I’ve said that the things started going off the rails around here bigtime in the Sixties.
The Civil Rights Movement took a sudden and politically lethal turn for the worse only days after the signing of the Voting Rights Act in July 1965, when the Watts riots signaled that the ‘classical’ Civil Rights struggle of Martin Luther King was over, and its incarnation among the urban black populations – especially in those ‘revolution’ soaked days, was going to be far less a vision of a united American drive to achieve a new birth of its ideals, and something more of a greatly divisive struggle.
Then the War began to go badly and a badly shaken LBJ suddenly realized that the Democrats – confronted now with both a losing war and a civil-rights movement that had turned into a ‘revolution’ – were in a heap o’ trouble.
He reached out to blacks with the early forms of ‘affirmative action’.
And he reached out to Israel, offering something akin to total American subservience to Israel (in exchange, it was hoped, for a reliable ‘Jewish’ vote here at home); so desperate was LBJ that he was willing to see the USS Liberty and its entire crew of sailors go to the bottom rather than “embarrass our Israeli friends”, a status – by the by – which neither JFK nor Ike before him accorded them. The Israelis saw a golden opportunity when it was handed to them, and the rest is (ongoing) history.
As the feminist movement evolved rapidly in the late Sixties from the ‘gender equality’ feminism of such as Elshtain and Sommers to the ‘revolutionary’ Ideological Feminism that declared ‘gender war’, the Dems leaped to secure the reliable (and theoretically huge) ‘women’s vote’ by embracing the Ideological demands whatever they were. As canny and determined as the Israelis, the Ideologicals modeled their ‘politics’ on Mao’s ‘Long March’, Lenin’s acceptance of ‘vanguard elites’ who ‘got it’ to lead the benighted masses, and Goebbels’s well-honed playbook on how to manipulate public opinion and twist the organs of political authority.
The Republicans – up til then a smallish party in opposition – suddenly saw their opening: while making their own play for the ‘black’ vote and the ‘women’s’ vote, they also started to capitalize on the general consternation and confusion evoked in the majority of the citizenry by this or that ‘revolutionary’ change.
By 1976, the Dems under House Speaker Tip O’Neil had evolved the strategy of giving the organized lobbies or advocacies whatever they demanded in order to secure votes, while promising the corporations whatever they wanted in order to secure cash (through O’Neill’s invented Political Action Committees).
Meanwhile, America’s economic predominance – based largely on her remarkable manufacturing capacity, untouched by the otherwise universal destructiveness of World War 2 – was beginning to slip both in relative terms (as other nations began to recover or develop) and in actual terms (as corporations looked overseas to find less expensive workers and as far too much of the country’s capital was put into military production, to the neglect of industrial infrastructure capitalization).
It was in Reagan’s era, however, that the Beltway pols and elites, adopted a gambit deployed by the Japanese government about 1960: with substantial civic unrest due to the Japanese government’s continuing subservience to the American military presence and influence, Prime Minister Ikeda Hyato hit upon the marvelous diversionary strategy of promising the citizens a doubling of their income through high-speed economic growth. This would serve to deflect public attention and energy into economic success.
America at the time was actually starting to decline, industrially. So to create such an increase in everybody’s income, some other sector(s) of the economy had to be goosed. A symbolic example of the solution was Reagan’s directing the FCC to permit an immediate doubling of the time allowed for commercials on television; suddenly, Hollywood was showing huge ‘profits’ – but nothing was ‘produced’ in any lasting sense. The F.I.R.E. (Finance, Insurance, Real Estate) sector was allowed to slip its reins – the Savings & Loan disaster followed shortly thereafter.
The Dems under O’Neill had declared themselves “bipartisan”. No longer a Party in opposition (even when it controlled the government) they would work with the Republicans – one big happy family. Perhaps a crime-family, but such an impertinent observation was hardly patriotic.
With the arrival of the Clinton era, the country had declined even more significantly as a self-sustaining productive entity. This problem was turned into a Plan with ‘globalization’, whereby corporate industry was permitted to gut domestic capacity in order to ‘produce’ more cheaply abroad, while other nations’ manufacturing was increasingly imported – especially luxury goods.
Politically, the arrival of the Clintons sparked massive changes made at the behest of assorted members of the Identity Politics club, while the Republicans bulked up their own ‘base’ of fundamentalists, the socially conservative, and the just plain anxious. The government, awash in ‘money’ from all the new economic ‘progress’, was able to fund all its promises for entitlements. The Soviet Union had fallen, so there was no prospect of any rival superpower any longer.
