Well, at least no one can accuse us of not having our national priorities in order, eh?
Actually, that's only part of the story and frankly the more benign part, to boot.
Presidents like to say, in their annual messages to Congress and the country, that "The state of the union is strong". Maybe Obama is bold enough to tell a whopper that big even in 2010. I guess when you've taken an entire country over the cliff lying about "hope" and "change", even a stinker that rude wouldn't be so egregious, relatively speaking.
In fact, the health of this country is tenuous, and that's on a real good day. All the obvious and tangible manifestations are there: massive unemployment, polarized wealth suitable for any banana republic, broken government and political system, environmental catastrophe and more. It's almost as if our goal is to commit national suicide in order to keep a whole next generation of Jared Diamonds employed or something.
These are huge problems, they are nigh on intractable, and they are destructive in the extreme. Indeed, so grim is our situation that the only real hope looking forward is for a resurgence of common sense and mutual sacrifice allowing for at least the possibility of finding the national will to address these crises.
But I'm afraid that's where things really start to get grim.
If you're under the age of forty, you might not realize that things weren't ever thus in American politics. The current ugly nature of our political discourse is perhaps simultaneously the greatest "victory' and greatest tragedy of the regressive revolution in America these last thirty years. Not only has the state itself been captured for purposes of thorough looting by oligarchs, but the very political consciousness of the nation has been diluted and polluted all while our faux patriotism is saluted beyond recognition.
Government is bad. Government always screws up. Corporations are heroic. Greed is good. Conservatism is about protecting freedom. Personal sacrifice for national improvement is for fools. Personal destruction is an appropriate form of politics. Hypocrisy is even more acceptable. There is one set of rules for elites, another for the rest of us.
All these form the fabric of our national ethos today, woven deeply into our political consciousness.
Regressives understand in ways that progressives tend to be clueless about, the simple idea that, who narrates governs. The explanation for the right's visceral appreciation of this wisdom is likely rooted in the survival instinct at the core of the human creature's very DNA. When you're peddling an absolutely absurd and destructive pile of bullshit, even dressing it up in pretty pink ribbons isn't going to be enough. If you hope to have any prayer of making the sale, you gotta teach people from their earliest days that turds are really, really valuable. Get yours now!
This was one of Orwell's most powerful perceptions in 1984, a book loaded with crucial insights about society, politics, government and human nature. The state could expend endless resources battling for the supremacy of a certain type of politics. That's one option. Or, far more cleverly, it could just remove the possibility of imagining alternatives from the public's consciousness. Much easier. Much cheaper. This is why Orwell concentrated so much on language in his novel. He understood that action requires desire, desire requires imagination, and imagination requires language.
American politics and political culture have descended into a grim visage from what they once were, to something taking a form today of which Big Brother could be proud. It's quite true, of course, that there are always nasty actors out there, and that it has at times been worse than it is now. But what's discouraging about our moment is that it comes after, not before, those other times and the better ones that followed. Of course there will always be oscillations from better to worse. But one expects that both will represent improvements over the betters and worses of the past.
But we, in fact, are moving in the opposite direction. The level of vitriol in American politics grows uglier everyday, and the absence of rationality more astonishing. Back in the day, mainstream political actors weren't in the habit of calling the president a fascist, or accusing him of seeking to murder senior citizens. They weren't so unsophisticated as to call him a socialist at the same time they labeled him a fascist. They weren't so intoxicated with their own venom as to believe that a president who so obediently serves the interests of Wall Street to a degree that might have horrified even Richard Nixon is some sort of maniacal leftist radical, bent on killing capitalism in America.
Recent polls are showing that generic tea party candidates beat Republicans or Democrats amongst the electorate today. Part of what that makes that as surprising and significant as it is, is that no one really knows what the movement stands for, apart from some inchoate rage against incumbents, taxes and spending (but try to get them to specify what they'd cut, and you'll see how little content there actually is).
All of this represents the pinnacle (one hopes) of regressive efforts to realize Orwell's nightmare scenario. Americans feel rage as they should but they don't know what at, exactly, or why. And they certainly don't have the tools to envision better realities. What else could have happened after three decades of right-wing lies, intimidation and destruction? What else could be the product of presidents like Reagan and Bush, who so transparently served the interests of their class, but so effectively wrapped their predations in the maudlin cloth of the flag and the cranked up rhetoric of fear? What else could we expect from the vitriolic demonization of a so-called left so-called alternative like Clinton or Obama, whose politics are essentially the same as Reagan's or Bush's, sans the more nauseating genuflections toward values that, truth be told (and it must never be, of course), only apply to the stupid little people in practice?