Monday, June 27, 2011

A Manic-Depressive Polity

In the individual the states of mania and depression can cycle in a matter of weeks or days, even hours.  The collection of individuals known as a society, or as a political actor, a polity, being larger takes longer.  Still the result is the same, a cycling from the peaks of mania to the depths of depressive despair.  Ten years represents the cycle length for We the People.

Ten years ago the majority of We the People were exploring the delightful high country of collective mania.  The dot com bust having been weathered with surprisingly little broad gauge effects, a sense of hyper confidence in both today and tomorrow had taken hold.  It may not have been the unlimited sort of let-the-good-times-roll mood which typified the highest point of the Sixties, but it ran a close second.  The economy was not just sound, it was rip-roaringly good.  The impact of outsourcing had not yet spread through the ranks of potentially unemployed.  The housing bubble was inflating rapidly driven by a mix of ill-advised governmental actions and the nice, old fashioned greed of financial institutions.  Jobs, money, liquidity, the notion of one's home as an ATM with two bathrooms were all abroad in the land.

The US was at peace.  Or so we thought, being tone deaf regarding the hostile religious music tooting through sections of the Mideast.  Islam was simply one more religion, not the source of terror and war it would become.  The president, George W. Bush, promised a foreign policy based upon both American leadership and strength and a concomitant "humility."  Strong but meek constituted a view of our role in global affairs which rang well and true with most of We the People.

American preeminence, American leadership, and American restraint were seen as both appropriate and laudable by the majority of us.  There was no question regarding the truth of "American exceptionalism."  We were on a roll both globally and at home.  There were no problems we could not solve.  No challenges we could not meet almost without effort.

Flash forward a decade.  Actually it is necessary to move the calender only eight years.  The euphoria of mania was gone.  Instead of the high of confidence, certainty, the sense of being divinely protected, divinely motivated, We the People now wallowed in the slough of despair.  We were beaten, defeated, and broke.

The bubble of economic confidence had shattered into even more pieces than had the housing bubble.  Net worth plummeted for many.  An unconscionable number were unemployed, many having become so discouraged by prospects that they had surrendered the task of seeking employment, leaving the jobless job market completely.  Two long wars had come to nothing.  There was no sense of victory as there had been no reality of success in either Iraq or Afghanistan.  At the same time, the institutional reaction to the very real threats of Islamic terrorism had created a permanent empire of fear.

A trip to the airport had become for many a visit to hell's anteroom.  Security warnings, the loudly announced arrests of yet another wannabe Muslim martyr, the periodic successes of those who shout "Allahu akbar" as they pulled the trigger or pushed the clicker, the pervasive awareness of terror's dark shadow blocked the sunny nature of American society to a significant extent.

Then there was our domestic elite.  You know the legions of our self-appointed best and brightest, the shining lights of politics, the media, academia.  The constant refrain from all these fine folks--including the president of the United States, a academic and political elitist of the first water--was that We the People and our country were in decline, a deserved decline.  We were told by both word and deed that if there was such a thing as "American exceptionalism" it was only negative.

Our "betters" of the hoi olligoi assured us that other cultures were every bit as good and meritorious as our own.  We were told that Islam--a religion where there was authority for the stoning of women, the murder of homosexuals, the existence of a permanent state of war with all infidels, the use of lies to mislead those who were not Muslim--was every bit as moral as all other belief systems.  Against the evidence of the senses and logic, our "betters" hectored us to the effect that those Muslims who bombed, who stoned, who flew jet airliners into buildings, who used eight year olds as bomb mules, were not really, really Islamic but rather "misunderstanders" or 'hijackers" of the faith.

The economy was in the tank.  The combination of outsourcing, of moving manufacturing offshore to, primus inter pares, China, very poorly conceived and executed government programs and policies, and, not least, the inability or unwillingness of many within We the People to answer creatively a single question, "how much is enough?" put the domestic economy down for the count.

Years of practicing the very politics of self-destruction, governments of both parties had competed in bribing the polity with federal give aways subsidies, and tax cuts.  The combination was, as had been predicted by not only practitioners of the dismal science--economics--but all those of relatively clear vision, fatal to the federal budget and provided the killing deficit.  Financial collapse bred economic collapse which in turn made the deficit crunch lurch to the very verge of terminal collapse.

And still the wars lingered on.  By the end of the decade which started on 9/11/01 the US was by and large out of Iraq--although this June has been the most deadly for our forces in over two years.  We know that the sacrifices of irreplaceable lives and hundreds of billions of (hopefully) recoverable dollars has bought nothing worth the price.  Iraq is caught in ever increasing sectarian violence with Shiites killing Sunnis in wholesale lots in Anbar province.  Bombs and snipers compete for attention in Baghdad.  The government is caught in stasis, a stasis of sectarianism and personal rivalry.  The only point where the majority agree is that Americans are bad and Iranians are good.

