore, one of the most egregious tramplings of
democratic practice imaginable, then watch the sickening product of that
judicial rape: the swaggering wars based on lies, the torture, the doubling of
the national debt, the environmental depredations, the economic melt-down, and
the raison-d’etre for it all: the radical shifting of wealth from the 300
million of us to the one-tenth of one percent who own everything in
emotionally devastating of all – Et tu, Brute? – we’ve suffered the betrayal
these last years of another Democratic sell-out, a supposedly
liberal-if-not-socialist president actually so conservative and so sold-out that
he couldn’t even bear to pursue his own personal interest sufficiently to
produce a successful presidency, but has rather continued and amplified the
worst characteristics of the open sore that was the Bush presidency, even in the
midst of crisis opportunities not seen since the 1930s.
So, no, by
this time, my heart was not really broken when my former home-state, Wisconsin,
voted emphatically to commit suicide this week. But only because there’s so
little of that heart left to break. Shards here and there were crushed and
extinguished, to be sure, but I am becoming rapidly beyond caring about the
country I live in, a place and a people so determined to get it wrong at every
juncture imaginable. At some point, don’t you just have to stop trying and let
the substance-abuser finish the job on their own?
is dying, let’s be clear. It may live yet. It may survive for decades in slow
decline. It may find a way in utter crisis to throw off, before it is too late,
the fat slimy boa which is squeezing every last cent of value out of it. Its
political class may invent a devastating foreign crisis with massively grim
consequences in order to deflect public attention from its manifest failings.
Maybe it will even be some combination of all of the above.
What we can be sure of, however, is that what was once a great and promising
idea as much as a nation is now decrepit to the core, and rapidly rotting away,
and that these wounds are entirely self-inflicted. That, for me, is the kicker.
The Soviets didn’t invade and take us over. We didn’t succumb to some raging
virus like the Black Plague. A meteor didn’t blast a hole in the middle of North
We just killed
the goose ourselves, through a toxic mix of greed, laziness and
conversation to be heard if nations like America were to go to the Pearly Gates
when they die, seeking forgiveness, and anxiously awaiting their dispensation
for the rest of eternity:
St. Peter: So,
the Big Guy wants to know what the hell (get it?) you’re doing here.
well, we’re dead.
we get that. Even if we did create the Catholic Church, we’re not complete
idiots up here, you know. What he means is, how did a country like you, with all
the tremendous advantages you were given, wind up so dead, so fast?
uh, we made some bad choices, I guess.
Peter: Do you
mean like when you traded George McGovern for Karl Rove, for example?
I suppose. But McGovern...
up, you insolent little turd. Do you mean like when you traded Franklin
Roosevelt for Barack Obama or George Bush – sorry, I always get those two
confused – is that what you mean?
that was prolly not the smartest deal.
could it be when you swapped the First Amendment to get Citizens United
Golly, you mean corporations really aren’t people, after all?
really not looking too good for you lot, I’m afraid.
Listen, do you have to go to Hell for just being stupid, or is something worse
like wholesale venality or mass murder required?
you’re America! Isn’t that question kinda moot?
does moot mean? And what happened to the pearls that are supposed to be on the
Brothers got ‘em.
Christ, you’re dumb. Maybe an exception could be made for you, come to think of
it. After all, we don’t send microbes or amoeba to Hell either, even when
they’re very bad.
thank you, Mr. Peter. You’re very kind. Say, where do we sign-up for our choice
of cable packages?
Wisconsin managed to only break the few shards of my unbroken heart still
remaining, it’s worth considering the details of the episode to get a sense of
how truly wrecked we are as a people. Much like George W. Caligula, who
campaigned as the compassionate conservative but governed as a Cheneybot
monster, Scott Walker came to office without mentioning in the campaign any of
the scorched earth policies he was actually hired by the Koch Brothers and their
ilk to foist upon his hapless state. So the first thing he does after his
inauguration is give away hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks for the
wealthy. Then, lo and behold, there appears a shortfall in the state’s budget of
precisely that amount – almost as if that whole math thing actually works, after
all – and so he declares a crisis which can, of course, only be solved by
draconian burdens being imposed upon non-one percenters.
that the public employee unions are called upon to bear the burden of massive
givebacks of their salary and benefits. But then – this being America and the
21st century and all – the unions agree to one hundred percent of these demands.
But Walker and his fellow Koch-class acolytes are not satisfied with having to
take yes for an answer, because their real project is to crush the unions into
political insignificance, if not to terminate them altogether. So the real issue
was never the fiscal crisis, which was entirely fabricated, nor even finding a
solution to it, which the already pathetic unions had readily agreed to. The
real issue was to destroy the labor movement, and the political party it has
(stupidly, in recent decades) supported for so long.
