Of Irony and Implosion

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Of Irony and Implosion

I guess if you're gonna go down, you might as well do it with style.

And I guess if you can't do it with style, you might as well do it with irony.

Even if it is of the comedic sort. And even if the joke's on you.

This country is imploding. It has been for thirty years, if not fifty. What happened Tuesday was egregious in every respect, but at the end of the day represents little more than just another data point on a secular trend line. Putting the tea party freaks in control of the world's only superpower is hardly distinguishable, really, from giving those same governmental car keys to Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich, or George W. Bush. For that matter, it bears all too uncomfortable resemblance to having Lyndon Johnson or Bill Clinton or Barack Obama president (though at least in those latter cases, we mostly didn't know beforehand what they'd turn out to be).

I want to say, before wallowing too much deeper into the despairing swamps of comedic irony, that there is some hope out there, at least in the longer term. Put bluntly, this country's main problem is old white guys. If we can find a way to neutralize their destructive impact, there is a new generation of un-crazy people waiting to take control of the country, stop it from digging deeper down in the hole its in, and begin the repair process. The next generation is liberal, and will become even more liberal when it realizes the degree to which the state is necessary to solve problems and protect citizens from predatory actors (most of which are far more likely to be dressed in shiny business suits than Taliban get-ups). It is a generation that finds prejudice based on race, sex and sexual orientation not only stupid and repugnant, but something far better - just plain dismissively irrelevant. It is a generation willing to take the outrageous step of protecting the only planet we happen to have (what a concept!). It's a generation that is largely unmoved by the institutionalized societal idiocy of organized religion. It is a generation that will be a lot more diverse than the regressive good ol' white boy dinosaurs from the 1930s and 1940s still lumbering about the country, waiting for "Father Knows Best" to stage a resurgence.

So, in the long term, we may be okay. Nature and demographics are pulling for the home team here. If we can last long enough, it's just possible that the suicidal empire will find a way to rescue itself from its self-imposed death spiral of inanity we've locked into these last decades.

But it's the getting there that will be tricky. And it's the question of what will be left of the country when we arrive that is crucial.

In the meantime, we are a country that continues to manifest remarkable levels of foolishness in our politics, for which Tuesday's election represents merely an italicized exclamation point on a very long sentence. Some days I wonder if I missed something along the way. Did somebody challenge the US to a Stupidity Smackdown contest thirty years ago, and we in our vanity, arrogance and pride accepted the dare? Did we agree to enter our country into an international demolition derby, and then marshal all our prodigious resources toward winning? Are we locked in some sort of perennial James Dean movie, where our jacket sleeve keeps getting caught on the door handle as the Chevy hurtles toward the cliff?

I dunno. But what I do know is that the ironies of Election 2010 are enough to knock me to the floor.

Start with the fact that this is by far the richest country in the world. That doesn't mean, of course, that we shouldn't identify our problems and try to solve them. We definitely should. But I can't help being struck at the sheer whininess of it all. I mean, here we sit, in our opulence and abundance and decadent materialism, and we're just absolutely beside ourselves. We are the richest people ever to exist on the planet, and we five percent swim in our thick lumpy gravy while 25 percent of humanity - close to two billion people - live in conditions of extreme poverty. Rather ironic, I have to say.

So is the fact that, amongst us, the angriest folks are the very most privileged. They are the white, male seniors who came out in droves for the freak show calling itself the tea party. We know empirically from polling data that these folks are the very definition of demographic privilege. They're wealthier than the rest of us. They're in the majority and dominant race. They are the dominant, catered to and most privileged sex. They have been benefitting from all the goodies that liberalism has provided them for all their lives, most especially now as they bask in their Social Security and Medicare payouts. Oh, and one other thing. They're furious. Furious at the injustices of the world, furious at the idea of sharing the fat bonanza they lucked into in the lottery of life, furious at a society that might have the audacity of compassion for this or that group that it has spent centuries, if not millennia, pummeling. That fury. The ironic fury of the hurl-inducing über-selfish.

