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Before And After

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Pardon me for noticing, but...

...your country is going down the toilet.

Speaking of which, I just couldn't help but be struck by the two articles on either side of the same New York Times op-ed page this Thursday.

In one, Nicholas Kristof reports the incredibly dismal fact that the kleptocrats of the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe have so thoroughly disemboweled the country they rule that people there actually pine for the "old, racist, white regime of what was then called Rhodesia". Oh boy. Said one farmer, "It would have been better if whites had continued to rule because the money would have continued to come. It was better under Rhodesia. Then we could get jobs. Things were cheaper in stores. Now we have no money, no food."

Meanwhile, over on the other side of the page, Gail Collins details the latest deployment of insane right-wing politics in America, as scary Virginia governor Bob McDonnell has been singing the virtues of the Confederacy (again), conveniently omitting that minor historical footnote of slavery so that yet another white, Southern politician can court the racist vote (again).

Do I really live in a country this stupid? Is it really possible that parasites like McDonnell and virtually every other Republican politician can continue the Zimbabwefication of America with the actual assistance of the very clowns who are the victims of this grand rip-off, simply by feeding them a little race-bait to make them feel better about themselves?

These two articles feel a lot like "Before" and "After" snapshots of America and its struggle with a fast-growing national cancer.

Except for one thing. We are no longer terribly "Before" anymore. Indeed, we have been siccing the Yankee Mugabes on America for just about exactly as long as the real deal has been similarly afflicting Zimbabwe. The same year that brought him to power there introduced the Reagan era in the US. (Worse, with our battered but still extant democracy, we have far less excuse than the poor Zimbabweans.) Presidents come and go in America, but with the complete co-optation of the Democratic Party under Clinton and Obama the predatory ideology of Reaganism remains.
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Few have laid out the case in a more compelling fashion than Tony Judt, in the latest edition of the New York Review of Books. Noting the massive shifts of wealth in America these last decades, he writes:

Inequality, then, is not just unattractive in itself; it clearly corresponds to pathological social problems that we cannot hope to address unless we attend to their underlying cause. There is a reason why infant mortality, life expectancy, criminality, the prison population, mental illness, unemployment, obesity, malnutrition, teenage pregnancy, illegal drug use, economic insecurity, personal indebtedness, and anxiety are so much more marked in the US and the UK than they are in continental Europe.

The wider the spread between the wealthy few and the impoverished many, the worse the social problems: a statement that appears to be true for rich and poor countries alike. What matters is not how affluent a country is but how unequal it is. Thus Sweden and Finland, two of the world's wealthiest countries by per capita income or GDP, have a very narrow gap separating their richest from their poorest citizens and they consistently lead the world in indices of measurable well-being. Conversely, the United States, despite its huge aggregate wealth, always comes low on such measures. We spend vast sums on health care, but life expectancy in the US remains below Bosnia and just above Albania.

Hey, at least no one can say the richest country in the world is worse off than Albania, eh?! The twin-axis graphs Judt presents illustrating his article make the same points visually. In every case, the US of A is sitting off by its lonesome in the unhappiest corner of the plot. Juxtapose income inequality with either social mobility, health or homicides, and there's the US over there by itself, in the stinker corner. Most inequality, least mobility. Most inequality, worst health. Most inequality, most murders. Woo-hoo!

Look, there will always be Mugabes out there. And there will always be the victims of such predators. And there will always be unimaginable horrors awaiting those with the political courage to call out such crimes for what they are. But what is most astonishing is when folks voluntarily contribute to their own demise, and when they do so in an environment relatively free from coercion and relatively open to change if only it were demanded.
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Worse still, such change actually is being demanded right now. It's called the tea party movement, and what it demands is a full-on exacerbation of the crises its politics have already made so acute, under a different guise (then we just called it Republicanism). Somehow, this is the only political movement in America with any juice these days, despite the almost sheer inanity of its content.

This means that the choices du jour facing voters are: the Republican Party, the other Republican Party, and should the tea-boneheads come to power an Even More Republican Republican Party. Turns out that Ralph Nader was actually wrong. It's not just Tweedledee and Tweedledum that we get to choose from in American politics. It's Tweedledee, Tweedledum and Tweedledumber. Who says we have no real political choice here in the good ol' USA?

The real $64,000 question of American politics right now is what happened to the left? Or, where is the New New Left we might expect to see today? Could conditions be more ripe for a progressive flowering, short of a world war over nothing or a Great Depression caused by the right (as opposed to the mere Great Recession they've (so far) caused this time)? Isn't economic meltdown for 98 percent of the country while the other two percent grows rich of the rest of us sufficient? "Cause, if not, I can throw in two really stupid and endless wars! No? Do Americans still need more? How about ongoing planetary destruction in the name of profits for the few? Not enough yet? How about strangling levels of national debt which will inevitably result in shredding further the already tattered social safety net? Do we need to drown an entire American city to get peoples' attention? Oops, never mind. Been there and done that.

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David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York.  He is delighted to receive readers' reactions to his articles (dmg@regressiveantidote.net), but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. His website is (more...)
 

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