Neither the Identity lobbies, the Israelis, nor the corporations – having bought and paid for their political support one way or another – wanted to see too much ‘change’ in the Beltway, so legislators happily gerrymandered themselves into sempiternal office.
The defense budget, eerily, kept on growing, despite the lack of superpower rivalry. It was one of the last actual ‘industries’ left in the country.
But by the turn of the millennium, that burst of ‘growth’ was running out of steam. So the banks – the quintessential ‘trustworthy’ American institution – were cut loose from oversight. Glass-Steagall was repealed and another economic ‘high’ was induced, not so much though from actual performance as from the creation of ‘instruments’ and the shuffling of much paper.
This too was erected into a Plan: America would henceforth be a ‘knowledge society’ and run a ‘knowledge economy’, providing a great living for those in-the-know, while requiring the services of large numbers of serf-like laborers to staff the big-box stores and blow the leaves. The older workers displaced from an economy that no longer saw itself in need of their services could live off their retirement benefits and refinance their homes for more cash to keep their golden years golden.
In domestic politics, the general surface celebration of ‘wealth’ distracted the citizenry from the increasing use of fear as a motivator or lubricant to ram through politically expedient programs. This or that outrage created this and that ‘emergency’ and ominous new laws, bolstered by ominous new legal theories, began to bite into the Constitutional ethos.
In the 2000 election the workings of vote-counting was halted – with most dubious Constitutionality – by the Supreme Court, which had gotten kind of used to 'guiding' the country to bright new uplands over the previous decades and which now claimed as justification a sort of emergency, created by the fact that the world’s only hyperpower might not have a President when January 20th, 2001 came.
Then came 9/11.
The now-established national neural pathways of fear and revenge were quickly drafted to bear the messages of war. And invasive, preventive war at that.
As with many of the dubious or at least insufficiently thought-out domestic ‘revolutionary reforms’ of previous decades, the war was begun the way many laws had been recently passed: just get it on the books and we’ll work out the details later. If some substantial untruths had to be told, well – it was all in a good cause; not-quite-truthful stats and stories had been foisted on the citizenry, and had provided cover for willing pols, for decades now.
This being America, the thought that truly lethal consequences might wreck everything was considered against God’s will, although there was some question as to whether God, having deputized America and given it the proverbial gun, had any other right to be involved.
The unleashing of the banks, on top of the rest of the F.I.R.E sector, proceeded – hardly surprisingly – to ignite a new Gilded Age, although this one was not built on the actual physical strength and potential of the entire nation, but only on the shrewds of its financial whiz-folk.
As with individuals, unregulated desire led to – ummmm – significant overindulgence.
The war turned out to be shot-through with unforeseen (though rather foreseeable) consequences.
The economy started to wobble, but when it did a fresh Bubble was created. The Japan-plan (with all respect to the Japanese) continued to lay down smoke like a destroyer. Wheeeee!
And so – in an eerie echo of one uneasy German observation during the Hitler years* – we got richer and richer and richer until we were poor.
Now the economic problem has Us placed on the horns of a terrible dilemma. If the government pulls in its belt enough to get the country solvent again, there will be hardly any money for entitlements or for basic services (except the war-machine). If the government ‘monetizes’ the debt, by printing more money, then foreign nations will no longer ‘buy’ Our debt by buying Our Treasury bonds. They might even start to stop using the dollar as the world’s reserve currency.
And then We shall be worth only what We are worth.
And economically speaking, that’s not too much just now.
Nor is any of this amenable to a cheerible just-change-your-attitude sort of approach, so popular for the past 30 or so years. It’s not just a question of ‘getting it’; there are fundamental realities in play that will not be affected by what any individuals – or even any voting bloc – choose to ‘just believe’.
It would appear that not only is History not dead, but there are realities ‘out there’ which exist and operate independently of what individuals – no matter how much they ‘get it’ – choose to believe.
One thinks of the respective pre-Revolution French or Russian aristocracies: wealthy enough to be utterly insulated from the realities around them, they continued quaffing tea and champagne on their fine lawns and in their fine dining rooms, until those realities came through the gates and through the windows.
We are all Marie Antoinette now.
And as ‘hopeful’ as that huge societal reality might be to some interested parties … it really isn’t.
*Listening to the continuously upbeat Propaganda Ministry ‘reports’ from the far-too-numerous fighting fronts, one German ruefully observed: We shall win and win and win until we lose.