America in Decline: the Real-World Costs of Conservative Ideology.
Somehow over the past 40 or so years, the far political right has managed to subtly weave their philosophy into the fabric of America’s mainstream. If our country is indeed a “Center-Right” nation as the right professes, it’s a testament to the success of propagandists from Ronald Reagan to Jerry Falwell to Lee Atwater to Karl Rove to Sarah Palin. They’ve told a tale, and have told it well. And we’ve wanted to believe it.
Hell, I wanted to believe it.
Unlike the Abrahamic faiths for instance, American Exceptionalism and pure Capitalism aren’t savage, sinister, exclusionary myths; they are beautiful, deeply satisfying myths. We love the notion of the plucky Individual overcoming the faceless State. We love even more the notion of the “Overcoming Individual” sharing his beneficence on the common people. We’re enthused by the exponential wealth-creating potential of pure Capitalism, unfettered by all-too-real taxation and regulation. We hold dear the notion of our greatness, built upon the sober canniness of American Ingenuity. For decades, the myth of our Exceptionalism was reflected in reality. 50 years ago China and India were agrarian backwaters, and we were free to pursue our wildest expansionist fantasies with seeming impunity.
Then came the 1960s and Vietnam and Free Love. Vietnam, a historic blight from any perspective, and sadly, the hippies weren’t much better. One would be partially correct in blaming them and their fierce naivety, pacifism and relativism for enabling a guy like Ronald Reagan to rise from the extremist enclaves and ultimately take the reins. And make no mistake, it was Reagan, more than any other leader before or since, who warped our national psyche into its present state.
For more than 30 years, we have accepted as mainstream wisdom, the notion that Americans can somehow sustain ourselves with a pass-through, service-based economy. Ship the whole sweaty, messy manufacturing mess to the brown countries, we were in essence told by Reagan, Bush and Clinton. In the “new” era, Americans will be “information workers” and “service professionals”.
We were bamboozled by freshly empowered fundamentalists, warmongers, union-busters, trickle-down economists, and N.A.F.T.A. After 30+ years, conservatives no longer use the discredited “trickle-down” moniker, but without question, the underlying belief remains firmly entrenched. One needs look no further than the current tax cut showdown in Congress for the proof.
How has the Right been so effective in its messaging, when all empirical evidence contradicts the messages? Our power on the world stage has been diminished. Our economy, ravaged. The War on Terror is at a dreadful and costly stalemate. The “War on Drugs”, a complete and total failure. Yet we continue, blindly marching in the same direction. Rich guys will always bank their money first, then decide at a later date what to do with it. Unemployed folks will always immediately spend their checks on diapers and food and bills, for a stimulative effect that is at least five to six times more effective that any tax cut. Sadly, that doesn’t matter. We’re gonna freeze or shrink benefits, while ripping a fresh $ 1 Trillion hole in our federal budget. A fresh Trillion for tax cuts that will be stashed directly, to quote Larry Gatlin, “in a bank in the middle of Beverly Hills, in somebody else’s name”.
We’re going to keep giving tax breaks to mega-churches and multi-billionaires, and subsidies to farmers to grow crops we don’t need. We’re going to continue corporate welfare, even as impoverished working people are physically removed en masse from their homes. We’re gonna spend $1.35 Trillion on world-wide defense next year. And more the year after that. And the year after that, and the year after that.
The rot comes from the inside out, and even the wealthiest won’t be able to gate themselves forever. I’ve visited utopian havens of the rich: Aspen and Greenwich and Newport Beach. In these fantasy lands, service-based economies really did work, if only for a little while. But no longer. The shaggy landscapes and shuttered storefronts that embody our Foreclosed Nation are now evident even in these capitalist paradises. The enrichment of the super wealthy at the expense of a struggling, failing workforce (in concurrence with interminable engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan and Korea), are ending our country as we know it. We just are not yet fully aware of it.
It took the British Empire almost 20 years to “wind down”. I predict it will take the American Empire about 25. Interestingly, 2026 (exactly 25 years post 9-11) is when China is predicted to overtake us economically. India will surpass us by 2050.