But when labor
and some Democrats and a lot of courageous and determined ordinary Badgers
decided that enough was finally enough, the question was ultimately presented to
the public in the form of a recall election. Massive amounts of money (Walker
outspent the other side by a ratio of about eight to one) paid for massive
amounts of televised lies about how the brave governor was only fighting special
interests on behalf of the people, and it worked. (Though, let’s be honest here
– lots of Wisconsin voters knew exactly the score, and stupidly and
self-destructively decided to tear down teachers and nurses and park rangers and
the like from their decent middle class living, instead of drawing a line in the
sand demanding that everyone to rise up to that modest standard.)
America of today, and it’s a glimpse of the very near-term future. The formula
is pretty simple, really. Wealthy elites who have spent the better part of a
century chafing under the unbearable burdens of the New Deal and Great Society
(where they are rendered mere billionaires instead of zillionaires) have finally
found a way to steal back ‘their’ money. Buy whole political parties, buy the
media, buy – therefore – the entire mindset of the country, buy the Supreme
Court, dumb down education, especially the study of history, make college
prohibitively expensive, repress dissent, create distracting enemies abroad
(towelheads) and at home (fags), replace jobs with machines and cheap overseas
workers, squeeze the economy so that money is scarce, and divide and conquer the
99 percent, so that those who miraculously still maintain a vestige of decent
wages and benefits from an ancient civilization called 20th century America will
be resented and torn-down by those already drowning.
You gotta hand
it to them, it works pretty well. (Being a sociopath evidently does not
correlate at all with poor planning skills. But who knew there were so many
amongst us?) As a measure of the sheer success of this project, consider how –
even in a moment of crisis – there is nowhere on the horizon a politically
viable alternative narrative about what ails the country and how to solve the
problem. Sure, there is the odd Paul Krugman around, or Dennis Kucinich (whoops,
never mind), but ask yourself this question: Can you name even a single
prominent politician across the entire political landscape who is remotely
telling the truth about the economic holocaust of American kleptocracy? Indeed,
it is truly a measure of the stunning proportions of the overclass’s victory
that even a water-carrier as devoted as Barack Obama is labeled a socialist, and
both he and the ideas he doesn’t even remotely represent are thoroughly
discredited. Even if the answers to the question of what would fix America
weren’t manifestly obvious (as in, just do what we used to do before the right
came along and dismantled everything), this is a stunning achievement of truly
Orwellian proportions: For vast numbers of Americans, real understanding of the
problem and real consideration of the solution cannot even be thought
It will get
far worse before it gets better, if it does. The Wisconsin election was widely
and correctly seen as a dry run for November, but in fact November is already as
over as is May or April. The hapless Obama people may not have gotten the word,
but they are as dead as the unions in Wisconsin that they didn’t bother to
support. And Obama will go down in near-term, right-wing renderings of history
as another Jimmy Carter. Meanwhile, stupid liberals, who slavishly admired a
decidedly right-wing, militarist, ultra-statist, corporate-serving Democratic
president, will sit holding their heads in surprise at the damage wrought to the
president himself, to his party, and to their cherished liberal principles. Um,
sorry, but have y’all been snoozing through Afghanistan and Pakistan? Did you
miss the whole presidential-ordered assassinations program? Have you not heard
what has happened to whistleblowers? Did you forget the tax cuts and the offer
to dismantle Medicare? Have you been watching Fox and not heard about the growth
of military spending? Did you not know that the health care bill was co-authored
by, and for the benefit of, insurance and pharmaceutical companies? Have you not
heard that our ultra-progressive president has done nothing whatsoever about the
planetary über-crisis of global warming, other than to open vast new oil
drilling fields? Did you not see in action the joy and wonder of Obamaism in
2010, the most devastating election for a political party in half a century, and
coming only two years after the total meltdown of the GOP under Bush? Sorry, but
this is the SOB you adored and went to the mat for?
future looks grim in so many ways. You can just feel the doors and windows
shutting, one by one. Are we really so far off, given the displays we’ve already
seen, from being a corporate-owned polity, in which oceans of Citizens United
sponsored propaganda limits the cognitive landscape of an entire country, sham
elections and a steady stream of brain-numbing high-def television gruel
satisfies most of the (obese) public enough to keep them stuck on their sofas,
while a massive police state armed with domestic drone aircraft and angry cops
deal swiftly with the few remaining malcontents stupid enough to demand a return
to the better country we once knew? You know, more or less a carbon copy of
Putin’s Russia, here in North America.
