First let me say two things:
1. I bear no ill will, nor dislike, nor even harsh feelings, for any of the genuinely stupid people in the United States, or in the world at large; and
2. I have never thought, not even for a moment, that all of the people who voted for our fascinating and exotic Fabulous Prezzy D. John were stupid, although I will admit that from time to time it appears to me that voting for him was a stupid thing to do. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I’m sure of it, because I do stupid things myself on a regular basis, and I expect to be forgiven. We are only men and women, after all.
Something profoundly stupid has happened to the U.S. over the course of the last thirty-seven years, and it happened because all of us stupidly allowed it to happen. All of us, including me, and almost certainly including most of my fellow Americans out there, allowed it to happen. We have allowed a country with real potential and a lot to recommend it to be turned into a red-hot mess. In the process, we have lost many of our rights, our prosperity, our security, and our pride.
Maybe it helps to live overseas to see it clearly; maybe living in America the rest of you are too close to the problem to notice it. One still frequently hears the claims that America is the greatest country in the world, whereas this has been manifestly untrue for decades already. I’m not going to start rattling off statistics, but if you’ve been paying attention at all you know it’s true. There are a lot of countries that have higher standards of living and whose citizens have much greater happiness and security than citizens in the U.S. “Well,” you might say, “we still have the most aircraft carriers!” Yes, we do, that much is true. But aircraft carriers never buttered anyone’s parsnips.
Before you chime in with, “if you hate America so much, get out!” let me say that I love America now, and I always have. I worked and paid my taxes for decades, cheerfully. I owned property and kept it tidy; I was a good neighbor. I raised two sons who as we speak are fine men. I served in the U.S. Navy (which I joined during a war), and the U.S. Peace Corps, and I have done a lot more volunteer work than most people. I was a Cub Scout den leader and pack treasurer! I gave America more than America asked of me, and I’ve never been arrested. So I think that I have a license to have an opinion about what’s going on in America, even if that opinion is negative. Oh, and I have already left, by the way. I’ve been gone for more than ten years. I have no immediate plans to come back and live in America, and as time goes on the possibility becomes increasingly remote. All I have is eyes to see, and it’s obvious that America has been sold down the river. It’s obvious that the American way of life has suffered some severe degradation. It’s beginning to look like the entire American experiment is on life support, and in 2017 someone has pulled the plug. It’s last gasp time. And weirdly, it’s obvious that most Americans are in denial about this. Either that or they just don’t care, probably because they are among the lucky ones who are still relatively prosperous and secure.
America has never been perfect, but it was pretty good there for a while. For a few decades it was finally improving in meaningful ways, which is all you can ask of a country, if you are being fair. Up through the 1920s, the United States was a great place to be rich and ambitious, and a rough place to be a working stiff who just wanted to have a job and be left in peace. Women were stifled at home, in education, and in the workplace. Recall that women could not vote until 1919. Between 1932 and 1960, Liberal Democratic administrations created a thriving middle-class, albeit a white middle-class. (The only Republican president in this period was Dwight Eisenhower, who kind of kept the ball rolling.) It was still a terrible place to be black, or Mexican/Puerto Rican, or, God forbid, homosexual. (It was terrible even though things were improving somewhat for the blacks and Hispanics.) The civil rights movement in the 1950s and ‘60s, and the women’s rights movement in the 1960s, and Stonewall, etc., in the 1970s, seemed to suggest that positive changes were possible, and maybe even on the way.
The Things That We Have Lost
While acknowledging the bad, we can highlight the good. Starting in the 1940s, and especially in the 1950s, ‘60s, and even most of the ‘70s, work was easy to find; retirement was more secure than it had ever been; university education was available to everybody, almost free; most jobs came with pretty good health insurance; housing was plentiful and affordable (buying or renting); the covenant of good faith and fair dealing was implied in every contract; providers of professional services owed their clients a fiduciary duty of care; and in retrospect, entertainments like sporting events, concerts, and movie theaters were amazingly cheap. During this period, the newspapers and the new electronic media kept a meaningful check on government in an environment featuring real competition.
