Monday, May 06, 2013

"We're Number 17! We're Number 17!" America's Hellbent Race To The Bottom

The United States was once an indisputably great country, and in some respects perhaps the greatest country.  I speak not of American Exceptionalism, the belief of neoconservatives and some fundamentalist Christians that God made this nation to spread liberty and democracy to the unwashed masses, in the case of the Iraq War at point of gun.   I speak of a nation where prosperity and success could be attained through hard work, where there were myriad educational and job opportunities, and where borders were open to people in pursuit of the American Dream.

But in recent decades America's standing has steadily eroded, and today it is indisputably no longer a great country, ranking at or near the bottom
among the 17 industrialized nations in quality-of-life and other social measures.  This, of course, will come as news to many of us, not the least of whom are the inside-the-Beltway politicians who fiddle while America crumbles.

America is first by some measures, all of them negative: These include infant mortality, incarceration rates and anxiety disorders, as well as a gulf between the rich and everyone else that accelerated during the Bush Recession as the economy tanked and unemployment soared, but CEOs and their corporations pocketed record stock dividends and profits.  But by other measures, including life expectancy (despite by far the highest health-care costs in the world), as well as obesity, child poverty, commitment to infrastructure development, broadband access and arts funding, America ranks dead last or nearly so.
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This hellbent race to the bottom ("We're Number 17! We're Number 17!") has been a group effort, but the three arms of government -- the executive, legislative and judicial branches -- that are supposed to be the custodians of our national interests must shoulder most of the blame.
Nixon's excesses and Clinton's infidelities aside, the Bush-Cheney interregnum was not merely the darkest chapter in modern American history with its gross distortion of presidential power, including the use of torture and governance by fear, it has remained a debilitating presence in the four-plus years since Barack Obama took office.  While the young president has suffered his share of self-inflicted wounds, as well as the slings and arrows of cruel Republicans and spineless Democrats, the toxic fallout from the first eight years of the decade has compromised his ability to lead.
Congress deserves the harshest criticism because it is so out of touch with all but the most affluent and powerful Americans.  I recently read David Halberstam's The Best and the Brightest and was struck by how President Johnson and his advisers had to escalate the Vietnam War by stealth because Congress would never have approved massive troop increases and a sustained bombing campaign because the American people would not have supported them.  Contrast that with how Congress rolled over on gun control in fawning obeisance to the National Rifle Association, America's largest terrorist organization, although most of us favor toughening laughably weak federal laws and demanded action in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has become a branch of the Republican Party and the plutocracy, its hackery evident in decisions from Citizens United to enshrining workplace discrimination and validating civil liberties abuses, to protecting Big Pharma from liability for killer drugs and medical devices.
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I am in the clutches of a malaise.  It is impossible for me not to conclude that America is abandoning its youth, its elderly and its poor; is suffocating its middle class, increasing numbers of whom have become working poor; is timid and risk averse; is allowing the drift from productive manufacturing to a service economy where little is made of value; continues to give obscene tax breaks to the super rich and corporations; fails to confront the fossil fuel monster that saps our resources and further dirties our environment, and has turned its back on newcomers while disenfranching voters.
And not least has turned away from its own rich history, core values and virtues to the point where many of us, if shown a copy of the Bill of Rights, would believe it to be a subversive document.
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What makes my malaise so deep is that I do not merely believe things will continue to become worse in a land for which I have bled red, white and blue.  I believe they may never get better.
If you feel otherwise, please offer your thoughts on how the country can rebound within the present political and social framework.  And if big changes are necessary beyond that framework, as well, what are they?  If the darkest hour is before the dawn, what should a new American dawn bring?


Anonymous said...

I know a lot of people who feel you do and are very angry that we let the country get into a position where these folks are very powerful.

Anonymous said...

Some days, as I consider the looting of America, I’m glad I’m old and won’t be around that much longer.

Anonymous said...

While I'm with you on virtually all of your litany of despair, and have frequently said even during the Bush years that any right-thinking prez following on would need close to eight years just to undo the damage, I'm just as convinced that a chunk of our present predicament is due to progressives' rest break/victory lap following passage of Obamacare.

That allowed the summer of the Tea Party, which liberals took to be an aberrant rabble that no one would heed, and then the off-year 2010 election that Dems seemed to sleep through while that "rabble" turned out in force.. If the Dem ranks don't internalize the lesson of 2010 and show up strong in 2014, nothing much will change. And even if they do show up, it's difficult to assess the impact of the state legislative GOP-engineered gerrymandering of districts across the land, and how to rectify the imbalances that has created short of a new Census.

But being practically Polyanna incarnate, I have hope for the upcoming generations -- with their eyes wide open on equal rights, immigration, same sex marriage and other progressive touchstones, as well as facing the prospect of dealing with mom & pop's massive medical drain on the economy -- stepping up to confront what the current Neanderthals and the spineless will not/cannot. Given how the preponderance of the youth vote goes now, and the fact that they're turning out more than the pundits were predicting in recent hustings, I'm hoping I'm not too presumptuous or optimistic.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the general take. I live in Washington, DC, and most people I talk to here who have remained very well-employed through this recession/depression cannot fathom at all anything you write about. In fact, when I have mentioned any of these things, they generally take it very negatively--as in, how dare I say such things! It's a personal affront to them. That said, I always believe in hope for the future. I also think the depth of faith one needs in the face of a potentially troubling future is perhaps greatest in those who not merely believe the worst will indeed come to pass, but also do their best to alleviate it in the here and now. In the meantime, I think we need a dedicated media to expose how the vast majority of Americans live--to other Americans who may resist the expose. The ugly truth is never a personal affront--and until we see it, we cannot change anything for the better.

Shaun Mullen said...

More food for thought. Much more:

WereBear said...

I find a bright spot in the concept that we are living through a "Guttenberg moment." That the Internet has created a vast and seismic shift in culture, much as moveable type did.

Just as rapacious and sociopathic elements have gripped societal pillars as network television, think tanks, and religion, these very elements are weakened not only by corruption, but by the lessened respect they deserve, and are given.

If we must remake society, it is actually efficient to tear down what once made it great, and now drags it down. Whole new structures are rising. I put my faith in them.

Shaun Mullen said...


I find the societal powers of the Internet to be vastly overrated, but we'll have to see . . .

A friendly piece of advice: Before you put your faith in anything, stop, look and listen.