I have no
interest whatsoever in being a prophet of doom, but I ask you, is that really so
far-fetched? If you look around you honestly today, is it not fair to say that
we are pretty much already there? With the partial exception of social policy
issues, do you really have any choice at the ballot box? Can anyone say that
Democrats in Washington, including the sitting president and the astonishingly
narcissistic whore that was Bill Clinton, represent corporate interests any less
than Republicans, whatever their pathetic rhetoric? Has US foreign policy gotten
even slightly more enlightened since Obama took over from the smirking
troglodytes? Do Americans have any idea of what is truly happening to them, as
opposed to being fixated on gays, immigrants, foreign bogeymen and spoon-fed
celebrity drivel? And were not Occupy activists subjected to pepper spray, mass
arrests and wholesale street clearings, even by supposedly liberal mayors and
of course, that the end is not nigh after all. Indeed, I see something of a
great historical race transpiring in America. On the one hand, the powers of
greed are rapidly filling in all the puzzle pieces of their sociopathic
conspiracy to own everything, including – yes, really, I’m not kidding – food,
water and our very genes. They are relentless, they are rich, and they are
talented in ways that would awe and possibly even repulse Machiavelli himself.
Oh, and by the way, they are winning, too. Big time. Even when they lose, they
On the other
hand, demographics are not so favorable to the destruction of the nation. Young
people are far more progressive than their scary-stupid and mega-mean
grandparents. The good news is that the latter are dying, and the former are
taking their place. Moreover, demographic trends are also shifting the racial
composition of the electorate. For whatever reason, whites tend to have horrible
politics, so the browning of America is also a very good thing. (If we could
pull off the same stunt with gender, that would be great news, too, since it
indeed turns out that, that’s right, the women are smarter. Better politics
through bioengineering, maybe? Soon to come to your local supermarket. Or at
We have also
seen displays across the globe of Basta!-ism which raise hope. From Russia to
Egypt to Israel to Greece to Canada to Wall Street and Santa Monica College,
people are standing up and saying Enough! And it works. These schoolyard bullies
crushing us are like ... well, schoolyard bullies. Call them out on their
blustery braggadocio and watch them fold in the face of real power. True, it
doesn’t always happen (see “Wisconsin, State of”), but it does often enough. And
there is also the hope that as the plutocrats continue their insatiable campaign
to impoverish the rest of us they will go a bridge too far, pushing by their own
actions a squawking wholesale resistence out the proverbial birth canal and into
there is one bit of transcendent hope left it is that people in this country
still seem non-comatose (or perhaps just self-interested) enough so as to make
regressives their own worst enemy. Their shit sells well to dummies in
campaigns, but it turns out that while you can lie about everything imaginable –
right up to nice bearded people in the sky who control everything from war and
peace to NFL touchdowns but somehow never seem to appear on Earth – the lies
cannot ultimately withstand the laws of political physics. Those lovely pieties
and viciously divisive tactics that are so successful at separating idiots from
their votes on election day are rather less capable of doing magic tricks
thereafter. Regressives may want very badly for Iraqis to lay down and accept
American imperialism, but that doesn’t make it happen, and no amount of arrogant
bring-it-on blustery by Vietnam-avoiding chickenhawks can change that. They may
want voodoo economics to balance the budget, but those pesky mathematical
equations keep getting in the damn way. They may tell you that global warming is
a hoax, but nevertheless every day the planet gets relentlessly
In short, time
after time there is no better antidote for regressive government than regressive
government itself. That’s why the right always and endlessly pays homage to a
ridiculously distorted version of Saint Ronald of Reagan, a guy so long departed
from the White House that he might as well be James Buchanan as far as most
contemporary Americans are concerned. Hmmm. Why not talk about the joys and
wonders of George W. Bush, instead, who after all, was far more Reagan than
Reagan, and who happened only just yesterday? Perhaps for the same reason that
governments pursuing austerity in Europe are falling like dominoes. And also for
the same reason that the sweep of regressive state governors brought in by the
Obama debacle of Election 2010 are proving so unpopular, including even Scott
Walker, who, despite surviving the vote, is only the third governor in all of
American history to be subjected to a recall.
Thus, as much
as it sickens me to say it, perhaps the best thing that could happen to us could
be the election of a Mitt Romney, especially one, as this one is, so completely
straightjacketed by the insane elements (that is to say, all of them) of his
party. Unless Romney turns out to be very, very lucky, his policies will not
only not turn the economy around, but they will saddle the country with vastly
more debt than the right has managed to do so far already. It’s possible this
could be the tipping point, once and for all, in the race between good
demographics and bad demographics, between sanity and insanity. Maybe people
will finally get what they’re buying, and start looking for a refund.
On the other
hand – and be honest here – wasn’t that just what you were thinking after eight
years of Bush and Cheney, the entire last four of which spent with the
president’s job approval ratings in the toilet?
I sure as hell
was, only to see Republicans (with a lot of help from Obama) win a crushing
victory only a mere two years later.
In the end,
there may be no bottom to the depths of self-destructive stupidity of which Homo
Americanus is capable of stooping.
sure we’re gonna be finding out here, real soon.
David Michael Green is a
professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York. www.regressiveantidote.net
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