By Bernard Weiner, The Crisis Papers
Let's talk about the moral issue underlying our current economic crash, and, more broadly, America's slide from the heights of its international economic and political power.
Here's the simple thesis: It's impossible to sustain for long a structure that rests on faulty foundations. Inevitably, that structure will collapse. The U.S. was resting on rotting foundations that Republican ideology had built (enabled too often by Democrats, sometimes because they'd been bought off and sometimes because they were too weak to do much about it). It was a matter of time until the inevitable catastrophe occurred.
Let's fold in some history here. Both communism in the Soviet Union and fascism in Italy and Nazi Germany were so weakened by internal contradictions, based as they were on a warped view of reality, that they began imploding from within and thus were more vulnerable to pressure from without. As a result, they eventually, and relatively quickly, disappeared. Hitler's "thousand-year Reich" was gone in 12 years. After several decades, the communist "wall," that metaphor for permanent communist rule, fell virtually overnight.
Both authoritarian systems were ruled from above with iron fists and an enormous propaganda infrastructure. There was little tolerance for dissent, oppositional parties were wiped out, and citizens were spied on constantly by their government. Democracies, despite their many flaws, are ruled by leaders dependent on the "consent of the governed," and dissent and alternative views are recognized as indispensable correctives on the universal tendency in politics for corruption and over-reaching.
When the neo-conservative extremists took over the Republican Party in this country and then the Executive Branch of government, in their arrogance they bragged about how they were now "history's actors" who "create our own reality" (
http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C05EFD8113BF934A25753C1A9629C8B63 ) that everyone else would have to adjust to.
Even before 9/11, the White House initiated massive, illegal spying on Americans; the supposedly free press to a large extent became a corporate propaganda arm of the ruling political ideology; and both the opposition Democratic Party and the Legislative Branch in general were marginalized, neutered, rendered largely irrelevant by the "unitary" Executive. White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer warned those of us in the reality-based community to "watch what you say." Dissent could be dangerous to one's health. Then-Attorney General Ashcroft equated opposition to Administration war/police policies as giving aid and comfort to America's enemies, in essence charging "treason." (He told Congress: "To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists -- for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America's enemies, and pause to America's friends.")
WARS BASED ON IDEOLOGY
The war of choice begun by the CheneyBushRumsfeld ideologues against Iraq is an essential part of the moral and then political crash of the Republican Party. Wars of choice only work in the long run when they rest on clear support of the population back home, when the citizenry agree with the necessity for the conflict because there is a demonstrably-proven imminent, national-security threat. Neither of America's two great wars in the past 40 years (Vietnam, Iraq) have rested on that foundation.
Given the effectiveness of modern-day propaganda techniques, it's easy enough to take a country to war with a patriotic public behind it. But when the reasons for the war are faulty, based on lies and deception, devoid of a moral justification, not based on demonstrable proof of imminent threat, those wars cannot be conducted successfully and support for those misadventures begins to rot and creates a moral decay in the social fabric. Or, to switch metaphors, it's as if a swarm of ravenous termites were to invade the moral system and begin chomping away at the wood in the floor and in the support posts.
Over time, this infection seeps throughout the entire body politic, weakening it. The population begins to notice the discrepancy between what the rulers are saying and the reality they know, and support for the war quickly begins to wain. Vietnam was lost not only on the battlefield but in the population at home, which altered its initial support to determined opposition within a half-dozen years. The American public developed its consensus on the now five-year-old Iraq war -- that it was a mistake to invade and occupy and should be brought to a close as soon as practicable -- at least two full years ago, and, for many, even earlier than that.)
THE ECONOMY AND GREED-ROT
As long as the economy and other major systems propping up the ruling elites work well, dissent remains at relatively low levels. Such was the case in the U.S. for a number of years in the CheneyBush presidency.
But the Administration, with an ideology that rested on a greed-is-good foundation, with no reason to consider "the public good" when making policy, disparaged and discouraged regulation of the financial system. The result, in effect, was state-sponsored looting of the treasury and citizenry by the titans of finance and industry (who, of course, just happened to be the biggest political and economic supporters of the Republican Party).
Most of this laissez-faire thievery was carefully concealed from the
citizenry. But slowly the middle-class public came to understand how the financial system really worked. The scandals involving some of the largest corporations in America -- the Enrons and WorldComs and Arthur Andersons and so on -- reinforced ordinary Americans' feeling that, per usual, they were getting the short end of the stick while they wound up paying for the resulting social damage caused by the greedy. Clearly, they reasoned, the CheneyBush government was in cahoots with the plutocracy against ordinary Americans' interests. An even earlier example occurred when the taxpayers had to bail out a corrupt savings-and-loan system. This was the so-called "Keating Five" scandal, in which five U.S. Senators, among them John McCain, were publicly shamed for their roles. That scandal had prepared the citizenry for distrust of the financial and political systems, and maybe even of the way capitalism seems to work in the real world.
But it wasn't just the more-profits-at-any-price elites that took the country over the economic precipice. There was almost a universal mindset among the citizenry, fueled by denial and an exceptionalist notion of America uniquely blessed by God, that refused to acknowledge that what goes up inevitably must come down. For nearly three decades, the U.S. economy (with a few relatively minor glitches) has been in a bubble of positive movement upwards. It was believed that the stock market would continue to surge in that direction, that the value of one's home would continue to rise sharply as a matter of course, and that low credit-rates would remain in place. But the foundations for that prosperity were rotten at the core.