In Afghanistan the strategic morass had resolved itself sufficiently to show that the combination of nocturnal raids and constant pressure was working on the military level to progressively reduce the will and ability of Taliban and the Haqqani network to wage war.  At the same time all of the nation-building efforts have proven a failure.  The government and its security forces remain inept, corrupt, and monuments to inefficiency and illegitimacy.  What Taliban and the rest are losing on the battlefield, they are recouping with interest on the governmental level.

The totality of the Afghanistan GDP less three percent is provided by American and other foreign origin military and economic aid.  The vast tsunami of money coupled with a lack of financial oversight has given the endemic culture of corruption a massive boost.  This, in turn, has reduced the appeal of both the central government and its foreign sponsors to the average Afghan--particularly if he has not been able to grasp a handful of the goodies as they flowed by.

Last week President Obama delivered the most sickening speech ever heard or read by the Geek.  His we-have-been-bested in Afghanistan remarks were a potpourri of lies and half truths which beggar description and surpass imagination.  Even though he has committed the US to withdrawing its forces prematurely, this was not enough for others within his elite company.  Nancy Pelosi, a not inconsiderable presence even after last November's election, has demanded an even faster schedule of pull out.  In this she has been joined by a number of deficit hawk Republicans.

There is no doubt that the majority of We the People want out of Afghanistan ASAP!  The absence of success, even the absence of a plausible reason for our continued presence could have no other effect.  The Obama administration like its predecessor has never articulated a plausible, rational, understandable set of reasons for our continued efforts in Afghanistan.  Often proclaimed the "good war" or the "necessary war," the US and its allies have never stated a clear goal for our operations, instead producing loads of fine sounding but vapid mood music about democracy, good government, stability, and human rights.

The mood music about Afghanistan as was the case with the identical sounds regarding Iraq have never been believable to or believed by many, even most, of We the People.  Without saying so in a direct, blunt way, it is clear that We  the People have not and do not trust the so-called elite to be honest with us concerning intentions and results in these wars.  The distrust felt by so many of us came forth regarding a military commitment in Libya.  We may have been quite sympathetic with the rebels and their goal of ridding their country of the noxious Gaddafi family, but there was no way we would put our people in harm's way on the behalf of the rebels.

Had Obama or his predecessor been true leaders, they would have put forth believable reasons for our efforts in Afghanistan, or Iraq, or Libya.  The failure of each to undertake this basic presidential task successfully joined with the shocks of economic collapse and the reality of the never ending threat of terror to erode the manic mood of decade's beginning.

There is one more reason for the awesome mood shift of the past ten years.  The result of the years of indoctrination in the American educational system from pre-school to grad school.  The blame-America-first generation which emerged from the Sixties has controlled the public educational system for two decades and more now.  The repeated message, built into curricula and handbooks of instructions is and has been profoundly anti-American in its orientation.  The end result is a large and growing segment of We the People is predisposed to think the worst about their country, their government, and the actions of both, past and present alike.

Millions of minds have been conditioned by twelve and more years of education to believe the US had much to apologize for.  The same minds believe the US is not capable of doing good for itself or others in the world.  At the same time they have been oriented to reject the notions of national or cultural exceptionalism--or even superiority.  The US is simply one country among many, no better than any--and worse, much worse than most.  In a real and basic sense there are millions in our midst who have been raised to believe that we deserve nothing but failure and defeat as redress for our earlier sins, our previous arrogance, our long standing exploitation of others.

The synergy between elite and the common folk is perfect.  The elite, a product of the same blame-America-first orientation as their slightly younger non-elite fellow citizens has preached and lectured, exhorted and hectored on the subject of American wrong doing, American unexceptionalism, American exploitation, the beauties of the multicultural and multilateral, the evils of going it alone, of acting to protect and advance national interest.  The success achieved over the past years is attributable not to the persuasiveness or inherent truth of the message but rather to the propensity of the auditors, the children of the past thirty or forty years to believe what they hear and read.

The US and We the People have faced threats and challenges equaling or surpassing those today.  In the past we have not surrendered to either.  We have not succumbed to depression before.  It is different today simply because the "kids" of the Sixties particularly those who were activists of one sort or another became successful beyond their wildest dreams when they took over the educational system of the US over the course of twenty years.  Because of this success, the victory of the blame-America-first ideology, We the People now have lost confidence not only in our institutions and actions but in our very selves.  We no longer trust ourselves and our ability to handle life's challenges and threats.

When looking at the palpable decline of the US, at the national nadir of depression, the old saying of Pogo is more true than ever before--"We have met the enemy and he is us."

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