And what they do with that fury is equally ironic. Imagine how puzzled a visiting alien would be if you were forced to explain the election of 2010 to him. See in your mind's eye his antennae twisting themselves into slimy little pretzels as he attempts to apply logic - alien, Martian, human, twisted, any kind - to your explanation of what happened. "You see, little green dude, we were extremely unhappy with the state of our country, so what we did was to grab as many of the people as we could find who had just put us in that condition, and we put them back in power. Get it?" "No", he's thinking, "I don't". "But you're about to, as we vaporize your pathetic planet into a gazillion sub-atomic particles. Oh, and don't think the Universe will care, either, Mr. Supremely Illogical Humanoid Life Form. Everyone knows that you biped wankers are the least developed, most arrogant, and most buffoonish species in the entire Quadrant. You barely-down-from-the-trees hominids make the dwarf methane sloths of the Ursa Major Cluster seem like Galactic Wisdom Prize laureates by comparison!"

I mean, really. Is this supposed to be some sort of joke? Not even two years after they crashed the country economically, diplomatically, environmentally, fiscally, politically and morally, we've now turned to an even crazier lot of Republicans and put those monsters in charge? People (allegedly, anyhow) who think that unmarried women who are sexually active should not be allowed to teach in public schools? People who think that we should have weaker anti-pedophilia laws so that we don't impinge on business profitability? People who think it's okay to put "Whites Only" signs back in the windows of restaurants and hotels? People who think that 12 year-old girls impregnated by their uncles should have to bring the fetus to term? People who want to close down all public schools? People who dress up as Nazi SS officers? People who think George W. Bush was a pretty great president, after all, and got a raw deal from the American public? Those are the folks to whom we've handed the keys to the government now? I don't think the word irony is sufficient to touch that one.

But while we're at it, let's add in the fact that these same people who brought us disaster in every form have also pledged to bring us once again precisely the same policies that created that outcome. Without question what the country needs right now is more tax cuts for the wealthy, more deregulation of Wall Street and other corporate predators like BP, more use of fossil fuels to wreck the environment, more troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, more religion in government, more Constitution-slashing destruction of the Bill of Rights, more intrusion into people's personal and sexual lives, more gay and Hispanic and Muslim bashing, and more destruction of the meager social safety net that we have, just at the time it is needed most. Right? How's that for ironic?

Here's a another one for you. What the public really wants right now are solutions to the problems that beset them. And rightly so. The goons of the right (you know, the ones always talking about ‘personal responsibility' - OMG, the ironies are starting to reproduce!) have made a right proper hash of things. They've wrecked just about everything, and the rest they just didn't get to yet. But what the American public just voted for was something very different indeed from rule by the GOP. We just voted for divided government. We just created the precise prescription for gridlock. We just picked the very people who - even apart from the fact that their entire platform consists of undoing existing policies - will make sure that the government fails to act in response to any of the crises facing us. Brilliant.

And just as brilliant as throwing in the bad folks was the throwing out of the good. Admittedly, there are damn few of the latter, which offers a silver lining of sorts by mitigating the potential damage. But I will say that losing the likes of Alan Grayson and, especially, Russ Feingold really hurts, and it really hurts the people who are the most furious, even if they're far to stupid and fearful (which are more or less the same thing these days) to realize it. I was really pained in particular to see Feingold go down, especially because it was for no remotely sensible reason, and especially because he lost to a creep like Ron Johnson. In a city just brimming over with whores, Feingold was one of the true stand-up characters still remaining. Whatever one might say about his politics, which were generally liberal but ultimately quite iconoclastic, he was a senator with that rarest of attributes: integrity. Shame on Wisconsin and shame on America for rejecting him in favor of an army of corporate corporals. Shame on us, especially, for taking out the cleanest clean government guy in the whole city, in the name of attacking waste in Washington. The size of the drunken bacchanal they're throwing on K Street to celebrate Feingold's political demise is precisely the measure of his lonely public interest spirit. But since we're talking ironies here, maybe we'll get lucky and there'll be one other. Maybe Feingold will stand for president in 2012, running unabashedly against the plutocratic prostitution of both Obama and the Republicans. That's a message that could actually win for once.