Doesn’t that all sound nice? Now, of course, it’s all gone. If I were a Millennial, I’d be furious.
Who Has Done This To Us?
Allowing that wonderful, if imperfect, middle-class America to be destroyed required a citizenry who were asleep to the dangers at work around them. It required Americans who were satisfied to listen to and believe the pack of lies that they were fed. It happened because average Americans either failed to notice, or just didn’t care, that their security and happiness was being stolen from them. May I speak frankly? That was stupid.
Some days we are reminded that the stupid, like the poor, will always be with us. Some days, I, as one of the stupid, am the one doing the reminding. I will say that I had a sense of dread throughout this process, and that I often made dire predictions, but my family and friends laughed at me as though I were Chicken Little. And I was too busy trying to make a living and raise a family to shoulder any burdens on behalf of the country at large. Besides, it is easier, after all, to see these things in retrospect.
Back in the days when ruthless despotism was the general condition of humanity, the despots preferred that the majority of their subjects were stupid, or at least totally uneducated and slightly malnourished. Their preferred method of ruling was to provide a large majority of their populations with almost nothing, while always insuring that there were a certain number of people who had absolutely nothing at all. “Almost nothing” beats “nothing at all” seven days a week. People said, “Thank God that we have almost nothing! Look at those filthy beggars! That could be us!” Most people worked hard and kowtowed willingly to avoid the miserable fate that was “nothing at all.”
A system like that works better on people who are on the stupid side. Education is one of the things that has suffered in recent decades. Our new plutocracy has succeeded in recreating that class of citizen that is barely hanging on, the members of which are desperate to avoid descending into the class that has nothing but unpayable debt, homelessness, and the prospect of prison.
Who is responsible? I peg the beginning of the end with the election of Ronald Reagan and the foundation of the modern Republican Party. I blame most of America’s current misery on them. Over the following thirty years, there was a huge increase in worker productivity (boosted by technological advances) and a vast increase in wealth (created by those new technologies and computerized banking shenanigans). Virtually all of this new wealth found its way up to the top of the financial food chain. None of this is mysterious in any way, and no credit accrues to me for figuring it out. It is common knowledge, in fact. In that same thirty years, wages stagnated and every good thing mentioned above began to evaporate. By now Americans exist in a state of deep insecurity regarding jobs, income, health care, debt management, housing, and retirement.
Forgive me if I zoom a bit of the argument here. This is a blog, not Vanity Fair or the Atlantic Magazine. You can fill in the blanks about the dumbing-down of the population, jobs going overseas, and automation reducing the need for human workers.
What about the Democrats? Haven’t we had sixteen years of Democratic Party presidents and a couple of majority Democrat congresses in the meantime? Why, sure we have! But those Liberal Democrats who created a prosperous middle-class America in the 1930’s and ‘40s have been shamefully sold out by this recent crop of lily-livered ingrates. Both of our political parties now stand firmly on the right side of the political spectrum. Both work exclusively for corporate interests and the very wealthy. They differ only on questions of narrowly defined moral issues, like abortion and gay marriage, which have been mischaracterized as religious issues for the convenience of corrupt politicians.
Say the words, “single-payer health insurance” to a Democrat! I dare you! All you will hear is, “oh, God no!” as the Democrat turns on his heels and breaks into a trot.
All of our elected officials, with rare exceptions, have participated in our ruin. The exceptions are as rare as those minerals that can only be found in microgram quantities in certain meteorites. Don’t even get me started about that cute blond senator of a certain age. What an actress! She should get a special Oscar for her performance as a "Liberal” in the downfall of a great nation.
Reagan, that stainless-steel prick, we were told that he was just using all of that anti-Washington insider talk to get people to vote out incumbents, who were mostly Democrats. “Washington is the problem!” All the while Reagan was out on the stump discussing the end-times and the Bible with the Rubes, and telling people that Washington was an evil place. Now we can clearly see that there was more to it than a temporary tactic to get more Republicans in congress. I asked myself at the time, “who benefits from all of this anti-Washington talk?” That’s a favorite of detectives and lawyers. I wasn’t even a lawyer yet, but that question is always a good place to start. Well, who benefited? Now that we can tally up the results, it’s clear that the big corporations and the wealthy received the benefit. That has been the goal all along.
