There was an excellent article in the NY Times yesterday by Nelson Schwartz that described the reality of the American economic picture, and that many of us are already lowering our expectations for recovery. There will likely be no economic reversal of misfortune in the manner in which we have historically rebounded after a severe economic convulsion, and the dawning understanding of this grim fact is beginning to affect our collective psyche. Schwartz writes:
"Americans have almost always taken growth for granted. Recessions kick in, financial crises erupt, yet these events have generally been thought of as the exception, a temporary departure from an otherwise steady upward progression. The new normal challenges the optimism that's been at the root of American success for decades, if not centuries."
Schwartz called this mass depression about our disappointing financial outlook "the new normal," and I believe it extends far beyond our frustrations over double-digit unemployment and the disappearance of the manufacturing sector.
Certainly, NAFTA and GATT have cost Americans millions of decent paying jobs as thousands of businesses either shut down or moved production overseas in the last 15 years. And the recent spate of Republican/Bush tax cuts, which the NeoCons believe should be written into the Constitution (hey -- maybe as a replacement to the 14th Amendment!), turned out to be more magic beans than golden eggs in the fantasy fairy tale that was the Bush Crime Family economic "stimulus" plan. The rich got stimulated and the middle class got screwed. Again. Just like Reganomics and the "trickle-down" plan that never dripped a drop on the working people but, rather,just pooled in the pockets of the wealthy.
Remember, the national debt when Ronald Reagan took office was about $1 trillion. Included in that number was all the debt accumulated going back to the very beginning:The Revolutionary war, the Spanish-American war, the Civil war, World War I, World War II, the Korean war, the Vietnam war and all the social wars of the 1930"²s and subsequent years. In other words it took the United States more than 200 years to accumulate a national debt of $1 trillion. It took Reagan only eight years to increase the national debt from $1 trillion to about $3.5 trillion, and the interest cost on the national debt now runs about $318 billion a year! Remember that when some knuckle-dragger in a 12mpg massive SUV with a God, Guns, and Glory bumper sticker tells you the economic disaster is the Democrats' fault. Or blames Obama.
And yet, beyond the national nervousness about the economy,it feels as though there is a larger, less defined cloud of apprehension hanging over our country. It smells like fear, uncertainty, doubt, mistrust, bigotry . . . and smog; of arsenic and oil in the water. Like the economic uncertainty this sense of impending doom began to form during the Reagan/Pappy Bush era, with Iran-Contra and the sanctions on Nicaragua, ketchup-as-a-vegetable, the Savings and Loan scandal, the revelation of the lies of Vietnam, the bombing of Libya and invasion of Grenada, the dumping of mentally ill patients into the streets, creating an army of homeless Americans, the ignoring of the AIDS epidemic, the useless war on drugs, the funding of Iran, the military support given to Saddam and Osama, Gulf War One, the Gingrich Contract With (on?) America with its anti-Progressive word list,the gutting of social programs, the billions of wasted tax dollars on the ill-conceived Star Wars missile defense . . . and all this was just the start.
There followed a brief period of relief from the war-making (with the exception of the NATO/US led bombing of Serbia) and deficit-spending during the Clinton years. Not that all was roses and butterflies, however, because Clinton followed Pappy Bush's lead and signed the job-destroying NAFTA bill that effectively ended manufacturing jobs in this country and dealt a potentially lethal blow to the middle class.The expansion of the death penalty, the continuation of the war on drugs, the failure to pass any sort of health insurance reform, and the adoption of the disgusting "don't ask don't tell" policy on legalized discrimination in the military against homosexuals rounded out the negative aspects of the Clinton years.
But that was a "pretty princess" party when compared with what the
Bush/Cheney years brought from the depths of hell to unleash on our already
battered and bruised American collective consciousness. After the Bush Crime
Family, nothing would be normal again. Shortly after the Supreme Court
appointed Raisin Brain to the White House,Bush, in his words,"hit the
trifecta" with the deadly attacks of 9-11 which, in his addled mind, gave him
recession, war, and a national emergency.
That was the beginning of the end of our Constitutional Democracy. We were systematically terrorized by constant color-coded alerts, ominous warnings about protecting our loved ones from swarthy, nameless "evildoers"; we were strip-searched in airports, our breast milk and shoes confiscated. Gonzales bullied Ashcroft on his hospital bed to authorize the illegal torture of prisoners; we invaded Afghanistan with no plan or exit strategy, costing thousands of lives on each side.
We watched Colin Powell lose all integrity before the UN security council, waving fake documents and lying about uranium and aluminum tubes hiding in palm trees in Iraq. We illegally invaded Iraq, toppling the same dictator to whom our then-current Defense Secretary had once sold chemical weapons; we saw the creation of a massive bureaucracy in the Department of Homeland Security. We became numb to images of torture victims at GITMO, mutilated children in Iraq and Afghanistan, our own mangled troops on the battlefield.
Our moral standing in the world slid directly down the toilet as the good will toward us following 9-11 disappeared under the weight of the Bush/Cheney war crimes. We watched our Constitutional rights disappear under the wildly mis-named USA Patriot Act which brought wiretaps, invasion of our medical records, the right to enter our homes without warrants, arrest and detention without charge or legal advice; even our library cards were suspect. Foreigners in Chicago were detained for asking for stamps that specifically did not depict an American flag. The (unelected) president warned lobster men on the Maine coast to watch for terrorists who could be hiding in the reeds along the shore. We were told we could no longer trust anyone or anything.
And that was just the psychological damage done as a result of fear from the possibility of "invasion" by scary, Christian-hating, bloodthirsty foreigners. Domestically, things were swiftly moving from bad to worse as more essential funding was cut from education, environmental protection, infrastructure repair, and virtually every social welfare program. The dual environmental programs were straight out of Orwellian Newspeak: "Clear Skies" initiative lowered already ridiculously low emission standards and the "Healthy Forests" initiative was a gift to the logging industry at the expense of farm erosion and forest preservation.
By a miracle, Bush/Cheney failed in their repeated attacks on Medicare and Medicaid, and those systems still survive today, albeit in a weakened state. Federal regulations were relaxed to the point that BP could rack up hundreds of serious violations and -- instead of being shut down -- be rewarded with dangerous and untested deepwater drilling rights. Under the Bush cabal there was an almost medieval regression in all areas of science. Scientific theory was tossed out the window with prohibitions of federal funding of stem-cell research, all data related to carbon emissions and climate change were refuted, altered, or ignored. Bush's "faith-based" initiatives pushed for the teaching of "creationism" in biology class, and the posting of the Ten Commandments in every classroom. God was on our side, we were told. He loved the good, Christian, non-Arab people. Especially the rich, white, male variety.
Small wonder we're all freaked out. It's a wonder we're not all wearing straight jackets.
Our adjustment to the aftermath of their eight-year reign of terror has been -- so far -- impossible, as so many of us expected Obama to work some miraculous mo-jo and immediately lift the veil of fear and confusion that had descended over this country. Regardless of your opinion of the current Chief Executive, there was no way for him to undo the decades of damage from previous administrations that thrust us into this sullen funk in the first place.
We're living the "New Normal," all right. And it would be wise to remember how we got here. And to decide what to do about it all.