Another astonishing irony of this election was the sight of Democrats running against themselves. I guess we finally have an answer to the question of what happens when you take cowardly fecklessness to its absolute logical extreme. I know of no Democrats who were running in this cycle on what appear on the surface to have been substantial, even monumental, legislative achievements. Many even ran against those, foolishly thinking that voters might separate them from their party identification on the ballot. And several even ran explicitly against their own leadership, trashing Obama and Pelosi like any tea bag lunatics might have. Unreal. These days you sometimes have to lean your head over sideways and shake it a few times to check for any loose parts rattling around. That's how absurdly unimaginable it is that one of the two actually electable parties in the world's sole superpower might have come to the conclusion that running against their own record could be a winning strategy.

But, of course, Democrats will top themselves yet again by going with the exact same leadership for another round. How about those inspirational leaders, Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, eh? Don't they just deserve plaudits for how they led their party successfully into battle this week? Shouldn't we reward them with more terms at the party helm over the next two, four and six years? That would be a real masterstroke. Not.

Speaking of whom, my personal nominee for the most outrageous performance in the category of American irony has to go to Barack Obama for the jaw-dropping performance he gave at his post-"shellacking" press conference this week. I recently compared this president to Ricky Ray Rector, the mentally impaired condemned man who asked to have his pecan pie saved for "later" as he was about to be executed by the State of Arkansas. Before that I described the president as the pass-around rag doll for the fellas of Cell Block D. I can now see that in both cases I was far too generous.

After two years of the rabid right saying anything imaginable about him - down to questioning his citizenship and religion - and after a series of Republican leaders publicly announcing that they would not be compromising with the president and that their goal was to remove him from office - after all this, there was Mr. Happy Face once more talking about how he was hopeful that the two sides could come together in the spirit of public service and reach agreements with each other in the name of the public's demand for bipartisan efforts to solve pressing problems. They are running scorched earth white phosphorous bombing raids on this guy, and he continues to respond with "Thank you sir, may I have another?".

This behavior started out as mystifying, became anger-inducing, transcended into the pathological, and now has become truly, eye-avertingly, just embarrassing and sad. I don't think we can avoid saying this anymore: Our president is mentally unwell. In the same way that we don't let our children walk the streets on their own until they know that moving cars are a threat to their safety when crossing the road, this man who cannot properly identify a vicious enemy of his (and ours), even when it announces itself on national television, should not be anywhere near government, let alone in the Oval Office. It may be safe for him to go back to being a law professor, but he should no more be allowed to deal with Republicans and CEOs than drunken frat boys should be permitted to drive a Caterpillar earthmover through a suburban neighborhood at two o'clock in the morning.

Undoubtedly the greatest irony of the lot, however, is that this country's problems are of its own making, and that the solutions to these threats are so transparent - chiefly because they used to be public policy. We had most of this stuff figured out once, but then we got greedy and stupid and pissed it all away. We knew after the experience of 1929 that Wall Street had to be regulated, and so we did. And it worked, until we decided to try the old way again, with the same consequences. We learned after Vietnam not to follow lying presidents into destructive wars that suited their personal ambitions. And it worked, until we forgot the lesson and were doomed to repeat the consequences. We learned from Reagan that tax cuts unmatched by spending cuts would drive a Mack truck through the budget, but then Cheney said "Reagan proved deficits don't matter", so we did it again, and now we're doing it a third time. And so on, and so on. I tell ya, I'd feel a lot better about our predicament if someone else was the cause of it. Some evil, external, bad guy. But surely, Shirley, the dumbest people on Earth are the ones who shoot themselves in the foot. Dumbest, that is, except for the ones who reload and do it again to the other foot.

Things may get better in this country, but not before they get worse, I can tell you that. And possibly not before they get really worse. The next two years are going to bring loads more nightmare our way. The scary moment comes when the doubling-down on regressivism produces the predictable outcome of more national disaster. Think of the present moment, cranked out on irradiated steroids. Just as has been the case lately, many will argue that we need to double down on these malignant ideas, and that anyone saying otherwise is a threat to society who should be treated accordingly. That's called fascism.

And that's the beauty of conservatism. Each time it fails, there are plenty among us for whom that failure represents a reason to do even more of the same.

If you're not depressed enough this week already, consider this: Next time around we might just quadruple-down on stupidity.

Oh boy.

David Michael Green

David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York.

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