The Icing on the Cake
The 2016 election played out like a sleepwalker on the freeway. A lot of “ooooohs!” and “aaaaaahhhhs! followed by the inevitable impact. After thirty-six years of talking about destroying the power of Washington D.C. as the center of all that was evil in American politics, we, the people, gave the Republicans the power to do just that. Or, more accurately, we have turned the keys to the kingdom over to the financial elites. (“Hello Comcast, yes, Net Neutrality abolished? Coming right up! Would you like a mint with that?”)
There was no secret about what they wanted to do, but people put them in office anyway. Put them in all of the offices, almost. The presidency, both houses of congress, the governorships and legislatures of most of the fifty states. They even walked away with the Supreme Court! I could name several current members of the court who lied like rugs at their confirmation hearings to hide their true intentions, and were allowed to do it by bi-partisan consent. Finally, in an act of breathtaking gall, they gave us “The Year of Eight Justices,” by simply refusing to hold confirmation hearings on President Obama’s nominee for ten months. Ladies and gentlemen, all three branches of government, that’s the hat trick right there.
And what a president we have! You could not imagine a better choice if the goal was to destroy the power and prestige of the Federal government and turn everything but the military over to the large corporations, which stand shoulder to shoulder with the very wealthy. And that’s just what they have done. Yes, and just that quickly!
To offer one example, a corporate shill was installed as the Secretary of State, and immediately all of the Obama appointees were fired. They were not replaced. In the following ten months, talented, dedicated long-term State Department officials have been pushed out by a number of means, including the “Executive Stiletto.” That’s when you take a highly qualified guy and move him into a small office with nothing to do and then wait for him to get bored or angry at being so disrespected and quit. Some high officials were moved into shared offices where they do clerical work on equal footing with a staff of unpaid interns. There’s also a buy-out program to financially incentivize officials to leave. You can go look up what the State Department is responsible for and try to imagine America making its way in the world without a State Department doing those things. That’s what is happening now. We read tales of eerie walks through halls of empty offices. It’s terrifying. Important allies of America are wondering why there is no ambassador and virtually no staff at the American Embassy.
That’s one of the shills, many of the remaining Federal agencies are now headed by stooges. Similar dismantling is going on everywhere. It’s all dangerous in a very immediate way. The business of running the United States is being abandoned in order to free corporate America from constitutional Federal regulation.
And then there is the president himself. An unqualified, disinterested, disagreeable, lazy-minded man. DJT seems to be interested mostly in golf and self-interest, lining his pockets with weekly trips to Trump properties, billing at top-dollar for all of the rooms and food required for his security entourage. Beyond that, he purposely annoys our allies and provokes our adversaries. And I’m not even going to mention the Russian connection. This thing is already ten times the recommended maximum length for a blog post!
When the inevitable happens, and there is a crisis somewhere, this comedy of errors will quickly become serious. Money will be made, though.
It’s been almost a year now, and can anyone in America point to one instance of anyone in this government doing one thing to actually help average Americans? Why no, they can’t. This is the cast and crew for the last act of American democracy.
Well, Mr. Blogger, what can be done? For a change, I have actually done some thinking about it.
The solution will not be to suggest a return to any prior condition. The past is gone, and can never be recreated.
Our traditional political parties, the Democrats and the Republicans, will be involved in much the same way that they are involved now, which is as dramatic devices upon which to hang the narrative dictated by the new powers that be.
We, as average Americans, still have chips to bargain with. If there is any possibility for good-faith bargaining, we can trade away what is left of our rights in the hope of being granted greater financial, health, and retirement security.
I’ll get working on a suggested plan of action going forward. This post right here should keep actual readers busy for a while. It’s so long that you may want to put it on your Kindle for more convenient reading! Thank you for your patience. There’s no way to unwind what has happened, but if we are careful, we may be able to avoid the New Dark Ages that are just around the corner. I hope for my granddaughter’s sake that we can manage it.