When a Country Goes Insane
This must be what it’s like when a country goes insane, when it falls down a rabbit hole and tries to pretend that everything is normal.
It can’t tell truths from lies. Hucksters pose as upright men, and people imagine they are Solons, avatars of insight come down from the ages. Sleazy operators pass themselves off as statesmen, as thinkers of deep gravitas, and the crowds, unable to distinguish sanctimony from sincerity, bravado from bullshit, lap it up.
Let’s be clear. It was the Republicans who wrecked the economy. Both their people and their policies drove the economy into the ditch. They wrecked the economy not once, but twice in the last eighty years.
So Republicans condescending to instruct Americans about how to fix the economy is like the captain of the Titanic lecturing shipping operators about safe procedures for navigating the north Atlantic. No sane society would tolerate it. But this one does.
How bad is it this time?
Six million people have lost their jobs. Twenty five million are underemployed. Many will never work again. Eight trillion dollars of middle class wealth has been destroyed in the housing collapse. One out of four mortgage holders are under water, owing more on their home than it’s worth. Fifty million people are living in poverty. One out of eight Americans are on food stamps. One of every two children will be on food stamps at some point in their lives.
How much worse can it get?
And the rich? Corporate profits are at an all-time high. But corporate taxes — not the imaginary “nominal” rates they whine so bitterly about, but the taxes actually paid — are among the lowest in the industrial world. Income inequality is at its highest level since 1917. Between 2000 and 2006, two thirds of all the growth in the entire economy went to the top 1%. And the “too big to fail” banks, those that wrecked the economy and extorted trillions of dollars from the government to rescue them? They are now even bigger.
How much better can it get?
And the Republicans’ response? The working and middle class need to pay. Never mind that it was Reagan and Bush I who quadrupled the national debt in only 12 years, and Bush II who doubled it again in only eight, all to grease the pockets of their wealthy base. It’s the working and middle class who need to be bled. They still have assets that can be milked from them. They can still be made more subservient, more docile.
They need to give up the union protections that have afforded them the slightest bargaining power against the largest organizations on earth. They need to give up environmental protections, even though every one of them have rocket fuel in their bodies from water contamination. They need to give up the mortgage interest deductions that allowed them to buy and own their own homes.
They need to give up government help with college loans that allowed their children to get the education they could never have. They need to give up any expectation of extended unemployment insurance, even though there are five people looking for every job available. They need to give up the retirement protections that Social Security has promised them for the past 75 years.
In other words, they need to give up any expectation of security, or dignity. They need to give up any childish illusions that they have any say in the government, that it is operated for any such quaint Madisonian ends as “the general welfare.” They need to put on their kneepads and accustom themselves to being grateful servants to their new feudal masters, assuming their masters will have them. It’s sickening.
Even though it was trillions of dollars of government bail-outs that saved the banks and their shareholders from bankruptcy… Even though it was government stimulus that reversed the 750,000 monthly job losses that were savaging the economy when Obama took office… Even though it was government FDIC insurance that protected millions of savers from being wiped out, and unemployment insurance that mitigated the collapse of aggregate demand, staving off another Great Depression…
It’s the poor, the working, and the middle classes that must be made to pay, for in the Republicans’ psychotic world government is existentially bad because it is through government that democracy tries to modulate the worst excesses of capitalism, which is existentially good.
It’s almost surrealistic. But decades of relentless Republican hate-mongering against the government has done its job.
Never mind that it was government that pulled off the greatest feat of social engineering in history. In 1900, only 4% of Americans graduated from high school. By 2000, more than 80% did. It was this mass educated public that made possible the most technically sophisticated economy in the history of the world.
It was government that won both World War I and World War II, leaving the U.S. economy astride the world like a colossus, able to harvest the fruits for decades. It was the government GI Bill program that educated a generation of young people to ultimately defeat the Soviet Union.
It was the government that wired every house in the country for electricity during the Great Depression, setting up the largest household consumer-goods market in the world in the 1950s: home appliances. And it was government guarantees for home loans that set off the greatest building boom in the history of the world: suburbia.
It was government that paved more than 3 million miles of road between 1930 and 1960, making possible the massive economic boom associated with automobiles, mass mobility, and more. It was government research that invented the graphical user interface and the Internet.
None of that matters.
Hate is stronger than logic and more than anything else, Republicans love their hate. It’s the only thing that gives them power. The more vicious, the more loony they are, the more they are treated like savants, like prophets channeling some higher wisdom, come though it may from the self-loathing gutter of political prostitution. They pull stuff out of their ass and brazenly pass it off as stone tablets. And people swoon.
Of course, you can understand why. The media genuflect before gibberish and idolize idiocy. They are the media-tors of a Gresham’s Law of public discourse where bad information drives out good. For their own slick whoring they become “players,” while everybody else is left with a debauched civic currency, a crushed economy, and a collective impotence that makes true democracy and true prosperity impossible.
Alice in Wonderland would be amazed, even repulsed, that such cultural pathology passes for intelligence, even civilization. At least she stood up to the inanities of the Mad Hatter, the insanities of the Queen of Hearts, the arrogant deceits of Humpty Dumpty. But she didn’t live in today’s America.